Abusive people are all about rules. There are guidelines to be followed and expectations to be met. Of course those guidelines and expectations change based on mood and the rules are established by their personal agenda, not by an objective source. More significantly the rules only apply to other people. Spiritually abusive people live according to a double standard.
In Matthew 23 Jesus does not merely condemns the religious oppression that the Pharisees participate in, but he identifies specific practices. He begins by noting the utter hypocrisy of these religious leaders:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (Matt. 23:1-3)
The religious leaders were hypocrites. They “preach but do not practice.” They were happy to tell the people what to do but they themselves don’t conform to these standards. They correct others but are above correction themselves. Others must keep the rules, but the rules do not apply to them. This same mindset plagues the spiritually abusive spouse.
There is a double standard applied in every abusive household. The oppressed spouse must keep the rules in order to please and satisfy the abuser, but the oppressive spouse is not responsible to meet the same standard. Strickland gives several common examples:
The rules of an entitled person may sound like “You have to keep a tight budget” (but I can splurge on the latest technology) or “The house must be kept immaculate” (but I can leave my stuff where I want). The entitled person’s love of personal comfort and control usually results in a double standard: “Do as I say, but not as I do.” The rules that entitled people set for others are not applied to themselves. (p. 67)
There’s always a reason and a rationale why these rules do not apply to them, or do not apply in their circumstances. The same is true with regard to Scriptural standards. The call for a wife to “respect her husband,” for example is constantly reiterated and enforced (along with misapplication and misinterpretation of the text), but the call for husbands to live with their wives in an “understanding way” (1 Peter 3:7) or to clothe yourself in kindness (Col. 3:12) or to model Biblical love (1 Cor. 13:4-7) does not apply. All rules exist to support the abusers agenda, and are not to be applied to their behavior, attitudes, mindsets, or relational patterns.
It’s important to note the pattern of hypocrisy because it raises questions about they sincerity of God’s law. If the rules only apply sometimes and only apply to some people it creates confusion. What is reasonable to expect from a spouse? How can God’s Word be true for me and not for my spouse? Why does it seem and feel like God’s rules are only useful when I am wrong, but not when my spouse is wrong? In some cases the pattern of hypocrisy can create resentment towards God and His Word. Such hypocrisy often generates spiritual confusion and spiritual insecurity. Within Matthew 23, however, Jesus is condemning such behavior from the Pharisees. It’s vital that we know God’s hatred of this double standard of living.
Jesus corrects the double standard by pointing out that a godly use of leadership seeks to serve not to Lord-over another. We are not to use rules as a way to exalt ourselves and fuel our own agendas. In fact, Jesus states that if we are not humble then He will humble us. We read:
the greatest among you shall be your servant.Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (v. 11-12)
While abusers use rules to force others into submission and service, Jesus rebukes them for exalting themselves. God does not support a double standard in the home. God is the one who sets the “rules” or standards for living, and He applies them to all of us. Furthermore, God meets us all with grace because none of us lives up to these standards perfectly. Christ’s concern in Matthew 23 is for those who are living under the oppression of spiritual abusers and He promises that those who exalt themselves “will be humbled.”