When it comes to past destructive relationships, have you ever criticized yourself and thought, “I should have known better”? “Why didn’t I see that coming? Or “Why did I put up with his control, manipulation, addiction, abuse, adultery, or _______ (you fill in the blank)?”
Sometimes, our tolerance for abuse or evil behavior is the result of misinterpreted scripture. When we don’t know and understand what God‘s Word says about confrontation and conflict resolution, we make ourselves vulnerable to control and manipulation. Have you trusted too soon or without examining character? Did you fear that you were being judgmental so you believed his promises and ignored his performance? Did you give him chance after chance hoping he’d change this time only to discover that his apology was nothing more than smooth talk?
Paul warns us in Ephesians 5:6, “Let no one deceive you with empty words.” For a long time I assumed that this verse only referred to deception regarding spiritual teaching, but what about the charming words manipulative men use to gain control? What about the empty words narcissistic men make hoping to convince their partner that they’re sorry for their actions and yet bear no fruit in keeping with repentance? Or how about when controlling men use scripture to manipulate or oppress? Paul goes on to tell us, “Do not be partners with them…have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (vs 7, 11).
Often women ignore or minimize their spouse or partner’s behavior hoping it would go away. Or they keep silent because they feared his wrath. In addition, many God-fearing women have misunderstood the concept of submission and thought it meant they had no voice. No opinion. No right to confront. This misinterpretation of scripture caused them to give up their rights under the misguided notion of submission.
This twisted concept of submission causes women to:
- Avoid confrontation
- Go out of their way to make everyone else happy
- Suppress their feelings and bury their anger
- Take the blame when something goes wrong
- Be peacekeepers instead of peacemakers
- Give up their identity for other’s approval
- Be overly concerned about what others think
- Agree with their partner (even if they don’t) as long as it keeps the peace
- Abuse mercy by overlooking too much
- Lack confidence
- Deny reality
- Cover up evil
Submission is a concept that has often been twisted to create control. Timothy talks about men who have a form of godliness but deny its power. He says this in chapter 3 verse 6: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women.” Women are trained by these manipulative partners to think that submission denies them the right to confront evil behavior.
The Truth About Submission: What it is and What it Isn’t
Submission is intended to produce a climate of trust and intimacy between a husband and wife, and yet this topic causes tremendous confusion in relationships where it is abused by manipulative partners and spouses. It’s time we clarify some of the misunderstanding.
Most Christian women are familiar with the scripture that says submit to your husbands in everything. Everything? Even Evil behavior? Even abuse? Even sarcasm and name-calling? Even fits of rage? What about deceitfulness and gaslighting?
I don’t think so. But women that fear the Lord and want to honor his Word often struggle with the concept of submission. Is it wrong to call out evil behavior? Is it wrong to confront? Are we supposed to surrender to evil just because we’ve entered a covenant of marriage?
Let’s take a look at a couple of women in the Bible and see how they responded to evil behavior.
Abigail was married to a Nabal, a man that she referred to as a fool. God didn’t strike her dead for reporting her facts. When David requested food for his men and Nabal refused, Abigail went behind her husband’s back and provided the resources David needed for his men. She honored her husband, but she feared God more. She didn’t submit to her husband in everything.
The Bible calls her righteous.
And what about Esther? The king didn’t request for her presence. His previous wife was dethroned for not parading in front of his buddies. And yet she went against his command and approached his throne, even though the consequence could be deadly.
The Bible called Esther noble.
Exodus chapter 1 tells the story of a new king in Egypt who feared the growing numbers of the Israelites. He told the Hebrew midwives, “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him..”
The Hebrew midwives, however, disobeyed the king’s orders. When confronted, they told a lie and said, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”
God was kind to the midwives and blessed them. They lied and got a blessing? Yes! They disobeyed a command, and yet their lie produced a blessing.
Women that confronted evil were called righteous, noble and blessed.
The Bible also tells us to honor those in authority above us but what if they are evil as well?
Rehab lied to the king of Jericho when he came to her and asked, where did those men go that came into your house? She hid the spies on her roof under some flax, but instead of disclosing the truth, she pointed her finger and said, “They went that way.” She lied and send the team of soldiers in the wrong direction. In willful deceit, she lied.
Rahab is included in the lineage of Christ and is listed in the Hebrews Hall of Fame.
Please hear me on this. I am not endorsing sin. But It’s clear from these examples that God is more interested in safety and security than following a strict black-and-white set of rules and regulations. I also believe it’s because God knows the motive of our heart.
People may be pure in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their motives (Proverbs 16:2).
Want to read more? Get my free eBook, Controlled No More: Ripping the Mask off Manipulation.
Questions to Ponder
- Have twisted concepts about submission convinced you to give up some of your rights? If so, which of the tendencies in the list above most describe your behavior?
- How do you think God feels about it?
- Look over the scriptures below. How can you change your responses to control or manipulation in the future and still honor God’s Word?
Scriptures to Ponder
- “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:15-16).
- Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11).
- Submit to one another (emphasis mine) out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).
May I pray for you?
Father, I lift up my sister and ask you to give her boldness and holy confidence to address issues that are harmful to her. Give her the wisdom so that she knows when to speak and when to be silent and how to operate in meekness which is not weakness, but rather controlled strength. May You be her refuge to provide her physical safety and emotional stability so that she can grow in confidence, peace and joy regardless of her relationship status. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
I was in need of these words…….
Thank you with all my heart. I’m overcoming after a very bad domestic violence relationship. I have a very strong story. He put me in jail for defending myself and calling the police. Lot to tell you. I would like to share my story with you. God bless
There’s a lot of healing in sharing our stories. I’d love to hear it. You can post it here or shoot me an email.
I was once under church leaders that were abusive to me. Would never support me in my musical talent they were the music leaders but I was gifted yet they hindered my progress. I stood under them for years then was abused by someone else who just tried to bully me and had that rule over you with iron fist so I winded up leaving but had a confrontation that the main leader twisted because she knew she was guilty of hindering me.
How do I know if I did the right thing by confronting? Or if God put me there to learn submission? I know the word also says to obey the harsh and cruel?
How will I ever understand if I was right or wrong because the pastor took their side because they ran everything and I had wanted a meeting to confront the treatment but never did get it so it left me confused not knowing if I was wrong. All I know is they broke my spirits. The Pastof said what was he to do? He could not risk losing them over me and I just think it should have been handled differently but still unsure. I winded up leaving that church broken and lost my church family.
I was bullied by someone they put in charge also and just disrespected me. Not sure I handled it correctly but I never got any resolution and I always thought I was wrong for not submitting properly?
I don’t think God ever endorses abuse, but when we are in difficult situations He can use them to refine us. When similar situations seem to repeat themselves over and over in our lives, it’s wise to ask God what he’s trying to develop in us. I’m glad you’re doing that.
Take a moment to honestly consider:
Do others typically perceive you to be entitled, opinionated, demanding or rude? If so, perhaps God is trying to shape your character by allowing you to sit under authority.
Or do you think others perceive you to be overly compliant, accommodating or servile? Do you often feel like others walk all over you? Maybe you feel left out, rejected, inferior, intimidated or even victimized? When our character is marred by trauma and repeated abuse, it often pushes us into passivity and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, we’re drawn over and over again to relationships that are manipulative and controlling.
From what you mention, I suspect you might fall into the latter category.
If that resonates with you, I don’t want you to feel hopeless. Your difficulties aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Struggles come to develop us. To refine our character, perseverance and hope (Romans 5:3-4). Our suffering and adversity is often an opportunity for personal growth.
If you think your circumstances are ordained by God, I’d ask you to consider: Is God using people of power to train you in confidence and assertiveness?
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. Assertiveness is birthed out of the confidence that Hebrews speaks of.
Do not throw away your confidence for it will be richly rewarded (Hebrews 10:35).
You might also consider 2 Timothy 1:7. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
When we are continually drawn to relationships, work environments, and church cultures that are controlling it often reveals own need to develop assertiveness and confidence.
Authoritative, controlling, demanding or even abusive partners, leaders or employers need passive people in order to work out their agenda. However, it’s important to understand that passivity is different than submission.
Passivity is rooted in the fear of man.
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
On the other hand, submission is rooted in the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble (Proverbs 19:23).
Passivity hinders and restricts our free will, but submission is a choice we make because we trust a higher authority.
Should you confront your leaders?
That depends. Most of the time we think of confrontation as something we do verbally, however, confrontation with controlling partners, employers and leaders may look different when they have shown by their actions that they’re unapproachable or not willing to listen or consider your request.
In that situation confrontations are best done by a change in our own actions.
You mentioned that you know the Word says to obey masters who are harsh and cruel. I suspect you’re referring to 1 Peter 2:18. Let’s take a look at what it says.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
Examining scripture requires that we understand the context and the cultural background. Paul was speaking to slaves.
We have a different concept of slavery today because of our own cultural understanding, but slavery in the first century was quite different. Many slaves in Paul’s day served as accountants and doctors and businessmen. This type of slavery most simulated what we refer to today as having a job.
You asked how you could know if you did the right thing by confronting, or if God put me there to learn submission.
I’ll answer your question with a question: Does God always call us to submit to ungodliness?
I can think of a few women in the Bible that didn’t submit to authority and were actually considered righteous for their actions.
Consider Rahab. She hid the Israelite spies on her roof. Then she lied to the king of Jericho when he inquired about which way they went. Even though she lied and disobeyed authority, she is listed in the Hebrews Hall of Fame.
Consider Jochebed, Moses’ mother who disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to throw all male babies in the water.
Abigail didn’t honor her husband’s choice to ignore David’s request.
None of these women confronted the men who were in authority. Instead, they changed the way they responded. They answered to a higher authority when the demands of the authority in the land had evil or malicious intentions.
From the examples of these women, we can see why verbal confrontations with controlling or abusive leaders or abusive partners isn’t always safe.
Proverbs 9:7 verifies this: Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Someone who is controlling will often view an inquiry, a disagreement or a confrontation as a rebuke or a correction. A rebuke can even be something as minor as a difference of opinion if somebody is very narcissistic or controlling. In situations like that the best thing to do is to remove ourselves from the situation or scale down the level of contact.
This was excellent!!! Spoke to my spirit thank you for sharing!!! ❤️
So glad it brought revelation Joy!
I have , more often than not in the past, submitted to manipulation, deception or outright abuse. But, no more. I am a daughter of God and I will not accept less than I deserve as His daughter. I am grateful for His word & guidance; but, most of all, for His deliverance. He is a good God and I give Him all the glory.
Amen Marlene! When we understand God’s love for us and how valuable we are, a new strength arises that no longer tolerates or attracts abuse!
I always felt God led me tl jobs where I was mistreated by a boss also. Can it be he uses those situations to refine us? I definitely feel he led me to those jobs where I was abused on jobs even by bosses. You can’t always leave and can’t always confront either because you can get fired.
You hit the nail on the head! Too often because in the past I was a bit rough around the edges and spine my mind at all cost I asked God to change my ways and help me to be a woman based on his principles. To help me be different and more line him. So he did! Then since I didn’t really know the difference between submission and being a woman my own person I put myself in a situation of manipulation and worked on not being confrontational as I used to be.
I lost myself and who I was. I put myself in harms way for neglect and to have no voice. I lost concept of everything. I felt like I had no right.
Im sure this story is more of the same you’ve already heard. I prayed and asked the lord to help me through it. I wanted to draw a line set boundaries which I always had but lost along the way.
Well.. God did just that. He removed him from me. I guess he k we that world be the only way I could be free once again to worship and serve my king without boundaries or excuses. God set me free.
It took a while but it happened. So much more has happened since then but too much to add.
Mabeline, there’s a balance with healthy boundaries. Often when we’ve had a habit of being confrontational (I can sure relate to that) and realize we need to change, we swing to the opposite end of passivity. But there is a middle place of balance. We can be assertive without being aggressive. God didn’t call us to be doormats!
Thank you for this article. Even though I knew better I gave in and forgot who I was just to please. I did not use my right to expose the sin and manipulation even though deep down I knew he wasn’t right. Thank you for enlightening us with the biblical view on this topic.
You’re so welcome Shelly. Truth liberates!
I cant explain how grateful I am for your words and teaching. I moved forward with my divorce and my husband left right before Christmas. I feel so connected to the marriage still. Im so emotional and I dont know who I am anymore. I have given up who I am and what I believe. He manipulated me with scripture because his parents were pastors. I responded to everything with rage and no self control trying to protect myself and my girls only so he can record me and have everyone believing I am the abuser. Please keep these articles coming and pray for your sister. ❤
Scotti, I’m so sorry. But I must say, the biggest key to freedom is acknowledging your part and you’ve done that. I don’t hear the sound of a victim in your post, but a woman who is willing to move forward and regain control. And I’m confident as you press into God, He will show you how to manage your emotions. Controlling men have a way of bringing out the worst in us and pushing our buttons, but when we finally say enough, God begins the process of transforming us. But let me warn you….the process will likely involve more situations for you to win this time so that He can prove you genuine.
In the days to come, let me encourage you to decide in advance how you’ll respond to accusations so that you are mentally and emotionally prepared to not allow his responses to make you lose control.
I am one year out of an emotionally and physically abusive marriage. Everything you’ve said here makes so much sense to me. I escaped with my life and my son’s life. We stayed in a safe house (secret shelter) for abused women for eight months. I’m now living independently , and I am SO happy. God does not expect us to be abused and mistreated. He is a God of LOVE. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting this out there. So many women misunderstand what it means to be submissive. It’s not at all about being abused, belittled or maliciously controlled. Pray for strength, my sisters. You can have happiness and real love.
I am beginning to understand,, that maybe my Abba Father does not endorse abuse or any kind and misrepresenting it as “godly”. I was being manipulated and abused before I even got married, but for some wrong reasons in my behalf, I married my husband anyway. I’m realizing how much of my worth has been eroded…we never know how much is robbed from us until we really wake up and start pursuing God. I think it has taken me looking at and hearing my daughter sayings she’s angry to also kind of wake up. I still fear leaving and separating because I don’t want to go outside of God’s will.
Kim, it’s definitely a personal decision that must be covered in prayer, but some of what we may have interpreted, learned or read in scripture is sometimes lost in the translation. Have you read my ebook, What the Bible Says About Emotional Abuse? If not, you can download it https://www.christyjohnson.org/what-the-bible-says-about-emotional-abuse/.