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Abusive Relationships and Living For God

• Date: Apr 8, 2008 • Source: http://www.sjchurchofchrist.org/


How should a Christian wife respond to an abusive husband? Since God calls us to love others, should I just try to act pleasantly toward an abusive boss or neighbor? Does "turning the other cheek" mean that a disciple should quietly accept abusive situations? For those who seek to do God's will, questions like these deserve a reliable compass from scripture.

My goal in this article is to help the disciple of Christ understand that in order for a victim to love God, others and self as we have been commanded to do, then that victim needs to take appropriately motivated steps to stop the abuse. To allow the mistreatment to continue involves failing to respond with love.

The Right Starting Point - God's Compass

As with other questions regarding life, the greatest and second greatest commandments chart a reliable path to God's answer. Regardless of the situation, the most important directive for any human being is to love God with all of his being. Among other things, this includes obeying God's directions on how to treat others and oneself. The second most important obligation for God's people is they should love others as they love themselves. Matthew 22:37-38

Love - Understanding Where The Needle Points

The New Testament's exhortation to love (agape) our spouses, neighbors and even our enemies entails actively seeking someone's well-being. While it is not always easy to seek someone's well-being, the decision to act with such a love can even operate in the most hostile of environments where other forms of love, such as friendship or passion, will have evaporated.

The Two Basic Responses - Either It Is True North Or It Is Not

A victim of abuse has two choices: either respond with love or with something that is not love. An unloving response can lead in many different directions.

One response common to humanity is to seek revenge. The bitter resolve, whether yelled or quietly sworn, "I'll get you back for this" is never an option for those seeking to do God's will. Instead of the knee jerk reaction of enforcing one's own sense of justice, Jesus banished any form of personal retaliation when he taught to "turn the other cheek." Matthew 5:39. Furthermore, dishing out personal retribution violates obeying how God wants us to respond to others since God declared, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." Romans 12:19 To love God guides a person to allow God to exact any retribution.

Turning the other cheek obviously rules out revenge. But is this also an insistence that we passively accept all of the abuse others might enjoy dishing out? No. In response to the principle of seeking just retribution (Matthew 5:38), Jesus' teaching replaced enforcing one's own justice and revenge with a loving response. To respond with love eliminates striking back. A loving response does something good for the perpetrator! Matthew 5:39-42 Thus, when we are cursed, we are to offer a blessing in return. 1 Peter 3:8-9 Clearly, Jesus did not teach a blanket passivity of doing nothing toward aggressive evil.

Love is not passive, but active. Jesus did not teach passivity toward evil. There are perhaps a number of ways to seek the well-being of an abuser. The most important involves helping a person be prepared to encounter the day of judgment. Regardless of whether an individual will acknowledge it or not, there is a final day of judgment. Since the righteous judgment of God will condemn all sin - including those who abuse others, to passively accept abuse fails to seek an abuser's well-being.

Putting Love Into Practice - Knowing How To Walk North

In some situations, knowing how to love in an effective manner requires wisdom. Paul prayed that the love of the Philippians would be guided by knowledge and depth of insight. Philippians 1:9 Knowing how to help an abusive person can be challenging.

Tough love describes seeking a person's well-being through tough measures. What will it take for someone to truly grasp, "I am responsible before God and this is not acceptable behavior?" What tools might God use in our hands? Will the abusive individual be open to spiritual counseling and the transforming power of God's word? Will acts of kindness be understood as showing a better way or will they mistakenly be interpreted in a manner to reinforce sinful behavior? Will the person fail to be transformed short of physical separation or civil action?

To know how to show love requires wisdom as well as knowing the goal. What is clear is that God's people are to love even their enemies and love is not passive.