Question on Being Divorced and Serving God

By: Rev. Sam Harris; ©1999
Rev. Harris tackles the difficult question as to whether or not being divorced automatically disqualifies someone to serve in the leadership of the church. Are there Scriptural principles to help answer this question?

Question on Being Divorced and Serving God


My question is simple, yet complex! According to 1 Timothy 3:2, “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” Does this passage have anything to do with being divorced and serving God?


This is one of those “climbing out on a limb” questions, hoping that the limb will hold you. No matter how this question is answered, there will be disagreement, as many fine people come down on both sides of this question.

As we read God’s inspired Word, we must realize that every passage is not a “case study,” but God, through His Holy Spirit, is attempting to teach us some basic principles to live by that will draw us closer to Him. We also must read Scripture in its cultural setting though we know that His Word is timeless—speaking to all generations.

In 1 Timothy 3:2 and 3:12, it says that both overseers and deacons should be “the husband of one wife.” Many Christians have interpreted this to mean that a person should not have a former wife that is still living. Others interpret this to mean that a man should not be married to more than one person. It assumes, and rightly so, that polygamy was rampant in the early centuries. Since the design of marriage is the union of one man and one woman, those who serve in ordained capacities should not have more than one wife.

The New Testament recognizes two reasons for the breaking up of the covenant of marriage other than death. The first (see, as an example, Matthew 19:1-9) is adultery, and the second is desertion (note 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). It is my belief, based on my study of these and other passages, that the offended person is thus free to remarry “in the Lord.” All other divorces are outside God’s will and place those divorced in adulterous situations if they remarry.

Is divorce the unforgivable sin? No. There is only one unforgivable sin, which I have dealt with earlier (see archives). Regardless of the circumstances, one must seek the forgiveness of the Lord as he or she would for any other sin.

It is important for each church to consider seriously its understanding of the Scriptures as led by the Holy Spirit. It is also important to base its decision on a case by case basis, taking into consideration all that was involved in the divorce. The church must also look at all of the qualifications of officers as found in 1 Timothy 3:2-12. Certainly, none of us meet all of the qualifications, but our lives must be such that we are striving, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to grow and mature in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, prayer is a key ingredient as you seek the Lord’s guidance of those who will hold leadership positions within the church. We need to know: What is God’s will and desire for the leadership of the church?

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