ON BEING ORDAINED AND SINGLE (Part 2 of 2)

by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)

Non-denominational Reformed


“...the husband of one wife...”

Scriptures: 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6-9; 1 Corinthians 7

What About Children?
For a man to be considered for church leadership who is married, he must be completely committed to his wife. This qualification is referring to fidelity in marriage and sexual purity; it is not a requirement to be married. If it were, not only would he have to be married he would also be required to have children, we see this in the second half of 1 Timothy 3:12, “...managing their children and their households well.” And similarly in Titus 1:6-9 we read “his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” If these were meant as limits for qualification, then Paul had to have meant that all elders, deacons, and pastors must not only be married but must also have children. Therefore, they must immediately be disqualified for ministry if they don't have any children (or if they only have one child for that matter as it is the plural “children” that is used in these passages). This is simply not the correct interpretation. It reads and sounds like foolishness. We should understand this qualification for an elder, deacon, or pastor to mean: If a married man is chosen for the position, then he absolutely has to be faithful to his wife. If a married man has children, then he must be able to manage them well.

If a man has to be married to hold a position in the church, then it appears Paul would have disqualified himself which is ludicrous (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8). Some will still argue. They will say that Paul was a married man prior and that he was widowed. Although this may be true, a widower is still NOT a married man. Not to mention that this requirement would have also eliminated Timothy for he was never married even if Paul had been. Still, Paul had no living wife. In fact, Paul actually considered being single better. He said in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, “I wish that all were as I myself am single. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am” (ESV). And later in that same chapter Paul even applauds the unmarried man, “I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:32-34a, ESV).

Nevertheless, a “one-woman man” who is absolutely committed to his wife sexually and emotionally, and also has great love and concern for the church is an incredible asset to the body of Christ. An elder, deacon, or pastor may be either married or single, as long as he meets the qualifications as outlined by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus.

What About Divorce?
The first thing that needs to be addressed regarding divorce among possible elders, deacons, and pastors is whether or not the divorce took place before or after he became a believer (cf. Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:12-16). If one meets all of the other qualifications he should not be excluded from leadership because of a mistake made before he was regenerated to new life in Jesus Christ.

Next, most agree that a man whose wife dies and then remarries is able to be considered for church leadership. So, naturally the question then becomes, “What about a man who gets divorced and remarried? Are they fit for church leadership?” If our phrase “the husband of one wife” does not mean “having only been married once in his life” (as we have discovered), it would seem to indicate the possibility that a man who has divorced and remarried to “one wife” could be eligible for leadership. Before I dive into this let's be clear and state what the ideal situation is. The perfect situation is when there is a man who has been married only once to the same woman and she is living during the time he serves as an elder, deacon, or pastor. However, is it possible for a divorced man, single or married, to be allowed to serve in those same leadership roles?

When we go straight to the teachings of Jesus, and other portions of Scripture, it is clear that God hates divorce. Although he doesn't hate in the same way we hate, he still does hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). It's also important to note that in every case of divorce sin and selfishness on the part of at least one of those involved is at the core of the broken marriage. Jesus mentioned one possible scenario where a man can divorce his wife lawfully in the eyes of God. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus said, “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (ESV). The only exception that Jesus gave for an acceptable divorce in the eyes of God is if a person's spouse is sexually unfaithful. Jesus' statement implies that if a man divorces his wife because she cheats on him, and then he gets remarried sometime later, he does not commit adultery by remarrying the second person. If a man can have a second wife due to sexual unfaithfulness on the part of his first wife, and it is not considered adultery, then it logically follows that God must see the first marriage as having been nullified (at least for the innocent party) and the covenant relationship broken. So, in this case, he would technically be “the husband of one wife.”

Robert Saucy agrees with this conclusion: “If divorce on the basis of adultery is legal and dissolves the marriage so that the one divorced can marry another, is the one remarried considered to be now 'the husband of one wife?' It seems evident that legally such a remarried person is the husband of only one wife. He is not considered to have two wives. If this is true, then technically, he meets the requirements of the language of 1 Timothy” (3:2).

One last thing. Paul mentions one final acceptable reason for divorce. Divorce is also allowed in the case where an unbelieving spouse simply walks away from the relationship. We find this in 1 Corinthians 7:15, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (ESV). Paul, as a spokesman for God himself, added another condition where divorce is allowed and as we have seen it is if an unbelieving spouse desserts the believing spouse. As a result, the same logic, reasoning, and Scriptural basis offered above applies in a case such as this as well.

References:
Glasscock, Ed (1983), “'The Husband of One Wife' Requirements in 1 Timothy 3:2,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 140:244-258, July-September.

Mounce, William (2000), Pastoral Epistles (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).

Saucy, Robert (1974), “The Husband of One Wife,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 131:229-240, July.

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