After several recent conversations, I've been plagued with the question: Do believers have to obey with their actions, or is their heart motivation enough? God's word is clear, but not necessarily easy to obey. Even so, believers are to keep (action verb) his commandments: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments," 1 John 2:3.
In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul outlines the requirements of a bishop (or elder) of a church which includes 'being the husband of one wife'. In his 1 Timothy commentary on page 111, Philip Ryken states that this "phrase is probably more general: elders must be morally accountable for their sexuality," (emphasis mine). Mr. Ryken's statement is subjective and vague. How are they held accountable? What does sexuality entail? He then talks about the moral degradation of the Greeks and Romans during that time (which is unnecessary contextualization), but the details are really no different than today's society: gross sexual sin, polygamy, divorce, adultery, homosexuality. He goes on to say that God wants "the leaders of a church to be living examples of biblical marriage: one man and one woman in a love covenant for life." I think that this is exactly what the requirement for elder (or deacon) is, but in today's Christian world it's not politically correct to exclude a candidate for elder (or deacon) because a man has been divorced, nor is it pragmatic since divorce is common inside the church.
In a similar vein to Mr. Ryken, I've recently heard it preached that the husband of one wife refers to a man who has a heart for one woman; this one-woman man does not have a roaming eye or lustful thoughts of other women. However, the 1 Timothy 3 passage does not refer to or imply the allowance of the heart motivation to substitute for any of the requirements. More importantly, these requirements cannot be subjective (they MUST be objective) because other believers need to be able to discern that they are being met in order to establish elders (and deacons) in the church. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9); no one can see the heart, but God, (1 Sam. 16:7).
Both Mr. Ryken's commentary and the sermon try to divorce (pun intended) the believer's heart motivation from his outward actions. However, God's word is clear that the heart is tied to outward actions when Jesus says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments," (John 14:15). Therefore, a man who has gone through a non-biblical divorce should not be an elder or deacon in a Bible-believing church; his heart may have been motivated to be a one-woman man, but his actions did not follow through. It is important to note that the Bible does allow for (but does not require) divorce in two instances: (1) adultery, (Matt. 19:9), and (2) when the non-believing spouse leaves, (1 Cor. 7:15). Therefore, it could be inferred that an elder or deacon MAY be a biblically divorced man assuming he is the faithful spouse or the abandoned believer, but this should be the exception and not the rule: "Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth. For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away," (Mal. 2:15-16).
It is necessary to remember that the word of God discerns the intents of the heart and not the other way around, (Heb. 4:12). When man starts modifying the requirements and commands of the Bible by opening them up to the subjectivity of the heart (such as a one-woman man), then that allows the congregation to do the same for other passages even though the word of God is plainly expressed.
Keeping God's word is difficult because believers are still sinners, and we will be until we are glorified. We do break God's commandments, but through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we repent of our sins and Jesus is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," (1 John 1:9). However, there are consequences for sin, and sometimes that includes not holding a church office when the person is not qualified.
"The next thing [in sanctifying God's name] is a humble subjection to the Word that we hear. Our hearts must bow under the Word that we hear. It is a very remarkable Scripture that we have in 2 Chronicles 36:12. There it is said concerning a great king, Zedekiah, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the Prophet, speaking from the mouth of the Lord." It is a very strange expression we have in the book of God, as strange as we have, that Zedekiah, a great king, should be charged with this as a great sin, that he did not humble himself.
To have a congregation lie down under the Word of God that is preached to them is a most excellent thing, and God's name is greatly sanctified."
"He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him," (1 John 2:4).