I was talking with a friend this week about a variety of subjects, and in the course of our discussing, I said that I think we, as Christians, are failing in our duties to our fellow believers, particularly when it comes to marriages.
We, in the marriage blogging community, often complain that marriage isn’t taught much from the pulpit, that pastors are too scared to preach about sex, despite the Bible saying so much about it. It’s easy to point fingers at others, sometimes especially our pastors. To assign them a portion of the blame for marriages that are failing to thrive, or just plain failing.
But what about our own responsibility?
When you got married, many, if not most, probably did it in a church, or perhaps outside, but likely officiated by a pastor. But guaranteed you all had witnesses to your marriage. In most countries this is a legal requirement. Most of you probably had way more than the legal requirement of two witnesses, probably dozens of witnesses. And you in turn have probably witnessed more weddings than you can count.
Yet, how many of us live up to the role of that witnessing? In many marriage ceremonies, the witnesses, or the congregation, promises to help lead and guide this new couple, offering their support and experience in their new lives together. But, even without that, the Bible teaches us that we are accountable to our brothers (and I’m extrapolating to include sisters) in Christ, and that we in turn need to hold them accountable. We see verses like:
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17
That together we are sharper, if we’re willing to be sharpened.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2
That we have a duty to help lead those who are struggling to life a Christ-like life.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. – Matthew 18:15-17
That we should not avoid conflict, but rather tackle it head on, to hold fellow believers accountable.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. – James 5:16
That we should be sharing our struggles with one another so that we can pray together and offer help.
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:19-20
That we should be on the lookout for those who need our help, those who are wandering from the truth they have proclaimed in the past.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:16
Not to forget to admonish (warn or reprimand) each other even as we continue to teach.
But we’ve gotten away from this truth in our churches. We teach, we evangelize, we support, we’re kind … but we don’t rebuke, admonish, or correct. We fail in our roles at witnesses to each other’s marriages. When you see a husband being unloving to his wife, do you take him aside and correct him? When you see a wife being disrespectful to her husband, do you rebuke her? When we hear a marriage is having some trouble, do we meet with them, or just sit back and say “Aww, that’s a shame, they seemed to happy.”
A few months ago, our local church had to deal with a matter regarding church discipline. Four individuals were removed from membership for failure to abide by the principles they had agreed to live by, and, by having membership in our church, had asked us, their brothers and sisters in Christ, to hold them accountable to. Unfortunately, they no longer wished to be held accountable. This was a very rare event with the vast majority of our members never having voted on a removal of membership before. It was a difficult time for all of us.
But, it got me thinking. Why don’t we do this more often? No, not remove people from membership, but hold them accountable. There are so many verses, only a few I listed above, telling us that it is our duty to do so, but it’s rarely seen or even heard of.
I think it’s because everyone is afraid of holding people accountable anymore. They’re afraid of what people will think of them. That they’ll think we are judging them. But it is possible to hold people accountable without judging them, it’s possible to rebuke with compassion. That’s half my job as a marriage and life coach, holding people accountable to what they said they wanted to do. It’s amazing to see how far my clients progress with just a bit of accountability. They have life changing experiences and these should be happening constantly in our churches, because we should all be holding each other accountable. But they aren’t.
We’ve lost this skill, we’ve ignored this responsibility, and in so doing, we’ve failed our brothers and sisters. When they break their vows and we fail to rebuke them, we’re just as guilty, because we’ve failed to uphold the vow we made by standing witness.
Do you live up to your role of being a witness for the marriages around you? I know I don’t. But, I’m going to start trying. Yeah, I might lose some people I thought were friends, but I might save some marriages. Seems like a good trade to me.
14 thoughts on “Are you willing to hold people accountable to their vows?”
I agree we have a duty to warn others against following after their sins and encourage them to do better, but in my mind holding somebody accountable requires being in a position where one has a right to impose punishments. A spouse can hold their partner accountable and impose punishments ( sleeping on the sofa, separation , divorce etc.) and a church can impose limits on a member’s participation or toss them out altogether, but it is not my place to impose any kind of punishment on a friend who is erring other than to withdraw my friendship which may not be helpful to them.
I don’t think it’s your right to personally discipline them, but I do think holding each other accountable is crucial. It warns them of discipline either by God, the church, or natural consequences of their actions.
It is a good idea if one is around them still but admittedly it would take skill to remind them but the scripture does say learning to admonish one another.
We have fellowship following church services. One time the subject of submission came up during fellowship. The pastor’s wife openly and boldly told all of us that being a submissive wife is wrong and she will never be that way ever again. She shared how she was submissive when they first got married and she was miserable. They were teenagers when they got married. I tried to explain that with maturity comes wisdom and she shot me down. It is obvious that I’m a submissive wife and I’m willing to be submissive. I love to serve my husband. When I shared this with her, she said I was in error. She told me how she’s not going to be anybody’s doormat (that was a direct quote). Her husband (the pastor) just stood there without words. Nobody else challenged the pastor’s wife’s attitude either. It still grieves me today. How do you try to correct wrong thinking? What would you do?
I think you did what you should have done. You rebuked her, you tried to teach her. But you can’t force her to change. She still has free will.
Personally, I think I’d raise concerns if she was leading a women’s or family ministry, but other than that, you did what the Bible says, you confronted her. There’s no sense beating her over the head with it. All you can do now is model and teach those who are willing to listen. That’s my thoughts anyways.
Our marriage is failing, my husband started using meth 10 years into our marriage. We’ve been struggling for 4 years now. I’ve asked his family to hold him, and I for my anger, accountable and they are not willing to help and our church won’t let us go to marriage counseling until he’s clean. I pray for accountability for us both, to each other.
I’ sorry to hear about your marriage and will be praying for you. This is an odd question but what area do you live in? A friend of mine went through this with her husband. He’s been clean for years now but wants to help people going through this sort of situation. He is now a pastor reaching out to people in these situations. If you wanted, I’d be happy to put you in touch with him or his wife.
I definitely think we need to speak up to those in our lives get off track in their marriage. I am not sure you can do this with everyone you encounter, but you should be doing this for people you know. Marriage is tough and it takes us all encouraging each other.
I agree with you, Keelie. As an older married woman, I feel the need to encourage wives with young children. Irl, I will go up to complete strangers (younger wives with babies or toddlers) and let them know that this was the hardest time in our marriage. Between diapering and nursing I barely had time for myself let alone my husband. I was truly exhausted. I let these young mothers know that this is just a short season in their marriage. I encourage them to concentrate on their husbands, no matter what, even though they are exhausted. I tell them that children thrive when Mom and Dad have a good connection. I tell them that everything gets much better if they can hold on. The children do become more independent. Then these young wives will have more energy for everything. I hope it encourages them to focus on their marriage.
Shouldn’t both the mom and the dad be getting the message about the changes little ones will bring so they can talk about how they will negotiate these issues.? Just telling the mom to concentrate on the husband no matter what she should concentrate on her husband honestly doesn’t seem that helpful, speaking as a person who as been through the season of littles.
It is common for moms to concentrate on the children and leave Dad in the dust. I’ve seen this scenario play out more often than not. When I am out and about, I usually only see the mom because dad is usually at work. It is a case by case basis. I had one mom thank me for giving her something to look forward to, because she was totally exhausted. Boy, do I get that!
I’d have mixed feelings giving people I didn’t know very well messages about staying married. My sister is divorced. My mom basically told her, no matter what she had to stay married, but was not willing/able to give her any emotional support to try to negotiate through the problems they were having. While I wish my sister would have been able to stay married, the problems that were going on in the marriage were very serious, and ones that most couples would probably wish to keep to themselves.
That’s two problems right there. It’s not enough just to tell people they need to do better. We need to provide the resources, the support, and model for them what that means.
The other issue is that we need to be more open to accepting that we need help from time to time. If we can’t manage to stay married on our own, then it’s time to seek help. I have no doubt their marriage issues were difficult, but divorce is no less difficult, and while their issues could have been overcome…the divorce cannot be. They will struggle with that for the rest of their lives.