What does the Bible teach about responding to abuse? There’s a lot of confusion on this. God’s wisdom is uncommon today.
On the one extreme, some people suffer from depression, fear, and shame because they think that as Christians they should tolerate or even submit to abuse. This is a misunderstanding of the Bible! God does not support abuse. He never wants one of his children to be ashamed — he always wants us to cling to Christ for mercy and to find security and strength in his kingdom.
On the other extreme, some people think that if God is truly God then he’d never let them be mistreated. They can’t imagine how they could endure being mistreated without being personally damaged by it. They don’t understand what it means in the midst of unfairness to find refuge in Christ and his kingdom.
An underlying problem in responding to abuse is understanding anger and how to deal with it. The Bible says, “Be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26), but what does this really mean?
Submission in Marriage
For instance, we’ve talked with many people who misunderstand the Bible’s teaching on submission in marriage and family or to authority in general. The Bible does not teach husbands to control their wives! And it does not give parents authority to punish their children in harshness or anger. Discipline is always to be done by setting aside anger and expressing love.
In Ephesians 5:22 in the Bible we’re taught to submit to one another as unto Christ, this includes not just wives to their husbands, but also husbands to their wives. Both men and women are taught to serve others with humility and respect and to be compassionate and kind to other people, especially children. At the same time, we are also taught to set boundaries.
Persecution and the Kingdom of God
Other times people tell us that since Jesus was silent when he was scourged and crucified that they should just take it when someone abuses them. There is a time to endure persecution out of love for Christ (participating in the fellowship of his sufferings) and as a witness for Christ to others. To endure persecution in the right way you need to have developed good internal boundaries and self-esteem through your relationship with Christ so that you’re able to experience mistreatment without absorbing or internalizing it in a way that produces shame or fear in you.
If we’re to endure persecution in our circumstances the only way we can do that safely is to have placed ourselves in the kingdom of the heavens, where we can say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my refuge and fortress.” As Dallas Willard likes to say, “This world is a perfectly safe place to be — if we’re in the Kingdom of God.”
God doesn’t always change our circumstances, but always we have provision beyond all we could ask or hope for in his kingdom. We just need to step into it!
Many Christ-followers do not understand the Kingdom of God. It’s the spiritual reality of the government of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not just a far off a way later — it’s also today, wherever and whenever Jesus is in charge. Sometimes God’s kingdom is manifest in our circumstances and sometimes it is not, but “the heavenly realms” of Christ are always open to us. In abuse is going on in our visible situation this is sinful and it is contrary to the rule of Christ. However, an essential part of learning to deal with the abuse is learning to place ourselves in the invisible landscape of God’s kingdom.
Over the course of Christian history many in the Bible and since then have learned how not to react negatively to being mistreated because their identity and well-being are rooted in Christ and his kingdom.
Some Bible Teachings on Abuse
Consider these teachings from the Bible on responding to abuse. (All verses are from the NIV84 unless noted otherwise.)
Jesus says we need to protect children and be careful never to mistreat them (Matthew 18:6).
Men and women are both encouraged by Jesus to humble themselves as little children (Matthew 18:2-4).
Don’t think of yourself as more important than others (Luke 9:48, Mark 9:33-35).
Those who want to be great leaders should seek to serve others as Jesus did (Matthew 20:25-28).
Wives and husbands are to submit to each other, following Jesus’ example of humble service (John 13:12-17, Ephesians 5:21).
For a husband to be the “head” of his wife is for him to follow Jesus’ example of being a servant-leader who did not lord it over us, but sacrificially gave himself for us. Husbands are to love their wives, give themselves up for their wives, care for their wives as they care for their own bodies, just as Christ does for the church. The wife’s role of submitting is in this context. (Mark 10:42-43, Ephesians 5:22-28, 1 Peter 5:1-4).
When we’re angry at a loved one who has mistreated us we’re encouraged to express our anger by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15, 25-26).
Violent behavior, perverse speech, and injustice are evil (Proverbs 8:13, 13:2, 24:1-2, 28:5).
We are to avoid, shun, and hate evil – abuse is evil (Proverbs 3:7, 8:13, Romans 12:9, 1Thessalonians 5:22).
Like Jesus, we should not submit to evil or let others control us (Matthew 12:15, 16:21-23, John 6:15).
When we are sinned against Jesus encouraged us to confront the person in private. If he doesn’t listen then we’re to bring one or two witnesses along. If he still doesn’t listen we’re to withdraw ourselves from him until he changes. (Matthew 18:15-17)
Withdrawing (without reacting in anger) from someone who continually sins against you is important self-protection and it is the best way to help the one who violated you (1 Corinthians 5:5, Titus 3:10-11).