…the husband of but one wife, (Titus 1:6b)
If you are just joining our study, we are breaking down the character profile of a church elder, as given by the Apostle Paul to Titus, whom he left in Crete. Titus was expected to appoint elders in every town, which means he needed some criteria for selection.
This morning’s passage is a tough one. How should the idea that an elder is to be the “husband of but one wife” be applied? Does it mean…
…he must only have one wife at a time?
…he must be married to be an elder?
…he must have only been married once?
It may already be obvious to you how certain circumstances in a man’s life could be considered as disqualifications. For example, if a man has never been married, but is older with an experienced spiritual walk, should he be eliminated from consideration? If a man’s wife leaves him, should he not be allowed to serve, even when he has not done anything morally wrong, and has had time to heal? If a man’s wife dies, and he is in the role of elder, should he be asked to step down? And if a man has been married more than once, should he be asked to serve as elder?
I don’t have the space here to address each of these questions sufficiently. But I will give you a framework for interpretation.
The structure of this morning verse suggests literally, a “one-woman man.” In other words, in a role that requires as much trust and faithfulness as that of elder, people should not have to worry about whether or not a man knows how to conduct himself in the presence of women, or to maintain healthy boundaries that help him avoid an indiscretion. With this in mind, it would be just as inappropriate to have a married man as an elder who has poor boundaries.
Over the years I have heard many answers to the questions I posed earlier. How one approaches them depends on whether one believes Paul is saying a man must be married to be an elder, or rather that regardless of his marital status, he should demonstrate in word and deed his conviction that sexual intimacy is reserved for the marriage bed (Obviously, the same would be true even if Paul were referring only to the fact an elder must be married).
As with all of the characteristics for elder, this one applies to all of us, male or female. Leaders are called to a higher level of accountability because of the impact they can have on others. But we are all ultimately accountable to God and responsible for our witness to the world.
Dear God, help me live a life of integrity. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. Last weekend I accidentally sent out two devotions. One of them, on the first part of Titus 1:6 was intended for Monday. Then somehow I posted a past devotion from 3rd John. I am moving ahead with the next devotion for Titus today (Titus 1:6b). Disregard the 3rd John devotion and go back and read the Titus 1:6 one, if you missed it over the weekend. My intention is to send devotions out only during workdays since some people read them in their offices. Thank you for your patience as I learn my new system – Larry Jones.
On both the “husband of one wife” and “believing children” criteria, I also take the broader view. A couple other things of note: Paul himself would not have been qualified to be an elder if you had to be currently married to serve. Also, he indicated that it was better to remain unmarried, like him (if you could live with celibacy and not fall into sexual sin), in order to devote yourself more singlemindedly to the things of God. It’s hard to see how following the “preferred route” would disqualify you from leadership.