A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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?


  1. joepote01

    Excellent article, Jeff!

    I have seen situations as you have described, where a husband simply refused to work to help provide for the family. He was physically able to work, but simply refused to do so, as bills went unpaid, utlities were cut off, debt increased, and his wife struggled to work to try to keep up.

    Some of those situations ended in divorce, and I see the wife as not only totally justified in the divorce, but also pursuing the most godly path given the circumstances.

    Satan uses covenant to ensnare and enslave. God never uses covenant to enslave, but only to enrich and bless.

    For a spouse who persistently refuses to honor their covenant vows, sometimes the most loving response is to release them from the obligation their vows, allowing them the right to reap the reward of their choices and actions (or inaction).

    • Sheryl

      “Satan uses covenant to ensnare and enslave. But God never uses covenant to enslave, but only to enrich and bless.” AMEN! Thank you~

  2. I’ve known of lazy, work-shy men who would diligently spend hours juggling the debts on their credit cards (multiple cards, all maxed near to the limit, but different due-dates for minimum payments, so the guy would increase the debt on one card in order to make the minimum payment on another card).
    I’ve heard of one guy who used his vacuum cleaner on reverse to drive the gas meter backwards (yeah, he cut into the gas line to do it, putting his wife and kids at risk of serious bodily harm). He even calculated how much it was costing him in electricity to run the vacuum for the hours it took to drive the gas meter backwards, to make sure he was winning on the deal!
    These men are examples of what Paul is condemning. They’ve got brains aplenty, and the physical ability to work. They just don’t want to. They enjoy playing the system unethically.
    Paul isn’t talking about the genuinely disabled person. He’s talking about the lazy person, the one who is quite happy to be a leech on others.

  3. Anne

    What if you have a husband who works very hard and many hours a week by choice – our food, clothing and housing is taken care of BUT … the home is left in dangerous disrepair? Leaks, broken stairs, mold, crumbling walls, subpar bathroom facilities, etc.

    When I ask if we could hire someone to fix the issues, the answer is no, we can’t afford it or no, I can fix it and will when I have time. I am also guilted into feeling as though I am being materialistic and greedy to just want things in order and not broken. When I ask when can we work on this problem or that and fix something, I am a nag who doesn’t appreciate how hard he works to provide for us and selfish because I always want more.

    I’m also accused of being not very social or friendly because I don’t reach out and invite people (his church friends) over for fun and fellowship … truthfully, I’m ashamed of the way we live and afraid someone might get hurt in our home at worst and even though it’s not a huge thing, it hurts to think I might be judged by the way I keep our home. I keep it as clean and tidy as I’m able to given the condition of it, but all these church friends of his have beautiful, big homes with new stuff, etc. I don’t need or want big, new, latest greatest, I just want our older small home to be in good repair and as welcoming as I can make it with my secondhand stuff.

    It’s also hard because my husband always has the time to help others move things, make repairs, do yard and maintenance work etc, but never for us. And he will never ask any of these church folk to help him do for his own family what he does for them and a lot of them already live much better than we do.

    Is it really so wrong to want just a “normal life” where things work and problems are fixed when they happen and don’t wait months and years to be addressed? (We’re many weeks with no shower – one bathroom house – last time it went out, it was many months without it)

    • Ann it is most definitely okay for you to want those things repaired. Not ‘too much to ask’ at all, especially given that your husband helps out other families with their repairs! He is clearly choosing to be lazy just with you, in his own home. That indeed is a form of covert aggression.

      • Anne

        Oh my gosh! THANK YOU for giving it a name, Barbara! As soon as you did, I used the link to get “In Sheep’s Clothing” for my kindle. I never before thought that that book would apply to my situation. Read it more than halfway through … Bing, Bing, Bing!

        My husband is not a minister, only a layperson … but James and Jean could be us. I kept having ah ha! moments while reading. Then reading the parts about “shaming”. 😦 It’s so obvious now. I keep thinking of incidents, even in recent months that I let hurt me, make me feel guilty and less. I still struggle with believing the behavior is intentional … but the evidence is piling up. Slowly coming out of the fog.

        This blog has been an unbelievable blessing to me. I can’t thank you all enough for listening, teaching and supporting me. I’ve felt so trapped and alone for so long and learning that the idea of doing what makes me healthy and whole won’t mean I will lose favor in God’s eyes, that I’m not a good Christian, is so freeing!

    • Moving Forward

      Although not as bad as your situation, I understand the desire to see h care about his own home and family for once. He builds his outside reputation and grooms it carefully, always being available to help others in whatever way they need, and so everyone thinks he is so kind and generous and wonderful. But at home, a different story. I, too, have lived in homes where things are half-finished, poorly done, and I’m supposed to be happy about it. It is called abuse of neglect, and we have felt its pain a lot. I always felt I didn’t even hit the bottom of his list of priorities, nor did anything that had to do with me (kids, house, personal or household needs). It’s tough.

      • Anne

        Oh, Moving Forward! You so hit the nail on the head! That’s it exactly. Always so far down in the list of priorities, it’s like you don’t exist. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anne

    Ummm, yes, about that shower I mentioned not being fixed for several months back in May? The only one we have?

    Still not fixed. Haven’t been able to take a shower my own home in close to a year. And I still fight with myself as to whether or not it’s abuse. What is my problem???! Sometimes I want to smack me.

    We’ve beat the record from the last time it didn’t work in spades. :-/

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