Letters to the Editor (Honoring the Dishonorable, Complementarian Readers, Big and Little Sins)

Letters to the Editor is an opportunity for readers of this site to respond to things I have written. Here are a few of the top letters from the past couple of weeks.

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Comments on Honoring the Dishonorable

As a wife who experienced ongoing domestic abuse at the hand of a professed Christian husband and struggled in raising children within that environment for many years even as I pleaded for help from my church leadership, I read this article with much trepidation and expectation. I was pleased and relieved to see the distinction you make between honor, obedience, relationship, enabling, and the person versus the position.

I can well appreciate you not wanting to err on the side of giving individuals the license to live in bitterness and sin toward abusers. I also believe this article may minister well to those who are no longer living within the context of ongoing abuse. My concern, however, is that the guarded manner in which these distinctions are made, may add further bondage to those still living within the fog and confusion created by ongoing abuse.

One statement in particular that I’d like to probe is “There are no exception clauses”. Consider Matthew 12:1-8 where in discussing David’s supposed breaking of the law in eating consecrated bread Jesus replies “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” Consider also Matthew 23 where on the heals of saying that since “the teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” the people “must obey them,” Jesus uses extremely strong words of public rebuke in regards to these religious leaders. Is it possible that in stating there are no exceptions, we may be too rigid in our interpretation of the Biblical command to honor our parents—guilty of lacking the mercy Jesus spoke of in Matthew 12 and guilty of lacking the intolerance towards abuse of position that Jesus demonstrated in Matthew 23?

Further points I’d like to raise relate to the paragraph that begins “Distinguish between honor and obedience”. It’s easy to tell someone living in the context of abuse that they don’t need to obey when asked to sin, but in reality abuse isn’t an event that happened on 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. It’s an attitude that permeates every interaction. Furthermore it’s not just one’s own legitimate guilt that cripples but also the guilt by knowledge or association. Consider for example a 6-year-old son watching his intoxicated father get into a vehicle with the intent of driving, or worse yet getting into a vehicle to go pick up his 12-year-old brother and his friends from a youth group event. No ‘obedience’ was required, yet the child was left feeling a mountain of responsibility simply by knowing about his father’s sinful actions. Furthermore, I can’t help but ask if a righteous (and hence honorable) response to some situations do not call for “exploding in anger” or a “great show of defiance” such as Jesus demonstrated in overturning the money changer’s tables in the temple.

In closing I’d like to encourage those living in the context of abuse by a parent to consider reading of Jonathan’s life and interactions with his father, Saul, in 1 Samuel.
—Name Withheld, Ontario, Canada


I have really enjoyed your site and especially these articles on the 5th commandment. I remind my children almost daily about the “forgotten” purpose clause in Ephesians 6: Honor your father and mother … that it may be well with you.” We don’t often remember to quote that to our kids. Honor is shown because it is right before God (“for this is right”) and in our best interest (“that it may be well with you”). How good God was to tell foolish children the path to “that it may be well with you.” In God’s word is wisdom!

Honor is never shown because it is easy or because the parent is honorable. Quite frankly, I often think to myself as a parent that my children would do better not to honor me! Yet, I insist on it in our home not because I am honorable but because God requires it as right and for their good. Honoring a dishonorable parent is a matter of faith. It takes no faith to honor a parent whose lifestyle and compassionate heart draw out my natural admiration and respect. That is a purely natural response to a parent such as that. Christ is in the business of doing the supernatural in the lives of those who submit themselves to the working of His blessed Holy Spirit. He is glorified by a child who obeys “in the Lord” a parent who, by human standards, deserves no honor or respect. That show great faith in the promise of God that it will be well with those who honor their parents.

I find it highly suggestive in this regard to consider that the second giving of the law in Deuteronomy was issued to the second generation whose parents’ carcasses God strew on the wilderness floor for their unbelief and rebellion. God still required honor of those sons and daughter of those rebels.

You’ll take some flak for this article, but I think you can find the same principle and “spirit” as you express in your article all over in the book of 1 Peter. God directs it toward crooked masters, persecuting governing officials, hard husbands, and gives the blessed example of Christ in 1 Peter 2 who submitted himself voluntarily to the worst. He did it by faith, entrusting His soul to the one who judges righteously. God makes it up to those children who, through the power of His Spirit, honor a dishonorable parent. And, in the end, what parent really is deserving of a child’s honor?
—David M, Greenville, SC


I just wanted to tell you I appreciated your article on how to show honor to parents who act dishonorably. I became a Christian as a teenager, right when my parents hit a low point and divorced over their issues. Without going into details about them, I struggled with my relationship with them, especially when, as a new Christian, I was learning how God wanted me to live and was seeing the opposite in my home. One day, the pastor of the church and school I was attending preached on the “Children, obey your parents” passages in the New Testament. I don’t know if he said this or I just realized this then, but none of those commands about relationships had qualifiers on them (although other passages do have the qualifier of not disobeying God to obey authorities). I wasn’t supposed to obey only if they were Christians or only if they lived like I thought they should. I was simply to obey. That was a changing point for me. I learned, as you said, that you could honor the position even if you couldn’t honor every little thing they did. I appreciate your distinctions, also, on what honor does not mean.

Then I had the issue of dealing with a step-father. Though in the long run he proved to be a kind, caring, dependable man, we didn’t hit it off at first, and I chafed at his having any say in my life. I didn’t see how honoring my parents fit in with a step-father—until I realized Jesus had a step-father. At the end of Luke 2 is when Jesus was thought to be lost, and Mary and Joseph found him in the temple. They didn’t understand his saying that He must be “about His Father’s business.” But He “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” Even though Joseph wasn’t his biological father, even though His parents didn’t understand Him, even though He was wiser and holier than them, He submitted to them. Without realizing it, I had been developing a bit of a “holier-than-thou” attitude, laughable now because I had (and still have) such a long way to go. But Jesus was truly holier than any earthly authority, yet He submitted to them.

As I grew in the Lord and desired to see my parents come to know Him, I stressed a lot over how to talk to them about the Lord. Over time I realized that, though I should take opportunities to speak when they came, in everyday life I just needed to show them love. You can’t really express love when you’re dishonoring, and holding myself aloof because of their actions was a stumbling block. To love like Christ, we need to love people “while they are yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). When I apologized to my mom for the way I had been acting, things began to change from that day forward. Over the years we all developed good relationships, and I am confident and truly touched and blessed that they came to the Lord before they died (more in spite of me than because of me).
—Barbara H, Knoxville, TN

Comments on I’m Complementarian and I Read Books By Women

I cannot thank you enough for writing this article with such clarity! At times, it is easy as a woman to feel like the primary (or sole) area of service openly available to women is children’s ministry. It is difficult to imagine what is available to women beyond it and how to discuss the issue of what (else) to do with the women in church without being (negatively) branded as a feminist. I can attest to knowing some incredibly gifted women in church. The challenge then, is to generate the space for them to thrive and your article is a great start.
—Nadine W, Toronto, ON


I worked in a Christian bookstore for 6+ years and this issue (men only reading books written by men) was a very frustrating issue for myself and the other women who worked there. Theological books, Bible commentaries, and everything else written by women were completely overlooked by male buyers unless they were shopping for a gift for someone else. It is also made worse by publishers who put very feminine covers on any book written by a female, regardless of the target audience. To us, though, it didn’t seem to be a result of complementarian theology, but the mindset that a woman would write more simplistically (for other women), and would not be as deep or as insightful as a male author.

What was equally frustrating, however, was the fact that many women feel that they can only read titles written by women and many men (and publishers) seem to feel the same way, as if theological works written by men would be somehow more difficult to understand to a woman reader. We actually had a customer call in once and ask if we thought a woman would be able to make it through and understand the book Everyone’s a Theologian by R. C. Sproul! Similarly, women would come into the store and only look in the women’s section for books, completely skipping any of the other titles, no matter how well written or recommended they were, just because they were written by a male. So I agree fully with your post, men would greatly benefit from reading titles written by women and I would add that women would also greatly benefit from reading works written by both genders!
— Hannah F, Grand Rapids, MI


Thank you for your article on Christian women authors. This is something that has always perplexed me. I found your reasoning very helpful. I have often read books authored by women and thought that my husband could benefit from reading them yet have never recommend them to him because I didn’t know if I should. Instead I would just share snippets or paragraphs that I found particularly helpful. The only thing I would add to your article is the inclusion of Jen Wilkin. I have found her to be one of the most skilled and articulate writers, and it would be a shame if only women could benefit from her writing.
—Heather M, San Antonio, TX

Tim: I appreciate Jen’s writing, but she didn’t quite fit the narrow criteria of recommendations at the end since her books are written specifically for women. That doesn’t mean men can’t enjoy them, of course. But my criteria at the end of the article was books written by women but meant for both genders.

Comments on Big Sins, Little Sins

Thank you for your article. This morning I was reading of Aaron’s complicity in the golden calf affair (Exodus 32:21) and his failure to restrain the people (32:25) from idolatry and sexual immorality (32:6, 25). Three times Moses speaks of the “great sin” of the people, twice stating that they had “sinned a great sin” (32:21, 30, 31). God’s sentence upon them was “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book” (32:33). God indicts the people with having corrupted themselves (32:7), turned aside from His commandments, idolatry, and false worship (32:8). This was not just a sin, but “a great sin.” The Apostle Paul also makes a distinction between sexual immorality and other sins (1 Corinthians 6:18). It seems that too many who name the name of Christ fail to see the gravity of sexual sin, excusing their sin under the rubric of grace (cf. Romans 6:1).

As you have indicated, pornography is a matter of the heart. Removing one’s eyes will not solve the problem as long as there is darkness in the heart (Luke 11:34-36). Only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8). Adulterers—digitally or otherwise—will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Those who are born of God cannot practice sin (1 John 3:4-10). Paul invites us to examine ourselves to see if Christ is truly in us (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The psalmist asks how we can cleanse our ways. He answers his question: (1) by taking heed to God’s Word, (2) seeking God with our whole heart, and (3) filling our hearts with His Word (Psalm 119:9-11). We must fill the void with God. Our source of life is abiding in the Vine (John 15). I appreciate your efforts to call sinners to repentance. There can be no compromise. We must warn people, as the Apostle Paul warned the Galatians, that those who engage in the works of the flesh—whatever they call themselves—will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
—Gary E, Orlando, FL

I find this concept of big and little sins fascinating and have always argued the “all sins are equal in the eyes of God” line to mean that all sins are forgiveable in the eyes of God, not that some sins are not “worse” than others. Of course some sins have a much bigger impact—on ourselves, but also on other people. And to me, that is a pretty important way to distinguish between “big” and “little” sins—how our sin is negatively affecting other people. In your example of pornography, the sin of using pornography is, in my opinion, far worse, than the sin of lusting for it in your mind. Why? Because actually using the websites and magazines to satisfy those lustful desires is what drives the commoditizing of women’s (and men’s) bodies for the sexual pleasure of others.

There is so much misunderstanding about the images that are being used for this purpose. Many people think the women in these videos volunteer or “enjoy it”—this couldn’t be further from the truth. And apart from the sheer violence that is being carried out against these victims to create the images, a sick message is being sent along with them that these are “normal” sexual acts that women desire and enjoy. This sad lie is changing the entire face of human sexual relationships in this generation, as the gap between expectation and reality grows too wide to bridge. In my opinion, this is a far “bigger” sin than struggling with lust in one’s own mind but not acting on it. We all struggle with the urge to sin in various ways, that is our sinful nature.
—Monica A, Abbotsford, BC