Are You Willing To Suffer In An Abusive Relationship?

Morning friend,

Thanks for being here and part of our community. We need one another. Women all over the world are being abused and mistreated and sadly many churches continue to misadvise women on how to respond. If you need more connection and community with other like-minded women, CONQUER, my educational and support group is NOW open but will close at 11:59pm on Friday, April 22 and won’t reopen until the Fall of 2022. Check it out here if you’re interested. 

Recently, The Roys Report exposed some wrong teaching from Dr. John Street, the head of the counseling department at Master’s Seminary (founded by John MacArthur). Dr. Street seems to glorify suffering and defines self-stewardship or caring for one’s body (by separating from an abusive spouse) as selfish and worldly-mindedness. 

This teaching is dangerous and misapplication of Scripture. The Bible does tell us that God uses our suffering to mature us. (See for example Romans 5:3 and James 1:2,3). But it also tells us that we are to steward our body as God’s holy temple (Romans 12:2) and that when a wise person sees danger ahead, he or she takes appropriate steps for his or her own safety (Proverbs 27:12). David did this when fleeing King Saul (1 Samuel 21-23), and Joseph and Mary did this with baby Jesus when fleeing Herod’s soldiers (Matthew 2:13-23). Jesus himself did this when the religious leaders were plotting to harm him (John 8:59; 10; 39; 11;8). 

When a pastor or teacher glorifies voluntary suffering and advises a wife that this path is more noble, more godly, and more Christ-like than leaving the situation, this pastor is wrong. He or she does not understand the whole counsel of God nor the character of God. God’s heart is always for the oppressed. He mandates his shepherds to care for the oppressed, not to enable the oppressor (see Ezekiel 33; Psalm 5:4-6,11; Psalm 9:9, 12; Psalm 10).

Yes, there will always be evil in this world. We see it right now in Ukraine. And the Ukrainians are suffering. But is it wrong or selfish for them to flee to safety? No. Yet, some are not fleeing because of a higher purpose. To help fight the evil. To help rescue the helpless. To provide food, medical attention, or transport supplies for those who are still there. They are serving God’s purposes by defending the helpless and standing up to the oppressor. Jesus describes this as “no greater love does someone have for another than they would voluntarily lay down their life for their friend.” (John 15:13).

On the other hand, the Bible shows us times when people did not voluntarily lay down their life. They did not willingly “suffer” because it did not serve a greater good. 

For example, Paul appealed to the legal authorities in Rome when he was being unfairly beaten in Acts 25. He could have just suffered quietly as in 1 Peter, to “win them without a word” but that’s not what he did. In another instance, Paul was let down in a basket to escape those who were trying to harm him (Acts 9:26). Why? If the Bible truly teaches that self-protection is self-serving and not as virtuous as voluntarily suffering at the hands of one’s oppressor, then why did Paul not just stay passive and allow himself to be captured, “trusting the Lord” to protect him? He certainly wasn’t a stranger to suffering?

In addition, the Bible specifically tells stories about or warns us not to voluntarily sacrifice ourselves or suffer to bear a burden when it would enable someone’s selfishness, laziness, or irresponsibility to flourish. (For example, See the story of the Ten Virgins Matthew 25:1-13; See God’s stern warning not to co-sign on a loan for another in Proverbs 6; See Paul’s admonish not to allow a lazy person to get or get the perks of hard work when they refuse 2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Friend, there are also times you do not choose to volunteer for suffering. Someone robs your home. You get cancer. You are mistreated at work. You are a victim. Jesus reminds us in those instances of involuntarily suffering that you still have choices. In the often used passages of “turn the other cheek” or “walk the extra mile,” Jesus is reminding victims of injustice that they still have agency. They still have choices to make. 

In other words, he says to all of us when we are unfairly mistreated, [Tweet ““You still have choices. You have the power to write the rest of the story when you are suffering involuntarily. You can retaliate, but I say not to do that – there is another way, a better way, in which you remain in control.””]

Jesus knows that suffering changes us. But how? Will that change be formative (becoming more like Christ), or deformative (bending into hatred and revenge)? Carbon under pressure forms coal or diamonds. Both can be the outcome of carbon’s response to pressure.

To advise a wife to voluntarily stay in an unsafe relationship is not knowing the heart of God. Oswald Chambers says “To choose to suffer means there is something wrong; to choose God’s will even if it means suffering, is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.”

Choose God, not suffering, and he will instruct you and counsel you in the way you should go. (Psalm 32:8).

Friend, if you’ve been taught and lived with this wrong teaching, how did you begin to break free to see the truth?

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21 Comments

  1. Janice D on April 20, 2022 at 12:52 pm

    I think it begins with humility and openness before the Lord…will I continue to hold on to “ doctrinal,biblical” truth as I understand it,or will I lay my ( mis) understanding down and allow the Holy Spirit to walk with me through the wilderness,feeding on His manna and drinking from His well?I am so grateful God led me to Leslie’s teachings as well as Patrick Doyle,Natalie Hoffman,and a few other safe teachers.Being treated as an adult capable of making sound judgments and decisions has been life changing for me as well.Ask…Seek..Knock…Matthew 7:7God knows our hearts

  2. Free on April 21, 2022 at 5:22 am

    For me, I never would have left the teaching of the church to stay, pray and obey, had it not been for the laws of the United States of America. It was an emergency room doctor who put me in the care of a social worker who directed me to a women’s shelter, a police report and a court hearing. Police protected me. Detectives investigated my case. The bailiff uoheld the guidelines of my restraining order. Charges were pressed against my abuser by US government laws, not by my evangelical church laws.

    The church told me to suffer, pray, hide my abusive spouse’s crimes and give him more affection. The law of the land protected me from evil, the church did not. I praise God for the USA!

    • Sanjo on April 23, 2022 at 1:09 pm

      1 Timothy 1:9 I believe there is a time when the law is needed.

    • Robin on April 24, 2022 at 5:26 pm

      Free, thanks for sharing; I’m so happy to hear this news for you!

    • Ann-Mari on April 25, 2022 at 12:04 pm

      Dear Free says,
      This is written so well and to the point. If I had thousands of dollars I’d have it put on a billboard on the expressway close to the “Gentlemen’s Club”
      exit.
      I pray you and your family mend quickly for what all have endured. You are so very brave.
      Thank you for reminding us to trust God’s heart and His Way-Shower, Jesus Christ.

  3. Ruth on April 22, 2022 at 4:56 pm

    I have seen some a few ugly comments under Leslie’s YouTube videos like- this lady breaks up marriages.
    Hmm, the Bible says that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. So, logically then it would be the pride and sin of the abuser in this case that brings destruction on the marriage.
    The guys who leave little hateful comments do not give a biblical or even common sense rebuttal for Leslie’s points. They don’t explain their reasons or their beliefs. They just spew out nastiness.
    Ok my soapbox moment is over.
    I am very impressed by how much scripture Leslie included in this article. Awesome!

  4. Sue on April 23, 2022 at 11:40 am

    “to choose God’s will even if it means suffering, is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.”
    Thank you for this, Leslie.
    Life is not perfect. Marriage is not perfect.
    I am called to be in my marriage to a husband who is often, but not always verbally abusive. It can be very tough at times but I believe that I serve God here. I hope that I see repentance and change, but even if it never comes, I know whom I serve and honor with all of my heart, mind and soul.

  5. Karen on April 23, 2022 at 11:42 am

    “to choose God’s will even if it means suffering, is a very different thing. No healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he chooses God’s will, as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not.”
    Thank you for this, Leslie.
    Life is not perfect. Marriage is not perfect.
    I am called to be in my marriage to a husband who is often, but not always verbally abusive. It can be very tough at times but I believe that I serve God here. I hope that I see repentance and change, but even if it never comes, I know whom I serve and honor with all of my heart, mind and soul.

  6. Patty on April 23, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    Sadly, when I tried to tell others about the abuse in my marriage I was amazed that people told me that I was wrong to separate. They just didn’t get it. These were friends and elders in my church. A Christian counselor to whom I had gone told me to protect myself. I thank God for him.

    I suppose that as long as there is more than one opinion on any subject there will be disputes. However, as you said, Leslie, we need to carefully read God’s word and get His entire counsel. God does not tell men to abuse their wives. It is so plain in scripture. Why would people believe otherwise?

  7. Kathleen on April 23, 2022 at 3:50 pm

    Amen, thank you Leslie for all the good you speak from God’s word

  8. Adriana on April 23, 2022 at 10:38 pm

    My dearest church in Colombia, which is directed by American missionaries, was the first one to help identify that I was in an abusive relationship.
    I was part of another church for sixteen years, they taught to suffer, to pray, to be a silent testimony. The result was that my younger daughter, became severely depressed because she was a witness of the psychological and verbal abuse.
    I think, it is important to see the horrible consequences in our kids when we allow abuse

  9. Paul on April 24, 2022 at 2:10 am

    Is there a common goal here to bring all people to repentance and in relationship with Christ both the abused and the abuser because we have sinned and are in need of a savior? Is there a way to have a conversation around this common goal?

    • Leslie Vernick on April 26, 2022 at 4:24 pm

      Paul, not sure what you are getting at. Of course God’s call is for all to come to salvation. And all have sinned. But in this particular blog, I never say a victim isn’t a sinner, what I’m saying is when an abusive person refuses to repent (which means CHANGE), you cannot continue to have a safe and trusting relationship with that person. Everyone is a sinner and when you sin against your spouse and REPENT, the marriage is usually fixable. But repentance isn’t “I’m sorry.” It’s I am going to change directions and not repeat this same sin over and over again expecting amnesty. When you repent, then you apply yourself to do what it takes to make that change happen. Especially when the sin has harmed someone else and broken trust and safety in a marriage. If not, it’s just words and words do not show not repentance, actions do.

  10. Kathy on April 24, 2022 at 2:30 am

    Leslie,
    When I was told to go home and submit, by my ex pastor, because I was called to suffer, I knew something didn’t set right in light of the character of God seen throughout his word.

    It was such a blessing to read your post which biblically clarified the difference between willingly suffering and those times when we have no choice but to suffer according to the will of God (I Peter 4:19).

    Thank you.
    Kathy

    • Autumn on April 27, 2022 at 12:26 pm

      Last I checked Kathy, only Christ can die for another person’s sins. You were not the appointed savior of the world.

      Once I realized only Christ’s shoulders were big enough to carry another person’s sins, I was set free. Not my job to be a martyr. Love isn’t martyrdom. Better, yet would have been if your pastor chastised your abusive spouse for not loving you. Shame on him.

  11. Andrea on April 24, 2022 at 9:45 am

    …the truth will set you free.
    It’s hard not to wish I’d heard this years ago but I’m trying to trust that God’s timing is best, He loves me and He has a plan even if it feels like everything is spinning out of control.

  12. Kathy on April 25, 2022 at 10:48 am

    We could also add Psalm 83:2 under your statement, “He mandates his shepherds to care for the oppressed, not to enable the oppressor…”
    Psalm 82:2-4, “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. [3] Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. [4] Deliver the poor and needy: rid f them out of the hand of the wicked.”

  13. Tendayi on April 25, 2022 at 9:19 pm

    Spot on!
    Thank you for sharing this post.
    So relevant.
    We do misinterpret scriptures.. and this conversation so pertinent in regards to finding Truth.

  14. Autumn on April 26, 2022 at 5:21 am

    Sure Paul, after you remove the victim from her abuser. Then each person can be counseled separately. If you keep them together, you will have the opportunity to preside over her funeral before you will ever get her abuser to repent of his sins.

  15. Mike on May 29, 2022 at 3:24 pm

    I love the metaphor of carbon being transformed into diamonds. How beautiful, especially because diamonds last forever! It also goes with the modern take on Person-Centred counselling, that humans are multi-faceted personalities.

  16. Angjoy on June 11, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    I could not effect change in the marriage dance… 23 years of inviting h participation, trying, crying, praying… I grew and matured and will live into the dignity and strength of a daughter of the King starting now. I did have to flee and file… living in a shelter now.

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