Abuse: Domestic Violence and a Call to Repentance

This post recently appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Blog.

One of the reasons I believe biblical counseling can be an effective response to domestic abuse is our emphasis on the biblical principle of putting off and putting on. If a man who has made abusive choices claims to be a believer, then it is required of us within the church to call him to repentance by holding him accountable to completely abandon the wickedness of abuse and embrace a new and better way. Simply put, when we are striving to promote change, we must not only call the counselee to cease the destructive behavior, but also to replace it with God-honoring behavior. The end result of this confrontation should produce either evidence (fruit) of repentance or confirm his unbelief and the need for continued consequences.

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 clenching 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? What are we looking for that will evidence the new patterns of repentance? 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 in 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 seeks the well-being of the other and does so 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, consistent long-term accountability, and concrete goals designed to measure movement.

More specifically, we can highlight an abusive man’s behavior, contrast that with Scripture, and through the process craft and call him to biblical alternatives. While there are a multiplicity of passages we could reference, here are a few examples from my book, The Heart of Domestic Abuse.

From Violence to Gentleness

We can encourage men who have used violence to participate in a variety of God-honoring alternatives, but one area we can highlight is gentleness. I have encountered many men who cringe at the thought of engaging in gentle responses to challenging circumstances, and yet that encouragement is offered consistently in Scripture 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” (Matt. 11:29).

  • As a result of the Spirit’s work: “But the fruit of the Spirit is…  gentleness” (Gal. 5:22-23).

  • As a requirement for leadership: “…not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1Tim. 3:30); “…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” (Eph. 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” (Matt. 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” (Col. 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 wife, and attempts to mislead 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” (Eph. 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” (Eph. 4:25).

It has been said that the greatest indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change is 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 engage in confrontational ministry that holds abusive men accountable and calls them to repentance.

Questions for Reflection

Are you and your church equipped to engage in confrontational ministry? Have you considered continued education in the area of domestic violence intervention and prevention?

Rev. Chris Moles (M.A.B.C.) is a Certified Biblical Counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC). He is also a certified group facilitator in domestic violence intervention and prevention. Chris is the author of The Heart of Domestic Abuse; Gospel Solutions for Men Who Use Violence and Control in the Home and founder of PeaceWorks University, a membership website that exists to help train, commission, and support biblical counselors and others to address the problem of domestic violence with the gospel of peace.

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