Husband and Elder—Balancing the Responsibilities
‘The overseer should be a husband of one wife.’—1 TIMOTHY 3:2.
1, 2. Why is priestly celibacy unscriptural?
IN THE first century, faithful Christians were concerned with balancing their various responsibilities. When the apostle Paul said that a Christian who remains single “will do better,” did he mean that such a man would be better suited to serve as an overseer in the Christian congregation? Was he in fact making singleness a requirement for eldership? (1 Corinthians 7:38) Celibacy is required of the Catholic clergy. But is priestly celibacy Scriptural? The Eastern Orthodox Churches allow their parish priests to be married men, yet not their bishops. Is that in harmony with the Bible?
2 Many of Christ’s 12 apostles, the foundation members of the Christian congregation, were married men. (Matthew 8:14, 15; Ephesians 2:20) Paul wrote: “We have authority to lead about a sister as a wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas [Peter], do we not?” (1 Corinthians 9:5) The New Catholic Encyclopedia concedes that “the law of celibacy is of ecclesiastical origin” and that “ministers of the N[ew] T[estament] were not obliged to celibacy.” Jehovah’s Witnesses follow the Scriptural pattern rather than ecclesiastical law.—1 Timothy 4:1-3.
Eldership and Marriage Are Compatible
3. What Scriptural facts show that Christian overseers can be married men?
3 Far from requiring that men appointed as overseers should be unmarried, Paul wrote to Titus: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might correct the things that were defective and might make appointments of older men [Greek, pre·sbyʹte·ros] in city after city, as I gave you orders; if there is any man free from accusation, a husband of one wife, having believing children that were not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly. For an overseer [Greek, e·piʹsko·pos, whence the word “bishop”] must be free from accusation as God’s steward.”—Titus 1:5-7.
4. (a) How do we know that marriage is not a requirement for Christian overseers? (b) What advantage does a single brother who is an elder have?
4 On the other hand, marriage is not a Scriptural requirement for eldership. Jesus remained single. (Ephesians 1:22) Paul, an outstanding overseer within the first-century Christian congregation, was then unmarried. (1 Corinthians 7:7-9) Today, there are many single Christians who serve as elders. Their single state probably leaves them more time to discharge their duties as overseers.
‘The Married Man Is Divided’
5. What Scriptural fact should married brothers acknowledge?
5 When a Christian man marries, he should realize that he is taking on new responsibilities that will make claims on his time and attention. The Bible states: “The unmarried man is anxious for the things of the Lord, how he may gain the Lord’s approval. But the married man is anxious for the things of the world, how he may gain the approval of his wife, and he is divided.” (1 Corinthians 7:32-34) In what sense divided?
6, 7. (a) What is one way in which a married man is “divided”? (b) What counsel does Paul give to married Christians? (c) How could this influence a man’s decision to accept a work assignment?
6 For one thing, a married man relinquishes authority over his own body. Paul made this quite clear: “The wife does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband does; likewise, also, the husband does not exercise authority over his own body, but his wife does.” (1 Corinthians 7:4) Some who are contemplating marriage may feel that this is of little consequence because sex will not be the big thing in their marriage. However, since premarital chastity is a Scriptural requirement, Christians do not really know the intimate needs of their future mate.
7 Paul shows that even a couple who ‘set their minds on the things of the spirit’ must consider the sexual needs of each other. He advised Christians in Corinth: “Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband. Do not be depriving each other of it, except by mutual consent for an appointed time, that you may devote time to prayer and may come together again, that Satan may not keep tempting you for your lack of self-regulation.” (Romans 8:5; 1 Corinthians 7:3, 5) Sadly, there have been cases of adultery when this advice was not followed. This being so, a married Christian should weigh matters carefully before accepting a work assignment that will separate him from his wife over an extended period. He no longer has the same freedom of movement as he had when he was single.
8, 9. (a) What did Paul mean when he said that married Christians are “anxious for the things of the world”? (b) What should married Christians be anxious to do?
8 In what sense can it be said that married Christian men, including elders, are “anxious for the things of the world [koʹsmos]”? (1 Corinthians 7:33) It is quite evident that Paul was not speaking of the bad things of this world, which all true Christians are to shun. (2 Peter 1:4; 2:18-20; 1 John 2:15-17) God’s Word instructs us “to repudiate ungodliness and worldly [ko·smi·kosʹ] desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.”—Titus 2:12.
9 A married Christian is, therefore, “anxious for the things of the world” in that he or she is legitimately concerned about mundane things that are part of normal married life. This includes housing, food, clothing, recreation—not to speak of countless other concerns if there are children. But even for a childless couple, if the marriage is to work, both husband and wife must be anxious to “gain the approval” of his or her marriage mate. This is of particular interest to Christian elders as they balance their responsibilities.
Good Husbands as Well as Good Elders
10. For a Christian to qualify as an elder, what should his brothers and people on the outside be able to observe?
10 While marriage is not a requirement for eldership, if a Christian man is married, before he is recommended for appointment as an elder, he certainly should give evidence of endeavoring to be a good, loving husband, while exercising proper headship. (Ephesians 5:23-25, 28-31) Paul wrote: “If any man is reaching out for an office of overseer, he is desirous of a fine work. The overseer should therefore be irreprehensible, a husband of one wife.” (1 Timothy 3:1, 2) It should be evident that an elder is doing his utmost to be a good husband, whether his wife is a fellow Christian or not. In fact, even people outside the congregation should be able to notice that he takes good care of his wife and his other responsibilities. Paul added: “He should also have a fine testimony from people on the outside, in order that he might not fall into reproach and a snare of the Devil.”—1 Timothy 3:7.
11. What does the phrase “a husband of one wife” imply, so what precaution should elders take?
11 Of course, the phrase “a husband of one wife” rules out polygamy, but it also implies marital faithfulness. (Hebrews 13:4) Elders in particular need to be especially careful when helping sisters in the congregation. They should avoid being alone when visiting a sister who is in need of counsel and comfort. They would do well to be accompanied by another elder, a ministerial servant, or even their wife if it is a matter of just making an encouraging call.—1 Timothy 5:1, 2.
12. What description should the wives of elders and ministerial servants strive to meet?
12 Incidentally, while listing the requirements for elders and ministerial servants, the apostle Paul also had a word of counsel for the wives of those who are considered for such privileges. He wrote: “Women should likewise be serious, not slanderous, moderate in habits, faithful in all things.” (1 Timothy 3:11) A Christian husband can do much to help his wife match that description.
Scriptural Duties Toward a Wife
13, 14. Even if an elder’s wife is not a fellow Witness, why should he stay with her and be a good husband?
13 Of course, this counsel given to the wives of elders or ministerial servants presupposes that such wives are themselves dedicated Christians. Generally, this is the case because Christians are required to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) But what of a brother who was already married to an unbeliever when he dedicated his life to Jehovah, or whose wife falls from the way through no fault of his?
14 This, in itself, would not bar him from being an elder. Neither, though, would it justify his separating from his wife simply because she does not share his beliefs. Paul advised: “Are you bound to a wife? Stop seeking a release.” (1 Corinthians 7:27) He further stated: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her. But if the unbelieving one proceeds to depart, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not in servitude under such circumstances, but God has called you to peace. For, wife, how do you know but that you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12, 15, 16) Even if his wife is not a Witness, an elder should be a good husband.
15. What counsel does the apostle Peter give to Christian husbands, and what could the consequences be if an elder proved to be a neglectful husband?
15 Whether his wife is a fellow believer or not, the Christian elder should recognize that his wife needs his loving attention. The apostle Peter wrote: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them [your wives] according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) A husband who willfully fails to care for his wife’s needs endangers his own relationship with Jehovah; it could block his approach to Jehovah as “with a cloud mass, that prayer may not pass through.” (Lamentations 3:44) This could lead to his becoming disqualified to serve as a Christian overseer.
16. What key point does Paul make, and how should elders feel about this?
16 As noted, the main thrust of Paul’s argument is that when a man marries, he relinquishes a measure of the freedom he had as a single man that permitted him to be in “constant attendance upon the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7:35) Reports show that some married elders have not always been balanced in reasoning on Paul’s inspired words. In their desire to accomplish what they feel good elders should do, they may overlook some of their husbandly duties. Some would find it difficult to refuse a congregation privilege, even if accepting it would clearly be to the spiritual detriment of their wives. They enjoy the privileges that go with marriage, but are they willing to fulfill the responsibilities that go with it?
17. What has happened to some wives, and how might this have been avoided?
17 Certainly, zeal as an elder is commendable. Still, is a Christian balanced if, in discharging his duties in the congregation, he disregards his Scriptural responsibilities toward his wife? While desiring to support those in the congregation, a balanced elder will also be concerned about his wife’s spirituality. Some elders’ wives have become spiritually weak, and some have experienced spiritual “shipwreck.” (1 Timothy 1:19) While a wife is responsible for working out her own salvation, in some cases the spiritual problem could have been avoided if the elder had ‘fed and cherished’ his wife, “as the Christ also does the congregation.” (Ephesians 5:28, 29) To be sure, elders must ‘pay attention to themselves and to all the flock.’ (Acts 20:28) If they are married, this includes their wives.
‘Tribulation in the Flesh’
18. What are some aspects of the “tribulation” that married Christians experience, and how could this affect an elder’s activities?
18 The apostle also wrote: “If a virgin person married, such one would commit no sin. However, those who do will have tribulation in their flesh. But I am sparing you.” (1 Corinthians 7:28) Paul desired to spare those able to follow his example of singleness from the cares that inevitably come with marriage. Even for childless couples, these cares may include health problems or financial difficulties as well as Scriptural responsibilities toward the aged parents of one’s mate. (1 Timothy 5:4, 8) An elder must, in an exemplary way, face up to these responsibilities, and this may at times affect his activities as a Christian overseer. Happily, most elders are doing a fine job in meeting both family and congregation responsibilities.
19. What did Paul mean when he said: “Let those who have wives be as though they had none”?
19 Paul added: “The time left is reduced. Henceforth let those who have wives be as though they had none.” (1 Corinthians 7:29) Of course, in view of what he had already written in this chapter to the Corinthians, it is obvious that he did not mean that married Christians should in some way neglect their wives. (1 Corinthians 7:2, 3, 33) He showed what he meant, when he wrote: “[Let] those making use of the world [be] as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) Even more so now than in Paul’s day or in the apostle John’s day, “the world is passing away.” (1 John 2:15-17) Therefore, married Christians who sense the need to make some sacrifices in following Christ cannot be exclusively absorbed in the joys and privileges of matrimony.—1 Corinthians 7:5.
20, 21. (a) What sacrifices are many Christian wives willing to make? (b) What can a wife legitimately expect of her husband, even if he is an elder?
20 Just as elders make sacrifices so as to benefit others, many wives of elders have striven to balance their responsibilities in marriage with vital Kingdom interests. Thousands of Christian women are happy to cooperate to enable their husbands to carry out their duties as overseers. Jehovah loves them for this, and he blesses the fine spirit they show. (Philemon 25) Nevertheless, Paul’s balanced counsel shows that wives of overseers can legitimately expect a reasonable amount of time and attention from their husbands. It is the Scriptural duty of married elders to devote adequate time to their wives so as to balance their responsibilities as husband and overseer.
21 But what if in addition to being a husband, a Christian elder is a father? This compounds his responsibilities and opens up an additional field of oversight, as we shall see in the following article.
By Way of Review
□ What Scriptural facts show that a Christian overseer can be a married man?
□ If a single elder gets married, of what should he be conscious?
□ In what ways is a married Christian “anxious for the things of the world”?
□ How do many wives of overseers show a fine spirit of self-sacrifice?
[Picture on page 17]
Even though occupied with theocratic activities, an elder should give his wife loving attention