April 13, 2008: A Christian’s Primer on Handling Abusive People

Let us pray: Dear Savior, as the sheep of Your holy flock we know that we must rely on You at all times to defend and protect us. So, today, do so! Arm us with good Christian judgment and move us to use it when confronted by abusive people. Teach us the meaning of Your words: “be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.” And then our faith will grow even more and our lives will be doubly blest. Amen


TEXT: I Peter 2: 19-25

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my ministry has dealt with the handling of abusive people. When I was ordained I was “green as grass.” That is, I had idealistic notions about people and thought placating them was my duty. After all, if people call a church and ask for the pastor’s help, obviously they have some semblance of Christianity morality in their life, don’t they? Wrong! In my first parish I got numerous phone calls for monetary assistance. Because we were a small struggling church, basically we had no money to meet their needs. So, I would listen and then give them advice on where to turn. Over time I realized that some people periodically call churches and give them a sob story to help finance their drug or alcohol addiction. And when told: “I’m sorry” they turned mean, ugly, and abusive. In one case, I ended up locking the parsonage doors for a few days after such a call.

Over my years in the Boston area, I’ve gotten calls for assistance, too. In some cases, they were legit and we were able to help them. But in other cases, when told no, people got abusive and ranted and raved at me over the phone. So, I’ve learned that instead of sitting there and taking it, you cannot reason with out-of-control people. So now, I merely tell them: “I’m sorry, you’ve gotten abusive, good-bye.” And then I hang up. Or, in other instances, I walked away. Now is such pastoral behavior non-loving? Of course not! It’s honest. Neither I nor this church are a door-mat for people’s coarse behavior. And since all of you face such abusive behavior as well, whether it be: at school, at work, out in the streets, or perhaps by relatives, Peter’s little lesson today serves as:



All Christians naturally want to be helpful. It’s ingrained in us. It stems from the 2nd table of the Law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By and large the world knows that, too, and seeks to take advantage of that fact. They use our goodness against us! So, we often find ourselves in upsetting situations. Situations where our hearts want to be helpful, but our heads tell us: “It’s a lost cause.”

Now, that’s not to say that our temper doesn’t sometimes get us into trouble. It’s not to say that our words, actions, or motivation aren’t sometimes designed to manipulate others in a selfish way. After all, we’re still sinners. And when we engage in such behavior and are called on it, we dare not moan over the fact that it’s unjust and God somehow didn’t come through for us. Listen to Peter’s words: “For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?” Yes, human sin reaps what it sows—human punishment.

That being said, what if our motivation is pure and we are trying to carry out God’s will via our good judgment and still suffer for it? Peter now adds: “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’”


Was Jesus a namby-pamby doormat? No! He hurled the money-changers from the temple and beat them with a small whip. He bluntly told the Pharisees and Sadducees that they were a “brood of vipers” and “whited sepulchers” or whitewashed tombs. And He also simply walked away from those who tried to pick a fight with Him. One of my favorite passages is Eph. 4: 15: “Speak the truth in love.” Christ always followed that truth. He spoke the truth, even when it hurt, to His enemies, but He always did it because He loved their souls and desired their salvation. Of course, He was all-knowing and could read hearts, whereas we are not and cannot. And so, we suffer other’s abusiveness over their mis-reading of our motives and also the abusiveness of our own hearts, which cause us to second-guess ourselves time and time again.

Neither life nor sanctified Christian judgment is perfect. But, if someone turns abusive toward you, Romans 16:17 certainly should come to mind: “Mark and avoid them.” That is, recognize that some folks really don’t want to hear what you have to say. They only want to scapegoat you. Venting on you, because they think you’ll take it, is their way of avoiding their own fault. So, just walk away quietly and don’t give them the opportunity to abuse you and the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in you.

Likewise, sometimes simply being quiet and saying nothing is a powerful witness against abusive behavior. Our Lord also did that. Think of Him standing before Pilate, Herod, or Caiaphas and hearing all the lies they spewed against Him? Like a “sheep before the shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth” as Isaiah prophesied. Or, as Peter says: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

As Christians “letting our light shine” is to be our chief focus in life. Showing love and compassion, being there for others in need, showing them a better way of life and of handling stress, witnessing to Christ’s boundless love for us—all those are avenues for letting our light shine forth. To accomplish those things sometimes you have to put your temper aside, put yourself out for others, and build up a rapport so that they will listen when the time is right. Retaliation and hurling invectives at others doesn’t achieve that, either. That being said, none of you are doormats for abuse. None of you should let sinful humans take advantage of the love Christ has placed in your hearts. So, always examine your motives, analyze the source of such abuse and the reasons behind it, don’t be afraid to walk away when things get out of hand, and always, always, always plead the mercy of Christ for what you say and do. And finally, don’t be afraid to simply commend others to God’s care because you cannot help them at that time. For remember: ultimately sheep are not responsible for the welfare of other sheep—the Shepherd in charge, Jesus Christ is! Amen