A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Philippians 2 is Often Erroneously Applied to the Victim instead of the Abuser

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

This is the kind of scripture that people so often butcher, and in the process they carve up abuse victims while claiming to speak for the Lord. You all know pretty much how this passage would be used. “Now, what you need to do is humble yourself. You need to seek your husband’s interests and stop seeking just your own welfare. You are being prideful and self-serving and Jesus wants you to be like Him. Your husband needs his wife to look out for him and help him. Count him more significant than yourself.”

Right? That’s how it goes. But as is soooo typical, this is turning the Scripture completely on its head (i.e., upside down). How many abuse victims do you know who are selfishly ambitious, conceited, arrogant, and only looking out for their own interests? I don’t know of ANY (except maybe one or two who turned out to not be real victims at all). None. In fact what gets us all into trouble when we are oppressed by the wicked is that we end up misapplying humility. We look out for the interests of the abuser far too long. We want to please the Lord and so we (erroneously) think that He would have us regard the evil abuser as more significant than ourselves or our children. After all, that is what we were so often taught.

But it’s all wrong.

This scripture is addressing people who are selfishly ambitious, conceited, arrogant, and who look out only for their own interests. Who does that describe? The abuser! Yes, the passage is certainly addressed to all of us in the sense of warning us not to be mislead by false teaching and not to permit our sinful flesh to lead us into sin. But specifically, Paul would have been addressing people in the church, professing Christians, who were puffed up and selfish and trampling on others. He says such an attitude and behavior is not of Christ.

Humility is not inconsistent with standing against wickedness

This passage in Philippians immediately goes on to say —

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

So Christ is our example in all of this. Yes, Christ emptied himself and was a servant. He died on the cross. But as we study His life and teachings in the gospels we see Him standing up to the wicked, denouncing them, exposing them, preaching against them. In other words, Jesus’ life and example shows us that humility is not inconsistent with standing against wickedness and refusing to tolerate evil.

Jesus submitted to evil when it unjustly murdered him on Calvary Hill. But He submitted to that evildoing for a special and unique reason: He lovingly wanted to make a way for fallen mankind to be forgiven of sin. His humble submissive non-resistance and non-escape from evildoers was done for a very specific purpose: to effect a once-for-all substitutionary atonement for the sins of the people. So in His death at the Cross, Jesus was seeking the interests of others: those who would come to faith in Him.

But during His life on earth, Jesus was seeking the interests of others in a different way: by exposing the wicked who oppress victims, by warning this disciples to beware of wolves and the leaven of the false teachers, and by setting the captives free from affliction, sickness, stigma, etc.  In His life and teaching, one of his key messages was this: The stance of turning a blind eye to the wicked who oppress victims is a self-seeking stance.

That, you see, is what the problem is. People, and often in particular professing Christians, are actually SELF-seeking when they turn a blind eye to the wicked who oppress victims, when they enable or collude with the wicked, and when they tell abuse victims to buckle down, humble themselves, and endure more abuse. By choosing these responses, self-seeking people don’t have to pay the price of standing with the victim.

Therefore, it is abusers and their allies who are selfishly ambitious, self-interest seekers, arrogant, and conceited. Philippians 2 is for them, not for the victim.

Mind-boggling isn’t it? I mean, so often we are seeing that we have been taught EXACTLY OPPOSITE of what the Bible really says. That is called false teaching, and those who mishandle God’s Word this way are going to have a big price to pay one Day. Big. I mean, really, really big.

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For Further Reading

What “Do Not Think too Highly of Yourself” does NOT Mean

When is suffering God’s will for us?

7 Comments

  1. Sarah

    you won’t hear “stand up to the wicked in church”. I don’t think they believe deep down that people are wicked but rather misunderstood, and in need of grace. People are never wicked or evil only Satan is. Period. I heard a whole sermon from Henry Cloud about bad connections with people. The only evil thing he mentioned was alcohol or drugs… typical

    • Years ago, my wife and I attended a Sunday School class, taught by our pastor’s wife. She asked the class whether man was basically good or evil. Everyone except my wife, myself and the pastor’s wife stated that man was basically good. No matter how many verses we referred to that stated how unrighteous we are, they would not believe it. They just refused to believe that they had any evil within them.

      That seems to be the common feeling in the modern church and probably why we have so many “feel good” sermons that strip away why we need Christ. Sure, the drug dealer on the street may have evil in his heart, but no one in the church does, according to them.

    • Suzanne

      You are, unfortunately, correct that in some churches evil is not defined or identified Biblically. Instead they turn to pop psychology and ignore the Bible. It’s just another example of how we have allowed the world to come into the church instead of the church going out into the world.

  2. Did not Paul also confront evil? What about Peter and many of the other apostles? Paul even instructed the church to expel the wicked, so if a church redefines terms and makes the assumption based on outward appearances that there is no evil in their midst, the problem, in their minds is solved.

  3. beckij

    I think people, in misapplying this verse, are also missing the point that to enable the evil abuser and not confront their sin, we are NOT seeking his good, or putting his needs ahead of our own. The wicked abuser needs to deal with the consequences of his evil deeds. This is his only hope of recognizing his need of a Savior. He needs to be allowed to hit rock bottom.

    When we take the path of least resistance and turn a blind eye to their sin, we are allowing them to stay on the wide road that leads to destruction. When we prop them up and protect them from the consequences of their wickedness, we are actually hating them, and ensuring that they will burn in Hell for all of eternity. When we fail to warn them, to call them out for their sin, we are failing to love them as Christ does.

  4. Herjourney

    I might add..
    The music out there today that claim to be Christian musicians .. Are in fact not.
    Infiltrating the airwaves with peace and non judgmental rebuke.
    Yelling.. NO resistant to your enemies.
    How subtle is the devil??
    Pastors are preaching LOVE your abuser. Stay and comply.
    Standing on God’s word is for a warrior.
    Not a conformist.

  5. Innoscent

    Jeff thank you for putting that Scripture back on its feet! The Devil hasn’t changed his tactics of putting a spin on God’s word, only he made it even more subtle and cunning down the ages.

    Yes Jesus is the Savior and we are called to be Christ-like, humble, loving and the like but never are victims called to be saviors, nor co-saviors of their spouse, let alone wicked, hard-hearted, hypocrite, professed Christian ‘husbands’!!!

    The “perilous times” are sure upon us when all around and inside the church SELF preservation and adoration is number one on the agenda while the victims of abuse are being cut into pieces with the Sword of God itself!! after they had been bruised by their anti-husbands before that. How worse will it get, how many more victims before the church gets it???

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