Abuse, Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Must I reconcile with my abusive ex-husband?

I was in a very volatile marriage to an abusive, lost man and I was also lost at the time. There was violence in the marriage which caused me to run away and divorce him out of fear. This was seven years ago and I have not seen nor heard from him since.

I have recently been saved and have repented of all my past sin and divorce1. I do understand that God hates divorce, and why, and that He would want me to reconcile with my ex-husband, if possible. But I am terrified about inquiring of my ex-husband because of the abuse I experienced. I don’t want to go back to him, if he’s even unmarried currently. I want to move forward in my new life as a daughter of God in the situation I am currently in – where He called me.

Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven? I did write my ex a letter that I sent to his parents’ address asking for forgiveness (for sins I had committed against him) about a year and a half ago and I believe he knows where he could find me if he wanted to reconcile; I have heard nothing. I have had nightmares about all this. Part of the reason we don’t live in the same town is I didn’t want to be found. I was so lost in my sin until God opened my eyes and now I cannot change my past and that has left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

First, I just want to take a moment to rejoice with you that God has brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light! Welcome to the family! I also praise Him for rescuing you out of such a terrible situation and placing you in a safe environment. I hope by now this wicked man has been brought to justice and is no longer able to harm anyone.

OK, let’s take this one step at a time, for you and for any others who may be in a similar situation…

I was unable to glean from your email whether or not you are now joined to, and faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound church. If you’re not, that’s step one for many reasons: a) God commands it, so you’ll want to be obedient to Him, b) all Christians need training in the Scriptures and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, c) you need to unlearn all the ungodly ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others that the abuse taught you and replace them with godly, spiritually healthy ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others, and d) you need pastoral counsel about this particular situation you’ve asked me about.

If you haven’t yet found a doctrinally sound church and need some help, I would encourage you to go to the blue menu bar at the top of this page and click on the Searching for a new church? tab. When you get there, study up on the resources under “What to look for in a church,” and then begin exploring the many church search engines to find a good church near you.

Once you find a solid church (or if you’re already in a solid church), step two is to set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling. You need a shepherd who can walk through this situation with you face to face, long term, and can take the time to listen to all of the details. Binding up the wounds of injured sheep and tending to them while they heal is part of a shepherd’s job.

Next let’s take a look at some of the biblical issues.

You are correct in saying that, if possible, it’s God’s desire for a husband and wife to reconcile. But the only way that would be possible in your situation is if your ex-husband:

  • has thoroughly and completely repented of all of his sin (including, but not limited to, the abuse and violence)
  • has trusted Christ as his Savior,
  • has joined, and is faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound local church
  • is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance as witnessed by doctrinally sound mature brothers and sisters in Christ at his church (in other words, we can’t just take his word for it that he’s changed)
  • and all of this has been going on for a significant amount of time (like, at least year or two, not last week).

One of the things you should discuss with your pastor in counseling is whether or not, and how, to find out if your ex-husband has gotten saved and is living a repentant life that honors Christ. If he has not written you back or attempted any contact in the past seven years, chances are he is still lost and unrepentant.

This is another reason it’s important for you to be in a good church – you should not be the one to approach, or have any contact with, your ex-husband. Even if you’re not worried for your physical safety, clearly, contacting him would traumatize you at this point in your life. If any research is to be done into your ex-husband’s spiritual condition, it should be done by your pastor, elders, a deacon, or whoever your pastor designates as the wisest choice.

If it is discovered that God has graciously saved your ex-husband (and all of the items I bullet-pointed above are true of his life) and he has not remarried, then your pastor, his pastor, you, and he will have to put your heads together and figure out how to proceed biblically from here. And I imagine that will involve a lot of time and intense counseling before any decisions can be made.

You should not return to your ex-husband if he is unrepentant and/or still unsaved. (And if your pastor tells you that you should or you have to, you’re at the wrong church. That’s pastoral malpractice.) Notice I said “return to,” not “reconcile”. To be reconciled is for two people to be made right with one another. It’s for two people to come together in agreement to forgive past hurts and move forward together in a peaceful and harmonious relationship. Two people. That’s what the word “reconciled” means. In other words, you cannot be reconciled to someone who will not be reconciled to you because he still wants to hurt you.

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Amos 3:3

Returning to your unrepentant ex-husband is not only unwise for the sake of your own personal safety, but consider what the Bible says about you – a Believer – voluntarily2 entering into a marriage with an unbeliever:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians 6:14-15

While this passage doesn’t apply exclusively to marriage, marriage is one of the relationships it does apply to. If we are not to yoke with unbelievers in ministry, or enmeshed business relationships, or close friendships, how much more should we not yoke with an unbeliever in the most intimate relationship of all – the oneness relationship of marriage?

You alluded to “remaining in the state in which you were called,” which is an excellent point Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:

So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

1 Corinthians 7:24

The basic idea Paul is trying to convey here is not that you shouldn’t make Zacchaeus-like restitution or apologies for sins you’ve committed whenever that’s possible, but that you can’t undo your pre-salvation past (just like Zacchaeus couldn’t undo the fact that he cheated people in the first place). And you don’t have to. That was nailed to the cross, and it stayed dead and buried when Jesus came out of the tomb.

That’s precisely why you shouldn’t feel helpless and hopeless. That is our help and our hope: Jesus did for us what we so desperately needed and could not do for ourselves. He took our sin, our shame, our disgraceful past away – as far as the east is from the west – and dressed us in His royal robes of righteousness, making us clean and right with God to walk in newness of life! No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

Not only that, this bit about remaining in the state in which you were called comes right on the heels of verse 15, which says:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

1 Corinthians 7:15

Your unbelieving ex-husband is separated from you. Let it be so. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” you might say. Keep the peace that God has blessed you with by not opening up this can of worms and unnecessarily creating what could be a volatile situation.

You ask, “Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven?”. No, honey. It means God blessed you with good sense that still works. If this were a situation in which you divorced a godly (non-abusive, obviously) husband for your own selfish, sinful reasons, subsequently got saved, and still refused to be reconciled to him, there would probably be some issues of sin that your pastor would need to counsel you about. But getting saved, honoring all of the Scriptures mentioned above, and refusing to poorly steward the mind, body, and spirit God blessed you with by pointlessly putting them back in harm’s way? That demonstrates that you have repented and been forgiven and that God is hard at work healing you and renewing your mind.

Now, go make that appointment with your pastor.

1The reader stated that she “repented of…my divorce”. I did not deal with biblical and unbiblical reasons for divorce in this article because the focus of her question was, “Where do I go from here?” not, “Did I sin by divorcing him?”, and if she did sin in some way by divorcing him (and I’m not saying she did), she has already repented of it. But I do want anyone reading this to know that if you’re in an abusive relationship, it is not a sin to get yourself and your children somewhere safe. Getting to a safe place is not the same thing as getting a divorce. If you are being abused, get to safety immediately and call your pastor for help.

2This is not a proactive instruction to currently married people to divorce their unbelieving (non-abusive) spouses. Paul deals with that in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Marriage

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years of Marriage

Today is my 28th wedding anniversary. My husband and I married on a lovely Tuesday evening between Christmas and New Years in a church bedecked with pink poinsettias. And six kids, several houses, and a few dogs later, here we still are, plugging away at this “‘til death do us part” thing. There have been a lot of “for better” times, and some “for worse” times. Days when we celebrated “for richer” and years when we survived “for poorer.” A few “in sickness” moments, but, praise God, we’ve mostly lived “in health.”

There’s a lot I didn’t know about living with a completely different person when I first said “I do,” but here are some things I’ve learned both in my own marriage, and from friends’ marriages, over the last twenty-eight years.

1. This, too, shall pass.

It’s easy to look at one fight, one difficult time, and think, in the moment, “That’s it. This marriage is over,” but after a while, you realize this is just one tree in the forest of your marriage. At some point, things will calm down and you’ll be on the other side of it. Marriage is a cross country marathon, not a sprint on smooth pavement. Keep going.

2. “Not tonight, Dear…”

Every couple has to come to their own unique mutual agreement and understanding of each spouse’s wants and needs when it comes to sex. Coercion and manipulation are neither appropriate nor biblical, but neither is depriving each other. There are going to be times when you’re not in the mood for sex but your husband is. If lack of “the mood” is the only thing causing you to say no, say yes anyway, and do it joyfully and enthusiastically. Think of it this way- your husband probably isn’t always “in the mood” to go to work or take out the trash or help with the kids, but you want him to do those things anyway, with a happy heart, because he loves you. Marriage is about serving each other in all aspects of life, whether you’re in the mood at the moment or not.

3. Submit

Biblical submission is not, as secular feminists might have you believe, for weak women, but for strong, godly women. It takes much more strength to exercise self control and obey God’s Word than to just do and say whatever you feel like doing and saying. Take it from a headstrong, opinionated gal who thinks she’s always right- it’s not easy, but biblical submission will make your marriage better, healthier, and more Christ-centered, and will grow you to be more like Jesus.

4. Some things are better left unsaid.

You don’t have to verbalize every thought that comes into your mind, especially when those thoughts are critical, whiny, argumentative, “I told you so,” constantly corrective, complaining, cutting, or in any way unchristlike. Sometimes your most shining moment will be keeping your mouth shut.

5. Forgive quickly

You won’t find a passage of Scripture that says it’s OK to hold a grudge or dangle your forgiveness over your husband’s head until he has groveled sufficiently. The Bible says we are to be kind and tenderhearted and to forgive the way Christ forgave us. Do you forgive your husband the way Christ forgives you?

6. Put your husband first.

After your relationship with Christ, your first love, loyalty, service, confidentiality, and time belong to your husband. Not your children, and not your mother, sister, or best friend. Your husband comes first.

7. Don’t undermine your husband with the kids.

God gives your husband the ultimate responsibility for and authority over your family. While you and he can and should privately discuss how to handle disciplinary issues with the children and other family situations which arise, he makes the final decision. Do not collude with the children, argue with your husband in front of them about his decisions, keep secrets from your husband, or otherwise attempt to circumvent his directives. Support him, submit to him, and present a united front.

8. Affirm your husband privately and publicly.

Women can practically turn complaining about their husbands into a competitive sport. Don’t go there. Would you like for your husband to sit around with his friends and complain about you? Don’t do it in a braggadocious way, but, as opportunities arise, let others hear you affirming your husband and thanking God for him. And be sure you do so when it’s just the two of you, too.

9. Don’t publicly shame your husband.

As Christians, we should always – privately and publicly – behave in a way that honors God. As married women that godly behavior will also honor our husbands. Don’t ever berate or belittle your husband in front of others (or in private, either), including on social media. Don’t behave in public in ways that would embarrass him. When others think about your relationship with your husband, you want them to think, “Wow, he’s really blessed!” not “Poor guy.”

10. Divorce is not an option.

This is the mindset with which couples should both enter marriage and handle normal¹ fights and difficulties. Do not bring the “D-word” out during an argument. God says marriage is for life. It is not disposable.

11. Pray for your husband and for yourself as his wife.

This is probably the most powerful thing you can do for your husband and your marriage. Pray for your husband’s walk with the Lord, situations he’s facing at work, weaknesses he’s struggling with. Pray that God will help you to be a godly wife, and that He will show you how best to support and encourage your husband. Want your husband to change in some way? Don’t nag, pray for him, and pray that God will help you to respond to your husband in a Christlike way.

12. You were always on my mind…

Don’t those little acts of thoughtfulness from your husband – unexpected flowers, doing the dishes, a love note – brighten your day and deepen your love for him? Your husband feels the same way. Cook his favorite meal, send him an occasional text letting him know you’re thinking about him, wear the lingerie he likes. Make him feel special and loved.

13. Extend grace.

Your husband is going to mess up. Often. So are you. Don’t turn his every mistake and sin into World War III. The Bible tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Extend the same love and grace to him in his offenses that you want him to extend to you in yours.

14. He’s your husband, not your child.

Don’t speak condescendingly to your husband, order him around, or otherwise treat him like he’s one of your children. He’s not. Show him the respect, support, and love a godly wife is to give her husband.

15. Be on the same page, theologically, before marriage.

The Bible is clear that we are not to partner with unbelievers, and the most painful consequences for disobeying this command are often seen in marriages in which a Christian marries an non-Christian. But even if you both profess faith in Christ, it’s important to be in agreement on things like which denomination or church you’ll join and why, what the Bible says about salvation, men’s and women’s roles in marriage and the church, parenting, giving offerings, regular attendance, and other theological issues.

16. Admit when you’re wrong and ask forgiveness.

If you’ve sinned against your husband, crucify that pride, admit it, and ask him to forgive you. And don’t forget to repent and seek God’s forgiveness as well.

17. You’re not your husband’s Holy Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict your husband of his sin, not yours. Certainly the two of you should talk things out, and it’s OK to kindly and lovingly discuss how his sin affects you, but no amount of preaching at him or castigating him with Scripture will change your husband’s heart, so don’t try. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

18. God made you the helper, not your husband.

Every family operates differently when it comes to careers, childrearing, and household chores. Couples must reach a mutual agreement about who will carry out which tasks, and should help each other whenever the need arises. That being said, biblically speaking, God has placed wives in the role of helping their husbands, not the other way around. Your husband should not have to work all day and then come home, make supper, clean the house, and raise the children while you pursue hobbies or leisure activities. You both have responsibilities to take care of. Make sure you’re helping him take care of his by taking care of yours.

19. Thank God for your husband.

Don’t forget to thank God for blessing you with your husband. Especially when what you really want to do is hit him with the car. Pour your heart out to God about your anger, sure, but then start thanking God for all of your husband’s good qualities. You might be surprised at the way it changes your heart, your frame of mind, and your ability to forgive.

20. Take joy in the simple things.

Marriage is not a Hallmark movie, a jewelry store commercial, or a Carnival Cruise brochure. It’s just not, so don’t expect it to be. Enjoy just spending time talking, working on a project together, or doing chores side by side. Sometimes it’s not “He went to Jared,” but “We went grocery shopping,” that can bring the most joy.

21. Your husband can’t read your mind.

Your husband wants to do things for you and give you gifts that please you. If he asks which restaurant you want to go to, don’t say “I don’t care” if you do. Tell him. Don’t tell him whatever he gets you for your birthday will be fine and then pout because he didn’t get the gift your heart was set on. If he does something that bothers you, discuss it with him. Don’t make reading your mind a test of your husband’s love for you.

22. Don’t go behind your husband’s back.

Unless what you want is a husband who feels betrayed and doesn’t trust you. If he makes a decision, abide by it. If he asks you not to do something, don’t. If you think he’s wrong, discuss it with him privately, kindly, and lovingly. But, unless it conflicts with Scripture in some way, respect, support, and submit to your husband’s leadership and decisions.

23. Another man is not the answer.

You might go through some rocky times in your marriage. Confiding in or seeking comfort from another man will only make things worse or irreparable. Don’t be the foolish woman Proverbs 14:1 speaks of who “tears her house down with her own hands.” Another man is the source of more problems, not the fix for your current problems.

24. Help him the way he needs to be helped

Your role in marriage is to be your husband’s helper. But sometimes your idea of how to help will be different from his idea of what’s helpful. Maybe you think his socks should be sorted by color while he prefers them organized categorically (dress socks, atheletic socks, etc.) Whenever possible, help your husband in the way he prefers to be helped, not the way you prefer to help him.

25. Your husband is a valuable resource

God has given you a unique human being with his own background, perspective, education, experiences, and thought processes as a live-in resource. Take advantage of that gift! Trying to figure out how to handle a situation at work or at church? Wondering if you should move the couch across the living room or underneath the window? Attempting to master the art of grilling? Ask your husband for his advice or input. The old saying, “Two heads are better than one,” is true, and he might just wow you with a skill, talent, or knowledge you didn’t know he had!

26. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation

Social media, rom-coms, romance novels, other couples at church – sometimes it seems like everyone has the perfect life, the perfect marriage, the perfect husband. Don’t buy into that lie. Movies and books can afford to idealize – they’re fiction. And the real life husbands and couples you see in your newsfeed and on Sunday morning? Sure they might be doing well in an area you’re struggling with, but they’ve got problems in other areas. There’s no such thing as a perfect husband or marriage, so don’t compare yours to someone else’s. Be thankful for the strengths your husband has and the healthy aspects of your marriage, and pray about or work on those aspects that need godly growth.

27. You don’t complete me

Sure, it was a great romantic line in Jerry Maguire, but if you’re putting the burden of “You complete me,” on your husband, you’re putting it in the wrong place. The only place we can find our completeness, our identity, our contentment, is in Christ. Your husband will let you down many times during your marriage (just like you will let him down) because he is an imperfect, sinful human being. Christ will never let you down. Don’t saddle your husband with the impossible to carry burden of your contentment.

28. Set a godly example

Is your husband unsaved? Be the embodiment of the gospel to him through your godly submission, behavior, and demeanor. Is he saved but a bit weak in some areas of life or sanctification? Don’t parade your righteousness in that area around or toot your own horn in an effort to shame or guilt him into doing what’s right. Rather, with a quiet and gentle spirit, and most often, “without a word,” humbly set a good example. He never reads his Bible? Make sure you’re getting up every day and reading yours. You wish he’d ask you how your day was? Treat him the way you want to be treated, and ask how his day was. Your example may not change your husband’s behavior, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to honor and glorify God and to be a godly influence on your husband (which God can use any way He wants to) instead of a stumbling block.

God has been so gracious to my husband and me over the last two decades. I have often failed at many of the things on this list, while God has protected us from the others. I could probably list at least twenty-eight more things, but it all boils down to this: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ, and love your husband the way you want him to love you. That’s the number one thing I’ve learned in all these years, and I’m so grateful to God for sanctifying me through my marriage and blessing me with my dear husband.


¹We can all think of exceptions and extraordinary circumstances to all of these points. This article pertains to generally healthy Christian marriages, not instances of abuse. If you are being abused get help and get somewhere safe.
Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: I “feel led” in a different direction from my husband.

Originally published March 20, 2017

My husband and I recently moved to a new state. After living here a few months, I ‘m not sure this is where God wants us. At the time of our move, my husband had another opportunity for us to go to a different state than the one we just moved to. In prayer and reading God’s word I think we should’ve gone to that state instead. That opportunity is still open, and I feel led to go. I’ve prayed and asked God and still feel led. I’m so confused. I am starting to feel like my husband is a hindrance in my following God’s will. He is supposed to be the leader of the family but he’s not a godly leader. I am a Christian woman who is trying to follow what I think God is leading me to do.  My problem is I have a husband who isn’t in God’s word, nor trying to be, and he says no. 

One of the most stressful situations in a marriage is when your spouse is an unbeliever, one spouse is much more spiritually mature than the other, or there are major differences on theological issues between spouses. I know this is difficult, but I hope I’ll be able to point you in a helpful direction.

It’s good that you’re reading your Bible and praying as you seek God’s direction. I’m not sure (but am very curious) as to which Bible passage you might have read that leads you to believe you moved to the wrong state. I can’t think of one that addresses that issue because the Bible is not personally specific in that way. It gives us wisdom and godly instruction and principles which God wants us to use to make wise choices, but there aren’t any verses that say things like, “You should have moved to the other state,” “Marry Bob, not Fred,” or “Buy the minivan instead of the convertible.”

You say, “I am a Christian woman who is trying to follow what I think God is leading me to do.” That’s great! That’s always the attitude of heart we should have. And the first thing we need to understand is that God leads us through His sufficient and authoritative Word. That means, when we have a decision to make, we don’t go by subjective feelings and impressions, we go to God’s written word and make sure we’re obeying everything it says about our situation.

The good news about your situation is that God spells out His will for you very clearly in Scripture. If you really mean what you say about wanting to do God’s will and follow what He’s leading you to do rather than doing what you want to do and calling that God’s will, here it is:

God is leading you to submit to your husband:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:22-24 (emphasis mine)

Unless your husband is abusing¹ you or encouraging you to do something sinful, God’s will is for you to graciously submit to his decisions. Denying your request to move to another state may not make you happy, but it does not qualify as abuse or sin. Notice, this passage says wives are to submit “in everything,” not just the decisions we agree with. The remainder of this passage goes on to instruct men about how they’re to treat their wives in a godly way, but it does not say that wives only have to submit to their husbands if their husbands are godly or “in the Word.”

God is leading you to conduct yourself respectfully:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 1 Peter 3:1-5 (emphasis mine)

Sometimes when we ladies want something from our husbands, we can be like a dog with a bone, talking them to death about it (Dare I say, nagging?). While husbands and wives should talk through major issues and decisions together, if you’ve calmly, lovingly, and respectfully offered your husband your input and he has made his decision, you need to stop trying to convince him to do it your way. Let it go, Elsa. Behave and speak with love, grace, and kindness toward your husband as you move on with life in your marriage. You may not win him over to your opinion, but that’s not your ultimate goal. Your goal – as you mentioned in your e-mail – is for him to be godly and in the Word. Your behavior and demeanor can help win him to godliness.

God is leading you to be content:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11b-13

If anyone knew what it was like to bear up under unpleasant circumstances and find his contentment in Christ rather than in temporal happiness, it was Paul. Paul had learned the secret to maintaining his contentment no matter what: the strength only Christ can provide. Christ can enable you to be content in this circumstance of your life, too. Just keep your focus on Him and ask Him to strengthen you.

God is leading you to pray for His will to be done and to trust Him for the outcome.

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 (emphasis mine)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (emphasis mine)

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” At Gethsemane, He demonstrated it for us. God did not change Jesus’ circumstances, because it was His will for Jesus to be crucified. But Jesus trusted God to do what was right and best, and He obeyed and glorified His Father to His last breath.

Are you praying for God’s will to be done in your situation, or your will? Keep in mind that God is sovereign. If it were His will for you to be in another state right now, that’s where you would be. Nobody can thwart God’s will. Have you ever considered the possibility that it’s not that your husband is a “hindrance in following God’s will” but that it was God’s will for you to be living in this state and that He caused or allowed your husband to move you there because that’s what He wants? Ask God to do His will in your situation, obey Him no matter the cost, and trust Him for the outcome.

Finally, I’d like to address something you mentioned in your e-mail that you didn’t seem to think was connected to your main question. Actually, it is. You said that you found my blog while searching for one of the false teachers I warn against. If you’ve been sitting under the teaching of the woman you mentioned, or these teachers, or any other teachers who don’t properly handle and teach God’s word, that is a large part of your confusion about your situation. These teachers do not correctly teach people how to study, understand, and apply God’s word to their lives.

You’ve been taught to “feel led” to do things that are in conflict with God’s word. God leads us and speaks to us through Scripture, and it is Scripture alone that we are to go to and depend on to live a godly life and make wise decisions, not our feelings, opinions, and experiences. Unfortunately, teachers like the one you mentioned often lead their hearers to attempt to interpret subjective feelings, ideas, impressions, and circumstances as “God’s will” rather than seeking what God has already revealed to be His will in His written Word. I would encourage you to put away the pre-packaged “Bible” studies, simply pick up your Bible, study it, and obey it.


¹Physical abuse. In a normal, relatively healthy marriage, a husband’s decision not to bow to his wife’s wishes in a particular situation like this does not constitute abuse. Any wife who is being physically abused should get to safety and get help.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Husbands, pastors, and mentors- Which roles do they play in a Christian woman’s life?

 

I have three questions that are kind of related to each other:

1 Corinthians 14:35 says women should ask their husbands questions at home; how does this fit with women mentoring other women in Titus 2?

Where does a husband’s role end and where does the role of a godly older woman begin in terms of teaching younger women?

Are there areas where a pastor’s authority trumps a husband’s authority?

Thank you for your help.

These are really awesome questions. I love it when women ask questions that demonstrate that they’re digging into Scripture and thinking deeply about the things of God. It’s so exciting to me!

(Before I begin answering, let me just stipulate, as I usually do in articles about marriage, that the following statements assume a normal, relatively healthy, average marriage, not abusive marriages, extremely aberrant marriages, etc. Also, it’s not my intent to leave out my single sisters, but the reader asked specifically about married women, so that’s how I’m answering the questions.)

So let’s take each question separately…

1 Corinthians 14:35 says women should ask their husbands questions at home; how does this fit with women mentoring other women in Titus 2:3-5?

The first thing we need to do when we’re addressing questions like this is to look at each of these passages in context. This is a very simple study skill that will clear up nearly all instances of supposed contradictions in Scripture.

Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. What is the venue for Paul’s instructions in this passage? In other words, is he telling people how to behave at home? At work? At the movies? Look at the key phrases in verses 26 (“when you come together”) and 28,33b-35 (“in church”). Paul is giving instructions for how an orderly worship service is to be conducted. He is not making a blanket statement that any time any woman wants to know anything about Scripture or God or life in general that the only person she can ever ask questions of is her husband. What he’s saying is that in order to avoid chaos in the worship service, women are to sit down and be quiet during the preaching and teaching, rather than interrupting to comment or ask questions (one of the reasons Paul says this is that the women in the Corinthian church were doing just that – interrupting the preaching and teaching with questions and comments). If you read further in chapter 14, you’ll notice he places similar restrictions on prophesying and speaking in other languages to prevent chaos and confusion during the worship service. I’ve discussed this passage in further detail in my article Rock Your Role ~ Order in His Courts: Silencing Women?

Now read Titus 2. What’s the main idea of this chapter? Is it the same as the main idea of 1 Corinthians 14 – instructions for an orderly worship service? No. Verse 12 gives a nice summary of chapter 2: “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” That’s what this chapter is about. “Titus, here’s what your church members (and you) are to do and how they’re to conduct themselves as they go about the business of living as Christians in this world and in community with one another.” The older women teaching and training the younger women in verses 3-5 is not taking place during the worship service, but as these women go about daily life with one another. Today, this kind of teaching and training takes place in women’s Bible study classes, women’s fellowship groups, and in one on one discipleship, not in, nor instead of, the gathering of the whole church for worship.

So as we can see when we examine the context of both passages, 1 Corinthians 14:35 and Titus 2:3-5 are not in conflict, they’re actually in harmony, addressing two distinct ways women are to conduct themselves in two completely different venues.

 

Where does a husband’s role end and where does the role of a godly older woman begin in terms of teaching younger women?

I don’t think it’s really that discrete and linear, i.e. the husband teaches this list of topics the wife needs to be taught about and the godly older woman teaches that list of topics she needs to be taught about, and never the twain shall meet. It’s a much more informal and “whatever is needful at the moment” type of thing. Additionally, it’s going to vary from marriage to marriage. Some women have unsaved husbands. Some women are newly saved with husbands who have been saved for decades. Some husbands and wives are very private about everything, some are very open to others. So the balance between who (husband or older woman mentor) teaches what, and how much, and when, is going to look different in every marriage.

I would just offer a few guidelines:

• After your relationship with Christ, if you’re married, your highest allegiance is to your husband. He should be your best friend and first confidant, not a woman who’s mentoring you (or even your mother, sister, or female best friend). He should never feel like he’s in competition for your time, interest, or affinity with the woman who’s mentoring you, or that you esteem her on the same (or, perish the thought, higher) level of loyalty or emotional intimacy with him. If you’ve gotten that close to your mentor, you’re too close. Turn your attention toward your husband.

• Along those same lines, always keep in mind that God instructs you to submit to your husband, not your mentor. The only time you should ever follow your mentor’s advice over your husband’s desires is if your husband is asking you to do something the Bible clearly calls sin and your mentor is advising you to obey Scripture instead. (But even in that case, you’re not really choosing your mentor over your husband, you’re choosing to obey God rather than to sin.)

• There are some things that are private between a husband and wife that shouldn’t be shared with anyone, including a mentor. Which things? Again, that’s going to vary from marriage to marriage, but a few no no’s might include the private details of your sex life, your finances, and anything your husband would be embarrassed for someone else to know. Talk with your husband and ask if there’s anything he would rather you didn’t share with your mentor.

 

Are there areas where a pastor’s authority trumps a husband’s authority?

It really depends on what you have in mind when you ask that question.

If you’re talking about personal decisions made between a husband and wife, let’s say, for instance, whether or not to move to a certain part of town or whether or not the wife should take a part time job, it is not the pastor’s place to step in and overrule the husband’s decision, nor should the pastor have any expectation that the couple would obey any edicts he issues. If the couple goes to him for counseling or asks for his advice, he can certainly give it, but we never see any place in Scripture where a pastor has authority over another family’s decisions. The husband is responsible before God for leading his family, not the pastor.

But if you’re talking about a situation in the church, then yes, a pastor’s (or the elders’) authority – assuming he’s abiding by Scripture – trumps a husband’s authority, and pretty much every other church member’s authority as well. For example, a husband does not have the authority to walk up to the pastor and say, “I’m going to let my wife preach the sermon next Sunday,” or “My wife is going to take over this Sunday School classroom and use it as her personal office.”. If a husband were to say something like that, the pastor is well within his authority as shepherd of the church to say, “Oh no she’s not.”. The buck stops with the pastor when it comes to how the church runs, and he is responsible before God for making godly decisions for the church.

I’m aware that there are aberrant, fringe “churches” (many of them are some stripe of New Apostolic Reformation or extreme legalism/fundamentalism) out there in which the “pastor” has ultimate authority over every decision a family makes: where they live, how many children they have, what to name their children, whether and where each spouse should work, etc. If you’re in a so-called church like that, leave immediately and find a doctrinally sound church to join. A church doesn’t plunge to that depth of spiritual abuse without succumbing to other dangerous false doctrines along the way.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Marriage, Sanctification, Christian women

Throwback Thursday ~ What Your Godly Wife Wants You to Know About Leading Her Spiritually – An Open Letter to My Brothers

Originally published August 17, 2018

My Brother in Christ –

I received an e-mail from your dear wife today.

She’s struggling, and she’s not quite sure how to communicate that struggle to you. She has tried to explain it to you in the past, but you either haven’t listened or haven’t done anything about it. And now she feels that if she brings it up again she’ll just make things worse. Or you’ve told her to stop nagging you. Or stop preaching at you.

She’s not nagging you or preaching at you. That’s not her heart. She’s trying to tell you she needs something from you that only you can provide and that God says you should be providing. And while she’s praying fervently that God would move upon your heart, there should also be the understanding between husband and wife that if one of you needs something all you have to do is ask your spouse, and your spouse will do everything possible to provide it.

But you’re not doing that. And that’s why, in desperation, your wife wrote to me asking me what to do. And that’s why I’m writing to you to plead with you on her behalf…

Your wife needs you to grow up, spiritually, and lead your family biblically.

She has told me about the multiple, blatant examples of false doctrine in your church and how she wants the family to leave and find a doctrinally sound church. But you refuse because you like it there or you think objecting to false doctrine creates disunity in the church.

…or…

She has told me you refuse to stand up for what is right and godly at church, at work, with your friends, or with family members because it’s easier and you’re afraid of rocking the boat.

…or…

She has told me you won’t lead her and the children in prayer and the study of God’s Word because you don’t see it as important, or you don’t know how, or you’d rather watch TV.

…or…

She has told me how you frequently blow off attending church to play golf, fish, hunt, or pursue other hobbies.

…or…

She has told me that you use worldly standards for making decisions for the family rather than praying, searching the Scriptures, and using biblical wisdom.

…or…

She has told me that you put up a good Christian front at church, but at home, you’re foul-mouthed or lazy or greedy or lustful or dishonest or refuse to discipline the children.

Or…or…or…

I’ve heard so many of these types of scenarios of husbands neglecting or refusing to lead you’d think there was an epidemic of spiritual immaturity among Christian men. Perhaps there is.

Maybe it’s the result of the decades-long cultural attack on masculinity by virulent feminism. Maybe it’s a consequence of feel good, seeker-driven silliness, fun fun fun “church”. Finding the root cause could be an interesting academic exercise, but you don’t begin the arson investigation while your house is still burning. You put out the fire before it spreads. And you don’t ignore or get angry with the person pointing out the flames.

And that’s what’s at issue here. Let me be crystal clear about something: your wife isn’t upset with you for trying, failing, and having to try again. She’s upset with you for not trying. It’s not that you’re using the wrong color hose or that it takes you a minute to remember where the fire extinguisher is, it’s that you’re sitting in a lawn chair in the front yard denying that the house is on fire.

Your wife doesn’t expect you to lead your family perfectly. She wants you to want to and try to. And, though you might be afraid to try because you think you’ll mess up and your wife will see you as a failure, you need to know that a wife who is godly enough to want her husband to be the spiritual leader of her home sees your attempts and desires to lead as success – even if the results aren’t perfect. You’re judging yourself on the outcome. She’s valuing your heart and your trajectory in the process.

Because when you try, it says something to her. It says, “I love God enough to obey Him, even when it’s hard or I don’t feel like it.” and “I love my wife enough to take the burden of leadership off of her and bear it myself.”

And when you don’t try, that communicates something too: “I care more about myself and what I want to do than caring for my wife’s needs and being obedient to what God has called me to do.”

I think a lot of husbands don’t realize what an extremely difficult position they put their godly wives in when they abdicate biblical leadership. It nearly always backs her into a corner of pitting obedience to God against submission to, and peace with, her sinning husband.

❥ My husband refuses to leave this apostate church, but my children and I are being fed poison every week. Do I stay at this church with him or leave against his wishes?

❥ My husband won’t lead us in the study of God’s Word. Our children need to be taught the Scriptures. Do I step in even though it’s his responsibility and my taking over might further enable his sin?

❥ My husband makes decisions for our family based on pragmatism, even if those decisions conflict with Scripture. Should I take over family decision-making using biblical principles?

Brother, when you refuse to lead biblically, you’re sinning twice. First, by disobedience to God. Second, by becoming a stumbling block to your wife. No wife of a Christian husband should ever be put in the position of having to decide, “We must obey God rather than men.” It creates a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety, instability, and uncertainty for her when you create a void of leadership by your disobedience.

I can’t build you into a spiritually mature, godly husband. Neither can your wife. And it’s not my job to instruct you in the Scriptures, either. But if, by seeing things from your wife’s perspective, the Holy Spirit is now convicting you that you haven’t been leading your family in a godly way, may I just throw out a few points you might decide to consider as you pray and study God’s Word in this area?

❥ Listen to your wife. Really listen. Ask her what she needs from you, generally, as the spiritual leader of your home, as well as in specific situations as they arise. Ask if she knows of any particular Scriptures that would be helpful to you as you study and pray over various circumstances. Ask for her input in solving problems and making decisions.

❥ Commit to praying and studying God’s Word as part of your daily schedule. Ask God to grow you in maturity and leadership. He is the only One who can change and strengthen your heart.

❥ If you think you might be spiritually immature, put everything frivolous aside, and make growing up your top priority. Pour yourself into the study of the Word, prayer, and serving and nurturing your wife and children. 

❥ Make sure you’re in a doctrinally sound church (there are lots of tools to help you at the “Searching for a new church?” tab at the top of this page) and get plugged in. Lead your family in faithful attendance at worship and Sunday School. Take every opportunity to sit under solid preaching and teaching. Set a godly example by finding a place of service and committing to it wholeheartedly. 

❥ Surround yourself with godly men in your church who will sharpen you, teach you, and disciple you.

❥ Consider setting up an appointment with your pastor for advice, pointers, and good resources on growing in spiritual maturity and leading your family.

❥ Consume biblical media during the week. Ask those godly men at your church for suggestions of theologically meaty books and blogs to read and sermons and podcasts to listen to. (Until you get a chance to ask them, there are some suggestions of blogs and podcasts – most of them by men – in the left sidebar of this page, and some great pastors and authors here, here, and here.)

I hope pulling back the curtain on the female perspective can serve as a helpful tool in your toolbox that you can use as you pursue Christ and seek to grow in spiritual maturity and biblical leadership. Brother, with God’s help and the empowering grace of the Holy Spirit, you can do this – so be encouraged, and don’t be afraid to try!

I’m rooting for you, and I know your wife is, too.