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What does the Bible say about abuse and how to deal with it?

July 10, 2010

I am shocked by the number of women who contact me sharing that they have been or are in an abusive relationship.  The most common I hear is emotional abuse which is put downs, emotional manipulation and inconsistent support that leads to the affected partner feeling unsafe and unsure.  (They are all women who have contacted me, but men experience it as well.)  As I prayed about my response I had a clear call to start a page on Facebook, a place where people could meet and share there concerns and find support from each other.  So yesterday I founded the page: Abuse in relationships is NOT ok. Which already has more than 12,000 members, but way more significant is the absolutely amazing testimonies and support that are happening on the wall of the page.  To check it out: click here.

And then last night I posted an article called What does the Bible say about abuse and how to deal with it? Which I thought I would post in full below.  My prayer and hope is that this article and the page would help women who are trapped in abusive relationships to find the courage and perspective to leave and to help in the healing of those who are recovering.

I invite your prayers for this serious issue which unfortunately is common in the church.

God bless,

Mark

…..

There are three major kinds of abuse within a relationship: Physical abuse when someone hits, slaps, beats, burns, kicks, or stabs you. But it also includes arm grabbing, shaking or being pushed. There is sexual abuse, which is any exploitation of your body against your will. And there is emotional abuse, which is wide spread and very misunderstood.

Emotional abuse is when someone threatens or humiliates you. This includes name-calling, putting you down, insulting you, or breaking your things. Control is a huge part of emotional abuse and involves chronic anger, jealousy, accusations, and distrust. The main symptoms that you maybe experiencing emotional abuse include feeling depressed, anxious, and unhappy in your relationship, that you feel isolated and that you’re down on yourself, or even hate yourself, especially when you’re together.

So what does the Bible say about such abuse?

The Bible is completely clear that any form of abuse is unacceptable. God hates the idea of anyone being abused.

The Bible lays out how we are to treat those we love and its all about sacrificial love: a love that yearns for the absolute very best for the person. A love where we put the others needs before our own. The Bible talks of us loving our partners with care and concern and the greatest of respect.

As Colossians 3:19 reads: ‘Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.’ The greek for ‘harsh’ is pikraino which means not being angry or bitter towards the partner, not causing continued pain, intense hostility and expressing hatred towards another. The passage is clear that a partner is not to be hostile or violent. Emotional, sexual and physical abuse is not acceptable behavior for a Christian husband or partner. So what is acceptable?

To truly love your spouse.

So what does the Bible mean when it talks about love? The greek for love in the Colossians passage is agapao, which is to value, esteem, manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards, and to delight in. In other words, to love another is to treat them like they are the most wonderful and amazing person in the world. As 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 states:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

A healthy Godly relationship is one where both partners feel protected and safe, where anger is minimal and worked through, and where serving the other is the norm. If a partner’s behavior is envious, unable to admit fault, more interested in themselves and easily angered then that person’s behavior is outside of God’s will and is sinful.

So what does the Bible say if you are trapped in an abusive relationship? The Bible is clear that reconciliation and healing is the preferred path; that the abusing partner confesses their sin and changes their behavior; and the abused partner forgives the perpetrator. But what if the abuse continues and reconciliation and change doesn’t come? Then prayerful thought and consideration should be given to divorce.

The Bible shares that there are two instances where divorce is acceptable: adultery (Matthew 5:32) and with a non-believing spouse. The second is detailed in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 which states:

12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

The greek word for ‘unbelieving’ is apistos which literally means being unfaithful, false, and treacherous. In the case of abuse the partner is indeed being unfaithful to the calling and expectations of marriage (that of offering sacrificial love as shared above), and is being treacherous in how they treat their partner. So an abusing partner is in effect ‘unbelieving’, which is grounds for divorce within the Bible.

But the passage suggests that separation only happens when the unbeliever leaves (verse 15). How then does this apply? Well when a partner abuses the other, they are in effect leaving the bounds of expectation of a Godly marriage. And for many people who are abused, they will often share how alone they feel, even though they live in the same house as their partner. The person who is abusing in effect leaves the marriage agreement while remaining within the relationship. So the Bible is clear: sustained abuse is grounds for divorce.

So the first step should be counseling and a genuine attempt at reconciliation and healing – this is God’s preference. But if the person who is abusing refuses to change then there are Biblical grounds for leaving the marriage.

God charges us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 to care for our bodies: our emotions, our mind and our physical self. Our safety and the safety of our children is our responsibility. It notes:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

We honor God with how we treat our body, so if your body, your emotions, mind and physical self are being damaged, we honor God by finding a safe place to be.

As Gaetane Reimer posted on the ‘Abuse in a relationship is NOT ok.’ page:

God never chose for us to be abused by our spouse. He said we were to give up our lives for the gospel’s sake, not for someone’s sickness. Allowing yourself to be abused continually is just saying that you really don’t love yourself enough to get away from it. If God loves us enough to let His precious Son die for us, then we are very valuable. I must love myself. When you stay you are also abusing yourself and all that God created you to be.

So what can you do right now if you are being abused? Approach your pastor, your doctor or a trusted friend. The key is not to go it alone but to find support people. One of the realities of someone being abused is that they often feel isolated and alone; the person abusing will do all they can to keep the abuse secret. So share it with people you trust. Please don’t keep it to yourself, in doing so you are aiding the abuse.

To get professional help :

If you live in the USA: Focus on the Family help line (A Christian service) (800) A-Family (232-6459)

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.

In the UK: Woman’s Aid: 0808 2000 247

In Australia: Lifeline – Crisis Counselling Line : 13 11 14

Or if in another country, Google: Domestic Violence support services.

It is advisable to use a friends phone and computer as controlling partners will monitor phone and computer access.

And remember that in Christ you are never alone. As Matthew 5:3-10 records:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

Reference for the types of abuse: http://psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/recognizing_four_types_of_abuse

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17 Comments
  1. truly worth reading!!!

  2. Brenda P permalink

    I have sent this message to the ladies who run a Healing Ministry here in Terrell, Texas for abused women (and men)! You open your heart and your life to others, Mark. Thank God for you!

  3. I lived every single one of the steps of abuse you mentioned!!! for twelve years I was in a relationship where I was affraid to leave because he threatened to kill me, and I looked down the barrel of a gun more times than I care to mention……But one day I had had enough, and I told him if he was going to kill me he had better do it as I was leaving.
    I am now happily married 5yrs to a very good christian man, and he treats me so good that sometimes I think I am going to wake up from a dream.
    I just want all the women out there that may be in an abusive situtation, (but they think the man will change) they are not responsible for his actions, and they will not be able to change him….that has to be his dicision.

    GOD BLESS!!!!

  4. jason permalink

    This whole abuse thing. I loved my wife and she called abuse and threw me in jail over an accident. I loved her withall my heart. I’ve seen my wrong but noone will look at hers. We could’ve made it if it wasn’t for all ones lying. I do agree you should get counseling first. All I ever wanted was forgiveness. I never ever physically abused my wife, now so called christians have destroyed my family and taken my childrren and will not forgive. Its crazy and un-biblical. Wow I could rant all day about this. I do agree abuse is wrong but this system against it is destroying families that could have otherwise made it and flourished.

  5. Mar permalink

    This is a great article. What some do not know is that there are abused husbands just as well as abused wives. I hope everyone reads this .

  6. It really helped me to read this article. I always felt like a failure because I was married twice (once as a teen and then once for almost 20 years). Both ended in divorce because they were unfaithful to me. I tried to work it out with them but they had no interest. Now I know that I really am forgiven. I shared this url on facebook….

    For Jason… I am sorry for your situation but if you reread what you wrote… you even said yourself that you were ranting. Was it possible that you were ranting when the accident happened?

    Just curious.

  7. A great and much needed interpretation of the Scriptures concerning divorce and abuse.

  8. mildred laguit permalink

    thanks for these wonderful messages. for sure you may enlighten most women who are in these kind of situations. more power and please continue share your knowledge. God bles!

    • i thank God for this article,it is encouraging and has really made me make decisions so fast and be comfortable.

  9. legkal permalink

    This is the best article I have seen on ‘abuse and divorce’.
    Thanks for spelling it out for us.

  10. Kent permalink

    I agree with your teachings but this article seems to be directed to only husbands. While men can and do commit acts of abuse, women are capable of the same and have biblical guidelines to follow as well. Right now most TV ads portray the husband/father as a bumbling fool and the wife/mother as a sharp talker with all the brains of the partnership. (mother =leader, father – another child to take care of.) While I’m sure this is just a way to sell products I think this teaches some women that it is not only ok to disrespect the men in their lives but to be a modern women you should be that way. If you read further into Colossians it will include how wives should treat their husbands. Thanks.

  11. Debbie Marneweck permalink

    This was very interesting and I could learn alot from it. What I really want to know is – my daughter was abused by 3 family members (one of them her father), she was raped at the age of 13 and had an abortion. She is 23 years now, married and has a child of her own. But she struggles with her past. Surely you can understand what she went through. Her sex-life is a problem, she is very paranoid when it comes to her daughter and she has difficulty emotionally with the fact that this father figure is not to be trusted. She grew up going to church, she believes in God, but has questions, such as – He controls everything – we are just puppets in His hands, He knew what was going to happen to her, why didnt He protect her? How can I help my daughter. PLEASE COME BACK TO ME WITH ANSWERS FROM THE BIBLE, because I am sure it will help her.

    • I too was abused by a member of my family – I was helped by the story of Joseph and the fact that what his brother’s meant as evil God turned into good. God doesn’t condone abuse ever, but He can use it for good if we allow Him to work in us.

  12. Caroline Smith permalink

    I have been asking God to help me gain control of my anger because it does affect my marriage as well as my child. In fact shortly before my son was born, my husband took the time to find help for me. He told me if I didn’t get help, he would divorce me. This was just over four years ago. He’d been thinking that the help was not working. However, just recently I took several steps forwards, but yesterday I took one big step backward. I did notice something about my anger yesterday, it does not come out unless I let something bother me, and I talk to no one about it. My husband was happy for me, when I pointed out that I did take a few steps forward in gaining control of my anger. My anger is linked to depression, but that is no excuse to get angry and sin in your anger by becoming the abuser. Seek help if you are dealing with depression that is triggering your anger for it does affect the family.

  13. My wife and I have have struggled for nearly 10 years now. I became very ill with a little known disease, was under medical treatment for a 5 years, and finally recovered 100%. In that time, our relationship changed greatly.

    In the beginning, I tried hard to reach out to her, but she no longer wanted attention, conversation, or affection from me. I guess the caretaker role had changed her view of me forever.

    For 5 years now I have gone through periods of depression over this, trying to get her into marriage counseling, and even though she’s an unbeliever, I felt we could work things out if we each took responsibility and desired to change.

    She has fought counseling, and has retreated into a posture where “I’m right, your wrong, and I’m not going to counseling, but expect to be supported financially, etc.”

    I love my wife, but her continued attitude of taking total control, totally ignoring me in serious medical situations, and not working with me in any of the family decisions has torn us apart. I can forgive her, but I can’t continue to support her behavior either. So I am considering separation.

    There is no other woman in my life, although I came close to an affair early in this out of extreme loneliness. It was wrong, I repented, and have never looked back. Now, I am not sure if I ever could be with another woman. I’d rather stay single at this point, although that’s not how I was designed by any means.

    In our relationship, it’s about emotional abuse and control. I’m a softie, but I can’t continue to be someones punching bag. Pray.

  14. Tiffany Trummer permalink

    I was wondering what God felt/thought of a child who grew up with such abuse as you spoke about a spouse being abused? I grew up being abuse in all ways except having been forced to use my body. I was however not just emotionally raped by my mother but physically raped twice one ending in a pregnancy that my mother forced me to terminate against my wishes. My mother used to beat me with everything and anything, humilitate me and once made me stand nude in the bathtub at the age of 14yrs old and let my brother and his friends walk past and see me. I have been verbally abused and put down so badly that even today at the age of 38, a single mother of 2, a 19yr old girl (who is spiritually lost and I pray for everyday) and a 10yr old son (who is and has always been a Godly child, until he was yelled at by an old neighbor when 8yrs old to not talk about that stuff around their house, so he is in fear now of speaking God’s word in public) I have lived in sin, my children have different fathers, I was with my son’s putting up with verbal abuse and being scared of his temper since I was 15yrs old except when we split up and I dated my 1st boyfriend again and got pregnant with Samantha, then her dad took off, he took me back…. so I stayed. I was 4mo pregnant with Joshua and said enough was enough.
    I have been in counselling for many a yrs and have been baptized even to try to clean this feeling and hoping to find peace through God, I am still struggling. I have watched your video’s not even knowing you are the founder of The Bible page which I am a member and I even just commented on your recent posting about where do people with disabilities fit in gods kingdom? suggesting others to check it out, I am also a member of their page. I have been searching for the other piece of me, the one that was stolen as a child… My resent journey was started by accidentally picking up a novel, which I thought was about a disaster and only one person was left, it was called “Left Behind” I feel God led my to the series… I need guidance. Help?

  15. Trcay permalink

    About the abuse. The sin and abuse taken out on children leaves such effects. My mom left when I was four and I missed having a woman in my life growing up. I may have been worse off if she were there but I learned two things as an adult yearning for healing. One is that I can be what I did not have with God’s help and my obedience to learning from the bible and from the successful ways of Godly men and women before me, and two, that I will fail, but with a priority of building a personal relationship with God, (ie. praying about everything and therefore gaining trust because of all of the little answered prayers, learning everything about God and His character by being involved in in-depth bible studies, reading the bible and christian books or listening to CD’s and tapes), I will be more and more successful all of the time. I still feel like I have a lot to learn and sometimes feel like a needy little girl still at the age of 43 but I have joy and peace in the midst of the pain.

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