Bullying with the Bible and Biblical Leadership

Due to the recent news stories, many are paying much closer attention to the issue of domestic violence. The behavior of individuals like Ray Rice and the response to his behavior by those in leadership over him has forced us to come to grips with some hard realities.

We live in culture where people hurt one another. Sadly, many people enjoy exercising their power even if it means someone else must be oppressed.

We, in the church, must also recognize that domestic violence is a problem in the church just as it is a problem in other locations. But recent events in our own area and in conversations with other pastors around the country demonstrate that there is another challenging thread. Many of the men in our churches are not committing the crime of domestic violence, but they are being very oppressive and overly controlling in how they treat their wives. The cases regarding domestic violence are very clear cut … the man is wrong and may receive significant punishment from the authorities. But other situations are much more subtle. These are mind games designed to keep the woman guessing. For example …

  • Men change bank accounts or cancel credit cards without explaining such actions and their wives learn about the change while standing in front of the cashier embarrassingly trying to figure out a way to pay for the $132 worth of groceries that are waiting to be bagged and taken to the car. Could this be an honest mistake? Sure, it could … except when it happens three times in a month.
  • Or a husband sends flirty texts and makes flirty comments only to say at the end of the evening that he doesn’t want to have sex anyway. If truth be told, she didn’t want to either, but she was willing because she was trying to be a caring, compassionate, and godly wife. He wanted her to be willing just so he could then blame her for not being appropriately enthusiastic.
  • Or the wife and mother makes a series of decisions about one of their children only to be grilled later for making such stupid decisions. In reality, he refused to participate in the discussion to begin with but then wanted to make her feel stupid for her choices.

You see, these attacks are more subtle. There is no physical striking. There is no crime being committed. Instead, there is a game. A game where the husband wants to oppress, control, and humiliate his wife. What is most nauseating about this type of bullying inside marriage is that it is often justified through the category of biblical leadership. The husband wants to speak of the importance of his wife’s submission, and his role as the leader in the family often while quoting the Bible to defend his sinful actions.

Pastors, elders, deacons, and lay counselors have a very difficult decision in these cases. It is true that the husband is the leader. It is true that he has not committed a crime. It is true that his wife must submit. But it is also true that he is being mean, cruel, and extremely harsh to her. He has what Col 3:19 would describe as a bitter heart toward her.

So what do you do? How do you think about this?

Many posts are written in the woman’s direction. The advice is often how to live in such an environment, how to engage church leadership, and even how to engage law enforcement if that ever becomes necessary. But my goal is different. I want to speak to the men for a moment.

Men, it is time to call this treatment what it is … Sinful.

Guys, no one is fooled for long. You might be able to smooth talk your pastor, your counselor, or your friends for a while, but sooner or later your own deeds cry out. They speak against you. The Lord Jesus made it very clear that leadership was not about control. In fact Matthew 20:25 says, “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.’”

When you “lord it over” your wife you are acting like an unbeliever. Controlling your wife should not be satisfying to you. You should not feel like you have accomplished anything. In fact, it reminds me of the time we first started letting our youngest son wrestle. One day another kid about four years older wrestled our son. The older kid won by pin. He felt pretty proud of himself in that moment until my older son walked up to him and said, “Oh, by the way, the kid you beat is in the third grade.” All the sudden, this boy’s accomplishment was not very impressive. Neither is yours. It is not noteworthy or praiseworthy when a man seeks to use whatever skills he possess in order to control, intimidate, and demean his wife (i.e., lord it over her).

It is time to repent of such sinful treatment

Most women I have met who have a husband who treats them in this fashion want to be reconciled, restored, and have a stronger marriage than they have ever had before. The challenge is that they also want to believe that you are repentant. Excuses are not impressive and the Lord is certainly not fooled by your actions. It is time in humility to repent of the way you have treated your spouse.

It is time to understand and apply biblical leadership

We agree that the husband is to be the leader of the family. But the model set by Jesus is one of service. In other words, the leadership authority that was given to husbands by the Lord is designed to move the family in a Christ-like direction. It was never intended to be used as a power-hungry control freak.

Matthew 20:26-28 says “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself about your leadership …

  1. Is my leadership designed to encourage each member of the family to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus?
  2. Do I use my leadership position in order to serve each member of my family or is my leadership position designed for each member of the family to serve me?
  3. When I use the text of Scripture do I use it having first examined my own heart and my own motives to ensure I am not being hypocritical … asking my wife or children to be more godly than I am being? In other words, do I live Scripture or bully people with it?

These situations are not hopeless. The Lord Jesus is able to fix these situations in radical ways. It is time to pray, to study the Word, and possibly to get some help. Marriages, family, and the glory of God in your life are all at stake.


Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.