The Duties in Marriage (Vincent)

 (This is a repost from September 2012)

In Thomas Vincent’s discussion of the Westminster Shorter Catechism he explains and applies the fifth commandment to husbands and wives in their duties to one another.  I’ve abbreviated and edited it slightly.  As you read, remember that solid Christian doctrine leads to solid Christian living: the two go hand in hand.  You’ll see what I mean as you read Vincent’s words:

Q: What are the duties of wives to their husbands?  A: 1) Love them above all other persons in the world (Titus 2:4).  2) Be loyal and faithful in the home and in the marriage covenant (Heb 13:4).  3) Revere them and take care not to offend them (Eph. 5:33).  4) Subject yourselves to them in all things lawful under Christ (Eph 5:22).  5) Please them by living in harmony (1 Cor 7:34).  6) Help them bear their burdens and help them in providing for the family (Gen 2:18, Prov 31:27).  7) Listen to and comply with the husband’s counsel if it is good and profitable for your Christian faith; if not, with meekness, wisdom, kindness, and love, win your husband over to the ways of God (1 Pet 3:1-2).

Q: What are the duties of husbands to their wives? A: 1) Love them dearly, reflecting the love of Christ to his church (Eph 5:25).  2) Live with them, honor them, and delight in their company socially and intimately (Eph 5:31, Prov. 5:18-19).  3) Be tender toward them and provide for them in all things (Eph 5:28).  4) Be faithful to them in the marriage covenant – keep the bed pure (Hos 3:3).  5) Protect them from injuries and cover their infirmities with the wings of love (1 Pet 4:8).  6) Please them in all things and praise them when they do well (1 Cor 7:33).  7) Pray with them and for them, counsel and admonish them, and help them in every way – especially with reference to their Christian walk (1 Pet 3:7).

I suppose one biblical and Christian word could summarize the whole list: Love!  Or, as Paul said, Put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Col. 3:14 NASB).

For a fuller list with more Scripture references, see pages 159-160 of Thomas Vincent’s The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Mentality of an Abuser Many of us know people that are manipulative, abusive, and unstable yet put on a good façade and trick many people (even in the church).  Good questions arise: what is the mentality of an abusive person?  How can we spot him?  What type of thinking, speaking, and acting do abusers display?  Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood give us some help in answering these questions (which I’ve summarized/edited for length):

1) The abuser often uses unbelievable exaggerations but makes them believable with remarkable certainty.  For example, in his efforts to convinces us that his wife/victim is to blame and that he is the victim, he may invent ‘facts’ that are simply bizarre.  However, his ability to do so with such conscienceless conviction makes us conclude that it all must be true.  …The way he presents the claim is so convincing.”

2) He distorts reality and rewrites history for his own purposes.  He tells some story and claims it took place, yet you have no recollection of the event; he’s so certain and confident that you doubt your own memory.

3) He is not bothered by inconsistencies in his statements.  Abusers will, without hesitation, present contradictory facts and do so quite convincingly.  Their stories evolve as necessary and if they meet some objecting in us to the logic of what they are saying, they can simply change the storyline.  Again, they speak with such certainty we may be tempted to believe the evolving story.

4) Abusers often act like experts on the subjects they speak about.  When they are questioned further, it becomes evident that their knowledge is actually quite superficial, though they still will not admit it.

5) The abuser uses our own conscience against us.  When he is confronted with the facts about what he did to a victim, he skillfully manipulates what we are saying so that we find ourselves feeling that perhaps we have been too harsh or judgmental of him.  We wonder if we owe him an apology.

6) The abuser plays by double standards.  He will condemn his victim for something, and then, even in the very next sentence, reveal that he does the very same thing (Rom. 2.1).  For example, the abuser sees his wife as a horrible, selfish spendthrift because she spent $50 at the grocery store on food, but his purchase of coke, candy, alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets is quite alright.

7) Abusers are typically immature.  Like a baby, the abuser often screams when his wants are not met, or throws a tantrum when confronted, or displays rank selfishness.

A few others Crippen and Wood list are these: abusers are often into pornography, rarely understand or consider another person’s point of view, rarely show shame, often demand forgiveness while seeking pity, display charm at times, and are able to violate rules and laws without any pain of conscience.  In my own experience, these points are very true (and also can apply to those denying addictions).  This list is worth reading a few times!

As I said earlier, if you’re a pastor, elder, or if you are dealing with an abuser, I recommend this resource: A Cry For Justice by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood.

(This is a re-post from January 2015)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Marriage Isn’t the Gospel (Miller)

 The Bible speaks of marriage as something God instituted for the good of humanity.  Even before the fall, it was good that man (Adam) and woman Eve) were united.  Christians should uphold the biblical teaching of marriage, for sure.  However, marriage isn’t at the center of the Christian faith.  An unmarried person who follows Jesus is no less important than a married person who follows Jesus.  It’s not more biblical or “Christian” to be married.  I appreciate how Rachel Miller discusses this:

“…Marriage is a great blessing.  There’s a great need to defend a biblical understanding of marriage.  But if conservative Christian teaching makes marriage too hard and expects too much from it, there’s a real danger of making marriage into an idol – ‘a good thing turned into an ultimate thing,’ in the words of Tim Keller.

Marriage is a good thing, but it’s not an ultimate thing.  When we make marriage our highest calling – our focus in life and in the church – we set ourselves up for disappointment and heartache.  We weigh ourselves and others down with impossible standards and unrealistic expectations.

By God’s grace, our salvation is secure in Christ, regardless of our marital status.  Marriage isn’t the gospel. It isn’t what saves us.  It isn’t what gives our lives meaning.  It isn’t what makes us holy.  It isn’t what fulfills us.  Whether we are married, divorced, single, widowed, or separated, we are called to serve God and to glorify Him wherever and however we are able.”

Rachel Green Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, p. 187-188.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54014

The Dangers of Overemphasizing Women’s Submission (Miller)

 The Bible teaches that in a marriage relationship the wife needs to submit to her own husband (e.g. Eph. 5:24).  However, the Bible says so many other things about wives and women.  If we focus too much on the call to submit and nearly ignore the other biblical teaching on wives and women, it often leads to problems – sometimes major and evil problems.  These problems aren’t just found in cults; sometimes they’re found in Christian circles.  I really appreciate how Rachel Green Miller stated it in her new book, Beyond Authority and Submission: 

The hyper focus on authority and submission can create an environment that is emotionally, spiritually, and physically abusive for women and children – especially when a man’s authority over his wife and children is almost absolute.  In this system, men are the authority that’s been put into place by God over families.  To reject or resist that authority, even when it’s used abusively, is to put oneself at risk of spiritual and physical harm.  As a result, women are told to submit to their husbands’ authority even if their husbands are cruel, harsh, or abusive.  They are taught to accept however their husbands treat them without complaint.  When husbands are abusive and cruel, women are encouraged to suffer in silence as Jesus did, and so to glorify God.

Sometimes flawed teachings on women and men are in themselves spiritually abusive.  Teaching that men represent Christ to their families leads to the belief that men are mediators for women and children.  This denies women and children direct access to God and contradicts the priesthood of all believers.  It’s also spiritually abusive to teach that women are more easily deceived than men and are prone to usurping male authority.  This view undermines the important role that women have as co-laborers with men, and it creates a climate of suspicion and distrust.  Because believing women are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, just as believing men are, they can be trusted counselors for men even in spiritual and theological matters.

Physical and sexual abuse can also flow out of this system.  Teaching that sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife is an expression of authority and submission can lead to sexual abuse of women.  If a wife has no rights over her own body and no power to deny her husband, then a husband has the authority to compel his wife.  This is a system ripe for abuse, and it’s contrary to what Paul tells married couples about their duties to each other.  Husbands and wives have mutual authority over each other (see 1 Cor. 7:4).

Rachel Green Miller, Beyond Authority and Submission, p. 237-238.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Brain, Sex, and Our Hook-Up Culture (McIlhaney & Bush)

 This is a unique and helpful book: Hooked: The Brain Science on How Casual Sex Affects Human Development by Joe McIlhaney and Freda McKissic.  Hooked is an in-depth look at what sex does to a person’s brain.  Most people in our culture think that the casual, hook-up kind of sexual encounter is a no-strings-attached, easy-come-easy-go type of relationship that doesn’t really affect a person.  So you can do it as much as you want with whomever you want and suffer few long term repercussions.  The authors of Hooked take that cultural view head on and prove scientifically that it is simply false:

A 2017 survey of high school adolescents illustrates that sexual activity has more ramifications beyond the physical.  The survey showed that both boys and girls who have had sex are more likely to be depressed than their friends who have not (p. 19).

…With the aid of modern research techniques and technologies, scientists are confirming that sex is more than a momentary physical act.  It produces powerful, even lifelong, changes in our brains that direct and influence our future to a surprising degree (p. 21).

Some individuals have been disappointed to find that as they move from one sexual partner to another, they not only are not finding ultimate pleasure but are feeling worse about themselves and their many sexual partners.  In fact, studies show that those in casual relationships find that these sexual patterns often prevent such relationships from blossoming into romance.  They wonder why they feel this way (p. 23).

…Engaging in sex almost always carries long-term psychological consequences, either life-enhancing or life-limiting.  The brain chemical effect of sex has happened, in varying degrees, to everyone who has experienced sexual intercourse (p. 71).

This book isn’t necessarily a Christian book and I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it.  But it is a great resource to have as we think about our “hook up culture” from a Christian perspective. When God told us to live sexually pure lives and to keep sex in the realm of a man-and-woman marriage relationship, he wasn’t cruelly putting shackles on us out of spite.  Instead, he was giving us parameters to live within for the sake of human flourishing, freedom, and safety.  It shouldn’t surprise us to learn from scientific studies that promiscuous sex is harmful for people while sex inside a man-and-woman marriage relationship is a good thing.

I’ll come back to this book later.  For now, do check it out: Hooked.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

When Your Spouse Is An Unbeliever (Strobel)

 I’m working my way through this book: Spiritual Mismatch by Lee and Leslie Strobel.  It’s a book written to help the Christian who is married to an unbeliever.  To be in such a situation is more than difficult, and God’s people who are going through this difficult situation need prayer, love, help, and guidance.  The Strobel’s wrote this book to help and guide the Christian who is married to an unbeliever.  I haven’t read all of it yet, and so far though I don’t agree with everything in it, parts of it are for sure helpful.

One helpful section is where the authors discuss the fact that it is not the Christian spouse’s fault that her husband (or his wife) does not believe in Christ.   Sometimes the Christian spouse in a marriage has quite a bit of pressure put on her as if she is responsible for her husband’s lack of faith: Be a better Christian wife!  Here’s how Leslie talks about this attitude she faced before her husband came to Christ:

It took my friend Linda to set me straight one day when I was feeling sorry for myself and moping around because of Lee’s continued resistance to God.  ‘Listen to me,’ she said sternly.  ‘You’re not responsible for Lee’s decision to receive or reject Christ.  There isn’t one example in the Bible of anyone failing to come to Christ because his or her spouse wasn’t a good enough Christian.  If a wife had to be perfect to win her  spouse to the Lord, no husband would ever receive Christ!’

In his grace God does not put the burden of heaven or hell on any marriage partner.  It would be too much to bear if a wife knew that her husband’s eternal destiny hinged solely on how well she lived out her faith in front of him or how compellingly she explained the gospel.  I have seen wives who are paragons of Christian virtue and yet whose husbands are stone-cold toward God, and I have seen wives who could be poster children for Hypocrisy Anonymous whose husbands have become fully devoted to Christ.

…Be devoted, be prayerful, be encouraging – but don’t try to be responsible!  You’re not.  Your spouse is. Period.

There’s much more to the issue, obviously.  But it is a good reminder for Christians whose spouse is not a believer.  It isn’t your fault.  You’re not the Holy Spirit and you don’t have the sovereign power to change your spouse’s heart.  It is a hard situation, but by God’s grace and through prayer, “don’t weigh yourself down with a burden that God never intended you to carry.”

(The above quotes are found on pages 39-40 of Spiritual Mismatch).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Marriage Conflict and Separation

 No marriage is perfect.  Husbands and wives sin.  Every marriage has at least some conflict from time to time.  I probably don’t need to explain this fact since most of us know it from experience!  Sadly, however, some marriage conflict is destructive and dangerous.  There are husbands that emotionally and physically abuse their wives and children, and there are wives that regularly manipulate and deceive their husbands.  In fact, sometimes conflict gets so bad that separation is one of the few options on the table.

Of course there are many factors to marital conflict and every situation is different.  After weighing the options, praying, and consulting with wise Christian friends and/or counselors, separation can be a legitimate choice.  Leslie Vernick puts it this way:

Jesus calls us to be peacemakers instead of peacekeepers,who pretend all is well in order to maintain an illusion of peace.  Terri tried that for years with John (see chapter 1), and her passivity almost ended up destroying her and their marriage.  Seeking genuine peace between two individuals may require tough action, especially when one party continues to be blind, unresponsive, or unrepentant. As a Christian counselor, I do not advice marital separation lightly; however, in some cases it is the only way to obtain the necessary space to think clearly, pray, and heal, as well as to communicate to the destructive partner in the strongest possible way that the relationship will not continue without change.

Paul encourages us to distance ourselves from other believers who are sinning and refuse correction.  (See for example, 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15).  If the circumstances of your relationship are not changing in spite of everything else you have done thus far, it may be time for you to consider separating for the purpose of genuine reconciliation (2 Corinthians 7:10). [pg. 169-170]

Another similar angle is to think of the Proverbs that wisely tell us to “leave the presence of a fool” because “the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 14:7, 13:20).  It is not unbiblical to flee harm, pain, or abuse.  I realize a blog post is not the best place for discussing all the nuances of marital conflict and possible separation.  Face to face is best for that.  However, it is worth noting that sometimes marital conflict gets to the point where separation is a hard, but viable option.  See chapter nine of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick for more on this topic.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI