by Ann Maree Goudzwaard
I believe we have missed the mark in ministering to women held captive by their husband’s cruel words. I want you to know that the reason I feel I have permission to say this is that I am one of the chief offenders. I’ve been a biblical counselor for over ten years, but I’ve recently come to realize that I have inaccurately discerned how best to serve women stuck behind this wall of devastation.
As I’ve sat with a wife diminished by her husband, I’ve quickly detected bitterness. I’ve listened to angry words. I’ve observed contempt for her husband as she spoke. I’ve witnessed the hopelessness she has and I’ve heard her desire to flee from her marriage. My focus has been to help her respond biblically to the situation, so I’ve deferred to 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to help me discern her heart. I’ve wanted to, as best as possible, accurately minister the word to her soul. But honestly—I must admit that I’ve carelessly misclassified these women.
This passage tells us to, “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak.” Idle can also be understood as “disorderly,” or “undisciplined.” The women I’ve counseled certainly seem to fit this description, so my counsel has generally been admonishment. I’ve challenged these ladies toward a position of forgiveness. I’ve prayed that the Lord heal their hurts. I’ve counseled them to respond kindly to their husband with gentleness.
These admonitions are not unbiblical. But women verbally berated by those they love are already acutely aware of their sins. They’ve heard how they fail daily. These women are not blind to their depravity, so they don’t need me to join in as yet another member of the choir of their indiscretions.
What they do need is encouragement. A more accurate diagnosis of women who live under oppression is “fainthearted” or “weak”. And the counsel they need is entirely different than admonition. They need to be upheld with the truth of the gospel and to find their strength in Christ’s finished work on the cross. They need to hear those words spoken. They’ve been struggling to replace their husband’s cruel words, delivered to them on a daily basis; they are faltering. These women need their armor strengthened so that they can fight the enemy who torments them through the voice of their husband. They need to lean on the hope we have in the words of eternal life.
I have no doubt that there will be plenty of time to help an oppressed woman progress on her Christian walk. But, before I challenge her growth in sanctification, I need to help her see that her justification is secure: that the domination of sin’s guilt has been nullified by God’s grace. I need to help make His voice louder and His thoughts more prominent. I need to help her replace the patterns of her husband’s behavior with the contours of God’s gospel. In the arms of her Savior, an oppressed woman will find encouragement to seek nourishment and the protection of her first love.
Our new IBCD Observation video on domestic abuse is a resource churches can use to help better understand these dynamics. It is now available on DVD from the online store.
 Scripture indicates that words and attitudes can be used to abuse (Proverbs 9:7; 22:10; Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:11, to name a few).
 If her husband is physically assaulting her I must advise her to seek help. I must also help her devise a safety plan and defer to her judgment as to whether or not her risk will increase should she leave. The counsel in the situation above is meant specifically for a woman abused verbally.
 Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love. (Bemidji, MN: Focus Publishing, 2008), 19.