What About this Matter of Abuse?

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What About this Matter of Abuse?

(Some things the Bible says about abuse)

Some claim that for Christians, abuse is an illegitimate term. The argument says that abuse is not found in the Bible, or it is a worldly word, or it is overused in our day of victimization. Such an argument is actually illegitimate on many grounds. This article is a brief response to that and to give a level of biblical clarity regarding the subject of abuse as found in the Bible.

Abuse is a word found in the Bible

For starters, as a friend pointed out, the word abuse is indeed used in the New Testament. Examine 1 Corinthians 5:11 and you will find the term “reviler.” As Strong’s Concordance (g3060) reveals, the Koine Greek is “ λοίδορος loidoros; from λοιδός loidos (mischief); abusive, i.e. a blackguard: — railer, reviler.”    Years ago, Elyse Fitzpatrick presented a seminar at the Institute of Biblical Counseling and Discipleship in San Diego on the subject of spousal abuse. Based on her research, here are some biblical terms and descriptions that are synonymous for abuse:

What God calls abuse (or “What’s the biblical definition of abuse?”)

1. Afflicted - brow beaten, depressed, oppressed, ravished.
2. Fatherless - to be lonely, bereaved, orphaned.
3. Weak - to be worn out, to grieve, to put to pain, to be without strength.
4. Oppressed - to press down, distress, afflict, crush, force to rage, to be violent against, bruise, discourage.
5. Helpless - weak, thin, needy, poor.
6. Brokenhearted - burst, break, crush, destroy or quench the heart.
7. Humbled- humiliated, depress, bring low, to be made low.

In the Bible, the metaphorical wolf is abusive. 

1. The wolf devastates others (Jeremiah 5:6).
2. The wolf is fierce (Habakkuk 1:8).
3. It attacks and leaves nothing behind (Zephaniah 3:3).
4. He tear others up like prey, shedding blood and destroying lives for personal and dishonest gain. (Ezekiel 22:27).
5. The wolf comes disguised as sheep but are ravenous, cruel, greedy, and destructive (Matthew 7:15).
6. It is bent on devouring the flock for its own selfish ends (2 Corinthians 11:2, 3, 13-15).
7. When it has the opportunity, the world destroys the flock, sparing no one (Acts 20:29).

Another definition for abuse

In his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, who was a strong Christian man with biblically informed beliefs, defined abuse as

1. To use ill; to maltreat, to misuse; to use with bad motives or to wrong purposes
2. To violate, to defile by improper sexual intercourse.
3. To deceive, to impose on.
4. To treat rudely, or with reproachful language; to revile.
5. To pervert the meaning of; to misapply; as to abuse words.

Jesus’ comparison of God’s servants with the world’s method for leaders reveals abuse

Jesus compares God’s way of authority (servant leadership) with the world's way of authority. He says the world uses authority, which "lords it over" others (Matthew 20:25, Luke 22:25). The rest of the New Testament bears this out and forbids God's undershepherds and by implication anyone in the position of authority or oversight to lord it over others. What does "lording it over" mean? “It is the excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical, sinful, and/or self-serving purposes rather than for the glory of God and the edification and loving welfare of God’s people” (The Perfect Pastor, D. Thomas Owsley, p. 440).

God’s servant leaders are never allowed to be abusive

At the same time, the manner in which godly “leadership” is exercised is very clear in the Bible. By the way, the Bible never refers to God's "leaders" as leaders. It uses a variety of other terms instead, such as shepherd or servant. Here is how undershepherds, pastors, elders are supposed to use God's delegated authority:

1. From a motivation of love (John 21:16).
     a. Making appeals from love for Christ’s sake (Philemon 8-9).
     b. With compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14).
     c. Sacrificially, willingness to lay down their lives for the sheep (John 10:11,15).
2. With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26).
3. With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17).
4. Voluntarily as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2).
5. Examples as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:3).
6. Guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28) .

They are to be models to the rest of the Church and examples to the world for what God expects of those in positions of authority. By clear inference, anyone in a role of authority, including husbands and parents must follow suit. Therefore, a Christian husband must exercise what very limited but delegated authority he has

1. From a motivation of love (John 21:16; Eph. 5:25, 28; Col. 3:19).
     a. Making appeals from love for Christ’s sake (Philemon 8-9).
     b. With compassion for distressed wife or family (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; 1 Cor. 7:3; Eph. 5; Col. 1 Pet. 3;  Jas.5:14).
     c. Sacrificial willingness to lay down their lives for his wife or children (John 10:11,15; Eph. 5).
2. With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26; eg: 1 Pet. 3:7).
3. With a watchful care (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17).
4. Voluntarily as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2).
5. Godly examples (2 Thess. 3:7-9; 1 Pet. 5:3).
6. Guarding himself, his wife, and family (Acts 20:28).

Of course, the perfect example for how those with godly authority must lead is Jesus. Read through the Gospel accounts and you will gain clear insights in how Christ led others.

Something to consider

Now, with regard to a husband’s so-called authority or leadership, I have two questions for you: Taking it from the Bible (1) What authority does the husband have? and (2) How does a husband exercise any so-called authority? 

Take note, the Bible is very clear that the husband can instruct, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all patience and gentleness. However, he must NEVER ever lord it over or be coercive toward his wife and children.

- Dr. Don Owsley


What do you think? If you need help sorting out this matter of abuse in your marriage or family, contact me and let’s find ways to get further clarity and learn how to elevate your relationships.

Here is a PDF of this article: What About this Matter of Abuse?