WHAT ABOUT UNMARRIED, DIVORCED, AND REMARRIED MEN IN THE MINISTRY?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“My question refers to the qualifications of being a pastor, minister, or teacher. It is threefold. Can an unmarried man be a pastor? A minister? A teacher? How about a divorced (not remarried) man? How about a remarried divorced man?”
Friend, thank you for these questions. Let us search the Scriptures for answers!
1. CAN AN UNMARRIED MAN BE A PASTOR?
While the Bible says in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 that a bishop “must be the husband of one wife,” he is not required to be married. The verse simply means if he is married, he should be married to one woman (monogamy) rather than two or more women (polygamy). In the pagan world of Paul’s day, polygamy was common. It is important to note that anyone who forbids clergymen from marrying has no Biblical authority whatsoever. The Bible supports the marriage of church leaders! In Bible days, before organized religion corrupted Christianity, bishops were free to marry. It is acknowledged, “Celibacy is of later ecclesiastical institution.” Clerical celibacy was introduced circa 1,000 years after Christ! (The pastor should study these verses and decide if he should marry. He should not be forbidden either way. Marriage is a personal choice, not the choice of the denomination or local assembly.)
In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, the Apostle Paul gives advice on marriage for our dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace. He wrote in verses 32 and 33: “ But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:  But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” An unmarried man does not have a wife to be concerned about. He can be more concerned about the Lord’s work. He can spend more time and energy seeking God’s will rather than trying to please his wife. That is the advantage.
There are however at least two disadvantages to being an unmarried pastor:
Firstly, an unmarried pastor will find himself in “questionable” or “difficult” circumstances. For example, counseling a single or married woman. (A second lady would need to be in the room as witness and chaperone, for sake of both the other lady and the pastor.) If the unmarried pastor burns with lust, he needs to find a wife, lest the Devil use his sexual desires to an evil end. “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9). Thus, compulsory celibacy is a sure way to cause a man to fall into gross sexual sin.
Secondly, the unmarried pastor has no first-hand experience concerning marriage and parenting. If someone were to come to him for help about either matter, it will be somewhat difficult for him to input because he is inexperienced about such things. True, he will know the appropriate verses, but he has no experience in applying these verses to life because he has never done it himself.
2. CAN AN UNMARRIED MAN BE A MINISTER?
“Minister” is a general term that simply means “servant.” Technically, all Christians are “ministers” (or servants) of God. When sharing the Gospel, you are functioning as a minister of God. When working on the job and providing for your family’s material needs, you are a minister of God. When teaching the Bible, you are a minister of God. When praying for people, you are a behaving as a minister of God. When leading the choir, you are a minister of God. This could apply to husbands and wives, students, et cetera. Paul was a “minister” (1 Corinthians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 4:1) and yet he was unmarried at the time (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). It is highly likely that Paul was married at one time, but once he trusted Christ, his wife left him because he never writes about her.
3. CAN AN UNMARRIED MAN BE A TEACHER?
Yes, an unmarried man can be a Bible teacher. I am such a man, by the way! 🙂 Without a wife, I can spend more time studying God’s Word and more time with God’s people who need help in understanding and applying His Word to their lives. Again, Paul was unmarried (probably because his unbelieving wife abandoned him). As I mentioned earlier, marriage is not a requirement for every person (1 Corinthians 7:6-9). Again, it is a matter of free will. You choose to marry or you choose not to marry. Friend, God’s grace allows you the choice, provided the spouse is a believer (1 Corinthians 7:39, “only in the Lord”). In some cases, Christians can better serve the Lord single than married (see answer to question #1). Friend, I am a testament to that!
4. HOW ABOUT A DIVORCED (NOT REMARRIED) MAN?
Having grown up in legalistic churches, I remember preachers vehemently teaching that the Bible commands bishops and deacons to be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2,12; Titus 1:6). They would say that if the bishop or deacon is divorced and remarried, he is married to two women and thus he cannot fulfill the respective office. This is a rather silly argument. Divorce ends a marriage. The divorced and remarried man is not married to two women—he is married to one woman and no longer married to the other. When JEHOVAH God “divorced” Israel (Isaiah 50:1), He ceased to be married to her, did He not? He could not have been married to Israel while at the same time divorced from her, could He? (Hosea chapter 2 describes God’s future remarriage to Israel.) Again, divorce ends a marriage.
Religious people are always surprised to learn that God has forgiven divorce because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. The very last thing—yea, the very last thing—that God intended is the destruction of a marriage union. He never, ever wanted to be separated from Israel, but they left Him (just as the unbelieving spouse leaves the believing spouse). The God of the Bible never, ever, ever intended a man and his wife to be separated either:
- Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
- Matthew 19:5-6: “ And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
- Ephesians 5:31: “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.”
- 1 Corinthians 7:10-12: “ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:  But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.  But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.”
However, the Lord Jesus told us a harsh reality. Divorce happens because of the “hardness of [people’s] hearts.” Recall Matthew 19:8: “He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” Sin produces fighting and war, James 4:1 says. War causes division. Fighting causes divorces. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”
Sometimes divorce happens because the unbelieving spouse leaves the believing spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). This is out of the believer’s control. “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” As we hinted at earlier, this may have very well happened to Paul once he became a believer. 1 Corinthians 7:12: “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” Note, the believing spouse should never, ever, ever initiate the divorce! Unless, of course, there is any type of abuse, then the Lord would encourage you to leave the relationship for your safety’s sake (and/or your children’s sakes)!!
5. HOW ABOUT A REMARRIED DIVORCED MAN?
See answer for question #4 above.
Whether divorced and not remarried, or divorced and remarried, the sin of divorce is still forgiven in Jesus Christ. On one hand, we certainly do not minimize sin, but on the other, we do not accentuate what Jesus Christ already took care of at Calvary’s cross. As members of the Church the Body of Christ, God is not holding our sins against us. Hence, we should not hold our sins against ourselves. Friend, if you divorced while you were a lost person, or even if you divorced while you were a Christian, that is in the past. Jesus Christ died for that sin. Now you need to move on as He has moved on from it. If you have trusted the shed blood of Jesus Christ for your forgiveness of sins, they are all forgiven—past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13). Just as someone can go to prison as a lost person, become a Christian while incarcerated, and then have a ministry, a divorced or remarried man can have a ministry for the Lord. Past lifestyles are just that—in the past! It does not matter what you did in the past. What matters is that you, by God’s grace, have made improvements in your life and you have come out of a worldly lifestyle, that you may be a model example of a Christian and thus fit for ministry.
Friend, above all, yes, learn from your mistakes, but do not let your mistakes haunt you. That is how the Devil operates. If you can work things out with your ex-wife, please try. You just may win her to Jesus Christ! 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:  But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.” If your ex-wife has already remarried, just move on with whatever marriage relationship you are in now, if applicable. Please remember that divorce should be the very last resort. The only justifiable reason for it in this the Dispensation of Grace, apart from abuse, is if the unbelieving spouse leaves the Christian spouse.