What Does Abuse Do To a Marriage Covenant?
By Del Hungerford
Marriage and how it relates to the “bride of Christ.”
There are two theories of who the bride of Christ is. The most subscribed to is that a marriage between a man and a woman represents a “type and shadow” of our relationship with Christ. Since the Bible talks mostly through symbolic language, it would only seem natural that God would use something we are so familiar with to describe our relationship with Him. Marriage is the most intimate relationship that we know of. Our relationship with Christ is to be on the same level of love, respect, friendship, etc. that is between a husband and wife. Do NOT trip over the word “submit” in the passage below. View this often mis-quoted scripture through the eyes of our Lord who speaks to us through symbolic language. How does it relate to the verses around it? What’s the overall context? Where do you see the symbolism?
Ephesians 5:15-32 (Paul speaking to the church)“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit [yeild to his admonition or advice] yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
Paul speaks to the church in 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 saying, “Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
NOTE: The following link provides a very good Bible study on the topic of Christ as the Bride of the Church: http://www.watchmanbiblestudy.com/biblestudies/Definitions/Def_BrideofChrist.htm For further personal study on any subject, the Watchman Bible Studies on-line provide a great starting point for those desiring to research any topic.
In realizing that a marriage is to represent our relationship as the bride of Christ, it would only seem right that the “husband” (Christ) love his “wife” (the body of Christ, or church) and give himself up for her. In an earthly marriage, the husband loves his wife first. That love then leads to voluntary submission on her part; just like our relationship with Christ. If Christ loved us the same way an abuser does his own wife, most of us would high tail it out of that relationship! Who would want a God who treated us like that?
In Colossians 3:19, the husband is told to love his wife (agape love in the same way Christ loves us) and to not be bitter toward her. The definition of bitter comes from the Greek word “pikraino” meaning to make bitter, exasperate, render angry, indignant, or irritated. An abusive husband is all of this and more to his wife. What an example of a man who calls himself a Christian!
In summary of this section, Google “bride of Christ” for many articles and sites on how a human marriage relates to the marriage between Christ and his bride (the church). Look at how Christ loves us. Then, ponder the fact that Christ is a husband’s example on how to treat his wife. When he doesn’t love (agape) his wife, he’s not representing a Godly nature. He’s in sin and will suffer the consequences of that sin. The sad part is that his family will also suffer because of his sin. His prayers will be hindered, he’ll eventually reap what he’s sowing, and God is no longer blessing his marriage.
What is a covenant and what happens when it’s broken?
A covenant in the Bible comes from the Hebrew word “beriyth” meaning an alliance or pledge between two parties (God and man, man and friend, husband and wife, etc.). In the New Testament, the word is interchangeable between “covenant” and “testament.” The Greek word for both is “diatheke” which means “a disposition, arrangement of any sort which one wishes to be valid; the last disposition which one makes of his earthly possessions after his death, a testament, a will.”
The most obvious covenants we see in the Bible are that with Abraham (Genesis 17), Moses (Exodus 3), David (2 Samuel 7), and Solomon (1 Kings 11). Although there are many more, these are the most read about. They are covenants between God and His people, the Israelites. When Jesus came, he brought a “New Testament” or new “covenant” that fulfilled or “updated” the old covenant. The blood sacrifice of animals used to remind the Israelites of God’s covenant was substituted with the blood of Jesus in the new covenant. There are many Bible studies on the covenant between man and God. They can give you a more in depth view on how a Biblical covenant works.
How does this relate to marriage? In Jeremiah 31:31-34, God talks about his covenant with Israel saying he would be their “husband.” Part of the definition of the word “covenant” says that it’s an agreement between a man and a wife. Does God put heavy emphasis on this covenant? The answer is, yes!
The scripture so often quoted by those who say Christian’s shouldn’t get divorced (Malachi 2:14) also talks about God’s covenant and WHY he said that to his people. Let’s look at it a little closer. Malachi is rebuking the people for their unfaithfulness… “Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another? Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god. As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord cut him off from the tents of Jacob – even though he brings offerings to the Lord Almighty. Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s alter with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. ‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, and ‘I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith.” (Malachi 2: 10-16 NIV)
Malachi is telling the people that a marriage is a covenant that’s witnessed by God. The people were wailing and crying because nothing was going right for them. They weren’t being blessed any longer and as any one of us would be if nothing was going right; very frustrating! They went to the prophet of the time, Malachi. I’m sure what he said to them didn’t go over too well. In reading this passage, it’s obvious that God hates divorce. In addition, he didn’t like the way the men were treating their wives. This was a time in history where a man would “put away” his wife if he was tired of her. In addition, at the end of the section of this chapter, it appears that men were “covering themselves with violence.” It sounds like the men of Judah had a problem with knowing how to treat their wives. They broke the marriage covenant and reaped not having prayers answered and no blessings were being bestowed on them.
Basically, a covenant between a man and woman is meant to last a life-time. However, when men (or women) break their part of the covenant, all hell breaks loose. Blessings are lost, prayers aren’t answered, and bad things start to happen. The covenant is meant to be restored. However, in the event that the one who broke the covenant refuses to repent, the covenant stays broken. God broke his covenant with Israel more than one time because of their sin. WHEN they repented, he renewed the covenant. If an abusive husband is un-repentant, the covenant cannot be restored. HE must take the necessary actions to restore his part of the covenant. HE will be held responsible. Of course, if the roles were reversed and the wife is the abuser (which does happen) or she’s the adulterous one in the relationship, the breaking of the covenant will be on her head.
Tying it all together
First of all, God considers the marriage covenant a serious commitment. When that covenant is broken, it’s a VERY devastating thing to the family! So, for those men who are abusers of their wives, this is how God views your act…
- Sin has consequences, both spiritual and natural. Continual and habitual sin will keep a person from receiving various spiritual rewards.
- The unrighteous (and sinful) will not inherit the Kingdom of God, unless they repent. This includes Christians who are engaging in unrighteous acts.
- All abusive behavior is sin and cuts the abuser off of all blessings from God. He will not prosper, his prayers will be hindered, he will reap what he sows, and he is as a murderer in God’s eyes.
- The marriage between a man and a woman is a “type and shadow” of the bride (church) being married to Christ (groom). The husband is to love (agape) the wife as Christ loved the church.
- A covenant is meant to be life-long but when broken by one party, blessings and prayers are withheld.
In looking at all of this in light of an abusive marriage, a Christian man who is abusive to his wife has broken the marriage covenant. In addition, his prayers will be hindered and he won’t be walking in the blessings of God. It may not appear that way but sometimes it takes a while for things in the natural (in the world) to catch up to those in the spiritual realm. If the man is in a leadership position in his church, he’s hurting the entire church because of his sin. In addition, because the man is told to treat his wife the same way Christ does the church and he doesn’t, his entire family suffers because of his wrongful acts. Not only has he broken a covenant, but he’s walking in deception. If his sin is “hidden” from the community, it’s only a matter of time before it comes out into the open. Women should not feel bad about praying that his “hidden sin be revealed.” It’s scriptural. God has very clever ways of making this happen without the wife being involved. If you read my book “…But Words will Never Hurt Me,” you’ll see this in action. I never had to say anything. I trusted God to do it, and he did!
When a man is confronted with his abuse, he has two options; to deny it or to repent. Denial will usually come first. However, a true man of God will eventually see his error and should be able to at least work on changing. He may not be able to if he’s unwilling to deal with what made him an abuser. A Christian woman in this situation should determine if danger is involved. If so, leave immediately. There IS help and people will pick a woman (and children) up and take them to a shelter if need be. If a woman has the backing of her church, the leadership should go to the husband and confront the sin. Once that’s done, the ball is in his court.
Counseling is a must with an abuse specialist for both husband and wife. (It will rarely be done as a couple.) Most clergy are not trained to deal with abuse. However, you can choose to have the abuse counselor work with church leaders. The couple should NOT get back together until the COUNSELOR (not the pastor) has deemed it safe. This will often take at least a year, if not more, depending on the severity of the situation. Emotional and verbal abuse (with no physical abuse present) may take longer because it’s harder to identify and then correct. Many times, the issues are much more deeply rooted than it appears.
A repentant abuser will need to walk out the results of his sin against his wife. This may come in the form of lack of trust for quite some time. It may affect his children’s behavior for quite some time. Either way, there will be some natural consequences. He must be willing to work through knowing the road to healing for his whole family will not be quick. He cannot expect to be trusted by clergy or family until he’s demonstrated a paradigm shift and behavior change. He must go through counseling and then show that he’s had a complete change of character. This should happen before the couple is allowed back together. Wise pastoral staff will rely heavily on the expertise of trained counselors in making sure the couple doesn’t get back together too soon. This cannot be stressed enough! For proof of this, be sure to read the article “A Case Study” on this web site where my teacher friend lost her life to an abusive husband because the pastoral staff allowed them back together too soon.
A woman, I believe, can make the decision to divorce once it’s determined that her abuser is unwilling to change. This decision may be made for her, as it was in my case. Every opportunity should be given for the abuser to change. In reality, it won’t take too long for this to be revealed. An unrepentant abusive husband isn’t willing to get pastoral counseling, abuse counseling, or work on “his” problems. For this kind of man, the wife is generally blamed for the marriage problems.
When one partner breaks the covenant and refuses to live by the guidelines set for a Biblical marriage covenant, there’s nothing the other partner can do. Plain and simple… when a man cannot treat his wife in the manner that Christ does with the church, his marriage will not be good. He can’t demand submission from the wife just like Christ can’t demand submission from us. If this is what the husband expects, he needs a reality check about the Biblical principles on marriage. In addition, as stated in other articles on this web site, if the church that the couple is attending believes the wife is to submit to the husband in everything, the points discussed in this article will be meaningless to church leaders. Go outside the church to trained counselors for help. It may cost a woman her church family but God will direct her where to go. All she needs to do is ask Him. He’s faithful to respond to the pleas of His people.