Thursday, March 5, 2020

Is marital abuse a Gospel issue?

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

In the U.S. currently, abuse legally refers to "physical or mental maltreatment which results in mental, emotional, sexual or physical injury. For example child abuse, elder abuse, spousal abuse and animal abuse."

We all agree, abuse is bad and someone needs to do something about it. But, is abuse a Gospel issue?

Pastor Mika Edmundson, 
Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused puts it like this,
When Christ submitted Himself to this experience at the cross, He made abuse a gospel issue. It was part of the oppression that He bore at His cross and overcame at the resurrection. So when we fail to recognize various forms of abuse as “gospel issues” we lose an important aspect of the freedom Christ has won for us. He came to reveal God’s great hatred of abuse and His great love for the victims of it. As pastors, we must help God’s people understand the solidarity, empathy, and deliverance that His risen Son holds out to victims of abuse. In Christ, they have a savior who understands exactly what they are going through because He has been there Himself.

Jesus was mocked, spit on, scourged, blindfolded, beaten with fists and with reed whip, slapped, nailed to a cross, publicly humiliated and ridiculed, suffered, talked about behind his back in his home town, called names, verbally grilled and questioned constantly, his answers received with derision and disbelief, sentenced and punished despite being declared not guilty, despised, loved and praised one day then accused and abused soon after, had his friends turn their backs on him when he needed them the most. 

He gets it in a way many of do not.

Jesus came to do many things, one of which was to set the burdened and battered free.

Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, 
God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” (Luke 4:14, The Message)

There are two levels (at a minimum) to this purpose and message. Yes, spiritual freedom, but Jesus also "cared about oppression in a physical and relational sense."

Contributors of the book, 
Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused, consisting of law enforcement, abuse advocates, attorneys, speakers, interventionists, counselors and pastors agreed the “captive and oppressed,” must include not only those who are in spiritual bondage to sin, but also those who live in fear of abuse in their homes or churches, those who are raped, those who are preyed upon as minors, and others like them.

What if the abuser says they are a Christian, asks for prayer, cries, says they are trying to change? Aren't we supposed to forgive 70 times 7?

If someone believes they have a relationship with God but fails to guard his words then his heart is drifting away and his religion is shallow and empty. James 1:26

If your fellow believer sins against you, you must go to that one privately and attempt to resolve the matter. If he responds, your relationship is restored. But if his heart is closed to you, then go to him again, taking one or two others with you. You’ll be fulfilling what the Scripture teaches when it says, ‘Every word may be verified by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ And if he refuses to listen, then share the issue with the entire church in hopes of restoration. If he still refuses to respond, disregarding the fellowship of his church family, you must disregard him unrepentant sinner. (Matthew 18:15-18 TPT)

So what do we do? We have had teaching in the Church that God hates divorce (Malachi 2) and many women (and men) have been discouraged from legally protecting themselves from a spouse who has broken their vows to love (I speak of action, not emotion.) However, as often happens, the "rest of the story" is somehow left out.

To be clear, yes God hates divorce, that was not in His perfect will for us. That does not mean there is not Biblical cause for divorce, and that's not the focus of this particular blog post -that's a whole n'other thing. 

If abuse is a Gospel issue, then how do we respond as believers to abuse and abusers?

Part two of the Malachi verse is what else God hates: violence and treachery against your spouse:

This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and sighing, because the Lord no longer regards your offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why [does He reject it]?” Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously. Yet she is your marriage companion and the wife of your covenant [made by your vows]. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.................................
For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong and violence,” says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore keep watch on your spirit, so that you do not deal treacherously [with your wife].” (Malachi 2:13-16 AMP)

God hates violence and also treachery (abuse) against our spouses. 

Guess what else God hates:
Cowards and unbelieving (or incredulous about God) abominable (those who are devoid of character and personal integrity sexually, and practice or tolerate immorality) - murderers - sorcerers (those who prepare or use magical remedies, intoxicating drugs, or poisons) - idolaters and occultists (those who practice and teach false religions) - and liars (those who knowingly deceive and twist truth.) (Revelation 21:8 AMP)

Based on the above descriptions, abuse can include

  • not coming to your defense when others physically or verbally attack you (perhaps even joining in or agreeing); 
  • ridiculing and undermining you, even for your faith in God; 
  • being sexually abusive, manipulative; 
  • being unfaithful (sexually including pornography; emotionally; financially; spiritually; etc.); 
  • being verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically abusive; 
  • pressuring you, forcing you, or administering to you without permission drugs of any kind (legal, pharmaceutical, or otherwise); 
  • routinely putting other people and desires in place of you (and before God) such as being a workaholic, overspending time with friends, spending joint money without agreement; over-focusing on t.v. or computer games instead of time with a spouse or children; 
  • lying 

God hates it all and so must we if we are to reflect His image.

What are we to do then when we become aware that someone we know is suffering under abuse? 

Pray for their abuser to repent? Of course. 

Pray for the abused to have relief - absolutely. 

Is that the full scope of our responsibility?

1. Start with comfort:

Comfort those in any affliction with the comfort we share through our relationship with Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3)

2. Move on to action:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV)

Isaiah 1:17 says "Learn what it means to do what is good."  
What is doing good according to God? Isaiah continues with examples - examples that are not exhaustive or inclusive but serve to point us to those who need help:
Seek righteousness and justice, rescue the oppressed (also translated vindicate the victim), uphold the rights of the fatherless and defend the widow's cause!
James 1 - for those who don't understand the New Testament is fulfillment of the Old Testament, (it's just a blank piece of paper separating the books, ya'll):
Don't just listen to the Word and don't live out the message you hear! (v.22)
True spirituality (since you're not religious - you're spiritual, this is for you) that is pure in the eyes of our Father God is to make a difference in the lives of the orphans, the fatherless, the comfortless and the widows in their troubles, and to refuse to be corrupted by the values of the world. (v.27, TPT)
Does that mean simply blog about it, post on FaceBook about it, or spread fear and hatred about other people, or... does it mean get off your laptop and actually do something helpful. Even  something that involves a sacrifice perhaps of your time, your money, your belongings or even, your plans? 

What do you say? What will you say? 

Live your faith. Be a follower of Christ, be a doer of the Word. Look for opportunities to help in a real way, in a way that makes a difference in the day to day life of someone in your town, your church, your neighborhood or may be your home. 

Look for the signs of abuse and ask questions. 

If you need help or support through counseling, visit Renewing Your Mind Transformational Counseling and Coaching or email me at

Here are resources you can have on hand to find more help and contact numbers for your local Family Support Network, Support Within Reach, and more:

Help for women:

Help for men:

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