8. The Leader's Marriage: A Local Church Leader Must Have a Pure Marriage

"The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife..."
(1 Timothy 3:2)

There’s a pretty cool story about the former Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, who served as the country’s leader during World War II. He was at a formal banquet one night with lots of other famous and important people. It also seems to have been something of a question and answer panel, as each of the dignitaries were asked this question: “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” Churchill was the last one to answer, and here’s what he said. I love it. It’s so illustrative of the heart of what Paul’s after here in the first qualification of a local church leader. Churchill, sitting next to his wife, Clemmie, reached over and clasped her hand and responded,

“If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be Lady Churchill’s second husband” (Source: James Humes, Churchill, Speaker of the Century, p. 291. Cited in Kent Hughes & Bryan Chapell, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, pp. 77-78).

God’s original intent for marriage is reflected in the Garden of Eden. He made one man and one woman and put them together for one lifetime. This seems to rule out a number of questions about who’s qualified to lead a church and who’s not. For example, one question which wouldn’t come up in this culture, but certainly did in Greco-Roman culture as well as in various cultures around the world today, is, “can a man with more than one wife lead a local church?” And the answer is, of course, no. Again, the model of marriage set out in Genesis answers this for us. God created one wife for Adam.

Likewise, this same model answers the question as to whether or not a male homosexual man who’s married to another man may lead the church. At the risk of being cliché here, God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. I realize that this statement is considered a “hate crime” under our President’s new law, passed just a few months ago on October 28, 2009. (See CNN’s report for more information.) However, this issue of marriage must be absolutely clarified by church leaders or else the very foundation of local church leadership is undermined and threatened at its foundation, since this issue of marriage is the very first in the list of qualifications.

Marriage is said by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5, and therefore by God Himself, to be a model or picture or living-color illustration of Jesus Christ’s love for the church. God’s model for marriage is clearly revealed in Genesis 1-3, and Paul even references that fact in Ephesians 5. Therefore, if marriage as one man and one woman together for one lifetime is redefined, then so must Jesus Christ’s love for His church, since the one is built on the other. In other words, mess with God’s definition of marriage, and you mess with Jesus’ love for His church, and subsequently the qualifications for leading His church.


The bottom line is this. If you want to lead a local church, your marriage is the first and most significant thing you bring to the table in terms of your ability to lead. When your marriage properly models Jesus love for His church, then you’re ready to start thinking about leading the church. And if the truth be told, you’ve actually been silently leading the church already simply by virtue of the fact that you believe God’s truth about marriage and you want to obey Him and model it.

Now, two of the questions that this phrase would seem to answer, when actually it does not, are these. First, can only a married man be a local church leader? Second, can a divorced man be a local church leader? I’ll answer these two questions with this one statement: Paul’s intention here is qualitative, not quantitative. In other words, the quality of the marriage is the focus here, and not the quantity of times a man has been married. That said, it should be rather obvious to us all that if a man has in fact been married a half-a-dozen times (or more!) there’s probably a root issue going on there that must be identified and addressed before the marriage he’s in right now goes bust too!

Nevertheless, the actual Greek gives us a clue that answers this important question. The Greek could be translated either “a man married only once” or “a one-woman man.” The New English Bible translates it, “faithful to his wife.” So the emphasis here seems to be upon that overarching theme of faithfulness that I addressed in number three of this series. Is the man being faithful right now to the wife God has given him? That’s the question that points to the answer which points to whether or not the man is qualified to lead a local church.

This is the summary of a man who is so captivated by his own wife, his mind so fully involved and focused on her that he doesn’t think about other women. He doesn’t lust after other women. He doesn’t flirt with other women. They’re not even on his radar in any sort of marital sense. He’s not the kind of guy who enjoys intimacy with his wife while thinking of another woman. He’s not the kind of guy who daydreams about standing over his wife’s grave and then marrying another woman he’s had his eye on.

He doesn’t enjoy any sort of closeness with any other woman other than his wife…not even on Facebook or Myspace…not digitally, not physically, not emotionally, not intellectually, not spiritually, not in ANY way whatsoever. When the Bible speaks of a man and his wife being one flesh, it means there’s a unity and closeness there between you both that cannot be repeated or duplicated with another person…period. People try (through adultery, multiple affairs, threesomes, group sex, wife-swapping, MILF’ing, swinging, phone sex, internet sex, auto-eroticism, pedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, homosexuality, lesbianism, sex-slavery, incest, sado-masochism, flagellation, prostitution, or any form of pornography)…but it still doesn’t happen. And that’s because it’s impossible. You canNOT experience true union and closeness in marriage with more than one spouse.

There was definitely all this sort of crap going on in the first century world, as it has been going on since the beginning of history. We find Paul dealing with just these sorts of things in his counsel to the Thessalonians. In his first letter to the young church he writes,

“For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God. In this matter no one should violate the rights of his brother or take advantage of him, because the Lord is the avenger in all these cases, as we also told you earlier and warned you solemnly. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Consequently the one who rejects this is not rejecting human authority but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (4:3-8, NET Bible).

John MacArthur believes that, “Many, if not most, of the congregation had at one time or another fallen prey to sexual evil” (1 Timothy, p. 105). Demosthenes, a Roman statesman who lived in the 4th century before Jesus (384-322 B.C.), understood things this way:

“Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children” (Oration, 59.122, cited in Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times, by Thomas Martin, p. 139).

What a horrendous, perverted view of a precious wife. It basically says that all she’s good for is having babies. It’s degrading. It’s outright awful. And this is just one attitude toward morality that was still in full force during the time of Paul. You can study for yourself what the rest of the Bible says about this sort of thing and other types of sexual sin in the following passages: Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:20; 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:18; 22:23; 2 Samuel 12; Isaiah 51; Proverbs 2:17; Proverbs 7; Jeremiah 23:10, 14; 29:23; Hosea 1:2; 2:2; 3:1; Matthew 5:28; John 8:3; Romans 1:27; 7:3; 1 Corinthians 5:1, 9; 6:9-11; 7:2; Galatians 5:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. In short men, the Bible would call you a pagan if you enjoy any type of intimacy with any other person other than your dear wife…even if you say you are a Christian. Unfaithfulness to your wife is considered a pagan practice in God’s eyes, something only unbelievers do. He’ll forgive you for doing it, and so will we. But if you’re a believer and you’ve done this, there’s a stain of reproach there. And the tower of your faithfulness to your wife must be built taller over time than the shadow of that reproach.

A man who wants to be a local church leader is basically keeps his marital vows. He doesn’t let anything else or anyone else compete for his heart. Just like Jesus. He doesn’t let any other group of people compete for His heart, other than the church for whom He died. Jesus is a one-bride Savior. The local church leader is a one-bride leader.

Now, all of this implies an answer to the question as to whether or not a divorced man can be a local church leader. In short, yes he can if he’s a faithful husband to the wife God has given him right now. Granted, if that marriage was recent, then it’s wise to give it some time to see things unfold. Again, there’s this tower of faithfulness that needs to be built. This is especially the case if the man is married for the second time because he was unfaithful to his first wife and she left him. But even in a case where the man’s wife left him, there needs to be time enough to heal from that, as well as time enough to identify any other issues that may have contributed to the problems in the first marriage.

The summary in all this is simply that a man who wants to lead a local church needs to have demonstrated a marriage that models Jesus and the Church, specifically as laid out in Ephesians 5:25 and following, as well as passages like 1 Peter 3:7. If these things are true of him over a reasonable amount of time, then he is certainly qualified in this area.

While this answers the question of the man who’s been divorced, it does not answer the question as to whether or not a single man can lead a local church. This would include a man who’s never been married, or the man who’s been divorced and never remarried. I suppose it would be better to use the term, “unmarried.”

If we were being literalists with this qualification and not good exegetes with what Paul’s intentions are in listing it, we would immediately say that no unmarried man can lead a local church. But if quality is the intention here, rather than quantity, then the unmarried man is in fact free to lead a local church. The fact that Paul himself was single, according to 1 Corinthians 7:8, should provide enough of a life-context for us to be able to figure that one out…not to mention Jesus’ state of singlehood! Also, how weird would it be for him to write something like this, and not let a person like this lead a church?

“Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches…Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called…In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God. With regard to the question about people who have never married…I give my opinion as one shown mercy by the Lord to be trustworthy….I want you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, and he is divided…I am saying this for your benefit, not to place a limitation on you, but so that without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, 24, 25, 32, 33, 34a, 35, NET Bible).

If you’re a single man and you want to lead in this or any other local church, then this was written for you and to you. You are in a much better position to be a notable and constant service to the Lord than we who are married. And I welcome you to stretch yourself out for leadership in this local church. You are free from the concerns that come with marriage, and you are free to be concerned about the things of the Lord, the things of this local church, and how to please God in all of it. Praise God for single, faithful men who want to lead local churches! It does in fact make it very difficult for you to relate to so many married couples in the local church, and it will hinder your ability to minister to them in many situations. But it by no means disqualifies you from leading at all. Your faithfulness as a single man is that one overarching theme that we look for here at Church in the Boro.

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