In a recent discussion about sex and marriage, one lady (observing that I was one of the conservatives in the group) said directly to me, "Pastor, I do not want you to think that I am a harlot. I am a very monogamous person!" Not knowing what she meant by the term, I asked her to define it. "I live with one man at the time," she replied. This lady was very sincere in her approach. When she figured that she could no longer live with the man with whom she was living, she would leave him and move in with another man. Cheating with another man would have made her a harlot, but as far as she knew she was very biblical – a woman of one man (even though this man was never her husband).
An African student, who was a third generation Christian, told me the story that when missionaries came to his country, they asked his grandfather, who became a Christian, to forego his polygamous status and to choose one wife. If he would become monogamous, the husband of one wife, he could become a part of the church leadership; otherwise he could attend but never become a leader in the church. His son became a pastor and was married to only one woman and so was my student. He was surprised when he came to the United States to find out that the denomination to which he belonged allowed their ministers to marry up to three times. In one of our discussions, he surprised the class by saying, "What is the difference between you allowing a minister to be married up to three times to three different women and my grandfather marrying three women in the beginning?" There was a great silence in the class and I did not volunteer a definitive answer.
In the instructions that Paul gives to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:21, there is an interesting qualification: the husband of but one wife (KJV, NIV) or the husband of only one wife (in other translations). I was trying to figure out what would Paul think of this arrangement, since when I look at almost every Roman Catholic Church, they have an annulment officer. In fact, I find the Catholic position one of the most interesting positions – dogmatically defending the perpetual virginity of Mary, lifting up celibacy as the only option for priests (when Peter himself was married), lifting marriage up as a sacrament before God, but also allowing annulments of marriage. The Eastern Orthodox position is as intriguing as the Roman Catholic position. It holds the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, however, as a rule it does not ask the priests to be celibate. The married priests cannot advance to become bishops – these are selected from the monastic order. However, if the wife of the priest dies he has two choices – he can stay as a single person and continue his priesthood, or he can marry, and leave the priesthood because he would now be married to more than one wife.
Some of the Protestants interpreted the Pauline clause ‘the husband of one wife" as having only one wife at a time. This interpretation allows the possibility of getting married again, especially if the divorce happened when the two people divorced while they were non-believers.
When the Jews came to ask Jesus why Moses allowed divorce, he replied that this happened because of the hardness of their hearts. This was not what was known as the creation ordinance – this was the permissive ordinance of God due to the sinfulness of
man's heart. The principle is applied to the widows where Paul said that they are free to marry if their husbands die, but he thought that they will be happier if they stay single.
I think that the lady's definition of monogamous was completely false. In fact as we continued the discussion, I found that she was trying to justify moving from one "living situation" to another. To her, it made sense and I think that there are many who do not consider themselves monogamous, and who feel that somehow God has not moved with the times when it comes to sex and marital relationships.
The biblical position for singleness and marriage is covered under one word – holiness. If a person has the gift to stay single, he or she should stay single, refraining from any sexual involvement. If a person gets married, one should be committed wholeheartedly and in all purity to that relationship until one partner dies. Then the remaining partner is free to get married as long as both of them are believers.