The “one-woman man” may seem like an endangered species today. In our over-sexualized and sexually confused society, it’s increasingly rare to come across married men who are truly faithful to their bride — in body, heart, and mind. It may be even more rare to find unmarried men who are on the trajectory for that kind of fidelity to a future wife. Jaws will drop when a handsome, eligible bachelor declares he’s a virgin waiting for the wedding night.
Of the fifteen basic qualifications for the office of elder in the local church (1 Timothy 3:1–7), being a one-woman man may be the one that runs most against the grain of our society. We’re relentlessly pushed in precisely the opposite direction. Television, movies, advertising, and just about everything else conditions the twenty-first-century male to approach women as a consumer of many, instead of as a protector and servant of one. The models teach our men to selfishly compromise and take, rather than to passionately cultivate and guard fidelity to one woman.
But what’s rare in society is often easier to find, thank God, in biblically faithful churches. The true gospel is explosively powerful, even under such intense pressure from a world like ours. You can be pure. You can detox. You can walk a different path by the power of God’s Spirit, even if that other path was once yours. In the company of others who enjoy deeper pleasures than promiscuity, you can become the one-woman man our world needs.
For All Christians
Just because being a one-woman man is essential for church leaders does not mean it’s irrelevant for every Christian. The elder qualifications, says D.A. Carson, are remarkable for being unremarkable. What’s demanded of church officers is not academic decoration, world-class intellect, or talents above the common man. Rather, the elders are to be examples of normal, healthy, mature Christianity (1 Peter 5:3). The elder qualifications are the flashpoints of the Christian maturity to which every believer should aspire, and which every Christian, with God’s help, can attain.
God never meant for us to relegate one-woman manhood to the leaders. It’s the glorious, serious, joy-filled calling of every follower of Christ. It’s a word for every Christian man (and every Christian woman to be a “one-man woman,” 1 Timothy 5:9). And it’s relevant for married and unmarried men alike.
For Husbands and Bachelors
Clearly, one-woman man applies to married men. In faithfulness to the marriage covenant, the married man is to be utterly committed in mind, heart, and body to his one wife. Being a one-woman man, then, has implications for where we go, how we interact with other women, what we do with our eyes, where we let our thoughts run, what we look at on our computers and smartphones, and how we watch movies and television.
“Long before a man is married he’s either becoming a one-woman man or not.”
It’s also relevant for married men in the positive sense, not just the negative. A married Christian must not be a zero-woman man, living as though he isn’t married, neglecting to care adequately for his wife and family. If you’re married, faithfulness to the covenant requires your interests being divided (1 Corinthians 7:35), but only with one woman.
Do you have to be married to be a one-woman man? The challenge to be a one-woman man applies not only to married men, but the unmarried as well. Are you a flirt? Do you move flippantly from one dating relationship to another? Do you enjoy the thrill of connecting emotionally with new women without moving with intentionality toward clarity about marriage?
Long before marriage, bachelors are setting (and displaying) their trajectory of fidelity. In every season of life and every relationship, however serious, they are preparing themselves to be a one-woman man, or not, by how they engage with and treat the women in their lives.
Isn’t It “Husband of One Wife”?
Perhaps at this point, you’re feeling the weight of this phrase “one-woman man” both for elder qualification and for Christian manhood in general. Don’t most of our translations read “husband of one wife” in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6? That seems like a simple box to check. It’s either true or it’s not — none of these questions about whether your eyes and mind might be wandering unfaithfully.
This may be the most debated of the elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. Some say it means that church leaders must be married; others say it means no divorcees; others claim it was designed to weed out polygamists. But one problem, among others, with each of those interpretations is that they make the qualification objective — plainly true or false — rather than subjective like every one of the other fourteen qualifications.
The traits for leadership in the local church are brilliantly designed to queue up the plurality of elders to make a decision together about a man’s readiness for ministry. Soberminded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable — these are subjective categories that require careful thought and evaluation. I believe Paul intended us to read “one-woman man” as needing the same spirit of discernment, not as a black-and-white, no-exceptions rule. Is this man today, through years of tested faithfulness, faithful to his wife with his mind, heart, and body? Is he above reproach in the way he relates with women? Is he manifestly a one-woman man?
Men, ask yourself this question, and be ruthlessly honest: “Am I a one-woman man?” What, if anything, in my life would call this into question? What habits, what relationships, what patterns do I need to bring into the light with trusted brothers, and ask God afresh to make me truly, deeply, gloriously, increasingly a one-woman man?
If you’re married, what’s your reputation? Do people think of you — your thoughts, your speech, your actions — as joyfully and ruthlessly faithful to your wife? Or is there some question? Are you known for demonstrating self-control publically and privately for the sake of the purity and fidelity of your marriage?
“Being a ‘one-woman’ man. It’s just as important for bachelors as it is for husbands.”
If unmarried, what do your friendships and relationships look like with the opposite sex? Do you genuinely treat them “as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2)? Are you dabbling with pornography, trying to stop, but still allowing room for it? Or have you simply become desensitized to it all because of the boundaries being crossed on television and in movies? In your thought life, on the Internet, in your interactions, are you a one-woman man waiting for your one woman?
In Christ, we need not be satisfied with anything less. Try as hard as you can, you will not be satisfied. But in Christ, we are called to be one-woman men in a world that expects and encourages far less. And in Christ, you have the resources you need to see that fidelity become reality.