Healing from Spiritual Abuse         God & Abuse         Spiritual Abusers Identified

Spiritual Abuse: Its Cause & Cure

By Grantley Morris

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Understanding Spiritual Abuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spiritual Abusers Identified

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Healing from Spiritual Abuse

Victims of spiritual abuse stand in holy company. The eternal Son of God, like the prophets before him, was not only the victim of malicious gossip and hate from spiritual leaders, they arranged his death.

Though unmistakable in Jesus’ case, it is appallingly possible to be a victim of spiritual abuse without even realizing it. It is terrifyingly easier, however, to be an offender without realizing it.

Jesus, the defender of all abuse victims, said it well:

    John 8:7  . . . If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone . . .

    Luke 6:42  . . . first take the plank out of your eye . . .

Despite the danger of exposing ourselves to judgment, most of us are far more concerned about the healing of our own hurts than discovering how to avoid unintentionally hurting others. Nevertheless, as medical researchers must study the cause in order to find the cure, our investigation of the nature of spiritual abuse will reveal ways to heal it.

The first stage in developing a cure is learning how to diagnose the affliction. This where the healing begins.

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What is Spiritual Abuse?

In Christian Definition of Spiritual Abuse I define spiritual abuse this way:

    Spiritual abuse is wrongly giving the impression that God approves, while doing something that ends up harming the victim physically, emotionally or spiritually. Sadly, it is rampant everywhere and is often not deliberate. What makes spiritual abuse particularly despicable is that it is claiming, or implying, divine approval for acting in a way that grieves God. The result not only blackens God’s name but hurts people who are dear to him – and everyone is dear to the God who is love.

Obtaining a definition, however, is the bare beginning. By itself, defining the problem will do little more to ensure the detection of spiritual abuse than defining cancer as “the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells” ensures we can detect cancer in time to prevent it from killing us. Our definition is just a base camp from which to launch essential exploratory expeditions to discover how to identify each of the many forms spiritual abuse takes. To have much chance of detecting spiritual abuse, and of understanding why it is so prevalent, most of us need to develop a deeper understanding of people and – even more critical – a much deeper understanding of God. We have quite an adventure ahead of us.

On our discovery expeditions we will uncover little-understood, but critically important, biblical facts about spiritual abuse. We will come face to face with how alarmingly vulnerable each of us is, not just to abuse, but to actually becoming spiritual abusers ourselves with no idea of the devastation we cause. We tread on fearfully holy ground. Our Lord’s loving heart is torn by our pain. He passionately longs not only to comfort us but to avenge us, and yet love-fired justice requires him to be equally severe when we end up hurting others and fail to see our own need to repent. We have a God who is eager to forgive, heal and restore, however, and eager to transform horrors and terrifyingly dangerous ungodly attacks into blessings that boost us, fill us with honor and increase our Christlikeness. As we keep close to him, the Lord who leads us in triumph will keep us safe.

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Like other forms of abuse, spiritual abuse can range from minor to severe, and victims might suffer horrifically without even recognizing it as abuse. They could, for instance, be fooled by their abusers into thinking it is entirely the victim’s fault. They can end up so riddled with guilt and self-blame or confusion and/or so manipulated by their abusers that to them the perpetrators seem innocent. Also like other forms of abuse, those who have not been victims rarely understand just how devastating it is and how difficult it is to recover from.

We have already noted that our pefect Role Model frequently suffered spiritual abuse. For example, religious authorities often falsely accused our Savior of sin. They called him a glutton and a drunk, alleged he broke the Sabbath, attacked him for allowing his disciples to eat without ceremonial washing, pronounced him guilty of blasphemy for claiming to forgive someone’s sin, and so on (Scriptures). From theologians to common folk, God-fearing Bible-believing people not only accused the Son of God of being out of his mind, they even accused him time and time again of being demon possessed (Scriptures). And, of course, the religious elite bribed one of his closest friends, tried him for blasphemy using false witnesses, pronounced him guilty, and arranged for his torture and execution. We can be as thick as a molasses sandwich and still realize that being tortured to death would be rather unpleasant. Except for those who have been on the receiving end, however, few of us realize what deep emotional wounds false accusations from respected people can cause.

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Spiritual Harm?

Whilst physical harm is easy to identify and understand, emotional harm is harder to define. Spiritual harm, however, can seem still vaguer. Even well-meant actions can end up damaging someone else’s walk with God. Some people actually give up on God because they mistakenly believe that someone’s misguided actions mean that God has rejected them and that trying to serve him is therefore futile. Some conclude that God must not be worthy of worship; that he is not good and loving but must be heartless, arrogant and unjust, like their abusers who claim to represent him.

To deepen our understanding of spiritual harm, let’s visit a concrete example in the Word of God. To minimize your reading, I will prune the quotes but all of the condensed text provided needs to be read.

The quotes address an era when many Christians were from a Jewish background; having it drummed into them from infancy that certain foods were unclean. In addition, it was hard to get meat except from markets in which the animals had first been sacrificed to false gods. Using such meat, simply because it is food, is not sin. It becomes sin, however, should one eat it because it had been offered to an idol i.e. because one believes in those gods and is seeking some spiritual benefits from them, or eating despite believing that doing so is sinning against the true God. It is a case where everything hinges on one’s motives and beliefs.

Although this specific situation rarely occurs in modern western society, the danger of one’s behavior leading to spiritual abuse is as high today as it was back then. So let’s examine these Scriptures. A spiritual abuser does not follow these divine instructions:

    Romans 14:1,4,10,13,15,20-15:2 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. . . . Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. . . . Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. . . . If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. . . . Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. . . . We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Emphasis mine.)

In the above, we find reference to stumbling and falling. Without considering the context, we cannot know if these words refer to something that is merely unpleasant or to tripping and hurtling over a cliff to be smashed to death on the rocks below:

    Matthew 21:44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.

So let’s dig deeper into Paul’s words. The consequences of stumbling are not described in terms of scraping one’s knee or breaking one’s leg but to an infinitely more serious tragedy. This passage does not say the victims merely received a spiritual setback or were spiritually wounded. As serious as that might be, it goes way beyond that. It says they were destroyed. That must be about the strongest possible word to describe damage inflicted upon someone. And Scripture applies this word not just once, but twice above, plus a third time in a similar passage below. Besides meaning destroyed, the Greek word used here means killed or ruined and often it is used to describe the catastrophic and spiritually hopeless condition of those who are cut off from God and are therefore spiritually dead (see Biblical Examples of the Use of the Word). Alongside Paul’s language, abuse is too mild a term. The inspired apostle’s strong language indicates that he is referring to annihilation – spiritual murder. This is not like an obviously atrocious situation where a lust-filled Christian sets out to seduce another Christian into sexual sin, and yet the result is equally devastating.

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Here’s a scary thought: Sheep tend to follow not just their shepherd, but other sheep. The passage we have been examining makes no mention of people with official church roles. It is proof that an ordinary Christian – not just someone in leadership – can end up spiritually “destroying” another Christian, even by doing something that of itself is morally acceptable. That’s terrifying – especially in the light of Jesus’ words:

    Matthew 18:6 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. (Emphasis mine.)

There is a close connection between these words of Jesus and Paul’s dissertation. Not only is Jesus referring to believers who end up falling into sin because of the actions of others, in the original Greek of Jesus’ statement, “causes . . . to sin” is the same word Paul used in the following Scriptures:

    Romans 14:21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

    1 Corinthians 8:13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

    2 Corinthians 11:29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (Emphasis mine.)

And the same Greek word used below for “cause people to sin”:

    Luke 17:1  . . . Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.

is used in these Scriptures:

    Matthew 13:41-42 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Romans 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (Emphasis mine.)

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Crystal Clear

Let’s consolidate our findings by considering other Scriptures about eating questionable food. My own comments are in square brackets:

    1 Corinthians 8:1-2,4,7,9,11-12; 9:19,22; 10:32-11:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. . . . So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. . . . But not everyone knows this. . . . Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. . . . So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. [The Christians who are destroyed might be weak and lacking in spiritual knowledge but this makes them no less precious to God.]  . . . Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. . . . To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. . . . Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (Emphasis and comments mine.)

Spiritual knowledge is of immense value and yet it is frighteningly easy to let the slightest trace of selfish arrogance adulterate this precious gift of God and unintentionally misuse one’s superior spiritual insight; applying it in a way that ends up not just hurting but “destroying” spiritually vulnerable Christians. This is often so unintended that we can be totally oblivious to the devastation we have wreaked. Such abusers – and we are all in grave danger of becoming one – can end up feeling even more superior when the weaker Christian falls away. In their self-righteousness, abusers often have no idea that God holds them accountable for the grim consequences of their arrogant abuse of spiritual knowledge. Even more alarming: not seeing oneself as being at fault prevents one from repenting before Judgment Day.

The offenders Paul wrote about were more knowledgeable, more doctrinally correct, spiritually stronger and, as explained in Romans 14:1-2, had greater faith. Nevertheless, the God we serve is not only the God of truth but the God of love. Like the devout Pharisees who tithed so rigorously (Luke 11:42), they neglected what drives the heart of God – selfless love that powers passionate concern for the sensitivities and vulnerabilities of others. We desperately need the heart of Christ:

    Isaiah 42:3 A bruised reed [something of no apparent use] he will not break, and a smoldering wick [not only apparently useless but a source of irritation] he will not snuff out.

    Isaiah 40:11,29  . . . He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. . . . He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

    Isaiah 61:1-3 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me . . . to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve . . .

    Psalms 103:14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

    Psalms 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

    Jeremiah 30:17 ‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD, ‘because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.’

    Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Comments mine.)

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Implications for Today

Causing offense by what one eats has not been a hot issue for many Christians since the first century. The Word of God gives much space to this matter, however, because the principle – the critical importance of avoiding anything that could offend a fellow believer – is as relevant today as it ever was. A vast range of behaviors can cause us to “destroy” people spiritually. The most common instances occur when a person is deeply hurting and so is unusually vulnerable.

As a constant reminder, people should be born with huge stickers permanently stuck on their foreheads screaming, “FRAGILE! Handle With Care!!!” There are times when the average person is more sensitive than most of us can conceive, and a few words can wreak more devastation than we dare imagine. During these times, people are emotionally as if they had huge open wounds: the slightest well-intentioned touch can send them reeling. Avoiding such people is a big temptation, especially when one is wise enough to fear doing or saying the wrong thing. Unfortunately, backing off from people at their most vulnerable time can not only tortuously intensify their pain; it can make them resentful of Christians and even cause some to fall away spiritually.

When feeling down, people desperately need the warm support of Spirit-filled people who are brimming with the full gamut of the Spirit’s exquisite fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Each of these invaluable virtues is essential and deserves special attention but this webpage is already growing long. I am compelled, however, to spend a few words on joy.

It is joy that gives us the strength we need to keep on going. In even bleak, icy conditions it steadies us from skidding into the depression and discouragement that would cripple our ability to be the support the person needs. When activated by love, it empowers us to light up at the sight of the person with the dreary life and to joyfully – not begrudgingly – “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

Especially with people who are hurting, however, it is vital that we display this precious quality with biblical wisdom. The Word of God insists that outward manifestations of joy need to be tempered by sensitivity and empathy. Meditate on these Scriptures until the full implications sink deep into your spirit:

    Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

    1 Corinthians 12:26 If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it

    Hebrews 13:3 Remember those  . . . who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

    Ecclesiastes 3:4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance

    Proverbs 25:20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day . . . is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. (Emphasis and comments mine.)

We must not “become weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9). People who are hurting might need extra support not for days or weeks but possibly for years. We must not self-righteously think, “they should be over it by now.” That would be displaying our own failure to have Christlike patience.

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Tragically, whilst backing off from people with problems can cause untold harm, the same devastating result can flow from well-meant words of advice that are biblically correct but on that specific occasion are not Spirit-led. It might initially seem beyond belief that kind-hearted attempts to advise a hurting Christian could end up causing untold emotional and spiritual harm, but it happens tragically often. Let’s consider some Scriptural instances.

An example of a well-intentioned comment that could have had cataclysmic results is Simon Peter exclaiming, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” when Jesus spoke of his suffering. I’m sure it was devout love for Jesus that drove Peter to utter those words. Had Jesus been swayed by Peter’s passionate plea, however, Christ would not have suffered for the sins of the world and we would all have been doomed. Jesus responded to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me . . .” (Matthew 16:23). The word here translated “stumbling block” is used in the passage we have quoted from Romans 14 about tripping up a believer by misusing one’s superior spiritual knowledge about food offered to idols.

Job’s godly friends are another obvious example of good intentions turning poisonous. Despite trying so hard to honor God and help their friend they ended up grossly offending God (Job 42:7-8) by adding to Job’s torment. Like most of us – including Peter in the previous example – they were too quick to judge when someone’s experience did not fit their neatly-packed theology. There was so much truth in what they said that 1 Corinthians cites as authoritative Scriptural truth what one of these friends said (Scriptures).

As staggering as it seems that godly people could use an excellent grasp of spiritual truth in a way that provokes God’s wrath by hurting godly people, it is exactly what we saw earlier, with Christians using their superior doctrinal knowledge to spiritually “destroy” Christians who are needlessly sensitive about certain food. We also saw in Paul’s dealing with this matter warnings about the terrifying dangers of judging people (Reminder).

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With our understanding of life’s spiritual complexities being tinier than almost all of us realize, we stand in constant danger of becoming like a butcher who thinks his training qualifies him to be a backyard brain surgeon. There will be no shortage of misguided people who feel duty-bound to sink the boot into anyone so “unspiritual” as to act like the vast number of people revered in the Bible who shed tears instead of wearing fake smiles when pain or tragedy strikes (see Real Christians Grieve at the end of this webpage). There will always be know-alls who seem to think Christians should be more Spirit-filled than the apostle Paul who, despite concerted prayer, remained afflicted by his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The church will have its share of self-appointed critics who read in Scripture’s Faith Gallery of those who, “. . . went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated . . . They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38) and yet still think every Christian suffering trials or hardship must be lacking faith. There will be no shortage of Christians eager to display their inexperience by stoning you with Scriptures and platitudes as if you were too ignorant to have already heroically tried to apply all the pat answers. You will keep finding Christians who act like couch potatoes quick to give an opinion of elite sportsmen despite never having played the sport in their lives.

We will join their ranks unless we flee advice-giving as we would a deadly temptation, and use words as sparingly as a miser.

    James 1:26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

James tried to tell us how dangerous our words are when he said our tongues are like a tiny spark that can ignite a wildfire, wiping out vast areas of forest (James 3:5-6). We need to handle our words like an unstable bomb strapped to our bodies that at any moment could blow our heads off and rip apart everyone within earshot.

Don’t suppose I’m being melodramatic. In addition to what God said through James about the devastating power of the tongue, and Paul saying we have the power to destroy Christians by doing seemingly innocuous things, Jesus declared that on Judgment Day we will have to account for every careless word (Matthew 12:36). He taught that “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell,” (Matthew 5:22) and that death by drowning is preferable to abusing the gift of life by using it as an opportunity to cause someone to fall into sin (Mark 9:42). “The tongue has the power of life and death,” (Proverbs 18:21).

We try too hard to help people with our mouths; overvaluing what we can say and undervaluing what we can do.

    1 John 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

    James 2:15-16 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

We feel too pressured to come up with answers and too lazy to provide practical help; too keen to flap our gums and too reluctant to offer a hug, a meal and genuine companionship. We are too fast at pointing the finger and too slow at lending a hand; too quick to quote the Bible at others and too slow to live it ourselves; too eager to act superior and too proud to weep with those who weep.

    1 John 3:17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

    Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

    1 Thessalonians 5:15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

    Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

    Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

    1 Timothy 6:18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

    Matthew 25:41-43,45 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ . . . ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Keep your trap shut!” is not just a common expression; our mouths often really are a trap. “Set a guard over my mouth,” prayed the psalmist (Psalms 141:3). When we do open our mouths, however, what falls out must be as gentle as floating feathers, as soothing as ointment and as comforting as satin pillows. Our hearts need to be as resilient as rubber but they must also be warm havens, as soft as down and as sensitive as a silken spider’s thread.

    Colossians 4:6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt . . .

    Ephesians 4:29 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.

    Proverbs 16:23 A wise man’s heart guides his mouth . . .

    Proverbs 15:4 The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life . . .

    Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.(Emphasis mine.)

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Here are three closely related, insidiously seductive temptations: pride, self-righteousness and thinking ourselves better than others. These tempations are so dangerously intoxicating as to make death preferable to falling into them. Any of them can delude us so terrifyingly that, like Job’s friends, we can end up working for Satan while gleefully convinced we are delighting God. To avoid our own spiritual calamity, we desperately need to live the following Scriptures:

    Philippians 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

    Matthew 23:8-12 But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. . . . Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

    James 4:12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?

    James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

    Job 6:14 To him who is about to . . . despair, kindness is due from his friend, lest he forsake the fear of the Almighty. (Amplified Bible)

    Philippians 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. . . .

    1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

    Proverbs 19:11 A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

    1 Corinthians 13:7 Love . . . is ever ready to believe the best of every person . . . (Amplified Bible)

    Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

    Proverbs 10:19 When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

    James 1:19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

    Proverbs 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

    Proverbs 17:14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

    Hebrews 12:14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men . . .

Knowing spiritual truth is not enough; unless it is humbly applied in godly love, gentleness and wisdom, enormous harm could result. “If I . . . can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,  . . . but have not love, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

It is vital that we learn how to prevent attempts to comfort people from ending in spiritual disaster. For much more help on this topic see How to Comfort the Hurting (a link appears at the end of this webpage) but for now, let’s move on.

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The Horror of “Friendly Fire”

As someone who has supported vast numbers of sexual abuse survivors, I find many parallels between sexual abuse and spiritual abuse. I am sadly aware that it is not just adult males who have the potential to be child molesters. Despite it being rarely publicized, sexual abusers of little children can sometimes be other children or their own mothers. Little children are often excused for their sexual activity because they have little awareness of the consequences but that does not lessen the damage they are capable of inflicting. Likewise, not just influential Christians, but anyone can become a spiritual abuser. In fact, most of us have at some time been a spiritual abuser without realizing it, and the more we act as if we have spiritual knowledge, the more likely it is that we could end up spiritually abusing someone. This is why we read:

    James 3:1-2 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. . . .

This is not merely saying we need to be cautious about accepting an official church role: we “presume to be teachers” whenever we give the slightest spiritual advice to fellow believers.

Tragically, spiritual abusers not only claim to be doing what is right, they often sincerely believe it. Unfortunately, sincerity does not lessen the harm done.

Over and over, the Bible says we are at war (Examples). One of the features of warfare is what is sometimes called friendly fire – soldiers convinced they are heroically fighting the enemy when they are actually attacking with deadly force people on their own side. What makes this such a tragedy is that they are mistakenly killing and maiming people who, if only they knew, they would give their lives to protect. Then there is what is sometimes called collateral damage – innocent people unintentionally killed or wounded by attempts to fight the enemy. Tragic accident, perhaps, but the result can be just as deadly as if it were intentional. Those not understanding the confusion of war and the deceit of the enemy might find it inconceivable that they could ever be guilty of such an atrocious blunder. People think this way not because they are superior but simply because they are naïve.

The equivalent of these aspects of war accounts for a huge proportion of spiritual abuse. All of us sincere, fallible Christians are quite capable of becoming so confused that we hurt others and remain quite oblivious of our grave error.

What escalates friendly fire to an even more devastating level is if those fired upon assume that whoever is attacking them must be the enemy and fight back. If others have mistakenly attacked you, please resist the instinctive urge to fight back. That would double the tragedy and make you as guilty as the offenders.

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Scary Thought

To be hurt by an unbeliever can send us reeling but to be hurt by a fellow believer is even more devastating. It is to be ambushed by a betrayal on the level of what Jesus suffered at the hands of his follower and intimate friend, Judas. If you have suffered this, you have not just witnessed an appalling abuse of power, you have been a victim, like an unsuspecting lamb suddenly torn apart by a vicious wolf wickedly disguised as a harmless sheep. If you have been attacked like this without filling with anger, you must still be in shock. Moreover, regardless of how little you realize it, you are infinitely precious to God. That anyone should hurt you infuriates God – and even more so that someone should act in the name of Jesus in a manner that is so atrociously contrary to the heart of God. The terrifying extent of God’s love-fired anger at such an act is implied in Scriptures already cited:

    Matthew 13:41-42 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Luke 17:1-2  . . . Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. (Emphasis mine.)

This situation, however, ignites the immense danger of us judging and resenting others for spiritual abuse when we ourselves have also been guilty of this offense. Most likely, the only difference is that our offense took a slightly different form that, blinded by our own hypocrisy, we consider to be more excusable. As much as we long to lash out at others in self-righteous fury, we must remain in holy fear of God’s warning:

    Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

    Matthew 7:3 Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

    Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself . . .

    1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

    James 4:11  . . . Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it . . .

Our loving Lord is not only our divine avenger, but justice and fairness force him to become the avenger of those who we end up hurting as we thrash about in our own pain and ignorance. It is tragically common, for example, for abuse victims to end up shunning or lashing out at other Christians and by so doing become spiritual abusers themselves and establish entire cycles of abuse.

It is only right that divine forgiveness of our own offenses hinges on our willingness to forgive those who have sinned against us. Never is it God’s answer to guilt to say that someone is even more culpable than you, therefore you are innocent. God’s answer is to say that only one Person in all human history is totally innocent and he suffered the full punishment for the sins of every person who acknowledges how desperately he/she needs forgiveness.

* * *

Minor Abuse?

Another biblical example of spiritual abuse is the formerly blind man who was banned from the synagogue (Scriptures). That must be about Seven on the Richter Scale of obvious spiritual abuse, but note how seriously God in his Word takes what we might be tempted to dismiss as an almost inconsequential incident:

    James 2:1-4,8-9 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  . . . If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (Emphasis mine.)

To understand why such a seemingly minor event offends Almighty God so deeply, we have to better understand the heart of God. Humanity’s Eternal Judge sees things alarmingly different from us:

    1 Samuel 16:7  . . . The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

    Proverbs 16:2 All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD.

    Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.

    Luke 16:15  . . . You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

    John 8:15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.

    Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

To have any chance of understanding God’s heart for Christians we might think are insignificant, we need to take very seriously the following biblical teaching. You are no doubt familiar with it but my prayer is that you re-read it with fresh eyes:

    1 Corinthians 12:12-27 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. . . . If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. . . . But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. [Your hair receives more attention than your liver, but which is more important?] And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (Comments mine.)

The most powerful ministry is probably intercession. And heaven’s greatest earth-based intercessor could be the pew-warmer you snubbed at church last Sunday.

In the short term, evil has its fling, but we live in a universe in which ultimately the first ends up last, the exalted are humbled and the lowly are lifted high. We serve a Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost one (Luke 15); who rejoices that God has hidden spiritual truths from the intellectuals and theologians and revealed them to the unlearned (Matthew 11:25). The Almighty delights in bypassing those considered smart, cool, sexy and powerful, in order to give preference to those everyone overlooks (1 Corinthians 1:18-29). In Scripture, the socially and/or economically disadvantaged – widows, orphans and foreigners – are repeatedly singled out as recipients of God’s care and attention:

    Deuteronomy 10:18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

(Many more such Scriptures.)

If anyone has a heart for the rejected, it is the Son of God. He himself is the “stone the builders rejected” (Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:4). As I have written elsewhere:

    It was the common people who heard this Man gladly (Mark 12:37). And it was from their ranks that he hand-picked the ones to fire the world with his glory. He chose hotheads with provincial accents, a tax man – a small-time turncoat any self-respecting citizen would spit on – and logheads with the stench of fish on their callused hands.

    Christ was continually aware of the invisible people, whether it was a despised tax collector peering through the leaves (Luke 19:2-9), or an unclean woman pressing through the throng (Luke 8:43-48); a wild-eyed madman in the Decapolis back-blocks (Luke 8:27-33); a grieving widow (Luke 7:11-15), or a luckless loner at the pool (John 5:2 ff); a sightless misfit, or a stinking leper; a cripple, or a mute. To a tired and hungry Jesus, befriending a spurned woman – giving hope to a Samaritan living in shame – was more important than food (John 4:7 ff). Society’s rejects warmed his heart.

    It seemed wherever there was a paltry act of kindness you’d find religious people simmering with contempt, and Jesus glowing with admiration. A pauper slipping a pittance into the offering, (Mark 12:41-44) a street woman’s pathetic washing of his feet, (Luke 7:36-50) a boy’s fish sandwiches, (John 6:9-11) thrilled him. Mary just sat on the floor in rapt attention. That was enough to fill him with praise (Luke 10:39-42).

    Jesus was forever shocking his observers by selecting non-entities for special attention. Society saw a dirty beggar, a nauseating blotch on the neighborhood, a curiosity for theological debate (is it right to heal on the Sabbath? who sinned, he or his parents?), Jesus saw a worthy recipient of his powerful love; a precious work of God brimming with beauty, dignity and heart-wrenching need; someone to die for (John 9:1 ff). While crowds turned up their noses, he poured out his heart. The masses tried to silence blind Bartimeus, the loud-mouthed groveler (Mark 10:46-52). They sneered at Zacchaeus, the money-grubbing runt who soon towered over them by displaying exceptional generosity (Luke 19:2-8). His followers wanted to push aside snotty children (Mark 10:13-16). They opposed the Canaanite lowlife whose incessant nagging was driving them to distraction (Matthew 15:23). No one could guess who Jesus would next honor. It was sure to be some faceless loser they had not even noticed, or an embarrassing nuisance they wished would skulk away.

    Jesus came to show us the Father (John 14:9). Today, the religious world still looks at the big names, while God treasures the ‘unknowns’. He delights to endow with eternal grandeur their simple acts of service.

And anyone not displaying his heart towards the “least” of his brethren is a spiritual abuser hurtling towards a divine confrontation (Matthew 25:41-46).

* * *

Breaking God’s Heart “In the Name of Jesus”

Almost any form of unchristlike behavior has the potential to become spiritual abuse, not only if it is done in the name of Christ, but even if done by someone who is mistakenly seen by an observer as representing Christ. Whenever the offender claims to have divine approval or is viewed by others as being godly, every form of abuse has a spiritual dimension. This is all about the nature of abusers and nothing about the nature of God who, of course, is utterly opposed to any form of abuse.

For example, appalling amounts of marital abuse have been perpetuated by men blasphemously claiming that being “head” gives them the divine right to being utterly unchristlike. (There’s a link at the end of this page about this.). Similarly, I know of a child who, for no reason that she was ever able to discern, was mercilessly beaten night after night after night by her church-going mother and father while they played praise music and claimed to be following God’s directives as to how to raise children.

Throughout history, including modern times, wars have been declared, laws passed, and political decisions made that have turned God’s stomach and yet were done in the name of God or with the vocal support of people claiming to have his heart and values.

Like con artists, abusers who are aware of what they are doing feel many pressing reasons for going to great lengths to appear respectable, trustworthy, and even godly. Children, in particular, lack the ability to see through their deceit but, as we shall see later, Scripture warns that some deceivers can dupe very many people.

If an abuser tricks everyone into thinking he is an exemplary Christian (and hence a person of high integrity) he is much more likely to be granted access to vulnerable people. And the greater the illusion of respectability an abuser can concoct, the less likely it is that others will suspect what he is doing to his victims. Moreover, it enables him to manipulate his victims, causing them to think, “Everyone respects this person, so what he does to me must be acceptable, even though it doesn’t feel right.” Additionally, it is likely to silence victims, making them presume, “I’ll be labelled a liar if I tell anyone that such a respected person has treated me this way.”

Yet another force driving abusers to deceitfully claim that God is on their side is that they are often plagued with guilt over their atrocious behavior. In a desperate attempt to deflect that guilt, they typically keep telling their victims that the abuse is the victims’ fault. (A further reason is that victims who end up believing these false accusations will be even less likely to ever tell anyone.) Often it is because abusers are frantically trying to drown out the screams of their own guilty conscience that they end up maliciously and hypocritically trying to fabricate religious justification for behavior that disgusts God.

* * *

Understanding Spiritual Wounds

Whereas many physical wounds heal within a few months, emotional wounds can last a lifetime if they are not courageously faced and resolved. Spiritual wounds, however, are far more serious. They can ruin us for all eternity. This is why we saw earlier God’s Word using such strong language to describe the devastation they can cause.

On the other hand, whereas physical harm and a degree of emotional pain can sometimes be unavoidable, spiritual harm – letting someone trip us up in our walk with God – can be avoided, just as temptation is unavoidable but yielding to temptation can be avoided. Jesus, for instance, agonized emotionally over those who rejected him (Scriptures) and he was physically beaten and killed, but nothing anyone hurled at him shook his faith or his commitment to God.

It is sadly common for victims of any form of abuse to add to their torment by blaming themselves. I certainly do not want to inadvertently contribute to that. Your Lord was tortured to death precisely to relieve you of all blame. The eternal King of kings let Roman soldiers beat him up so that you would not beat yourself up. You owe it to God not to break your Savior’s heart and insult God’s holiness by treating yourself as if Jesus had not suffered enough pain and humiliation to cleanse you from all sin and shame. You have been so exalted and honored that you – yes you – are the very righteousness of God:

    2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, [though totally innocent, Jesus bore in his entire being the full consequences of our sin] so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (Comments mine.)

So I plead with you to stop offending God by beating yourself up over things God says are forgotten (Scriptures – if you still wrestle with forgiving yourself, there is a link at the end of this page for you). What I would like to do, however, is help you be less susceptible to the harm that spiritual abuse would otherwise cause.

For as long as you look to people, feelings or circumstances to verify spiritual truth, you will remain weak and vulnerable. If the Evil One knows you will be thrown by what happens to you or by what people say or do, he can twist you around his little finger just by influencing things around you. You are inviting him to attack because he knows his actions will keep you from trusting the Lord, who alone can defeat him.

It is hard to do but we should keep striving for the Apostle Paul’s perspective:

    1 Corinthians 4:3-4 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

When referring to “James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars [of the church](Galatians 2:9) he wrote:

    Galatians 2:9 As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance . . . (Emphasis mine.)

We leave ourselves wide open to people hurting us spiritually if we slip into idolizing them; unwittingly exalting them to the position that belongs to God alone. Put another way: we could miss out on so much comfort and insult the Infinite Lord by failing to adequately distinguish a puny, fallible human from the staggeringly perfect, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Creator of the entire cosmos. At first thought it would seem inconceivable that anyone could make such an enormous and fundamental mistake, and yet we unintentionally fall for it if ever we let the failings of someone claiming to be of God to cause us to doubt the perfection, goodness and love of the Exalted One.

Remember our earlier biblical quote about the church, each member of which is as intimate and important to Christ as his very body. The inspired text says that if any part feels so inferior that it does not even think itself part of the body, it still remains critically important to Christ and just as much part of the body (1 Corinthians 12:15-16). And no part can legitimately say, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:21).

* * *

A grasp of human psychology empowers us to understand why being hurt by people affects our walk with God. It is normal for fear to spread beyond the actual cause of harm to other things. For example, if a child suffered greatly from a snake bite, his instinctive reaction thereafter is to fear not just that specific snake or even that species of snake but also harmless snakes. He can even end up feeling uneasy about eels and large worms. Even though one might be intellectually convinced that certain snakelike creatures are harmless, reaching the point where one no longer shrinks from them is exceedingly challenging. Likewise, fears stemming from the trauma of being betrayed by a human typically spread beyond being wary of that person to fearing certain other humans and often to feeling uneasy about God. Those of us who have suffered such a betrayal usually need to keep working on defusing this natural reaction by continually grounding ourselves; reminding us of how different God is to those who let us down. Ful recovery is typically a long and highly demanding process but persisting despite the difficulties brings immense rewards.

Every form of abuse – in fact, every trace of suffering – has the potential to harm us spiritually if we fail to adequately see the vast difference between God and evil. We must start by realizing that just because something is allowed to happen does not mean it must have God’s approval. If everything that happens has divine approval, then sin is impossible, Jesus died for nothing and the entire Bible is a pack of lies. Sin, by definition, is breaking God’s law – and his heart. It is refusing to do God’s will and, of course it has devastating consequences because God’s will is never motivated by divine selfishness but solely by what is loving, good and wise. Sin hurts not only the sinner and human bystanders and victims but it pains the heart of the God who loves with his entire being the sinner and everyone that the sin directly or indirectly hurts.

To again quote from another of my webpages:

    God is good, and to be good is to deliberately restrain oneself, rather than selfishly abuse one’s power.

    You cannot fervently love someone without aching for that person to love you – especially if you know that person desperately needs you in his/her life. To deeply love someone means you could have everything else in the universe, and yet without that person’s love you would still be heartbroken. To love is to make oneself so vulnerable that even having unlimited power could not help. Omnipotence could easily force someone to obey you. Or it could produce something like a ‘love’ potion, causing a person to be under the illusion of loving you. But genuine love can never be compelled. If attempts to induce love involve force or chemicals or deceit or bribery it is a sham, and can never satisfy your yearning for that person’s love.

    There are things that not even omnipotence can achieve. It cannot, for example, produce a square circle. It can easily turn a circle into a square, but the instant it has straight sides it is not a circle. Likewise, when someone is forced to act in love, it is not genuine love. Even with unlimited power, there is little anyone could do to induce genuine love in a person, other than be loving and wait for a response.

    We would be appalled if a man kidnapped a woman and raped and enslaved her because he claims he loves her, wants her as his wife and is convinced he can make her happy. It would be an immoral abuse of power, regardless of whether he used physical force or threats – in which case she would be conscious of the violation of her rights – or if he used drugs or hypnotism so that she is unaware that what is happening is against her will. Real love respects the desires of the beloved, no matter how much it clashes with the lover’s personal longings, and no matter how certain he is that the person would benefit from a lifelong intimacy with him.

For much more about the relationship between God and suffering, see a link at the end of this webpage.

* * *

Why Doesn’t the God of Love Instantly Eradicate Spiritual Abuse?

Humans can let us down, but we must never imagine that their failure implies that God is capable of letting us down. Jesus told a parable in which tender wheat plants mixed with weeds were allowed to grow together until harvest time (representing Judgment Day), at which time the weeds were destroyed and the wheat preserved (Scripture). The weeds did not appear with the wheat because of the farmer’s negligence. They are specifically stated to be the work of his enemy. (There was even a Roman law outlawing this very thing.) Even more than the wheat, the farmer – representing God – is the victim of this malicious act. The weeds were allowed to grow, however, for the sake of the wheat.

The weeds were probably a type of ryegrass, known as darnel, whose grain is poisonous. When immature, darnel looks so much like wheat that it is actually called false wheat in some regions where it occurs. As explained in the parable, this similarity in outward appearance means that attempting to weed out the darnel before harvest time could result in some genuine wheat being lost.

It is a well-accepted fact of biblical interpretation that parables contain key points of similarity with spiritual reality but cannot be made to perfectly match it in every single aspect. If this parable were to totally fit spiritual reality, a feature that weeds do not have would have to be added: the weeds would somehow have to have the potential to turn into wheat (as in the parable of unproductive fig tree that was spared in the hope that it would become productive the next year – [Luke 13:6-9]).

Despite some workers mentioned in the parable yearning to immediately rip out the weeds, God is wiser. He mercifully allows people worthy of judgment to remain because they might repent before Judgment Day and could then be eternally spared.

Sadly, the opposite is also possible: as Jesus explained in the Parable of the Sower (the parable he gave immediately before launching into this one), people can be “sown” with the Word of God and start off well but spiritually wither and die before reaching their potential.

Our Lord makes it crystal clear in his Word that this principle of wheat and weeds growing up side by side applies not just to the world in general but to his own church. As in the parable of the enemy sowing weeds in a good crop of wheat, this situation is not ideal but it occurs because, prior to Judgment Day, we live in a realm where God’s enemy – as well as God – is at work. Moreover, the hastening of Judgment Day would result in the eternal destruction of those who might have repented had they been allowed more time:

    2 Peter 3:9-10 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. . . .

    (The word perish above, is the same Greek word used in Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11 to describe the spiritual destruction that believers can bring upon other believers by misusing their superior spiritual knowledge.)

Living even in Jesus’ trusted inner circle of friends and confidantes – the financial administrator, in fact (John 12:4-6) – was Judas. This side of Judgment Day, God has never promised to weed out of his church every potentially deadly source of offense. On the contrary, over and over and over, God in his Word keeps warning that false teachers and so on, will be in the church, seeking to deceive believers. So, as tragic as it is, whenever people in the church deliberately or inadvertently try to spiritually destroy us, it is simply what the God who wants no one to perish (2 Peter 3:9, quoted above) warned would happen:

    1 Peter 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.

    Acts 20:29-31 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! . . .

    2 Peter 2:1-3  . . . there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. . . .

    Matthew 7:15 Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

    John 16:2-4 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. . . . I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. . . .

    Matthew 7:22-23 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. (Emphasis mine.)

    Galatians 2:4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

    Jude 1:4,12 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. . . . These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted – twice dead.

    Revelation 2:20-21,24 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants . . . I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. . . . Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you) . . .

    (For many more such Scriptures, see Biblical Warnings of False Teachers etc. Infiltrating the Church.)

* * *

Stranger Danger?

Earlier we spoke of spiritual murder. With physical murder, statistics indicate that one is more likely to be killed by a family member or someone one knows well than by a stranger. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ warning:

    Matthew 10:35-36 For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Jesus was quoting the prophet who introduced these words by saying:

    Micah 7:5 Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words.

Likewise, the old stranger danger message did little to protect children from sexual predators because children’s greatest danger of molestation is from relatives, family friends and other people deeply trusted by the family.

The same tragedy is played out in the spiritual realm: the most likely source of spiritual danger is from valued Christian friends and trusted spiritual leaders.

These gut-wrenching facts of life will remain for as long as God’s mercy drives him to give people one last chance to repent before Judgment Day. Nevertheless, one would need mashed potatoes for brains to conclude that to keep safe we should abandon family, friends or deep Christian fellowship. These are the very things we need for emotional and spiritual wholeness. Heartbreak has indeed moved some tragic souls to never again love but they remain broken people.

Despite our Lord choosing to make us dependent upon each other (1 Corinthians 12:21), however, God is our greatest need. He being preeminent in our hearts and minds and devotion is the linchpin without which everything else eventually falls apart. He is our security, our sanity and our sustenance.

    Matthew 22:37-38  . . .’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.

    Matthew 10:37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me

    Deuteronomy 13:6-8 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” . . . do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. . . .

    Psalms 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

    Isaiah 49:15 Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!

Any sane person would go to extremes not to lose a finger or foot or eye, but Christ remains infinitely more important. He is our head.

* * *

Healing Power

We have seen that although keeping our eyes firmly on Jesus will keep us from spiritual harm, we can still be hurt not just physically but emotionally. Not even the Almighty is untouched by emotional pain. Nevertheless, what will cleanse our emotional wounds, stopping them from festering, and speed our healing is to bless those who curse us – loving and forgiving everyone who acts like an enemy.

My wife once asked God how he copes with all the pain of rejection, betrayal and disloyalty he keeps suffering from both Christians and non-Christians. “Love heals,” he replied. That response baffled me for quite a while but now I understand.

Initially, love intensifies the pain. To be betrayed by a trusted Christian friend hurts so much more than being badly treated by someone who means nothing to you. Nevertheless, to keep on loving that person minimizes the total pain. In fact, the benefits of continual love can end up totally eclipsing the pain.

People are imperfect. It hurts to love them. But to keep on loving brings healing, strength and the eternal honor of Christlikeness.

* * *

A Scripture millions of us cherish insists that “. . . all things work together for good . . .” (KJV). This is not some platitude; it is a spiritual law jealously enforced by the One who passionately loves us – Almighty God. “All things” includes every form of abuse – even Judas betraying Jesus and religious authorities murdering the Son of God. Let’s examine this mind-boggling truth:

    Romans 8:28-29 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son . . .

Just one condition is specified: that we keep on loving God. If we love God, we will obey him (John 14:15,23-24; 1 John 5:3). We will keep doing things God’s way, which includes remaining faithful to him no matter what is thrown at us, forgiving and blessing those who curse us, and so on. Moreover, as the quote reveals, if we genuinely love God, the good we yearn for is not our short-term pleasure but that we become more and more like Christ.

A friend of mine was appallingly slandered by his pastor, not in private or even behind his back, but from the pulpit. He recalls being accused “of being a demon possessed, homosexual madman who was deceiving the people and sleeping with my mother. . . .” He was crushed. “I literally could not read the Bible for a year afterwards because of all these accusations that had been hurled at me,” he admits. Nevertheless, he adds, “I smile about it now because, twenty-one years later, I know that those events were crucial to my spiritual education. I cannot begin to list all of the very painful yet profound lessons I learned . . .”

Did God inspire that slander? Absolutely not. But once abuse occurs to those who keep on loving him, God ensures that, like our Savior, they never end up suffering in vain. We simply have to remain faithful to God, so that he can complete his astonishing work of bringing good out of evil. As staggering as it initially seems, if we hold on, we will end up rejoicing for all eternity over all the abuse we have suffered.

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Spiritual Abusers Identified

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recognizing Spiritual Abuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God & Abuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Understanding Spiritual Abuse

 

 

 

 

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Jim Bakker: A Case Study in Healing from Spiritual Abuse

Slandered by Fellow Believers!

Husband, Head of a Submissive Wife?

When Exorcism or Deliverance Ministry Turns into Abuse

Abusive Church Leadership: Spiritually Abusive Pastors

How to Recover from Spiritual Abuse, Lost Confidence & Self-Hate

When Church Hurts: Help When Your Church Fails You

More About Spiritual Abuse

How to Comfort the Hurting

God & Suffering

Real Christians Grieve

Forgiving Yourself
(And keep following the first link at the end of each webpage.)

Truth: An Awesome Responsibility

What happens during our most impressionable years – such as having our trust seriously violated, being regularly abused by one or more parents, having our self-esteem crushed or being made to feel unlovable – can seriously challenge our ability to believe that God is so different to the way those close to us have treated us. Some pages that can help are:

God as Tender as a Mother?

How to Change Your Self-Image

Help When Doubt Knocks

[More About Spiritual Abuse] [Other Topics] [Bless & Be Blessed by Facebook] [Daily Quotes] [E-Mail Me] [My Shame]

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2013. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.

 

 

 

 

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