Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/13/2016 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
“Husband of One Wife”
If you have been here a while, you probably notice that my sermon style has changed slightly as we’ve been going through 1 Timothy. Given that it is a small book and the nature of it, I’ve been intentionally slowing down and often taking very small portions of it to preach on. When you do that, it tends to make the sermons more of a topical sermon than an expository one. But there are times to do that, even though I don’t typically do that. Well, I mention that because we are going to be getting more of this over the next few weeks. We are in that passage of Scripture that talks about the requirements for elders. As we start now to dig into the specific qualifications for elders, the messages will especially seem a bit more topical. But I believe it will be helpful for us to slow down on this occasion to consider each of these various qualifications.
So, in today’s message we will be honing in on verse 2 and its requirement that elders be the husband of one wife, literally a one-woman man. This is listed second here and obviously has a place of prominence in the list. This makes sense of course. Matters of sexuality have always been a hot issue in the church and its leadership. That is certainly still the case today. The church needs godly leadership in the areas of marriage and sexuality.
As we meditate on this requirement today, we’ll approach this in three points. First, we’ll consider what this requirement does not mean to be a husband of one wife. Second, we’ll consider what this does mean to be a husband of one wife. Third, we’ll see this applied in regards to sexual immorality in the church, in both the past and the present.
So then, first, let’s consider what this doesn’t mean. I’ll mention two things. First this doesn’t mean that you must be married to be an elder. Believe it or not, some have argued for this. Similarly, when they see the requirement in verse 4 to have their children in submission, the same people tend to think that requires the elder to also have at least two children. Now, I can appreciate why they might want to infer that. But that is handling language in a bit of a wooden way. That becomes clear when you use Scripture to interpret Scripture. When you do that, you see that singleness is not a sin. You also see that singleness is not a hindrance to being in ministry, but is a help for ministry.
We see this, for example, in 1 Corinthians 7. Turn there with me. In verses 1 and 2, he begins by mentioning that singleness is a good thing, but in general people should be married because of the temptation to sexual immorality. Verse 5 drives this home by commanding the married couple to not deprive each other sexually, lest they fall prey to sexual immorality. But in verses 6 and 7 he clarifies his position on marriage. He speaks of how some like himself may have the gift of singleness. Verse 9 explains that this gift of singleness includes the ability to exercise self-control in terms of sexuality, specifically that they aren’t just burning the whole time with sexual desire. Then if you drop down to verses 32 and 33, you see there that he talks about why singleness is better. He says that if you are single, you can focus on the things of the Lord. Verse 35 explains that this means you can serve God without distraction. He says otherwise, if you are married, you’ll have to devote time and energy toward serving and pleasing your spouse.
Jesus said a similar thing in Matthew 19:12, that some might not marry for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He added, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” In other words, Jesus acknowledges that not everyone has this gift of singleness, but if you can use it for serving God. So, what’s my point in all this concerning our passage for today? We should not read the qualification here for an elder to be the husband of one wife to say that he must have a wife. Rather, Scripture tells us how a single elder in the church can be especially useful in the church. The Apostle Paul who wrote this letter is a great example.
So, that’s the first thing that this phrase does not the mean. The other thing that this phrase does not mean, is that it doesn’t forbid remarriage after the death of a spouse or after a lawful divorce. In other words, if someone is no longer legally bound to their spouse, either through their death, or through a lawful divorce, then they are free to remarry. If they do, that wouldn’t make them a husband of more than one wife, because the idea here is “at a time.” They can’t concurrently be joined with more than one woman.
We can find these principles spelled out again in that 1 Corinthians 7 passage. Look at 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. It makes clear there that we ordinarily shouldn’t divorce our spouse and if we nonetheless do separate from our spouse we are not free to remarry. That’s the general principle, it speaks of the permanency of the covenant of marriage. But then this passage goes on to clarify this. There are circumstances when you are free to remarry. Look at verse 15 of 1 Corinthians 7. It talks there of the situation of an unbelieving spouse who leaves you. In that case, it says you are no longer bound to them. In other words, you are then free to remarry. Similarly, in Matthew 5:32, Jesus says that in the case of your spouse committing adultery, that too would free you from your marriage commitment. The idea is that then you would be free to remarry.
As for the death of a spouse, we see the same idea permitting remarriage in verse 39 of 1 Corinthians 7. It says that after the spouse dies, you are no longer bound to them. In other words, at that point, you are free to remarry. We see this explained in the book of 1 Timothy as well. 1 Timothy 5:14 speaks of a widow, that if she is young, he advises her to get remarried. That too proves this point.
So, the point then is that Scripture does outline circumstances when one can lawfully remarry. So, this is again a situation of Scripture interpreting Scripture. We see that there is no sin or immorality in lawful remarriages. Thus, it would not be natural to impute that interpretation to these words here, the “husband of one wife.”
So then, what does this phrase mean and what is it forbidding? This is now our second point to talk about what this does mean. I’ll start by talking about what it does forbid. Two things. First, it forbids polygamy. That being said, that is a conclusion we can draw from this, more than it being the actual main focus of the original language here. I say that clarification for a couple reasons. One, polygamy was not that common at that time. The Romans didn’t practice it. Some peoples did, including the Jews. But even then, among the Jews it wasn’t that common at this point. But a stronger argument for why this probably wasn’t the main thing Paul had in mind is because of the parallel phrase in 5:9 when talking about widows. That literal wording in verse 2 of our passage as a one-woman man is paralleled in 5:9. There, the literal wording about the widow is a one-man woman. The Greek is rather distinct in both places when it talks about a one-woman man and a one-man woman. And so, this helps us see that polygamy is not the main thing in mind here. Because though polygamy was uncommon but still a practice, polyandry was non-existent. In other words, if this language was concerned about having more than one married spouse at time, it would be a useless thing to say to a woman because they just never would have had more than one husband at the time. My point then is that we can step back and see how this language would forbid polygamy in an elder, but that’s not likely the thing Paul had in mind to address here. It would have that application, but that wouldn’t have been his direct focus.
So, that leads us to the second thing this forbids. It forbids adultery and frankly any form of fornication. This makes a lot more sense to be highlighted here because we know that these were big issues of the day. Jesus, for example, had to teach on multiple occasions about this. In Mark 7:21, Jesus spoke of the evil of sexual immorality in general. More specifically, in the passage from Matthew 5 referenced earlier he spoke against unlawful divorce and remarriage and said that it was a form of adultery. We know that also was a practice at that point. Instead of simply committing overt adultery, someone would divorce the old spouse and then marry their new desired spouse, simply because they no longer wanted to be with that original spouse. Remember, that was what John the Baptist condemned when Herodias divorced her husband so she could marry Herod. In the book of Acts, we see Felix and Drusilla married, and the history books say that Drusilla had also divorced her previous husband so she could marry Felix. Jesus is very clear on this. It was a form of adultery. In other words, it was a way to have multiple spouses at the same time. If a man has a wife and divorces her unlawfully to marry another, it’s like he has become a two-woman man, because he was still bound to that first wife when he took the second woman. Jesus says this is just another form of adultery. Similarly, this all would speak against prostitution that seems to have been common enough in that day. 1 Corinthians 6 is one passage that speaks against joining with a harlot.
So, that’s what this forbids. Thus, what this is advocating is marital faithfulness. This man who would be an elder in the church must be faithful to his one woman. He is not to bring other women into the mix. He is to be faithful to her and to the marriage vows he made to her. I love how Malachi 2:14 speaks of how a husband and wife are in a covenant and that the man who would violate that has been dealing treacherously with his wife. God says that he will judge between him and her. In other words, he’ll come to the defense of the woman who experienced her husband’s breach of contract. Similarly, we read in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”
Behind all this, is God’s wonderful design and intention for marriage. Jesus quoted Genesis in Matthew 19:4-6, saying, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Amen. That’s God’s picture of biblical sexuality. It is only to be expressed in a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. A man who would be an elder in Christ’s church must exhibit this.
Turning now to our third and final point, I want to apply this further by thinking of its application in the church in both the past and now in the present. In the past, we can remember how much trouble came for the church when this principle was violated. Remember what happened in Jacob’s family when he was not a one-woman man. He was a four-woman man at one point, and it caused much strife and jealousy in the family. That was not honoring to God or a good example to follow.
Or remember the doctrine of Balaam who couldn’t succeed in cursing God’s people so he had to go to a plan B. He got the Israelites to commit harlotry with the women of Moab who in turned got the people to worship Baal. God struck 23,000 in one day for their sexual immorality. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:8 specifically says that this should serve as an example for us as God’s people today to flee from sexual immorality.
Or remember the past teaching of wisdom in Proverbs 5 and 7. There it warned how foolish it would be to be seduced by an adulteress. It spoke of the disaster and death that would follow. Instead, it said to instead rejoice in the wife of your youth and always be satisfied by her breasts and enraptured by her love. In other words, wisdom says be a one-woman man because of the folly that would otherwise befall you!
And of course, we would be remiss to not mention the disaster associated with King David’s sin with Bathsheba. That infidelity was wrong in so many ways, and it had various repercussions for God’s people. In other words, when God brought chastening to King David because of this sin, the chastening had effects on all Israel. God brought the sword to David’s kingdom, such as in Absalom’s revolt and Sheba’s revolt. These two revolts caused great trouble for God’s people, and Scripture shows how it was all a part of how God had brought chastening on David because of his sin with Bathsheba.
And so, those are various examples from the past about the troubles of sexual immorality and marital unfaithfulness for God’s people, even among leaders of the people. But what about the present? Well, this issue is as important as ever. We live in a sex driven and sex focused culture. This is being delivered in our faces in so many ways. There is advertising that flaunts this and promotes lust. There is a general lack of modesty in dress that encourages lust. You have TV shows and movies that depict various forms of sexual immorality, often in a positive, celebratory light. There is easy access to pornography and even venues to arrange for immoral encounters. How many families and lives have been wrecked because of such sexual immorality! And how common today is such immorality, with one night stands, casual sex, cohabitation, adultery, divorce, and so much more.
Sadly, we know that leadership in the church has not been immune to these temptations. How many sexual scandals have been among church leaders! It is sad. In a time of such sexual temptation, we need godly examples of marriage, now as much as ever! This is a such strong temptation of sin for Christians and humans in general. Pray for such leaders to be raised up. And then pray for their ongoing fidelity. We need strong leadership today in this area. And we should only ordain elders and deacons who have demonstrated a strong track record in this area.
In closing, let me say it again clearly: sexual purity and fidelity are areas of temptation to God’s people. This is another reason why we need the gospel. For those who have committed sins of this sort, know the forgiveness and healing that is in Jesus Christ. This too is why he went to the cross. These are not unforgiveable sins, but they did require the cross of Jesus Christ. Rest in the grace of Jesus Christ, even as you now look to put off all this former manner of living. Pursue sexual purity and fidelity. And pray that the leaders in Christ’s church will especially lead as godly examples in this way.
Interestingly, Jesus was a zero-woman man when he was on earth. It would not have been wrong for him to have taken a wife. But surely the reason why he did remain single was so that he could be fully devoted to the Lord’s work. That means, of course, that he was fully committed to taking the church unto himself as his one bride. So, in that sense, Jesus was actually a one-woman man. For Jesus has one church, and thus one bride.
And I love what Ephesians 5 says about that. Ephesians 5:25 says that Christ “loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”
As humans in the church we face temptation regarding sexual fidelity. We are also tempted regarding spiritual fidelity to the Lord. But in both cases, we look to our Lord Jesus’ work to purify us and sanctify us as his bride. This is what Jesus does for his church. He is cleaning us and purifying us. In fact, this is what he is doing today as his word is being proclaimed on this subject. It is he teaching you and training you in his will for your sexuality. And as he gives faithful elders in this regard, it is also part of how Jesus is sanctifying us.
Pray to Jesus for this sanctifying and cleansing. Pray for it for your own life and for the leaders in the church. Let us keep praying for this and seeking this until that great day of Christ when he does present us to himself as a spotless glorious church. Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.