“If there is one who is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, whose children have faith, not open to the accusation of reckless living or undisciplined behavior, for it is required that the overseer is irreproachable as God’s steward, not intractable, not short-tempered, not violent, not greedy, but hospitable, a lover of good, prudent, upright, pious, disciplined, being devoted to the Word as taught faithfully, that he might be able to exhort people in doctrine that is sound and reprove those who deny it.”
The second of Paul’s qualifications in this list is that an Elder must be the “husband of one wife.” There are several issues that come out of this statement. First of all, the most obvious qualifications are that an Elder must not by a polygamist and he must be a male. There is an analogy we find in scripture between marriage and Christ’s relationship to the church. So, just as Christ is portrayed as the bridegroom and the church as the bride (and thus the relationship of submission and love found between the church and Christ reflects the behavior of the wife toward her husband and the husband toward his wife — see Ephesians 5:22-33), so too, that analogy is found in the church, with male headship ruling as Christ ruled. Yet, just as Jesus has one bride (the church through the ages), not two peoples (as someone like Scofield suggested), so too the husband is to have one bride. Along these line, Paul will write that each man should have his own wife and each wife her own husband…there is no way to construe anything but monogamous relationships in view here, despite what “progressives” in our culture might suggest (see 1 Corinthians 7:2).
There is some debate around the matter of whether someone must be married (or have been married and a widower) to qualify as an Elder. For example, when Paul gives this list to Timothy, he speaks of one who has ordered his household well (implying not only a wife, but children — what better way to demonstrate whether you have ordered your home well than, well, your home). On the other side of this debate is Paul’s language of being good for a man to be celibate (1 Corinthians 7:1). This, arguably, allows the Elder to devote himself to the congregation without reservations or restrictions. Families need time and care to order well and there are many illustrations from history as well as all around us of pastors who have shipwrecked their home-lives because they were obsessively dedicated to their spouses. Further, it seems that Paul (at least) was unmarried — of course, Paul held the office of Apostle and is not referred to as an Elder in the scriptures.
So, how do we make sense of this? First, there are some obvious conclusions. Abstinence is mandatory if you remain single and if that becomes a trial or temptation, then marry. The notion of requiring priests to remain single is both unbiblical and contrary to promoting the spiritual wellbeing of the individual forced to be abstinent when it becomes a stumbling block. Second, if one marries, one must order one’s own household well. Third (and this is my personal conviction), as a pastor, it is better to have a wife who can be a helpmate. She will keep you grounded and keep you from losing sight of your calling as well as be your companion when you get old and are no longer able to serve the church as you once did. She can also help you order your own house and thus, with a wife and children, you (in my opinion) best fulfill Paul’s mandate about being “a husband of one wife.”
Abuses, temptations, and perversions are all around us. I can think of no better remedy for them but a loving Christian wife who can stand with you during the trials and successes of the work God gives to you in Christ as an Elder.