The Bible has many stories about relationships and some of them were abusive. You may be familiar with the story of Joseph and what his brothers did to him. In 1 Samuel, we read about Nabal and how he treated David abusively, and of King Saul and how he abusively spoke to his son Jonathan. In Judges, we read about how Delilah abused Samson. What makes their actions abusive?
We’ll look at what abuse actually is, how we can identify it in a relationship, and how God wants us to treat one another.
What Is Abuse?
The word abuse means to use improperly or in a wrong way. It also means to treat someone or something in a harmful, or offensive way.
There are different kinds of abuse — verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, financial, mental, psychological, etc.
Abuse causes harm or injury to a person.
Insults are abusive. Harsh words are abusive. Yelling at someone is abusive. Rape and sexual assault are abusive. Attacking someone physically is abusive.
Abuse isn’t always easily recognized though. Deception is a form of abuse, which is how many suffer in abusive relationships unawares. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, please know you are not alone: The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be found here.
How to Identify Abuse
Abusive tactics in relationships are meant to control by attacking the self-worth of the other. This is seen in many ways. Before we address physical and sexual abuse, we’ll look at four that affect other areas mentioned above.
One is through humiliation, negating, and criticizing. This is how Nabal treated David who had been anointed king. Nabal insulted and dismissed him by saying, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse?” belittling, and publicly embarrassing him.
Other ways this type of abuse is played out include name-calling, yelling, patronizing, using derogatory names, joking that isn’t joking, sarcasm, put-downs of who you are, what you do, or how you look.
The second is through controlling and shaming. King Saul was ashamed of his son Jonathan for being friends with David (who was anointed to be king) and tried to control him by speaking words of shame over him.
Other ways this type of abuse is played out include threatening, lecturing, secretly monitoring your whereabouts, angry outbursts of yelling or leaving the room in a huff, commanding orders and demanding compliance, making decisions for you, online digital control or spying, pretending to be helpless and making demands of you, financially controlling and withholding, gaslighting, and treating you like a child.
The third is through denial, shifting blame, and accusing. In the relationship between Samson and Delilah, we find deceit on Delilah’s part.
Samson was being played and didn’t know it. She accused him of not loving her because he wasn’t revealing the secret of his strength. The Bible says because her nagging vexed him to death he told her his secret, and it cost him dearly.
Other ways this type of abuse is played out include unrealistic jealousy, trivializing or accusing you of overreacting, denial of their abuse, guilt trips, breaking something of yours and then denying it, not taking ownership of their problems but blaming you instead, saying their behavior is your fault, and telling you to lighten up when they pick on you.
The fourth we’ll look at is emotional isolation and neglect. We can see this in the life of Joseph with what his brothers did to him. Because they were jealous of him, they were going to kill him but decided instead to throw him in a pit (sounds like solitary confinement).
But it got even worse as one of the brothers had the bright idea to sell him to some Ishmaelites that were passing by separating Joseph from his father who loved him.
Other ways this type of abuse is played out include withholding affection, ignoring you, tell you what you think and feel is wrong, belittle your emotions and call you oversensitive and needy, show no concern for your hurts, silent treatment, make their needs your priority, keep you from those who support and encourage you, and tell lies about you to others to create separation.
When it comes to physical and sexual abuse, it might seem obvious to identify it as hitting, kicking, rape, molestation, and such. But what makes it difficult to deal with is that it is often coupled with one or more of the four ways mentioned above.
Even with all these examples, and terms, these are more ways that humanity has found to abuse one another. This brings us to how God wants us to treat one another.
How We Are to Treat One Another
God has made it simple for us in submitting everything under the love command.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another(John 13:34-35).
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you(John 15:12).
However, due to the brokenness of humanity, we may not know what love really looks like, or how love is to act. Thankfully, the Bible has multiple ways to help us understand. The first way is something we refer to as “The Golden Rule.”
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31).
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12)
Still, we need more help to understand so there are scriptures that give greater detail even speaking to things we find quite difficult — like forgiveness and loving our enemies.
Bible Verses on How to Love
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles (Proverbs 24:17).
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:17-88).
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you(Ephesians 4:29-32).
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22).
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor(Romans 12:10).
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:1-2).
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing(1 Peter 3:8-9).
Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back(Proverbs 29:11).
What Love Truly Looks Like
There are many, many more scriptures to help us understand what it looks like to walk in love. But perhaps the most important thing to know is God knows we can’t do this without him, so he provided all that we need. He is our source of love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
For further reading:
The Bible and Emotional Abuse
How Do We Show Love to Toxic People?
What Are Biblical Reasons for Divorce?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/fizkes
Danielle Bernockis an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s writtenEmerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn,Love’s Manifesto,Because You Matter, and hosts theVictorious Souls Podcast. A long-time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren.For more information or to connect with Daniellehttps://www.daniellebernock.com/