The word "submissive" does not mean "punching bag." Biblical submission is about being a husband's helpmate. And if your husband is involved with serious sin, a compassionate helpmate will not stand idly by while Satan destroys the man.
Submission is not for the faint of heart.
A Christian wife CAN address her husband's sinful behavior while remaining submissive and obedient to Christ. In part one of this series, "Why talking to an abusive husband about his abuse only makes it worse," we discussed why confronting abuse doesn't always work (if you haven't read it, we recommend you start there and come back!).
Admittedly, a Christian wife may find herself uncertain about what to do after a one-to-one conversation with her husband doesn't change his sinful behavior. But take heart- Jesus tells us there's more that can be done.
Jesus's Four Step Conflict Resolution Plan
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus outlines his plan for conflict resolution amongst those who claim to follow Him. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (NIV)
(It's important to note here that the Greek word used here for pagan is said by HELPS Word-studies to denote a "heathen" or "non-covenant person." More on that later.)
To simplify, Jesus has a 4 step escalation process for confronting sin among those who claim to follow Him:
- Address it one on one with the person.
- Address it in the presence of 1 or 2 other believers (could be family members, a marriage counselor, or trusted mentor).
- Bring it before the church for church discipline
- Treat them as you would an outsider/ unbeliever
In part one of this series, we discussed why talking to an abuser about his behavior may end up making the abuse worse. But as we learn from Jesus here, it is Step One in His plan, and needs to be attempted.
Quick Aside: It's important to note that before you go down the path of confronting your husband's sin, you must work with God to ensure you are walking righteously yourself, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Starting with a heart posture that expresses sorrow over the sin your husband is falling prey to will keep you closer to the heart of God in this whole thing. Additionally, it's important to guard your heart to keep you from mirroring his sinful behaviors, lest you be implicated as well (remember that whole thing Jesus said about the plank in your own eye?).
If that first step fails, then getting another godly witness involved is Step Two. Choose people you know will also have the appropriate heart posture, and that your husband will be more likely to trust and respect. Share with this person what you have learned about abusive behavior so they can watch out for any blame shifting or other distracting tactics. Submissive wives should remember that they do not need to bring the heat, but they should enlist the help of wise counsel (particularly men) who can.
If your husband is still not swayed, Step Three, church involvement and discipline are a last effort. Hopefully, you have been working with a female mentor, women's group leader, or other church staff member in this process so she can help you find the right way to address your pastor. I recommend also involving the witness(es) from Step Two to help your pastor understand the situation if he's not already aware.
If after pursuing these stages of intervention a person in sin still does not relent, Jesus tells us plainly that they should be treated as a "a pagan or a tax collector." As I mentioned before, the Greek words used here denote that this person might now to be viewed a "non-covenant person," or an outsider to the community of believers.
We don't need to nitpick the theology here to determine whether or not this person is truly an unbeliever in the eyes of God. That's between God and the sinner himself. All we need to be concerned with is the fact that Jesus (and Paul in his subsequent letters) has given us the guidance to allow this person to experience the lonely consequences his sin will bring upon him. As for what that means to you, we'll cover that in another post. Just know that the intention of turning a man over to his sin is not to condemn him, but rather to encourage him to repent and be reconciled to God.
But if you've come this far, the matter is between your husband and God now.
Educate Those Around You About Abuse
This process could take months or years. Whatever the case, as you embark upon these intervention steps you may have to share what you have learned about emotional abuse with your mentors, witnesses, counselors, and even pastors. They may not be aware of what abuse is or how to spot it.
And trust me, I know how crazy it sounds in our "divorce happy" culture to try to tell someone, "No, really, it's not me. It's him".
But keep your head up. Keep walking rightly with God. Keep talking. Share blog posts, videos, books- whatever you think will help those around you understand what life is like for yourself and women like you. People will begin to notice and God will put the right people in your path who will believe you. Keep knocking- God is faithful to provide what you need. He loves you, and he loves your husband too. Trust Him to bring you through this in His way, in His time.
Keep the faith sister- we are praying for you.
What tools have you found most helpful in teaching others about abuse?
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