As a background, please read our article on the “husband of one wife” phrase in 1 Timothy 3:2,12 and Titus 1:6. While the qualification “husband of one wife” may, in some instances, disqualify a divorced and remarried man from serving in church leadership, an even more difficult question is a married man who has never been divorced, but is married to a woman who previously had a divorce. There is no Scripture that explicitly deals with this issue, but there are biblical principles that can be applied.
First Timothy 3:11 is an interesting verse in relationship to this issue. It is not clear whether this verse is referring to the wives of deacons or to female deacons (deaconesses). The “wives of deacons” interpretation seems to be more likely, as it would be unusual for Paul to give qualifications for deacons in verses 8-10 and 12-13, with qualifications for deaconesses in between. With this is mind, it is important to note that there is no “wife of one husband” qualification given for deacon’s wives. Neither is there a qualification of “blameless” or “above reproach.” Rather, the qualifications are “worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, temperate, and trustworthy” (1 Timothy 3:11).
There are all sorts of issues that go into this question. Was the wife the innocent party to an adulterous or abusive husband? Was the wife a believer when the divorce occurred? Is the wife’s ex-husband in any sense still “in the picture” of her life, causing problems or conflict? Each of the above questions must be taken into account. Ultimately, though, the issue has to go back to the “above reproach / blameless” qualification required of elders and deacons. Does the fact that the wife is divorced in any sense result in a poor testimony in the community? Can the potential church leader genuinely be viewed as a godly man, worthy of respect, able to be followed as an example?
It does not seem that this question can be answered in a universal sense. There are simply too many factors involved. A church that is faced with this issue must prayerfully examine the situation, and attempt to discern, as much as possible, if the potential leader can be considered “above reproach.” If nothing can be discerned that could potentially cause damage to the church’s testimony, a man who is married to a divorced woman can be considered for a position in church leadership.