Employer? Wife? Friend? You fill in the blank, and let’s talk this one through.
Just a disclaimer to start…
Make no mistake, we are not discussing circumstances that lead to or involve physical abuse. In the event of a physically abusive situation -leave, find a place of safety, and seek help!
Our intention here is to take a close look at what the Word of God says about dealing with verbally or mentally abusive individuals we must face on a frequent basis throughout our lives. In general, the principles in the Bible regarding what to do in these hostile environments are pretty much the same for all of us. Yes, I know this is a bit of an over-simplification since every situation has differing circumstances. However, God’s Word is true, His principles are trustworthy, His instruction is sure, so let’s go to the Bible.
Very “Real” examples:
Recently, I’ve had extensive conversations with some men in my life that have differing circumstances but the negative effects of the abusive people in their lives is the same; each are having to weather a storm; a continual flow of hurtful words, mean stares, invasion of privacy, and intent to defame or slander these men.
So how do we respond as Christians in these situations?
First, we’ll make a quick fly-over of the key passages we already have been discussing in other studies, then tie it all together.
Please take a moment to read Peter 2:18-25 to start…
18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[e]
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[f] but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
In this passage, the author is clearly comparing the conduct of one who is unjustly abused and someone who is justly punished for wrongdoing. He states in more than one way that it is “commendable”, honoring, and worthy of reward when we bear up under unjust treatment. Our response is to be like Christ (verse 22); gentle, with humility, without deceit and God-honoring.
I know, I’m human too, it feels just plain impossible to be “Christ-like” in many situations. But as we study what God is up to when He allows these events to hit our lives, we may find additional strength to be Christ-like in our reactions.
Let’s read Titus 3:
1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
The fact is, God is watching our reaction and our conduct when placed in tough circumstances; He’s rooting us on like a a proud dad outside the backstop of a little league game. He wants us to succeed -to move ahead or graduate from this training event.
As we continue to study several passages, we will see how this impacts not only our lives in several powerful ways, but also the lives of others; those who need a savior will be impacted by our reaction to their abuse toward us.
Great, I get rewarded. But how does that help me… or them?!
First, let’s look at another passage in Hebrews 12 and talk about how these situations are a powerful tool God uses to benefit US:
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,”[b] so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. 14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
The word “Discipline” in this passage is not primarily talking about a “spanking” or consequences of wrong-doing, it’s the kind of discipline experienced when a person enlists and enters boot camp. Training, deliberate, planned, designed to sharpen and mature us.
This process is called “Sanctification” a big word that means on-going development of our character until we see Him… and God will continue to use this process for the rest of our lives (this is not bad news by the way), but we must choose to “remain under” His process.
When we clearly understand what God is accomplishing in our lives by bringing resistance and hardship, we will begin to actually welcome it!
Hard to believe I know, but look at James 1:2-3:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Pure joy!? …as if!
Well, let’s go back to Hebrews 12:1b-3 and look at Christ’s reaction to simply the greatest trial anyone could bear… His death on the cross!
1b And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Really? He actually had joy on the cross?
He knew that at any moment he would drop his head and die -for all mankind- and at that moment, the barrier between mankind and God the Father would forever be emilinated, the curtain in the Holy of Holies was torn, top to bottom, as a sign that ALL men could come to the Father through Jesus Christ -no more animal sacrifices, priests, special process, on and on- all that was eliminated and now we can now do something never before possible! Let’s look at Hebrews 4:14-16:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Now THAT’S something to be joyful about!
Even with a crown of thorns on his head, nails through his hands and feet, and a spear stuck in his side, he was filled with joy that the very people that hung him there could now have access to the Father by faith in this act of immeasurable love -HIs death and resurrection.
This is why Jesus could say in Luke 23:34:
“Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!”
So how does my conduct in difficult situations help others?
Let’s look again at Hebrews 12:3…
“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
We can also be excited when we endure opposition knowing that those who are being abusive, or those who are watching us in these times of difficulty just may see a glimpse of Christ in us and that spark may ignite a flame for God someday that our Christ-like conduct played a part in.
Again, God is watching, encouraging us to be holy and leave at peace so other may see Him through our conduct. Hebrews 12:14 says:
14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
When we develop the skill of seeing others through the eye of the Father, we will see them as sinners in need of a savior! Our conduct in these moments of conflict may play a part in their repentance!
How we act may be the only example of Christ they experience, and at a moment when they are at a point of brokenness, those small, seemingly insignificant seeds planted in them begin to take root. The Holy Spirit at work in them brings to their remembrance all those examples of Godliness they’ve witnessed in the past -you.
A Heavenly Scenario:
Though we may never see the outcome here in this life of our Christ-like example to that person , what if, just what if…
You were standing in heaven and feel a tap on our should, turn around, only to see that person you all but wrote off… “They’ll never change, let alone repent!” At that point they thank you for being an example of Christ that planted a seed and helped bring them to the point of repentance. Then they introduce you to their spouse, their children, their grandchildren… all in heaven because your conduct played a small part in their journey to the cross!
Now there’s a “what if”