Spiritual abuse is when someone uses things related to God in order to control, dominate, exploit, or oppress another person. The Word of God, a position of spiritual authority, prophetic words, or other means, can be misused or misapplied in order to abuse others. This can happen in the context of a church or ministry, and can also happen in various types of relationships. Unfortunately, it is happening in many marriages.
The following is an excerpt from Hypocrisy Exposed that reveals the sinister nature of spiritual abuse:
Not only can Satan appear as a “pretty nice guy,” he can quote the Bible with the best of us. When the devil was tempting Jesus in the wilderness, his first attempt was to try to get Him to turn stones into bread. Among other things, this was an appeal to Jesus’ natural appetite and need for nourishment. Jesus resisted the temptation by quoting Scripture (see Matthew 4:1-4).
Immediately after this, the devil took Him to the temple for his next temptation:
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’” (Matthew 4:5-7)
What I find interesting about this, is that the devil took Jesus to a religious place—the very house of God—and used Scripture for his appeal when he tempted Him. It is as if he were saying, “Oh, so you value the Scriptures? I can quote the Bible too! How about this verse?” Satan put on a religious mask in his attempt to trip up Jesus. His motive was to destroy Jesus, drawing Him into sin; but his method was a deceptive appeal to God and His Word.
The devil took a truth from Scripture—the promise of God’s protection—and isolated it from the rest of God’s Word to try to get Jesus to do something presumptuously outside of God’s will. Jesus again quoted Scripture saying, “It is written again…” I love the way that the NASB translation says it: “On the other hand, it is written…” (Matthew 4:7 NASB). Jesus was not tripped up by a truth pulled away from the totality of Scripture. And He was not deceived by the devil’s religious mask.
We need to understand this: just because a person knows the Bible well and can quote passages of Scripture, does not mean that they are a true believer or that what they are saying is from the Lord. While knowing the Scriptures is essential, this alone is not the barometer of a person’s spiritual condition. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures better than anyone in their day, but they were far from knowing God. And knowing the Word of God without knowing the God of the Word is a very dangerous combination.
We must be grounded in the whole counsel of Scripture and rooted in a relationship with the Lord; this will help us to recognize when the Word of God is being twisted, misused, or misapplied. This misuse of Scripture is sometimes referred to as spiritual abuse.
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone uses God’s Word to control, manipulate, or dominate another person. This is one of the cruelest and most evil forms of abuse because it uses a person’s own love for God, and their desire to obey His Word, against them. Like the devil quoting the Bible to Jesus in order to tempt Him, people misuse God’s Word in order to use and abuse others. Controlling and toxic church leaders are known to do this, misusing and overstepping their position of spiritual authority. Domineering and abusive husbands often use the Bible to pressure, control, and oppress their wives. This is much more common than we realize; and it is pure evil.
Scripture is never meant to be used as a means to control or manipulate another person. Consider this: when the Word of God gets separated from the heart of God and the Spirit of God, it is no longer the Word of God, and you are not obligated to obey it. “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Jesus showed that we don’t have to obey a Scripture when it is quoted to us by the devil. We must learn to discern the spirit behind the words, not just the content of the words. Rejecting spiritual abuse is not disobeying God; it is resisting the devil!
A hypocrite may feign a love for God’s Word, but this only serves to cover the iniquity that is in their heart. I was shocked when I realized that the Pharisees’ apparent love for the law was only a façade that hid the reality of a lawless heart: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28, emphasis added). On the outside they valued the law, but on the inside, they were actually lawless. Hypocrites don’t really love the Word of God; they only love to use the Scriptures to serve their own selfish purposes.