Dealing with Abuse

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Various Scriptures

INTRODUCTION: Today we come to the end of our series on how God helps you with your problems through Jesus his Son. So far we have looked at the problems of anger, envy, worry, depression, fear, pride, self-image and addiction. And today we close out the series with the problem of abuse. We will be looking at a number of Scriptures this morning, but let me begin with a word of hope from Psalm 147:1-3. (Read and pray.) “Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:1-3)

Today is the last topic in our series, and it is probably the most sensitive topic in the series. It is also one that overlaps with many of the preceding topics. When you are dealing with abuse, you are also dealing with such issues as anger, depression, fear, self-image and oftentimes addiction as well. Abuse is a wide-ranging topic with many underlying issues, so we will only really be able to scratch the surface today. And if you have abuse in your past or in your present, I pray God will give you the grace to hear a message of his hope and love for you today. Our Lord Jesus also suffered incredible abuse at the cross, and he knows what you are going through.

I. The problem of abuse

We begin by looking at the problem of abuse. Under this heading we will look at the various types of abuse, the various victims of abuse, the prevalence of abuse, and finally some of the effects of abuse.

   A. Types of abuse: physical, verbal, emotional, sexual (Psalm 11:5; Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 22:24)

So first of all, the various types of abuse. The main types of abuse fall under physical, verbal emotional and sexual abuse. Physical abuse is the use of physical force or violence that results in bodily injury or harm. Physical abuse includes such things as hitting, pushing, kicking, punching, scratching, biting, choking, throwing objects at a person, or the use of any weapon against a person. The Bible clearly states that physcial abuse is wrong in all circumstances. Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates.” (Psalm 11:5) Just a word to any single women out there. Be very careful of the men you date. Proverbs 22:24 warns, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered.” (Proverbs 22:24) If you see the warning signs, run don’t walk away from the relationship before it’s too late.

Verbal abuse is the use of words to hurt another person. Verbal abuse includes such things as yelling, shouting, insulting, accusing, blaming, threatening, name calling and the use of profanity. Verbal abuse is also wrong according to Scripture. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Emotional abuse is the use of negative behaviors to cause mental or emotional anguish in another person. Emotional abuse includes such things as threatening, bullying, intimidating, controlling, manipulating, degrading, or humiliating another person. It can also include rejecting or withholding appropriate love and affection from the other person.

Finally there is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is any form of nonconsensual sexual activity. Sexual abuse includes such things as unwanted kissing or touching, sexual assault, rape or attempted rape, child molestation, showing children pornography, or engaging in sexual activity in front of a child. Obviously all types of abuse are wrong and are completely forbidden by God in the Bible.

   B. Victims of abuse: spouses/partners, children, elderly (Malachi 2:16; Matthew 18:5-6)

Who are the victims of abuse? The three main victims are spouses, children and the elderly. Spousal abuse is a betrayal of the marriage covenant between husband and wife. We read in Malachi 2: “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith [with the wife of your marriage covenant]. (Malachi 2:14-16) God calls spousal abuse “breaking faith” with your spouse. When you abuse your spouse, you break your promise to love, honor and protect her at all times.

Under spousal abuse unfortunately we must also list domestic partner abuse. So many people live together instead of marry today that live-in partners experience a large part of abuse. In fact statistically living together instead of marriage actually increases abuse. According to one Justice Department study, couples living together are 62 times more likely than married couples to suffer abuse from their partner.

Child abuse is a betrayal of the love, protection and care that all adults owe the children under their supervision. We sing the song “Jesus loves the little children,” and he does. Jesus had harsh words for anyone who would bring harm to a child. We read in Matthew 18: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6) Children are weak and vulnerable members of society, and we must do all we can to protect their personhood and guard their innocence.

Elder abuse is a betrayal of the honor and respect we owe those who have gone before us. Like children, the elderly are weak and vulnerable, and we need to protect and care for them as God commands.

Did you notice how so much of abuse takes place within the home? The sad reality is that the home is the most dangerous place you can be outside of the battlefield. Between 2005 and 2010, 60% of all violent injuries in this country were inflicted by loved ones or acquaintances. And 60% of the time those injuries happened in the home. (http://www.salon.com/2013/04/18/tk_5_partner_12/)

   C. Prevalence of abuse (Genesis 6:11-13; current statistics)

What about the prevalence of abuse? We would like to think that abuse is rare and only happens in certain pockets of society, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Abuse is widespread in society and sadly always has been. Violence is part of sinful, human nature and was the main reason God sent the flood early in human history. We read in Genesis 6: Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.” (Genesis 6:11-13)

The statistics are staggering. One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Women experience more than 4 million physical assaults and rapes because of their partners, and men are victims of nearly 3 million physical assaults. Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner. And the scariest statistic of all? Most domestic violence incidents are never even reported. (See more at: http://www.safehorizon.org/page/domestic-violence-statistics–facts-52.html)

Abuse is not a problem that is “way out there” somewhere. It is in our neighborhoods, it is in our schools, it is in our places of work, it is in our homes, it is in our churches. And God sees every single incident of abuse, and he cares for each and every victim.

   D. Effects of abuse (Psalm 55:4-5, 12-14)

What about the effects of abuse? Psalm 55 is a psalm about David and his enemies, but it also describes well the horrors of domestic abuse. “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me … If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you … my companion, my close friend … with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship.” (Psalm 55:4-5, 12-14) David’s psalm well describes the suffering and anguish when someone who should be looking out for you instead abuses you and brings you harm.

Survivors of domestic violence face high rates of depression, sleep disturbances, anxiety, flashbacks, and other emotional distress. Domestic violence contributes to poor health for many survivors. For example, chronic conditions like heart disease or gastrointestinal disorders can become more serious due to domestic violence. Among women brought to emergency rooms due to domestic violence, most were socially isolated and had fewer social and financial resources than other women not injured because of domestic violence. Domestic violence costs more than $37 billion a year in law enforcement involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity at companies. (See more at: http://www.safehorizon.org/page/domestic-violence-statistics–facts-52.html)

II. Understanding abuse

I think we can all agree that abuse is a major problem in society. We will talk about dealing with abuse in just a few minutes, but first I want to take some time to help us better understand this whole problem of abuse. You will notice that I am mostly using the masculine pronoun for the abuser and the feminine pronoun for the abused. That may be the predominant pattern, but we must remember that abuse goes both ways and women can be abusers as well as men.

   A. Understanding the abuser: critical, manipulative, controlling

First, we need to understand the abuser himself. There are many characteristics of abusers, but the three most common are the abuser is critical, manipulative and controlling.

The abuser is harshly critical and judgmental of others. This is both a defense mechanism for himself but also increases the damage of the abuse to others as they live under the harsh judgmentalism of the abuser.

The abuser is extremely manipulative. The abuser will deny all responsibility for the abuse and shift all blame to the victim instead. The rapist blames the victim for dressing seductively. The physical abuser blames the victim for making him mad. Abusers are skillful manipulators of the truth and experts at deception.

And finally the abuser is ruthlessly controlling. The abuser will intimidate his victims to keep them from telling the truth. The abuser may threaten bodily harm to the victim or the victim’s loved ones unless he gets what he wants. The abuser is normally jealous and possessive. Abuse is all about control, and abusers seek to control their victims in any way they can.

   B. Understanding the abused: isolation, hopelessness, shame

Next, we need to understand the abused. There are many characteristics of abused persons, but the three most common are isolation, hopelessness and shame.

The abused person tends to isolate herself and withdraw from other people. She may speak in terms of trying to stay hidden and making herself invisible in social situations. Abuse often affects the victim’s ability to make friends and engage in healthy relationships. The abused person often behaves in ways that are uncomfortable for other people further increasing her isolation. The abused person disconnects from others and finds it difficult to trust. This also affects her spiritually and can cause her to isolate herself from God who dearly loves her and can help her the most.

The abused person also experiences severe hopelessness. The abused person feels powerless to change her situation and loses all hope for the future. Over time she becomes emotionally passive and numb. This is a result of overwhelming trauma and is a self-defense against further emotional hurt. Instead of feeling pain, she simply feels nothing at all. Her sense of hopelessness can also lead to an increased dependency on her abuser. Abused children especially feel this sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.

And then there is shame. Shame is the emotional undercurrent of every abusive relationship: shame that the abuse is happening, shame that you can’t stop it, shame that you can’t walk away. The abused person will often conclude that they are to blame for the abuse they experience. All abuse brings shame, but sexual abuse due to its personal nature often triggers extreme shame. Shame is perhaps the most powerful of the negative emotions and has a shaping effect on the rest of our lives.

   C. Understanding the cycle of abuse:
      1) tension building phase, 2) acting out, 3) reconciliation/honeymoon phase
We have spent some time trying to better understand the abuser and better understand the abused. Finally, we need to understand the cycle of abuse, because all abuse happens in a cycle.

First there is the tension building phase. During this phase various stresses build up for the abuser and the abused. This phase may be brief or long – lasting hours, days or even months.

However, the tension eventually builds up to the point that the abuser acts out. The acting out phase is relatively brief as the abuser reduces tension by either physically, verbally, emotionally or sexually abusing the victim.

This is then followed by the reconciliation or honeymoon phase. During this phase the balance of power has shifted, and the abuser will often feel guilty or fearful of losing his relationship with the victim. The abuser apologizes profusely and promises it will never happen again. The victim feels pain, fear, humiliation, disrespect, confusion, and may wrongly feel responsible. However, the victim also feels the relief that the tension is over and desperately wants to believe the abuser. The abused and abuser enter a period of relative calm until the tensions begin to build up and the cycle begins all over again. This is the cycle of abuse that so many people experience repeatedly in their lives.

III. Dealing with abuse

So how do we deal with the problem of abuse? God doesn’t want you going through this cycle of abuse, and he has given you instruction in his Word to help you with the problem of abuse. Let me close this message now by sharing God’s instructions for abusers, for the abused and then for the church.

   A. Abusers need to:

First of all, four instructions for abusers.

      1) accept full responsibility for the abuse (1 John 1:8-9)

Number one, if you are an abuser, you need to accept full responsibility for the abuse. No more blaming others, no more shifting of responsibility. 1 John 1 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9) If you are an abuser, no one is responsible for the abuse except for you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else said or did. There is never any excuse for abusing another person.

      2) be accountable to others (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Number two, you need to be accountable to others. Hebrews 3 says, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12-13) You are caught in a dangerous cycle, and you will need the accountability of others to break free.

      3) learn to control their anger or urges (Ephesians 4:31-32; 1 Thessalonian 4:3-6)

Number three you will need to learn to control your anger or other urges. Ephesians 4 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) 1 Thessalonians 4 says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable … and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6) Here is where the fruit of the Holy Spirit comes in once again, especially the fruit of kindness and self-control.

      4) work through the underlying issues for lasting change

Finally, you will need to work through the underlying issues for lasting change. There is something driving your abuse, something that you don’t want to face or admit. But until you deal with it, you will never break free. You will need the expert care of a loving counselor to guide you through these deep waters and help you achieve lasting change.

   B. The abused need:

Next, let me share four instructions for the abused.

      1) a safe place to go (Psalm 55:6-8)

First of all, the abused person needs a safe place to go. If you have experienced abuse, you can probably relate to David’s words in Psalm 55: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest – I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (Psalm 55:6-8) If an abused person comes to you for help, your first responsibility is to get them to a safe place. If there are children involved, they need to be protected as well. If you are an abused person, you need to get out of the house and to a place of safety. This comes first, before any of the other steps following.

      2) compassion and support (Galatians 6:2)

Second, the abused person needs compassion and support. Too often the abused person is met with criticism, downplaying or disbelief. This will only drive them deeper into the cycle of abuse. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) The abused person needs compassion and support.

      3) long-term counsel and care (Psalm 32:7-8)

Thirdly, the abused person needs long-term counsel and care. In Psalm 32:7 David says to the Lord, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance …” The Lord responds in verse 8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:7-8) God will surround you with his loving guidance and care, but he often does that through other people as well. And so you will also need to work through the damage with a counselor who can help you understand the abuse and how it has harmed you.

      4) time to heal and forgive (Psalm 147:3)

Finally, the abused person needs time to heal and forgive. There is no quick fix for abuse. The damage has taken place over a long time, and the healing will take place over time. But God will heal you. Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) You cannot rush the process. Healing and forgiveness are not a switch to be flipped but a process to be pursued.

   C. The church must:

Finally, what are the church’s responsibilities? Let me share with you four instructions for the church:

      1) protect victims of abuse (Proverbs 24:11-12)

First of all, the church must protect victims of abuse. God commands us in Proverbs 24: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it?” (Proverbs 24:11-12) The church must stand up to abusers and stand up for the abused.

      2) provide necessary support (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Secondly, the church must provide necessary support. We read in 1 Thessalonians 5: “Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) The church must help the weak, which includes providing the necessary physical, emotional and financial support wherever we can.

      3) teach biblical roles and relationships (Leviticus 19:32; Ephesians 5:25, 6:4; 1 Peter 3:7)

Thirdly, the church must teach biblical roles and relationships. We said the primary victims of abuse are the elderly, children and spouses. The Bible gives clear instruction for each of these relationships. Concerning the elderly Leviticus 19:32 says, “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32) Concerning children Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Concerning spouses, abusive husbands often distort the biblical teaching of husband-wife roles in the home. They wrongly tell their wives they must submit to them and their abuse, when the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) And in 1 Peter 3 we read, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Peter 3:7) Husbands, love your wives. Wives, respect your husbands.

      4) be a safe place for all (Psalm 27:4-5)

Finally, the church must be a safe place for all. We read in Psalm 27: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:4-5) There’s a reason we call this a sanctuary. The church gathered is to reflect the beauty of God’s presence where we are all safe in his dwelling, in the shelter of his tabernacle.

CONCLUSION: We have covered a lot of ground these past months. We have dealt with some difficult issues. My hope is that you have a new understanding of how God helps you with your problems through Jesus. My desire is that you will experience positive change as you put these principles into practice. My prayer is that we as a church will grow to be more like Jesus as we allow God’s Holy Spirit to change us from within.

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Some helpful resources for dealing with abuse:

Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them: Breaking the cycle of physical and emotional abuse, by Paul Hegstrom

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

The Emotionally Destructive Relationship, by Leslie Vernick

Foolproofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life, by Jan Silvious

HELP! Someone I Love Has Been Abused, by Jim Newheiser

Helping Her Get Free: A Guide for Families and Friends of Abused Women, by Susan Brewster

Mending the Soul: Understanding and healing abuse, by Steven R. Tracy

Verbal & Emotional Abuse: Victory Over Verbal and Emotional Abuse, by June Hunt

Violence Among Us: Ministry to families in crisis, by Brenda Branson & Paula J. Silva

The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse, by Dan Allender

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© Ray Fowler

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