A friend of ours who is working in West Africa wrote something that has provoked me to a great deal of thought.
A worker here, probably in his 50’s, had been a muslim all his life until he heard the gospel by one of the missionaries, was saved and is now active in his faith. The kicker is, as a muslim, he had two wives by which he has a total of 11 children. He loves them both and continues to live with them both today. What would you tell him to do? Which one should he leave….or both?????? hmmmmm
This really got my attention. If the man would choose one wife over the other, what a shame that would be to the unwanted wife. In that society, it could ruin her life. It seems not only unloving, but a very poor witness, for a Christian to abandon the wife and chidren he has promised to care for. Even if the women aren’t thrilled with having to share their husband, they are accustomed to it, and they would surely be much less enthused about being put out to live alone. In our culture, it has been the norm to have only one wife for so long that we hardly consider it, but there polygamy is accepted, legal, and normal.
So what does the Bible say about it? Well, very little, actually. There are places in the NT where the husband-wife relationship is discussed, and it seems that one husband/one wife is encouraged as the ideal, but there are actually hints that it may not be the only possibility. Just the fact that it is even mentioned that elders and deacons should be the husband of only one wife (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:6, 1 Tim 3:12) is suggestive that perhaps some Christians didn’t fit that description!
I had never really thought of this until now–it’s a whole new idea to me–but perhaps people who came be Christians while in polygamy were expected to continue faithful to the wives they had. Reading 1_Corinthians_7 with that in mind, it could certainly sound that way.
It also made me think that it’s not so very different from our own society, in a way. How is this really any different from the practice of divorce and remarriage, which is widely practiced in among American Christians? Both situations leave a person with two living spouses in God’s eyes. Scripture clearly says, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matt 19:6. Obviously, Jesus taught against divorce, but many people believe that if the divorce and remarriage happened before one became a Christian, you are supposed to continue in the marriage you are currently in. Whether or not you agree with that viewpoint, it seems to me that the situation of the Muslim man above is practically identical.
Anyone else have thoughts on this? It’s been an interesting study for me.