Abusive behavior can often be so damaging and graphic that people helpers who genuinely seek to intervene focus so much on seeing the abusive behavior end that they fail to champion the need for new, behaviors to take their place. The Bible offers us clear instruction regarding the process of change through the means of putting off and putting on.
Simply put, when we are striving to change we must not only cease the destructive behavior but replace it with more God-honoring behavior.
Let’s say we have a man who consistently yells at his wife, and as we question him we uncover additional practices of intimidation such as body language, pounding his fist on the table, and threatening gestures such as clinching his fist. We establish that he wants his wife to conform, give in, so badly that he is willing to scare her to do it. His pride has led him to value getting his way over treating his wife properly. Certainly we want him to put off the intimidating behavior, but what can we ask him to put on for the glory of God? We realize the need to confront him with passages such as Ephesians 5:25-33 to address his lack of Christ-like love, and Colossians 3:19 dealing with the harsh treatment of his wife. Instead of causing his wife fear in order to control her we call the intimidating man to love his wife in such a way that she is not only no longer fearful, but safe, sane, and secure.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18.
Passages of scripture such as this remind us that love opposes fear and instead love seeks the well-being of the other, and pursues such with patience and kindness, not intimidation and fear. As such we should expect the man who once intimidated to now be intentional in regards to expressing love and safety.
Note: This takes time.
I’m not suggesting that a single blog post, counseling session, or confrontation will suddenly produce Christ-like love. Moving from intimidation to Christ-like love will require hard work, accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.
More specifically we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior and through the process call him to alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few example from my book The Heart of Domestic Abuse.
From Violence to Gentleness:
We can encourage men who use violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many a man who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently as an alternative to violence.
- As a matter of following Jesus
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29.
- As a result of the Spirit’s work
“But the fruit of the Spirit is… gentleness.” Galatians 5:22-23.
- As a requirement for leadership
“not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” 1Timothy 3:3.
“to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” Titus 3:3.
From Ridicule to Encouragement:
Words are powerful and the venom of verbal abuse seeps into the spirit of its victim. This behavior is not consistent with the person of Christ, or the people he has called us to be. Scripture admonishes us to speak words of truth, and life into those we communicate with.
- As a means of building others up
“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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:29-30.
- As evidence of holiness
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” Matthew 15:18-20.
- As a means of practicing wisdom
“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:5-6.
From Minimization, Denial, and Blame to Truth:
Truth and a willingness to speak honestly are key components within the Christian life. Deception and misleading behavior are valuable tools to the abusive man who consistently deceives himself, lies to his spouse, and attempts to misled everyone else. He is a master of manipulation and that must stop, and truth must come forth.
- As a means of accountability
“ Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15.
- As a means of sanctification
“ Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17.
- As a matter of obedience
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “ Ephesians 4:25.
From Economic Abuse to Stewardship:
All that we have is God’s and as such he has entrusted us as stewards to manage our possessions wisely. Unfortunately withholding resources is a tremendously useful tool for an abusive man. He must understand the evil nature of such actions and embrace a God-honoring approach to resources in which he attempts to honor God through provision, and generosity.
- As evidence of his salvation
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”1Timothy 5:8.
- As a means of acknowledging God’s sovereignty
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16.
- As a means of care and provision for his family
“ In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.” Ephesians 5:28-29.
It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is therefore a difficult, some would say impossible, unless we use the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without intervention, it is rare to see the kind of significant heart, desire, and behavior changes we are calling for. It is all the more imperative that we as leaders and people helpers engaged in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.