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Husbandry: Discipline of Faithfulness

Douglas Wilson


God created us male and female. So much is obvious, but the way He did it was instructive. When the Lord Jesus taught on the subject of divorce, He appealed to the creation ordinance of marriage found in the early chapters of Genesis. He taught us that God puts a man and woman together in marriage, and what God has joined together man has no authority to separate. The temptation is to argue that in Genesis God only joined together Adam and Eve -- two individuals. But this argument resists the teaching of Christ, who insisted that Adam and Eve were a paradigmatic couple. When God joined them together, He was joining together every man and woman who has ever come together sexually in a covenant bond.

Other facts are obvious as well from this creation ordinance of marriage. Because God created Adam and Eve, He excluded homosexuality. Because Adam could find no helper for himself among the animals, bestiality is excluded. And because God created just one woman for Adam, God set the pattern of monogamy.

The case for monogamy would therefore be an easy one if it were not for the polygamy found in the Old Testament among the saints of God. How are we to understand this? First, we see polygamy was instituted by man, and not by God. The first record of a polygamous union was Lamech (Gen. 4:19), with no hint of divine approval. But still, even recognizing the human origin of polygamy, we see that many of God's saints in the Old Testament had more than one woman at one time -- Abraham, Jacob, David, et al.

The question is not merely academic. This is not vaporizing over a bunch of nothing. We are living in a culture which is conducting a full-scale assault on the biblical definition of the family. If there is no reformation of our culture, then we should expect that polygamous unions will soon be legal in the United States. When this happens, what will the attitude of the church be? And why? We cannot respond with Victorian platitudes; our response must be thoroughly biblical. We must build a theology of marriage which takes all of Scripture into account, including the polygamy of the Old Testament saints.

First, we should remember the creation ordinance. God created us to live as couples. As Christians our desire should be to live out that design.

Second, the New Testament teaches us that every married couple represents Christ and the church. Sinful rebellious couples are not just destroying their own lives, they are lying about Christ. Christ is the Bridegroom, and the Church is His Bride. Because Christ has only one Bride, a polygamous marriage is a flawed and distorted representation of Him. Polygamy is therefore to be avoided by all consistent Christians; it is dishonoring to the Lord of faithfulness.

This understanding of marriage explains why an elder in a Christian church is required to be a "one-woman man" (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). The elders are to set a pattern and example for the rest of the saints (Heb. 13:7, 17). Consequently, the Bible absolutely forbids polygamy in the leadership of the church. At the same time, in a culture where polygamy is legal, a polygamist may be admitted to membership in the church. For example, if a man with three wives in a primitive tribe is converted, what must he do? Unlike an adulterer or homosexual, a polygamist cannot walk away from his marriages. He should remain married to his wives. A man can only flee polygamy through divorce, which is clearly a sin. Such a man must not be allowed leadership in the church because this is not the pattern for Christian marriage. Nonetheless, the Old Testament examples show us that we may tolerate polygamy in a limited way.

As we prepare for such a time, Christian men must learn to discipline themselves in their faithfulness to their own wives. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God . . ." (1 Thess. 4:3-5). This has two clear aspects.

First, we ought to unquestioningly resist infidelity in all its forms. Christ was blunt about the subject of lust, and we live in a culture which does not really encourage the cows of Bashan to wear lots of clothes. We are all surrounded by visual harlotry of all kinds -- in magazines, movies, books. We have manifold daily enticements to infidelity. The word of God to Christian men is clear -- abstain: "I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?" (Job 31:1).

Second, Paul requires devoted attention to wives. In this passage, the attention shown is certainly sexual. The sexual possession of a man's vessel is to be accomplished in "sanctification and honor." The author of Hebrews says the same -- Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge (Heb. 13:4).

Christian men do not refrain from the sexual pollutions that surround us because they object to lovemaking; they refrain because they object to the wanton vandalism of it. Our culture is doing to sex what people who chew with their mouths open do to food. The Bible teaches us that lovemaking is to be honored among Christians; to honor something means to esteem it highly. Those Christians who have reacted to public immorality by retreating into a bluenosed prudishness in their own bedrooms are very much a part of the problem.

So a Christian man should abhor the thought of other men, other women, or other wives. He already has his hands full.


Credenda/Agenda Vol. 6, No. 2   19992011   PO Box 2130 Snohomish, Washington 98291 USA
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