There are those who, upon hearing a disclosure of abusive behavior, say, “Well, it’s simply your cross to bear.” Is that what Jesus meant? Is that really what He said? What kind of God is He?
Honestly, it’s easier to voice a platitude than carry another’s suffering by listening, asking questions, and entering into their world. This specific phrase is common as it relates to women and marriage, but there’s a good chance it doesn’t apply the way it’s used.
This is what Jesus actually said: “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mark 8:34, also in Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23). We must look at the written Word and think deeply, understand its truth and use it ourselves before glibly throwing it on someone else’s back.
- The Greek word for “cross” used here, (stauros), is used later in the New Testament to refer to the gospel–“the cross of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, Galatians 5:11; 6:12, 14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18). The cross does not excuse abusive behavior. In fact, when the disciples were not listened to or received, they were to leave and “shake the dust off their feet.” That is generally not what someone has in mind when they tell you this is your “cross to bear.” They expect the opposite.
- The context is discipleship. This is about following Jesus. If 1/3 of women both inside and outside the church experience domestic abuse, this is not a discipleship issue, this is a sin issue–one individual oppressing or using another to his advantage.
- There is a choice. The choice is Jesus, not marriage. If I am following Jesus, I can expect suffering. The opposite should be true–marriage is not intended to result in suffering and anguish. It can be, and yes, it is difficult, but unchecked torture and punishment are not God’s design for marriage.
- The fruit, or outcome, of denying yourself and taking up your cross is gospel-oriented. Jesus took up His cross to bear my sin and pay my debt. By taking up my cross, I am dying to myself; putting to death the deeds of the body–my sinful deeds, my sinful self–not someone else’s. The result is Christ–Christ in me, the hope of glory, living by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Colossians 1:27; Galatians 2:20).
- The process of taking up my cross includes following Jesus, not a pastor, not a husband: Jesus. When I am denying myself, taking up my cross and following Jesus, I am free. His burden is easy and His yoke is light. There is rest for my soul when I lay aside my self and follow Him (Matthew 11:28-30).
Part of the problem is that the people using the platitude do not understand the difference between mutual and oppressive relationships. They don’t rightly define submission and headship. There is a whole dictionary of terms they are missing or misusing.
What that means in that oppression, in a Christian context, does not mean covering sin, or bearing the consequences of another’s sin “till death do us part.” That, in fact, would not be loving–if this life is his only opportunity for repentance and eternal life. Responding to oppression means resisting in a way that exposes and addresses sin. It means praying and living against one’s own tendencies or desire to be a savior and turning to the Savior.
A woman who denies herself, takes up her cross daily and follows Jesus, will find courage, endurance and faith. Her decisions will require help from the Body of Christ. It will challenge others’ comfort and easy answers. It will be inconvenient, time-consuming, and hard. It is suffering, but it is redemptive suffering with an eternal weight of glory.
...you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such is the confidence we have toward God through Christ. Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
But if the ministry of death, engraved in letters on stones, came with glory so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness excel in glory. For indeed what had glory in this case has no glory, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
Therefore, having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and we are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not stare at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts; but whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in trickery nor distorting the word of God, but by the open proclamation of the truth commending ourselves to every person’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they will not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants on account of Jesus. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen containers, so that the extraordinary greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who live are constantly being handed over to death because of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written: “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that grace, having spread to more and more people, will cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer person is decaying, yet our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 1-2 NASB)