Must An Elder Remain Married?

As part of the qualifications of an elder the Holy Spirit says, “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach…” (1 Tim. 3:1-2).  Also, concerning the qualifications for a deacon Scripture says, “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well” (1 Tim. 3:12).  When one thinks of the qualifications of an elder or deacon, no one who respects the Bible believes a man who has never been married could fill either of these offices.  Yet, what if an elder or deacon loses his spouse?  Can an elder or a deacon lose his wife and still remain qualified to serve?  As we think about this qualification, please understand this has nothing to do with the good service he has rendered up to this point.  Christians in every local congregation should give faithful elders “double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17).  And, every Christian should feel a sense of empathy for any individual who loses his or her spouse (Rom. 12:15).  With these thoughts in mind, let’s consider if an elder or deacon who loses his spouse is still qualified to serve.

To understand the qualifications of an elder one must understand the mandate of 1 Tim. 3:2, “A bishop then must be…”.  The phrase “must be” carries the force of a “necessity, a mandate, or something that has to be”.  What then do the Scriptures teach about the qualifications of an elder from this mandate?   Since this language is a command, Paul is not just suggesting that it would be a good idea for an elder to be married.  Being married is a must to serve as an elder.  What then should one conclude about an elder or deacon who loses his spouse?  Naturally, we have to ask, “Is he the husband of one wife?”  To answer this we need to look no further than the words of Paul in Romans 7:2-3.  The Scripture says, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.  So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man” (Rom. 7:2-3).  Evident from this text is the simple truth that death ends marriage.  Jesus taught that there would be no marrying or marriage on the other side (Mark. 12:23-25).  Since marriage is limited to earth life when one’s spouse passes away that naturally dissolves the marriage.  Thus, we must conclude that an elder or deacon who loses his wife cannot meet the mandate of being the husband of one wife.  However, sometimes people object by saying, “He has met the qualification because he was at one time the husband of one wife”.  While there is no doubt that he has been the husband of one wife, that’s not what the text says.  The Scripture says, “A Bishop then must be…the husband of one wife…” (1 Tim. 3:2). 

What then can we conclude about an elder’s or deacon’s qualification if his wife dies?   While our hearts go out to them for their loss and we honor them for their service, this cannot override the clear language of Scripture.  The Scriptures teach that death ends marriage (Rom. 7:1-4).  The Scriptures also teach that only someone who meets the mandate and is the husband of one wife is qualified to be an elder or deacon.  Thus, when an elder or deacon’s wife dies the best and the right thing would be for him to resign with dignity.  Does this mean he can’t serve God anymore?  He absolutely can still serve God.  Like every other member of the church he must be faithful until death (Rev. 2:10). In closing we say with Paul, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim. 5:17).

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