If a man is married to a divorced woman, can he serve in church leadership?
First Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 teach that an elder or pastor must be known as the husband of one wife, a qualification also mentioned regarding deacons in 1 Timothy 3:12. Because of this requirement, some have asked if a man married to a divorced woman can serve in church leadership. Does the Bible provide an answer to this question?
The overall qualification appears to deal with whether the man who is called to serve as an elder or deacon is known as what the Greek literally calls a "one woman" man. In other words, the phrase only specifies that a man is known for his faithful relationship to one woman. It is not specific beyond this statement.
Some have also mentioned Matthew 5:32: "But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." If a man marries a divorced woman, he could be considered in an adulterous relationship and unqualified to serve as a church leader. However, it is important to take the context of this passage into consideration before applying it to all situations.
The passage in Matthew dealt with a specific Jewish cultural custom common in the time of Jesus. Because premarital and extramarital sexual relationships were condemned, men would divorce a wife and remarry another one right away in order to begin a new relationship, a practice some have called serial monogamy. Jesus condemned this practice, calling it a form of adultery.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul mentioned other occasions in which divorce could occur. Paul did not specifically refer to remarriage in these cases as a form of adultery as Jesus did in the Gospels. In one instance he counseled against remarriage and in the others does not mention it overtly.
While it is important to investigate an elder or deacon's character and background in the process of selecting these leaders, a wife with a previous divorce is not necessarily grounds for disqualification. The church must take all of the information into account and determine if the overall character and integrity of the man fits the qualifications presented in Scripture. If so, then the man could serve in church leadership despite concerns in the past.
No person is perfect, nor is any marriage. Selecting a church leader requires much care, yet God can use those who have had troubled marriages in the past, including the spouse of an elder or deacon, and use these families to serve and minister to others for the glory of God.
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