Confronting Abuse

Jesus taught that we are to speak truth to those who sin against us in a relationship (Matthew 18:15-17), and even rebuke them (Luke 17:3).  How do we speak truth to an abuser?  How do we communicate honestly with someone who is unsafe for us and who may be acting increasingly out of control?  The way David dealt with King Saul gives us some clues.

Read 1 Samuel 24:8-15 and 1 Samuel 26:13-20.  In these passages, King Saul’s abuse of David has escalated to the point that he his stalking David, seeking to kill him.  Notice how David confronts Saul, his abuser:

1.  He does it in a safe situation, keeping a safe distance. 

2.  He names the abuse and specific violations.

3.  He sets a boundary--what he will and will not do (see verses 24:12 and 26:23).

4.  He requests a specific change or tries to negotiate for a specific solution (verses 24:14-15,21-22 and 26:19-20).

5.  He tests the agreement and waits to see if Saul keeps his word.  He doesn’t trust blindly, but waits to see if his abuser is trustworthy.

Note that David always treated Saul respectfully.  He respected the person God put in authority, even if that person acted wickedly.  However, he did not freely allow himself to be abused by this person.  Likewise, Ephesians 5:33 commands a wife to respect her husband, but Proverbs 22:3 and Matthew 18:15-17 tell us that this does not mean that she should allow herself to be harmed. (You are encouraged to read these verses.)

David never retaliated against Saul or laid a hand on him.  This is a very important issue for domestic violence victims today.  In many locations there are laws requiring the arrest of an abuser when law enforcement personnel are called to a domestic violence incidence.  Abusers are increasingly using this to have their victims arrested, as another show of abusive power and control over them.  If a victim strikes out in self-defense or swings her purse or other object at her abuser, he may try to have her arrested.  It is better for a victim to leave the scene or call the police if possible, rather than using force against her abuser.  

In speaking the truth to an abuser, be prepared for the possibility that it may not stop the abuse. David found that though Saul acknowledged his abusive actions and promised to stop, the abuse continued.  Many times, abusers will try to deny, excuse, or minimize their actions when confronted.  They may try to block or divert the conversation, or blame the victim.  The victim should be prepared in case the abuser escalates his attempts at maintaining power and control or becomes violent.  Victims should have a safety plan in place before confronting an abusive person (there is one in the Appendix to this workbook).  A woman needs to decide whether the situation is too dangerous for confrontation.  Your local domestic violence program can assist women in developing safety plans and alternate strategies.  

By speaking openly about the abuse and expressing a desire for change, a victim may be able to better gage the offender’s heart and real intent, and whether he wants to provide the respect and concern needed in a relationship.  It is also the first step in setting healthy boundaries.  In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus gives instructions for confronting those who abuse us. It demonstrates the use of progressively increasing levels of accountability and boundaries. This 4-step procedure also provides increasingly stringent safety measures, including staying away from the abuser.  Though Jesus encourages us to speak up about others’ offenses against us, He wants us to be safe.  In Deuteronomy 30:19, the Lord says through Moses, “I have set before you life and death, ….Now choose life, so that you and your children may live….”

Discussion Questions:  

1.      What safety measures are built into each step of Jesus’ 4-step procedure in Matthew 18:15-17?


2.      What are some other ways to keep a safe distance when having to communicate with an unsafe person?  

Copyright 2005   Judy Kennedy