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Ministry:  Can someone be unmarried, divorced, or remarried?

Gary Googe Apr 17

As with so many things, the Bible provides us with correct answers.  We’ll address several marital situations one at a time.

  1. Can an unmarried man serve as a pastor?

The first thing we all need to realize is that the word ministry simply speaks of someone who serves.  The word pastor comes from the Latin noun “pastor” which means shepherd.  Of course, in our case the word is being used for one who is thought to be serving formally as the head of a local church.  Depending on the form of church government that’s in place, this is the way the term is probably most often used.  Although the word bishop is used to designate such a person, people serving in this capacity, regardless of the title they’re given, are not required to marryFurthermore, no place in Scripture do find any women being qualified for this position, despite the abuses or violations of this principle in society today or any other time.  Because there are so many violations and abuses of this, I’ll provide all the details related to these passages of Scripture so there can be no doubt about what they are saying.  Also, bear in mind that we must work to build our culture around the Scriptures and not the other way around.

1 Timothy 3:2

A bishop [EPISKIPOS = overseer – from EPI = over and SKOPEO = to look] then must be blameless [ANEPILEPTOS = irreproachable], the husband [ANER = a man] of one wife [GUNE = a woman], vigilant [NEPHALIOS = sober], sober [SOPHRON = self-controlled], of good behaviour, given to hospitality [PHILOXENOS = hospitable], apt to teach [PAIDEUO = skillful in teaching]; [Emphasis added]

I find it interesting and even shameful that with all the abuses of this that we have today we need these qualifications spelled out clearly for us.  But fortunately, Scripture does that for us in more than one place in the Bible even though that shouldn’t be necessary.

Titus 1:6

If any [speaking of church leadership] be blameless [ANEPILEPTOS = irreproachable], the husband [ANER = a man] of one wife [GUNE = a woman], having faithful [PISTOS = believing] children not accused of riot [ASOTIA = or unruliness]. [Emphasis added]

Therefore, these passages tell us even what kind of children he is to have but they do not tell us he must have children to serve in this position.  In fact, it doesn’t even tell us he must have a wifeIt just tells us that if he is married, this is the kind of wife and family he is to have.  Furthermore, it is telling us that he is not to be polygamous, having more than one wife at a time.  Bear in mind that when Paul wrote this polygamy was a common practice as it still is in many parts of the world even today.  In fact, there are even countries where polyandry, women having multiple husbands, is practiced.  But all of this is in violation of God’s design for marriage and for those serving in some position of leadership in ministry over a group of God’s people.

Therefore, the Bible supports marriage for men who are serving in church leadership, as in the case of those we speak of as pastors, elders, bishops, etc.  It was when corruption came in that clerical marriage became forbidden.  This apparently formally began in the Catholic church at what is called the First Lateran Council (1123-1153).  This forbade their pastors to marry and ordered all those already married to renounce their wives and do penance.  Later, legislation declared the marriages of clerics not only illegal but also invalidBut authorization for such is not provided anywhere in the 66 books of the Bible.  Therefore, there was nothing from God that authorized this, even though Scripture does provide some important warnings concerning marriage.  It is the apostle Paul who gives us this information for this present Dispensation of Grace of which we are a part today.

1 Corinthians 7:32-33

32 But I would have you without carefulness [MERIMNAO = concern]. He that is unmarried careth [MERIMNAO = is concerned] for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:

The concern expressed here is to do with the fact that though a wife can and should be helpful to her husband, she can also be a distraction from a man’s focus on his ministry.

33 But he that is married careth [MERIMNAO = is concerned] for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. [Emphasis added]

The proper use of one’s time is always a factor in life for everyone.  It takes time and much more to minister to people.  Studying and teaching alone can be very time-consuming, let alone all the other things demanded in working with a congregation and others.

In our time, probably more so than ever before in America, pastors are expected to provide personal counseling for people.  However, most of that time would be used far more effectively by providing more and better teaching for the whole congregation, developing in them the wisdom they need to address their problems themselves from their understanding of what they learn from the Scriptures.

Unlike today there was a time when counseling courses were not even offered on seminary campuses.  Correctly the focus was on teaching the Bible, what is sometimes spoken of as the whole counsel of GodIt is that counsel from a pastor that people need today more than anything else

American schools such as Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth were first established to train young men for the ministry and to evangelize native IndiansOberlin College in Ohio is said to be the first to admit female students.  And that didn’t happen until 1837– more than 200 years after Harvard College was founded for the education of young men.  The core text they used in all these schools was the Bible.  It was used to teach languages, math, history, science, astronomy, and more. Furthermore, it was understood and believed to be the primary authority for gaining wisdom for all the major decisions in all areas of life.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. [Emphasis added]

That last little phrase says it all— “thoroughly furnished unto ALL good works.”  What is truly the biggest problem in America today is the ignorance most people have of the principles taught in the Scriptures.  That ignorance is displayed broadly in marriages.  With such a high divorce rate, even among believers, things aren’t looking good for the institution of marriage in America.  Then, too, many couples that live together aren’t even legally married.

The concern for young male single pastors is their unfulfilled sexual desires.  Scripture tells us that if they can’t contain them, they need to work toward getting married.

1 Corinthians 7:9

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn [in their sexual desires]. [Emphasis added]

In situations where there’s compulsory celibacy, the chances for sexual sin are always higher than they would be otherwise.  Furthermore, because of man’s sinful nature, he is always prone to want things that are forbidden.  Therefore, it truly is best that pastors marry.

  1. Can an unmarried man be in some ministry?

Technically all believers are in the ministry. It is just a question of how well and where they’re serving in that capacity.  All the word ministry means is that the person is in a position of service.  This is the basic reason why every believer should see himself as one being in the ministry.  Your ongoing attitude to all should be—How may I serve you?

The apostle Paul tells us he was a minister.

Romans 15:16

16 That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. [Emphasis added]

Anyone who serves up the gospel message to people is a minister, even though they may not serve in that role in a formal position of authority over others.

1 Corinthians 3:5

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? [Emphasis added]

Again, technically, all Christians are “ministers [or servants] of God. Any time you share the Gospel, you are functioning as a minister of God, serving up the most important message in all the world. But even public servants in political roles are called ministers in the Bible.

Romans 13:6

For this cause pay ye tribute [taxes] also: for they are God’s ministers [people who serve in government], attending continually upon this very thing. [Emphasis added]

Anyone could end up in a “ministry” functioning in a local church or otherwise.  It really makes no difference.  It just means the person is providing some kind of service to someone or to some group, as with what we often speak of as a local church.  So, are YOU in the ministry? Yes! It is just a question of what area of life you’re working in and how good the service is that you’re providing.  Again, your ongoing attitude should beHow may I serve you?

  1. Can an unmarried man be a minister?

I realize that you may be thinking of what is typically called “a minister” on or leading a church staff, but that matter is irrelevant to this question.  There are no restrictions or prohibitions about this anywhere in our apostle, the apostle Paul’s writingsThe obvious answer after all I’ve said should be yes.  He can be unmarried.  As in any field work, he needs to be obedient to the principles set forth in the Bible, whether he’s working with men or women.  It makes no difference.

  1. Can a divorced but not remarried man serve in ministry?

Please see my article about marriage and divorce on this website.  I address this subject and things related in my article about it—

Marriage:  What about divorce?

Just always remember that the word divorce itself indicates that one has the legal right to remarry.  Furthermore, in the Bible we have the story of how God is said to have once divorced Israel.

Isaiah 50:1

1 Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away [speaking of divorce]. [Emphasis added]

Divorce is the formal ending of a marriage.  Certainly, it is something that should never happen, but we all know that it does for a variety of reasons!  Whatever the reasons may be, good or bad, many marriages end in separation and divorce.  When God divorced Israel, we then have the story of their future remarriage in the writings of the prophet Hosea.

Hosea 2:7

And she [the people of Israel] shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them [so as to find fulfillment]; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them: then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now. [Emphasis added]

Again, divorce formally ends a marriage before man and God.  There’s a lot of Scripture about all this and more. Above all else, marriage is to be seen as a serious matter that is intended to last until one’s physical death.  A believer should never see divorce as an option when things aren’t going well in one’s marriage. The goal should always be to diagnose the problem and work toward full reconciliation. There are many verses of Scripture that speak of the permanency of the relationship marriage was designed by God to be.

Genesis 2:24

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave [DABAQ = adhere] unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. [Emphasis added]

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. [Emphasis added]

Ephesians 5:31

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. [Emphasis added]

1 Corinthians 7:10-12

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

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. [Emphasis added]

All these passages speak of the permanency of marriage.  Divorce should never be seen as an option.  Separation may be an option for a time perhaps, until problems can be resolved, and reconciliation brought about, but not divorce.

Wherever there’s divorce or a situation where things may be leading up to one, there’s usually the development of someone’s hardness of heart that needs to be addressed.  Please see my article about it—

Heart: What does it mean to have a hardened one?

Whenever this occurs there’s difficulty on the part of the one hardened for them to see and understand the problem at hand.  There’s always a shortage of even what we often speak of as common sense regarding the situation at hand.

There are times when divorce occurs because an unbelieving spouse leaves the believing spouse.  This is often out of the believer’s control.  Clear instructions are provided for such situations.

1 Corinthians 7:15

15 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. [Emphasis added]

This of course means the believing spouse is then free to then marry another party.  However, in that same paragraph leading up to that verse, we have some other important instructions.

1 Corinthians 7:12-15

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 [meaning not to divorce them].

Bear in mind that even though Paul had not received any special revelation about these thoughts, they nevertheless still serve as instructions to us for our application.

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him [again, meaning not to divorce them].

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified [as one who is acceptable to God as a legitimate mate] by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

15 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. [Emphasis added]

Just please note that the believing spouse is to never initiate the divorce.  However, physical abuse should never be allowed or tolerated, but the objective is to work toward working things out for full reconciliation.  This of course is not only for the sake of the man and the woman, but for the sake of any children or others that may be involved in the situation.

Sins of many kinds are a factor in the life of everyone, believers, and unbelievers.  There’s no such thing as a sinless and perfect mate.  Sins can certainly be more obvious in some people, but they are always a part of one’s life to some degree.  Fortunately, help has been provided because God has done wonderful things about our sin problem.

2 Corinthians 5:21

21 For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]

None of us ever did anything to deserve this.  It is simply a wonderful expression of God’s grace toward all mankind.  This means all our sins, past, present, and future have now all been forgiven because Christ paid the full penalty for them.

Ephesians 1:7

In whom [speaking of Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; [Emphasis added]

Are we not to offer such forgiveness to all others, including one’s spouse?

Ephesians 4:31-32

31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. [Emphasis added]

Wouldn’t obedience to such a command bring about the reconstruction and reconciliation needed in many marriages? Is ANYONE deserving of such treatment? Doesn’t such a situation create a royal opportunity for the expression of grace? And please recall our Lord’s words about this even in the time of His earthly ministry.

Matthew 18:21-22

21 Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. [Emphasis added]

So, how many times have you found forgiveness through Christ for sins you’ve committed multiple times? Will there be a time when He says enough is enough? No, His expressions of grace toward us are amazing as ours should be toward others, especially one’s spouse.  Again, I remind you of Paul’s words to us on this.

Ephesians 4:32

32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. [Emphasis added]

There’s an ongoing demand for grace and forgiveness in every marriage.  No one should allow someone to make them into a punching bag, but forgiveness can be a powerful force in bringing someone around to the truth and godly living.


I’ve answered questions about a variety of things in this article but the bottom line to it all is that entering into a marriage should be seen as a step into what is to be a permanent relationship.  The reasons or excuses people use to justify a divorce are many.  Marriage itself should be seen as an opportunity for ministry both to one’s spouse and to others.  In every situation we’re to work to set a good and even godly example for others.  Where there’s divorce there’s some spiritual failure on the part of someone, usually both parties.  As God has extended grace to us, we should be quick to extend it to our mate and even others.  God’s ongoing forgiveness of us should be our example for how we treat others in every relationship of life.  Among other things it serves as an opportunity to display the kind of forgiveness God has given to each of us.

Romans 5:8

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [Emphasis added]

What a wonderful example He has set for us all!

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