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Unconditional Love/Conditional Relationship

By Leslie Vernick

Over the years Christian individuals in emotionally destructive marriages have been counseled to forgive and reconcile with their spouse, reminding him or her of God’s command to forgive and to love unconditionally. Adultery, they said, was the only biblical grounds for divorce.

Implied in the counseling these people receive is the idea that they are called by God to maintain a relationship with their spouse even while he or she is repeatedly destructive toward them.

But is that counsel truly biblical?

Is someone ever biblically allowed or even encouraged to end a relationship or distance themselves from someone because of their unchanged sinful behavior?

God's love for humankind is unconditional but he does not offer anyone unconditional relationship. He tells us that our sin separates us from him and that without repentance we have no fellowship with him (1 John 1:6). Our sin does not separate us from God’s love (Romans 5:8) but it does separate us from his presence (Isaiah 59:1-2). Jesus distanced himself from certain religious leaders because he didn’t trust them. He knew what was in their heart (John 2:24). Throughout much of the Old Testament, God withdraws his presence from his people because of unrepentant sin.

God calls people to a covenant relationship that is like a marriage. He not only wants us to enjoy his love, he wants us to love him back (Deuteronomy 6:5). He not only promises us His faithfulness, He requires that we be faithful in return (Deuteronomy 4:23-24). The book of Hosea is a picture of God’s love for his unfaithful spouse (Israel). He longs for her, but his relationship with her will remain broken until she is willing to change.

In this sinful world there is no perfect person and in every relationship there is some brokenness and suffering. That’s why Jesus tells us that when someone sins against us we are to go and talk to that person so that we can be reconciled. However, he also adds, if they refuse to hear you after you have repeatedly tried to get them to listen, he says, “Treat them as you would a pagan and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus says, if there is no repentance, the relationship you once had changes. Pagans and tax collectors were not trusted, nor were they friends. Jesus’ words tell us that we should continue to pray for or even help a pagan or tax collector who was in need, thus fulfilling the biblical mandate to love one’s enemy, but that they are no longer a “brother or sister” who is trusted.

There are certain basic conditions necessary for any relationship (personal and professional) to be healthy and safe. They are mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom. One person can certainly make a bad marriage better all by him or herself, which may eliminate some strife and dissension, but one person cannot turn a bad marriage into a good marriage all by herself. It is an unfair and heavy burden we have often unknowingly placed on people because we have believed God hates all divorce.

What’s the alternative? When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt, seeking grain, Joseph cared for their needs despite the treachery they had done to him many years earlier. He had forgiven them but he did not trust them. He graciously ministered to their needs but did not seek reconciliation until he tested their hearts and saw that they were different. Joseph loved his brothers unconditionally (he sought their well-being) but they did not share intimate fellowship. It was all one-sided, it was ministry not relationship. (See Genesis 42-45.)

We are indeed called to be imitators of Christ and live a life of love (Ephesians 5:1), but let us not put a yoke on someone to do something that God himself doesn’t do. God is good to the saint and unrepentant sinner alike, but he does not have a close relationship with both. When someone repeatedly sins against you and is not repentant and willing to change, it’s not possible to have a healthy or safe relationship with him or her, including marriage.

Being in close fellowship with someone is not a right, even if both people are Christians. It is a sacred privilege. The apostle Paul advises us to distance ourselves from people who are continually destructive, especially if their behaviors or attitudes are sinful and unacceptable, both to us and to God (1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).

Loving a person unconditionally may indeed require sacrifice and suffering but we suffer and sacrifice for another person’s good, not to allow them to continue to sin against us. To do that is foolishness, not biblical love. Too many counselees have been wrongly instructed that biblical love means they must be nice and suffer quietly, even as they are being mistreated and abused. But as C.S. Lewis wisely wrote, “Love is more stern and splendid than mere kindness.”

Book Giveaway

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The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It

by Leslie Vernick

Leslie Vernick, counselor and social worker, has witnessed the devastating effects of emotional abuse. Many, including many in the church, have not addressed this form of destruction in families and relationships because it is difficult to talk about. With godly guidance and practical experience, Vernick offers an empathetic approach to recognizing an emotionally destructive relationship and addresses the symptoms and the damage with biblical tools. Readers will understand how to:

  • Reveal behaviors that are meant to control, punish, and hurt
  • Confront and speak truth when the timing is right
  • Determine when to keep trying, when to get out
  • Get safe and stay safe
  • Build an identity in Christ

This practical and thorough resource will help countless individuals, families, and churches view abuse from God's perspective and understand how vital it is for victims to embrace His freedom from the physical, emotional, spiritual, and generational effects of emotionally destructive relationships.

Two winners will be selected in our next newsletter! (Giveaway only available to U.S. residents)

If you would like to enter to win, you can click here to provide name and email address.

The winners of “Untwisting Scriptures to Find Freedom and Joy in Jesus Christ: Book 5 Brokenness & Suffering” by Rebecca Davis are Alicia M. and Doug D.

Enter For Your Chance to Win

Embrace Your Core Values: It Is A Personal Journey

By LeAnne Parsons

Question: LeAnne mentioned in the Facebook Live Video yesterday that she was interviewed by Leslie in a podcast, but I couldn't find the podcast. What is the date and title? Thank you.

Answer: Thank you so much for joining us on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube! We appreciate our community of sisters who walk with us daily with courage, hope, truth, wisdom, and strength! July 24, 2023 the interview went live!

The title of our interview on her podcast Relationship Truth Unfiltered is:

Living Authentically: Embracing Core Values for a Fulfilling Life.

Friends, I do hope our connection today finds you in a moment of peace or brings a breath of fresh love your way. Since reading your question, I've been reflecting on my conversation with Leslie on her podcast…

What People Are Saying About Leslie's Conquer Support Group

“I can’t thank you guys enough for all this ministry has given me. I have finally escaped my abusive husband after many attempts and empty promises of change. I don’t think I could have ever had the strength and courage to do it without Leslie and the Conquer program. Thank you again for all you do and please extend my heartfelt gratitude to Leslie as well.”

  • Dana Lee

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Then, visit Leslie's Blog as she posts her responses to one question per week.

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Leslie Vernick PO Box 5312 Sun City West, Arizona 85376 United States