What About Passive Abuse?
1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
In the course of instructing Pastor Timothy regarding how we are to conduct ourselves in the household of God, the Apostle Paul dealt with the issue of widows. He said that the church should focus upon widows indeed. Widows who have no family to care for them. Other widows who do – well, here is the Lord’s Word on that –
1 Timothy 5:4, “But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them [i.e., the children/grandchildren] first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.”
Those who refuse to provide for their own household are brought under harsh rebuke. Such a person has denied the faith of Christ. He is worse than an unbeliever, because even the pagans take care of their own as a rule. True religion, says James, is to visit widows and orphans in their need.
Frequently, we will come across women whose husbands simply will not provide for them and the children. I have seen this firsthand, and I suspect many of you have as well. The man is simply not interested in working. He seems to have money for his own frivolities, but when it comes to the needs of the family, he has no care. Husbands and fathers like this often also verbally, emotionally, or physically abuse their wives, but not always. There are some who simply are passive. They are the sluggard of Proverbs –
Proverbs 6:9-11, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? (10) A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, (11) and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”
Is this abuse? What is the wife of such a man to do? We hold that an abuse victim is biblically justified in divorcing the abuser who torments her as he seeks power and control over her. But, what about this kind of passive neglect?
Well, once again I think it helps for us to remind ourselves that marriage is a covenant. Scripture says so (Prov 2:16-17; Ezek 16:8; Malachi 2:14). And covenants have terms. Stipulations. They are made in the presence of God and witnesses, asking God to bless us for keeping the vows and to curse us if we break them. Pretty serious stuff.
Now, these vows – if they are biblical – contain terms such as “I will love her” – “I promise to forsake all others” – “I promise to be with her in sickness and in health” – ’til death do us part. So (here we are using the husband as the example), he vows before God to love His wife. Love is a pretty big commitment. It includes caring for her, meeting her needs – and even if she is sick, to stick with her and keep right on caring for her. ‘Til death do they part.
The sluggard, in his passivity, is actively violating those sacred vows. Over time, as he persists in unrepentant sluggardry, not loving his wife who is his own flesh, he destroys the covenant. Is this abuse? Well, call it what you will, it certainly is unfaithfulness to the vow-terms of the covenant, and for that reason I maintain it is indeed grounds for divorce. The wife is not required to divorce him, but I believe a case could be made that she should separate from him and that her church should assist her in doing so. Why? Well, listen to this –
2 Thessalonians 3:10-15,” (10) For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (11) For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. (12) Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (13) As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (14) If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”
We are not proposing here some kind of checklist procedure that is to be applied in every case like this, but surely we can see here that the Lord tells us how to deal with a man who passively abuses his family by not working, by not providing for them. (Incidentally, by “provide for them,” we simply mean that he do so to the best of his ability). The church is to take this thing very seriously. Such a man, who professes to be a Christian, is living in a worse manner than an unbeliever! It is a shame to the name of Christ. We are to take note of him and have nothing to do with him. We are to warn him, and pray that this process so shame him that he will repent.
Once more, we must ask then, how well are our churches doing in carrying this out when the wife of such a man comes to us asking for help? Are we standing with her, even if that means helping her and her children separate from him if he will not heed the warnings of Christ’s church? Or are we leaving her to fend for herself?
For further reading: Is my abuser passive-aggressive?