Yesterday, we heard from Dr. Michelle Bengston on the topic of spiritual abuse. Today, we’re digging deeper into this topic as we look at how it plays out in the lives of young women and how we can equip them to protect themselves from spiritual abuse.
What does spiritual abuse look like?
This is a loaded question, because some people don’t even think there is such a thing. Yet it is . . .
Isolation from family and friends.
Being told you are irrational.
That the way you hear from God is for someone else to tell you what God is saying to you.
Feeling forced to do things against your conscience.
Being told you are a child, immature, and imagining things.
Continually having your recollection of things challenged.
Being controlled and manipulated.
Even if we don’t understand or recognize spiritual abuse, it exists. It’s also warned about in Scripture:
1 Peter 5:1-3
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.
The Pharisees were spiritual abusers. They sought authority and control rather than to shepherd and guide. They laid heavy burdens on the people under their leadership. These burdens required that the people depend on the Pharisees more and more in how to carry these burdens. They were sorely chastised by Jesus for their going beyond the law, but they continued in their desire to control and manipulate.
Elders and husbands are admonished not to take their authority as a way to lord it over those under their care. They are told to imitate Jesus in His sacrificial love for the church.
Jesus led as a servant.
Jesus led with humility.
Jesus led with great love.
Jesus led with sacrifice.
Spiritual abuse is the exact opposite of all of these things. It begins with the strong and powerful use of words. It begins with one who knows well how to talk the talk but whose life, upon closer scrutiny, is unable to walk the walk of the self-sacrificing servant of God that a leader must be.
Spiritual abuse is when someone claims to have a closer understanding of what God has for our lives than we do. They believe that they alone hear from God regarding our lives. It runs the gamut of control, manipulation, claiming biblical authority and slowly denouncing our understanding of the meaning of scripture in favor of theirs. It is an eroding of our own spiritual connection with the Holy Spirit through the continual bombardment of their voice over the soft whisper of God. It is setting up the abuser as God and ultimate authority over our lives through incorrect interpretation of the scriptures. It is the ploy of the enemy from as far back as The Garden.
Why do we fall for these lies?
Let’s face it, we all love to hear those who are powerful speakers. There are those in the church who are very zealous in their faith, who are very charismatic in their personalities. Those who speak with power and authority. They sound great, they look good at first glance and they tell us over and over again how God is using them in mighty and powerful ways.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.
When I was a young believer, I loved Keith Green’s music. The truth and power of his song lyrics brought me to my knees in humility and contrition. He was a modern time prophet to the church. He spoke hard truths to touch cold hearts. But he also lived out his deep love and compassion for others with a humble and gentle life. Keith Green’s life did back up his message. But there are many for whom this is not true.
That type of power in a preacher is what we all look for. But when the life and character of a teacher does not imitate Jesus, does not point to the Savior instead of themselves, this is when we can find young women being captivated by what they see as “such a powerful teacher, a real prophetic type personality.”
We, as a church, have so often given greater honor to the powerful speaker/preacher rather than to the servant. I had a friend years ago who felt that to be a true servant required much more spiritual maturity than to be a strong teacher. Powerful teaching is a talent that can be learned. Servanthood is a character quality that is instilled through the Spirit of God and surrender to His will. I love what Paul says about this very thing:
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
Paul’s power was in the demonstration of his love and in his sacrificial service to the church. He did miracles and he laid his life down for the church. He admits he wasn’t a great or powerful speaker. He was humble, never pointing to himself but always to Jesus and His great and mighty salvation.
Our daughters are no different from us. They are looking for a godly man, not afraid to speak truth. And in our age of compromise, they can easily be drawn to follow the man who speaks authoritatively. They might look the other way when he comes across as arrogant. They forebear when he is quick to anger. “After all, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, didn’t He? There is such a thing as righteous anger, isn’t there? And perhaps I am wrong and he is right?” These are the thoughts that are planted in their minds, getting them set to fall for these lies from the enemy.
How can I help prepare her to see deception?
Jesus Himself told us how to see through lies:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
It is not how powerfully a man speaks, but it is his life of love, sacrifice for others, humility and the fruit of his life that speaks to his walk with God.
1 Samuel 16:7
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
We must teach our daughters to look for the heart of a man.
- What is his nature when no one is looking?
- How does he treat his own spiritual leaders?
- How does he treat his parents?
- How does he respond to reproof?
- with humility and repentance?
- with arrogance and rejection?
- with anger?
- How does he encourage others to listen to God rather than him?
- Is he willing to learn from others?
As we raise our daughters to seek godly husbands, let us not neglect this area of training.
We must help them see past the outward appearance to see the heart of the man within, and encourage them to listen to those faithful and proven godly influences in their lives when they see red flags and sense those checks from the Spirit.
Let us encourage our daughters how to hear God’s Spirit speaking to their own hearts and to never neglect His guidance in their lives.