See what I mean? Confusing. How can I know which rules and principles God wants me to live by, and which ones to throw out? And then there are the gray areas… all those situations in life that just don’t fall under any category exactly because of the unique circumstances. What do we do with those? For instance:
Living with an abusive spouse. Jesus only said that if an unbelieving spouse agrees to stay married, then stay with them (1 Corinthians 7:13), but that doesn’t cover abuse. Some people say that 1 Peter commends suffering for the sake of Christ and they consider being abused at home part of that suffering. Where is the glory for God in that kind of suffering as women are stripped of identity and purpose, and their children live with lifetime physical and emotional scars? Did God mean that we should willingly suffer persecution in our own households?
What about the mandates for husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church and for wives to submit to their husbands out of reverence for Christ? Are abusers somehow exempt? Can one side get off the hook and treat their spouse abusively while the other gives up everything—sometimes even their lives—to appease them?
Living with an addicted spouse. The rules are different in this kind of home. Many prominent “help” books advise the typically mistreated spouse to follow certain principles: love your mate unconditionally and selflessly in order to win them over, don’t pressure or nag them to change but focus on changing yourself, don’t place any expectations on them, give them space and they’ll come back to you. Well, that might work for your average love-grown-cold spouse, but when dealing with a substance abuser, none of those work. You can drive yourself crazy trying to apply all the methods, read all the books, and go through all the counseling, but in the end, everything you try has the same result: Nothing.
Should you stay in that kind of a household, accepting the addiction and all the behaviors that go along with it such as lying, overspending, abuse, sexual misconduct, neglect, blatant disrespect, and even sometimes financial ruin while watching your whole family become sick at at heart?
Lifestyle Choices. Tattoos, body piercing, social drinking, music and movie choices—all are areas that we try to make an unified determination of God’s will in the matter, never coming to an agreement and often times enforcing legalism. So how does one figure out for sure which ones to keep and which ones to chuck?
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).”
When dealing with gray areas, here is the very, very simple solution. In everything you do, ask yourself, “Is my decision in keeping with the greatest commandment? If I do this, am I able to love God with all my heart, or does it compromise or diminish my relationship with Him in any way?” And secondly, “Am I upholding my love for others?”
Love God. When well-meaning people give you advice, weigh it against this principle. “Is this thing other people want me to do (such as my church or Christian friends) overkill or irrelevant to my love relationship with God?” Or on the flip side, “Is this person influencing me away from my pure devotion to God or encouraging me to compromise my obedience?”
Consider abusive or addicted spouses. They can actually prevent you from following this command. Your mental and emotional state can become so preoccupied with surviving your home life that you’re not honoring or growing in Christ. As soon another person is allowed to dominate our focus and devotion, even with negative energy, that person has become an idol or spiritual adultery.
Love People. Will this decision hurt anyone? Will it pull them down in their faith or will it draw them to God? This can be tricky when holding it up to closely related addicts or abusers, because on the surface you might feel (and they might tell you) that if you set a boundary with them, you’re going to shatter their faith. Or you might feel if you enforce a consequence, they’ll feel unloved and won’t want to change. Often times, the truth is the opposite. By staying, you are making it easy for them to remain unchanged. Their lives are in a comfortable pattern, their addictions and behaviors have no consequences, and you’re sending the message that the world revolves around them. Why would they need God when you are fixing all their problems? So actually, maybe your choices have not truly loved that person the way they need to be loved.
Having said that, each situation is unique and should be handled accordingly. One person living with an addict may be thriving and still able to grow in their love relationship with God while another may be so mistreated, controlled, and beaten down; they can only think “survival.”
Motives. When you’ve held your decisions up to the two criteria, and you’re still not sure, a great gauge is to question your motives. For instance, say you want to get a tattoo, but you just can’t decide if it’s okay with God. The next question to ask then is, “Why do I want this tattoo?” Is it to draw attention to yourself? Is it to fit in with a certain youth ministry God has given you? No one but you can answer these kinds of questions, because only you truly know what is in your heart.
And now, as you begin to embrace the “law of love” and ditch the “love of law,” you’ll always carry around a simple standard to help you discern and understand just what Jesus would do in your situation.
Julie Ferwerda is the author of The Perfect Fit: Piecing Together True Love, and has written for publications such as Marriage Partnership, Focus on the Family, and Discipleship Journal. Find out more: www.JulieFerwerda.com.