“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” –Ephesians 5:23-24, NIV
If you have spent anytime in an evangelical church of any sort, you likely have heard these verses read and expounded upon when it came to a message on marriage: Women submit to your husbands. Husbands love your wives as Christ did the church.
These says some pastors are quick to address the abuse of the submission clause trying to undo years of church complicity with husbands who hurt their wives and abused this passage as a way to keep their battered wives under their thumbs. I applaud such efforts. However, I raise these verses to point out another, less-addressed abuse of this passage as it applies to those who have survived a spouse’s adultery.
One of the many dangers of teaching from these verses is leaving the congregant with a false sense of security concerning their marriage. If only I love her as Christ loved the Church (or submit to him as to Christ), then my marriage will be safe and adultery will not happen.
Or if adultery has been discovered, well-meaning Christians will sometimes tell the faithful spouse how if only they fix their loving or submitting issues then that will restore their marriage. They may even quote these verses to the faithful spouse. Have you tried the “Love Dare”? That’s what you need to do to fix all your marriage problems. Yeah, right!
Not only is such advice hurtful to the faithful spouse blaming them for the adultery; it is advice which can facilitate further sin in the adulterer/adulteress by taking the focus off of their damaging, sinful, and rebellious choices.
In the book of Hosea, we have an extreme picture of a prophet, Hosea, taking an adulteress woman, Gomer, as his wife. This is to be an image of God’s relationship with unfaithful Israel. How much of this book is dedicated to exploring prophet Hosea’s moral failings as a husband? None of it? Surely, Hosea did not love Gomer well enough, and that is why she chased after other lovers.
No? That’s strange.
I am sure Hosea was not a perfect husband–no one is except God–and if you read the book, you will note instances of very strong anger in Hosea’s writings (e.g. “Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts. Otherwise I will strip her naked and make her as bare as the day she was born…”-Hosea 2:2b-3a, NIV.) Now, if I said similar things in front of my marriage counselor while I was still married to my ex, I am sure that would have earned me a one-way ticket to anger management classes! Here, again, is another example of how confused people are about anger–righteous anger is both healthy and appropriate in these instances (i.e. provided you don’t do anything stupid in your anger).
So, why not label Hosea bitter with forgiveness and anger problems? Simple answer: Because that is not God’s heart on these matters. He continues to make the focus the sins of adultery.
Blame is put on the unfaithful and not the faithful. They are the one who needs to reform his/her ways. To put it in more Biblical language, the adulterer/adulteress is the one who needs to repent. When adultery is present, a focus on anything other than the adulterer/adulteress repenting of that issue is not Biblical as I read Hosea.
If you are dealing with self-righteous, Christian counselors or pastors who like to abuse Ephesians 5, I suggest pointing them back to the book of Hosea. Tell them that you want to be Biblical in addressing the sin in your marriage. And that means addressing the adultery and not blame-shifting on the faithful spouse. God did not blame Hosea for Gomer’s adulterous behavior, and likewise neither should a truly godly counselor/pastor blame a faithful spouse for his/her cheating spouse’s adultery.