by Al Maxey

Issue #64 ------- August 22, 2003
I have no more right to object to a man for
holding a different opinion from mine than I
have to differ with a man because he wears a wig
and I wear my own hair; but if he takes his wig off
and shakes the powder in my face, I shall consider
it my duty to get quit of him as soon as possible.

--- John Wesley (1703-1791)


When An Elder's Wife Dies
May He Continue Serving
the Congregation as a Shepherd?

Recently, a Youth and Family Minister from Alabama wrote, "Al, I wanted to ask you a question. I have been reading your Reflections for a long time and haven't found anywhere where you and I differ in opinion. Well, recently I have lodged myself into a study of Elders. Throughout the study I have been trying to find an answer to one very tough question (at least in my opinion). I could really use some guidance from you. According to Paul's instructions, he says an Elder 'must be ... the husband of one wife.' My question for you is: if an Elder's wife passes, should he resign? Is that the scriptural thing to do based on this passage? I make it a point never to major in minors, but this is a question that I am struggling with based on Paul's instructions. Can you guide me in the right direction on this one? Thanks."

Within his first two pastoral epistles, as alluded to by the reader, Paul speaks somewhat indirectly to the issue before us, and he does so within the context of a matter he deemed to be of tremendous importance to the life of the church: the qualities which were to be exemplified in the lives of its spiritual leaders. Among the many qualities which are discussed, there is one (mentioned twice in connection with Elders, once with reference to Deacons) which is crucial to oneís understanding of Paul's teaching on the matter. The spiritual leaders of the church are to be "the husband of but one wife" [1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6].

In the original Greek text this statement would more literally be rendered, "a one woman man" or "a man of one woman." It refers to an attitude of heart. It is an inner portrait of one who is deeply committed to just one woman. Although the world abounds with men given over to the desires of the flesh, whose eyes never cease roving and whose lustful appetites never seem sated, such attitudes and actions must be foreign to the heart of God's leaders.

Genuine pastors of God's flock understand the importance of leading by example. They perceive the significance, both to themselves and their followers, of a singleness of commitment to the covenants established with their God and their spouses. Their lives are to be a reflection of God's IDEAL; of the Creator's original design for marriage: One man committed to one woman for life. In attitude and action the true leader of God's people is a one woman man.

It should be noted that Paul was giving this direction in the context of a period of time, and within a society, both religious and secular, where marriage had become increasingly trivialized and cheapened. The IDEAL of God was all but forgotten by mankind. The practice of polygamy was rampant, as was the heartless abuse and abandonment of wives. Men were living lives of reckless wantonness, utterly consumed with their own lusts, focused entirely upon the pursuit of their own self-interests. The concept of marriage as a covenant meant nothing; honor and commitment were mocked, and women were regarded as little more than possessions to be obtained or discarded on a whim. And, to the horror of society, women were beginning to step out of their "assigned place" and follow the horrendous example of the men. It was a time of moral and spiritual chaos; a time in which strong spiritual leadership was desperately needed.

Those who were to be called to stand before the people of God and guide them in the paths of righteousness must of necessity have a far better comprehension of the mind of God than those about them. They must perceive the beauty and value of godly living. They must know the Creator's design for every area of their lives, and must further be actively seeking to achieve these IDEALS. Godly leaders must be able to demonstrate, through the example of their own daily living, as well as through their teaching, that God's IDEALS are not only understandable, but attainable ... even preferable! God has always required an extra measure of maturity, wisdom, and spirituality from His leaders so that they might genuinely prove to be "examples to the flock" [1 Peter 5:3]. "Remember your leaders who have spoken God's message to you; and as you observe their manner of life, imitate their faith" [Hebrews 13:7, McCord].

A leader in the church who was a polygamist, for instance, would be a very poor example to the flock of the Creator's original intent for marriage. His life would be a public declaration that he had no real understanding of or appreciation for God's IDEAL. A great many biblical scholars, incidentally, are convinced this is the true significance of the phrase "one woman man" ... i.e., spiritual leaders in the church are to be monogamous, both in heart and practice, rather than polygamous. One translation of the Scriptures even goes so far as to state, in 1 Timothy 3:12, that spiritual leaders must be chosen from among "those who have not been polygamous" [George M. Lamsa, Holy Bible From The Ancient Eastern Text].

There seems to be little question, however, that Paul's characterization of the heart of God's spiritual leader does not stop with a mere abhorrence of and abstinence from the practice of polygamy. It entails far more than that, although it does indeed include it. One who is genuinely a one woman man will also remain faithful to his wife and to his covenant with her. Seeking out illicit sexual relationships would be unthinkable to him. One will never observe him letting his eyes gaze lustfully and longingly upon another woman, thus committing adultery with her in his heart. He is a "one woman man." His heart is devoted entirely to the only woman in his life: his wife.

Seeking to terminate his covenant of marriage with his spouse when the problems common to all marital relationships occur in his own marriage will be the farthest thing from his mind. "Divorce" is not a part of his vocabulary! Challenges to the relationship will be worked out and overcome; sacrifices will be made; humility, patience, forbearance and love will be practiced. The sailing may not always be smooth, but abandoning ship is not viewed as a viable option.

Marvin and Gail had been joined in marriage
for 45 years when she died of cancer. They
were the parents of three children, all of whom had
grown into responsible Christian men and women.
Marvin had served as a spiritual leader in his
church for ten years at the time of Gail's death.
Two weeks after her funeral, a committee of
members informed Marvin he must resign as one of
the congregation's leaders, for he was no longer the
"husband of one wife" ... he was now the husband
of no wife, thus unfit to continue serving as a
spiritual guide for the church. Marvin was deeply
hurt, but to keep peace in the congregation,
he resigned his position of leadership.

Were the church members correct in their interpretation of this passage from the Pastoral Epistles? Were they justified in requiring Marvin to step down as one of their spiritual leaders? By carefully examining the intent of the apostle Paul in giving these various qualities of leadership, and becoming aware of the true purpose of the one woman man principle, one will quickly see the interpretation of the committee of members was completely erroneous.

Paul was not giving a legalistic check list, but providing insight into the nature of a godly leader's heart. Among other things, a spiritual leader will possess the quality of being a one woman man. It is the nature of his heart; he is lovingly and faithfully committed to his spouse. This was no less true of Marvin after Gail's death than it was before. He possesses a quality of heart that demonstrates itself in genuine, undistracted devotion to another. For 45 years he successfully displayed his commitment to God's IDEAL for marriage; a commitment to a divine principle which her death did not make null and void. He was, and continues to be, a man whose heart is filled with an appreciation for the beauty of the Creator's original design for marriage. He lived it, and continues to proclaim it. Indeed, his devotion to this divine principle is stronger now than ever before, for he has experienced first-hand the blessings of achieving God's IDEAL for marriage. Marvin is able to bring to his flock the wisdom, experience and example of 45 years of successful marriage. Marvin was, and is, and always will be a one woman man, for it is a quality of his heart. The fact of his wife's death in no way negates this quality. Thus, there is no just cause why he should relinquish his position as a spiritual leader.

Suppose Marvin decides at some point in the future to marry again, and he spends the remainder of his life in a loving, faithful relationship with Janet, his new spouse? Would this disqualify him from serving as a spiritual leader? Would he now be considered a "two woman man?" Yes, I suppose so, if Paulís intent in his discussion of leadership qualities was to provide a legalistic and numeric check list. But Paul, legalism's greatest opponent, was not counting wives, he was calling the church to consider the nature of a man's heart. Is Marvin still a "one woman man" in his heart? Absolutely! He is entirely devoted to his covenant with Janet, and he spends the remainder of his life living the IDEAL with her. Being a one woman man is an attitude of heart that manifests itself in the actions of one's life. In no way was Marvin ever inconsistent with that attitude or those actions. He was by nature and desire a one woman man, and the fact that death claimed his first wife, and he later entered into a covenant with a second, neither diminished nor negated this marvelous quality of heart.

Frank and Ruby married one another
right after graduating from high school. They had
dated through their junior and senior years;
everyone knew they were "meant for each other."
For the first five years things went well. Frank was
completely devoted to Ruby; she was the center of
his universe; the focus of his life. In his eyes, no
other woman existed. He was truly a one woman man.

But, Frank's world collapsed unexpectedly
one day when Ruby informed him she had met a
man where she worked with whom she would
rather spend her life. He had asked her to come
away with him, and she had accepted. She claimed
she still loved Frank; that he had been a good and
devoted husband; but this was something
she "just had to do."

Ruby filed for divorce, in spite of Frank's
pleas that they seek help. She freely admitted this
was her decision and that Frank was in no way to
blame for the breakdown of the relationship.
Frank was devastated, spending the next twelve
years alone, trying as best he could to continue on
with his life. Seeking out another relationship was
the farthest thing from his mind; Ruby had been
the only woman for him; he couldn't imagine being
with anyone else.

One day, at a church function, Frank was
introduced to Caroline. She began showing an
interest in him, and slowly Frank began to emerge
from the depths of his lengthy despair. Two years
later, at the age of 37, Frank married Caroline, a 30
year old school teacher who had never married.
For the next 25 years they enjoyed a warm, loving
relationship, one in which both were completely
devoted to the other. They had two sons, both of
whom accepted Christ and actively served Him.

When Frank was 62 years old, the
congregation where he worshipped began a search
for additional spiritual leaders. The members
repeatedly submitted his name for consideration,
but the current leaders refused to call him to serve.
His first wife had left him, and he had remarried.
Thus, he was not, they ruled, the "husband of one wife."

Were these leaders right in forbidding Frank to serve the congregation as a spiritual leader? Again, how one responds will depend largely on how one interprets the phrase "one woman man." Is it a legal mandate, denoting a quantity? Or, is it the focus of one's heart and life, denoting a quality? If one opts for the former, he will probably agree with the view that Frank is disqualified; if one opts for the latter, he likely will disagree with that assessment.

The tragic fact that Ruby chose to abandon Frank and pursue her own selfish interests in no way negated Frank's commitment to God's IDEAL for marriage. If anything, it strengthened that commitment, for Frank had experienced first-hand the agony that ensues from a failure to achieve it. Frank had been sinned against; he was a victim; adultery had been committed against him, not by him. According to the teaching of Jesus, he was guilty of nothing. Throughout his marriage to Caroline the nature of his heart never changed; he was true to her, just as he had been to Ruby. He was indeed a one woman man, an attitude of heart which he consistently demonstrated throughout his life.

Had the situation been reversed, however ... had it been Frank who abandoned Ruby so he could run off with Caroline ... things would be much different. Even though he and Caroline may have established a warm, loving relationship, and raised their children well, and become respected members of their community and church, Frank will always have that experience in his past where he "dealt treacherously" with the wife of his youth, his companion by covenant [Malachi 2]. This is not to suggest that God will not fully forgive Frank, if genuine repentance has occurred in his heart, but such behavior does incur consequences. One such consequence is that by his failure to display a one woman man quality of heart, he has forfeited the right to serve as a spiritual leader in the church.

God has called His spiritual leaders to be living examples to the flock. Their lives must be models of successful living. When men, women and young people look to their leaders, they must be able to clearly see, from the pattern of their lives, that God's IDEAL for marriage is both attainable and maintainable. The leader's heart must be attuned with God's.

When the marriage of a godly leader is ended by the death of his spouse, this in no way voids that quality of heart that is focused upon the IDEAL in marriage; he remains, indeed he always was, a one woman man. When a faithless wife abandons her husband, breaking their covenant of marriage, this also, in itself, does not void that quality of heart necessary for spiritual leadership. Remember, God's wife left Him, and in so doing did not diminish His character. Even should this man remarry, as did God (Israel's "sister" Judah), that in no way suggests his heart is any less committed to the IDEAL of his God; he is still, in his heart, a one woman man. Should either of these men serve, or continue to serve, as spiritual leaders, they can demonstrate through their lives how the one woman man remains faithful to the IDEAL even in the face of the death of a spouse or her unfaithfulness. They will be examples to the flock of God's IDEAL .... one of the very purposes of an Elder!

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, Great article! The fallacy of some in using Nadab and Abihu to justify condemnation of practices other than those found in their own traditions is one of many examples of missing the more important lessons from accounts like this one. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, Thank you for the Nadab and Abihu explanation. It illustrates for us so clearly that it is the condition of the heart that counts with God -- every person, every circumstance, every time.

From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:

I just can't keep your Reflections to myself, so I write others about your material and try to open their minds with your articles. Keep up the wonderful work. You help us all to see more clearly. May God continue to bless you, my brother in Christ.

From a Reader in Colorado:

I really enjoyed your article on Souls Under the Altar. Makes excellent sense, and I'm glad to have it where I can use it for reference in any Ladies' Bible Class where the subject comes up.

From a Preacher in New Jersey:

Please add me to your mailing list for Reflections. Plus, may I have permission to reprint your complete article on Uzzah (Reflections #23) in our bulletin (circulation less than 200) along with authorship/source acknowledgement?

From a Reader in Arizona:

Greetings from a neighbor to the west. I attend the ----- Church of Christ in -----, Arizona (in the southeast corner). Please subscribe me to Reflections. I have not read all the articles from the archive yet, but I hope to. I'm curious, do you use music in your worship service? (We do.) The issue of instrumental music seems so divisive, and I think it is tragic that the non-instrumental churches teach (either directly or indirectly) that the use of instruments in worship is sinful. How sad to instill such needless fear into members of the Body of Christ. And it is a form of fear. I've seen it on the faces of visitors who enter our church, catch sight of the piano or a guitar, and turn around and leave. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Your writings are a blessing and I look forward to reading more of them.

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