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This excerpt is from The Prince of Sumba, Husband to Many Wives.
Copyright 1998 Don Milton All Rights Reserved.
All Copyright Laws Apply - Thou Shalt Not Steal

Chapters: [Prologue] [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]  [19]  [20]  [21]  [22]  [23]  [24]  [25]  [26]

Chapter 10 - A Hard Teaching

   The main course had been removed from the table and it was time for dessert. This time John gave the blessing.
   "Father in heaven, we thank You for this food, for this fellowship, and for Your love. In Jesus name, Amen."
   I remembered Solomon's proverb. "In an abundance of words, sin is not lacking: but he who restrains his lips is wise."1 I hoped to discover some of John's wisdom. He certainly had an enviable library filled with all the right books.
   I thought I'd already had a taste of dessert with lunch but what lay before us now was something quite different. Each dish was a design. It brought to mind the educational channel with chefs cooking up a storm. A cooking show for John's wives? Now that would be a first.
   Ruth had kept my mouth so filled throughout the main course that I hadn't been able to hold a conversation with John despite the fact that he sat just an arm's length away. I was determined not to let that happen again.
   "Thanks." I said to Ruth who'd returned from the kitchen and was now pouring me a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
   "Grown right here in these mountains." John said.
   "Oh," I looked up at Ruth, an innocent smile on my lips, "you grew up in these mountains?"
   Ruth covered her mouth with her free hand, giggling.
   John half whispered, "I meant the coffee, Ish, the coffee."
   "Oh, of course John, the coffee, the coffee." I feigned seriousness as the girls watched in delight.
   John hadn't caught the fact that my words were deliberate; a bit of light hearted flirtation with his daughter, but I didn't let that stop me, I was on a roll.
   "Do you always tempt your guests with such dishes, John?"
   Asina nearly choked on her juice and Suni kicked me under the table. The other girls were getting their own kick out of each of my deliberate slips of the tongue.
   John was looking into his cup as if reading tea leaves, his serious demeanor a sharp contrast to mine.
   "No, this is a special day."
   "Really, what are we celebrating, John?"
   "We're celebrating your arrival here, Ish. That is, you, Mary, and the girls. Up until now, Sam and Sarisa were the only Born Again Christians who'd spent any time with us."
"Really, how long has it been since you came to know the Lord, John?" The girls now listened attentively.
   "It's been nearly twenty five years."
   "And are you new to these parts?" I asked.
   Sam answered for John;
   "John and his family have been living on this mountain for the last twenty years. Born Again Christians won't visit him because he has more than one wife. You aren't the first family that I've invited here. I didn't see the point in telling you folks ahead of time since you're expected to visit such families, after all, that's your mission, but local Christians won't have anything to do with John and his family."
   At this, Mary spoke up, "That's horrible. Those Christians ought to be ashamed of themselves!"2
"Well, Mary, some were interested in fellowshipping with John and his family but when they found out he took additional wives after becoming a Christian, they wanted nothing to do with him."
   Mary kept the cup of coffee she'd been sipping from up to her face, holding it with both hands as if savoring it. This way she was able to hide her shock that we weren't having lunch with polygamists who'd become Christians, as she'd assumed, but Christians who without reservation practiced polygamy.
   Sarisa then confessed, "I have to admit that at first, I wasn't any different than the Christians we'd invited here. I had a hard time understanding how John could have taken one wife after another when he was already a Christian but then I started to read. I even read your book Ish, 'Adultery in the heart, it's not what you think."
   Mary laughed nervously, "Maybe I'd better start reading some of these books he's been writing all these years."
   This so animated Asina that she had to speak, "Oh Mary, you mean you haven't read Ish's books! I think every Christian girl on Mindanao has read them. Oh, you've got to read..." She caught herself mid-sentence, realizing all eyes were on her. "I'm just going to say it, salty that I am, I still have to admit. Ish's books are brilliant. I just don't have anything to criticize about them, period!"
   What a compliment, considering it came from Asina.
   "And I love his poetry." Suni chimed.
   "Me too, me too." Cherry spouted.
   "Ish, won't you read this please? It's my favorite." Modelisa handed me a well worn paperback I'd authored. 'Love poems and other lies.' She had opened it to "A Maiden's Footprints in the Sand."
   "Read it to us!" The girls pleaded.
   "Well, if you insist." I said, pulling out my reading glasses.

   "A Maiden's Footprints in the Sand

   A poet's words though many
   And his descriptions grand
   Cannot contain the message
   Of a maiden's footprints in the sand

   His English that of kings
   And his pen as many swords
   Before a maiden's love
   Seem faint, somehow untoward

   And when at last in one attempt
   To say what's in his heart
   He gives a thrust with pen and soul
   Yea, nearly comes apart

   Now smitten sore and left undone
   Knoweth he is just a man
   Before the maiden's love
   Before her footprints in the sand"

   Everyone around the table was now clapping and cheering. "Bravo, bravo."
   "I knew it would sound like that if you read it." Suni squealed. "I just love the way he read it, don't you, Modelisa."
   "Wow! I did, I really did!" I wasn't sure if Modelisa was acting or what. She was such a mystery to me. I think she liked it that way. I chided myself. Although she was a master of disguise, she wasn't plastic.
   Mary wasn't going to let anything deter her from the subject at hand, even if it meant ignoring the girls overt advances toward me once again.
   "Back to your family, John. We want to make sure you know that even if we disagree with you concerning your marrying more than one wife," Mary paused, looking at me as if seeking some outward sign of agreement. I gave none. She finished her sentence, "we want to know everything about your family and couldn't imagine you having even one wife less."
   The applause were now for Mary. Everyone stood and one of John's older sons shouted,
   "A toast for Mary, 'Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised.'"3
"Here here," another son said, "and give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates."4
Ruth completed the stream of thought by quoting one more verse from proverbs,
   "She opens her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness."5
   At that, a tear began to form in one of Mary's eyes. She wasn't used to such compliments and certainly not to being the center of attention. Asina now showed her softer side, using humor to get Mary out of the spotlight. She proudly quoted Proverbs again.
   "'She lays her hands to the spindle, and with its rod she spins thread.'6 Mary, you don't suppose you could help me sew this button back onto my blouse." She held up a button which she'd secretly removed just for effect.
   Now Mary was laughing and so were the rest of us. I was impressed with Asina's character. In fact, I was impressed with everyone I'd met since setting foot on this island.
   We were all relaxed now and sat back down to our desserts and coffee. I wanted to know every detail about John's conversion and how he came to live on this mountain top but was content for now to let others carry the conversation.
   "Tell the others about your first response to my having four wives, Sam."
   "Well, I have to admit that when I met John I was shocked. I'd heard of men with more than one wife converting and of course keeping their wives, but I'd never heard of men who'd taken more wives after they'd converted. John wasn't pushy at all about what he believed and the fact that he displayed such respect for each of his wives made me all the more curious. After John showed me his library and pointed out some of his books, I took it upon myself to study the topic further. It seems that the reformation didn't settle the issue of polygamy. Theologians simply stopped talking about it. Now I'm not sure everyone here has heard what I just said, so I'm going to repeat it. The Reformation didn't settle the issue of polygamy. Theologians simply stopped talking about it."
   The girls were wide eyed and glued to every word that Sam uttered.
   "I discovered that Martin Luther and John Milton, among others, had argued the case that nowhere in scripture is a man condemned for having many wives. Now, wouldn't I be correct in saying that those two are among the most famous Christian writers?"
   Asina boldly asserted, "There are no Christian writers more famous than those two men. What Christian has never heard of Milton's Paradise Lost or of the 95 Theses that Martin Luther nailed on the church door at Wittenburg which began the Protestant Reformation? Wait Sam, did you say that the man who began the Reformation said there was nothing wrong with polygamy?"
   "That's exactly what I said, and there is a long list of eminent theologians who in their time were well respected yet history has forgotten because of their position that a man has a right to marry more than one wife."
   "But Sam," Mary objected, "I really don't care about what any man says about polygamy. The Bible says, in 1 Timothy 3:2 'A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.'"7
   I couldn't help it but I had to quote a funny poem I'd once heard.
   ''Bishop, man of one wife must be, cannot a layman have two or three?'"
   Mary looked at me sourly. "Really Ish, must we be childish about this? The requirement for a Bishop shows the example of a godly marriage. All men should model their lives after that godly example."
   "Mary," Sam countered, "your husband has done a tremendous amount of study on this subject for his book, 'Adultery in the Heart, It's not what you think.'" Sam pulled out my book. "Listen to what Ish has written here concerning the verse you quoted.
   'Many lay people and homespun ministers have tried to say that 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 are written against polygamy. However, famous theologians throughout history have not claimed this. There are two major problems with considering 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 as injunctions against polygamy.
   First, the question arises, why ban polygamy to become a Bishop, Elder, or Deacon but not to remain one. This question cannot be overlooked. There is nothing in the text that suggests, whatsoever, that the man who becomes a Bishop, Elder, or Deacon may not after having received this office, take more wives. In fact, there are no punishments outlined for anyone, whosoever, that takes more than one wife.
   Second, if 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6 are bans against polygamy then what is 1 Timothy 5:9 for it says, "Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man." This is why theologians throughout history have not considered 1 Timothy 3:2 or Titus 1:6 to have anything to do with polygamy. Paul wouldn't write something so silly; banning something that didn't exist in his time; a woman who was really married to more than one husband at the same time? So what is the key to this verse? As always, it's found in the surrounding paragraphs. In 1 Timothy 5:3 Paul says regarding widows, "Honour widows that are widows indeed." What does Paul mean by widows indeed? What characteristics do most harlots and widows share?'"
   Cherry spouted, "Children!"
   "That's right, children."
   Cherry's smile widened as she congratulated herself on the answer.
   "You've apparently read Ish's book, Cherry."
   "Well, yes, but it's true. Nearly all the girls at the bars where I used to work had children."
   John and his family now looked with pity on Cherry.
   "Oh, don't worry about me," Cherry said. "the Lord pulled me away from the path of sinners many years ago. I'm a new creation, washed by the blood of the Lamb."
   The room erupted with alleluias and praises to God. John's wives started singing and their sons took up their instruments.

   There is pow'r, pow'r,
   Wonder-working pow'r
   In the blood of the Lamb;
   There is pow'r, pow'r,
   Wonder-working pow'r
   In the precious blood of the Lamb8

   They continued singing until all the stanzas had been completed. There was obviously no separation between daily life and worship in John's household; no permission required to sing praises to the Lord. What a refreshing change from the compartmentalized living of western Christianity where so few Christians could mix words of faith with their daily conversation.9 How is it that they could claim a saving knowledge of our Savior and not feel naturally led to talk about Him. In fact, what kind of a question was the oft asked, "How can I witness in my daily life?" which begs the question, "How can a Christian NOT witness in their daily life?" This was a puzzle that baffled me still. Were there so many tares?10
   Sam went back to reading my book aloud.
   "'What Paul is saying here is NOT to treat a harlot the same as a widow just because she has children. Don't assume that she's a widow. Check things out. The woman is required to have been married to the father of her children and he must be deceased in order for her to be placed on the widow's list. She cannot be abandoned, a runaway bride, or a harlot.'"
   Sam broke from the text for a moment to put in his two cents.
   "In other words, she can't be a single mother as your countrymen so shamelessly call harlots."
   He looked directly at Mary who couldn't resist taking up the challenge.
   "I don't think all those single mothers take money for sex. In fact, I'll bet less than five percent of them do such things."
   "Mary," Sam replied, "a harlot is someone who has sex without the benefit of marriage. Those who do it for free are even worse than prostitutes as Cherry so eloquently backed up with Scripture in her testimony yesterday."
   Mary was at least now listening. This heartened me.
   "I'll continue with what your husband wrote, Mary.
   'The phrase in 1 Timothy 5:3 "Honour widows that are widows indeed" precedes and sets up the understanding for the phrase in 1 Timothy 5:9 "wife of one husband" making it clear that "wife of one husband" simply means that she has been married already; that she is a "widow indeed" and not a harlot or a runaway bride. You can't be a widow if you've never been married.
   So 1 Timothy 5:3 & 5:9 clarify 1 Timothy 3:2 as well as Titus 1:6 since the phrases "wife of one husband" and "husband of one wife" are identical in form. What they clarify is that we are talking about someone who is married indeed, so pertaining to bishops, that we must only honor bishops who are married indeed; that the man who becomes a bishop cannot be someone who is shacking up.'"
   "Or celibate!" Modelisa spouted. "That means every bishop or pastor has got to be married to at least one wife."
   "Yes, at least!" Suni piped in delight.
   Mary was leaning over the table, both hands holding up her forehead in disbelief whereas I could barely keep back my chuckles at the girls' enthusiasm.
   Sam went back to reading my book aloud.
   "'It's impossible for us to know how or why the expression "husband of one wife" or "wife of one husband" came to mean married indeed by the time Paul wrote it, but languages have subtleties that cannot be understood when separated by such great time periods, and we are around two thousand years from the time this was originally written. Now, if I say to you that you're "one sharp dude" it doesn't mean the number one, it means "a" and sharp doesn't mean sharp like a knife, it means smart, and dude doesn't mean a guy from the city. It just means a guy. Two thousand years from now you'd need a linguist by your side and many months studying comparative texts to find out the meanings of many simple phrases that we take for granted today and many of them you could never figure out.'
   Now that's how Ish explained it in his book, Mary, but I just want to clarify. Paul would not write that for a widow to be placed on the widow's list that she must be the wife of one husband in the sense we understand that phrase. He says that young widows should remarry,11 why then would he penalize them if their second husband also dies? Why would he penalize them for losing two husbands? Why would he penalize them for doing exactly what he told them to do, to remarry? It's clear that when Paul uses the phrase wife of one husband that he's not limiting a woman to one husband at a time, that's already been forbidden and it's called adultery. Likewise, when Paul uses the phrase husband of one wife, he's not limiting a man to one wife at a time, there is no such limit found anywhere in Scripture. He's simply stating that any woman who is mother to his children must be married to him, indeed.
   "Look, you guys are the theologians, not me." Mary spouted. "I just think it's sad when a woman has to share her husband with other wives."
   John's wives were so delighted to actually have Christian visitors that they didn't mind being talked about. In fact, it was energizing them.
   Now, John's wife, Tika, joined the conversation.
   "Mary, when you were a toddler, if you had an ice cream cone, would you share it? Probably not, I wouldn't have either. But what if you had ten gallons of ice cream and no freezer? I think you would share the ten gallons. If you didn't, what was left over would just spoil. John is like that ten gallons of ice cream and it would break my heart to put him on ice. It's just not natural. Men are different."
   Mary just responded, "My Ish is not like that."
   I wasn't sure if it was John or myself who was being insulted but it was clear that Mary was worn out from our discussion. Even so, she had enough energy to take one last jab.
   "What were you thinking writing a book on polygamy, anyway, Ish?"
   I didn't know how to respond. Mary had seen me writing every day in my office. She'd seen what I'd written on keeping polygamous families together after they'd been saved. Even before we'd married she'd been a staunch advocate for that aspect of polygamy. Nonetheless, I was relieved when Sam bailed me out by answering for me.
   "Mary, not to intrude, but Ish's books on Christian chastity are mandatory reading at most of our Bible colleges and Ish is the most respected Christian writer on that subject in the Philippines. As for the subject of polygamy; a writer as prolific as your husband couldn't possibly be expected to write over a thousand pages on the topic of chastity, courtship, and biblical marriage without including a few chapters on the subject of polygamy. And, your husband's done a fantastic job of presenting all sides of the issue, as evidenced by your mission board's confidence in him."
   Mary's face brightened when Sam added that I'd presented all sides of the issue but her emotions were raw. Tika, gracious host that she was, took this as her cue.
   "Mary, wouldn't you like to see the rest of our place? Our children have been asking over and over if I'd let them show you the playground their daddy built for them."
   "They're not theologians, are they?" Mary quipped.
   We all laughed. At least Mary had retained her sense of humor. I gave her a kiss on the cheek as I whispered in her ear, "See you later, love of my life." Mary then headed off with John's family, little Tisay in tow. Of their family, only John and his daughter, Ruth, remained at the table with us.
   The moment the door shut, Asina sobbed.
   "Why haven't you told us this before, Sam! All these single women and a church full of potential husbands!"
   "It's a hard teaching, Asina. It's a hard teaching." That was all that Sam could utter.

1. Proverbs 10:19 In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.[KJV]
2. Missionaries who ask men to forsake their Christian wives and family so that their own personal interpretation of scripture will not be upset are like the men Jesus speaks of in Matthew 23:4
"For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on menís shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."
3. Proverbs 31:30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
4. Proverbs 31:31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
5. Proverbs 31:26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
6. Proverbs 31:19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff. [A distaff is a rod used for spinning thread.]
7. Concerning Bishops and other overseers Paul says:
1 Timothy 3:2 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.
Titus 1:6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
1 Timothy 5:9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man.
Different denominations have interpreted these verses differently over the years. The Baptists have traditionally considered the first two to be a ban against divorced men becoming overseers because to interpret it as a ban on polygamy would mean that 1 Timothy 5:9 would need to be interpreted as a ban on polyandry and in Judaism, the reference point from which Paul spoke, polyandry is not possible for by definition a woman who has another man in addition to her husband is an adulteress.
The denominations which ban divorced men from the ministry have reaped some unpleasant effects, for this policy has given the wives of their ministers an inordinate amount of leverage over their husbands. Not only can the minister's wife take away the children if there is a divorce but she will surely take away his livelihood. If a minister's wife is not a dedicated Christian, she is the most powerful ally that Satan has to destroy a ministry. Such being the case, every Christian should include the wives of ministers in their daily prayers.
8. "Power in the Blood" Author & Composer: Lewis E. Jones
9. Colossians 4:6 Let your speech [be] alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
10. Tares is the Old English word for weeds. Below is the parable of the tares as told by Jesus.
Matthew 13:24-30 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
11. 1 Timothy 5:9 "Let not a widow be taken into the number {placed on the widow's list} under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, {having been a widow indeed, in other words, the deceased man was actually her husband} Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saintsí feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. But the younger widows refuse: {refuse to place on the widows' list} for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; {not that remarrying is wrong but that it would have been a shame to waste resources on a woman by placing her on the widow's list in the first place if she were going to remarry anyway} Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully." Here, Paul clarifies that the younger widows are not to be placed on the widow's list because if they remain widows they will cause problems and also because they are not likely to remain unmarried. He therefore "wills it" that the widows remarry and that any other young women marry as well.

 Click Here to Go to Chapter 11 - Zealous Women

Note: This excerpt is from The Prince of Sumba, Husband to Many Wives.
Copyright 1998 Don Milton All Rights Reserved.
All Copyright Laws Apply - Thou Shalt Not Steal

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