Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

It Can be a very Long Time before You Understand what You are Dealing With

1Ti 5:24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.

Some people’s sins are obvious – fornication, thievery, murder, disobedience to parents – these kind are not difficult to see. But, as Paul says, there is another brand of sinner whose sins “appear later.” That doesn’t mean that such people don’t sin now but eventually will. No, it is a warning to Timothy that some people’s sins are covert and disguised. Therefore wisdom must be exercised.

Satan can appear as an angel of light, and his servants as sons of righteousness. In fact, they very often do this very thing. Many of the wicked ones we have had the unpleasant experience of crossing paths with are of this very type. And what I want to especially focus upon here is this – it can (and typically does) take a very long time to understand just what and who these people are.

This is why so many of you have written to me and said “I was in an abusive marriage for 20, 30, 40 years before I finally got free.” Why was this? Are you all stupid – am I stupid? Well, we certainly haven’t always possessed or acted upon wisdom, but the basic reason it takes so long to clearly see just what these wicked people really are is because their sin is so disguised, so confusing, so two-faced. And because we naturally believe that all other people think like we do in their fundamental suppositions.

But that was all wrong. We were wrong. We were blind. Some people’s sins appear later. Paul said that Alexander the Coppersmith did him much harm. I wonder if initially Paul trusted this guy? I don’t know for sure, but by the time he warned Timothy about him, Paul had sorted it out.

I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up about being duped by the wicked for so long. If there was any sin on our part in perhaps refusing to see what was right in front of us, well, then we confess that sin and know that the Lord forgives us. But the onus for this deception lies upon the deceiver. We trusted such people. We thought the best about them. We assumed they loved us but that they were just “difficult people” whom the Lord called us to be patient with. And we had plenty of people – friends, family, church members and pastors – adding to the fog.

But we were wrong.

Behind that mask of saintliness, inside that whitewashed tomb, lurked the real person. No empathy. No love. A consuming mentality of superiority and entitlement. A user. An oppressor. And as the mask began to slip and wisdom increasingly came our way, we started seeing that the clean, polished cup was full of filth. Often that clarity came through some very painful experiences.

But the clarity came. And once we realized just what and who we were dealing with, freedom and validation started to come our way as well. It wasn’t my fault. Those red warning lights that I saw over the years and which were squelched, started to replay in my mind and more – they started to make sense.

How could I be so stupid? Well, in some part we have to admit it was due to my failure to more carefully know and heed God’s Word, but in fact we really weren’t so stupid. It just took time – a long time – to see behind the mask.

And now we know.


Humility is a Mark of the Spirit – the Wicked are ‘Puffed Up’


Why do they bother with Religion?


  1. Wade


    This is so so true. With my experience most victims will go through a period of beating themselves up, blaming themselves for not seeing it. Again it is not their fault. And for us who are blessed with walking them through this need to remind ourselves “it is not their fault”

  2. Innoscent

    What is utterly vicious with abuse is that not only it works through deception but also it slowly erodes the victim’s defense system and weakens making her feeble and unable to react. Just like a parasite.

    By the time you realize something is definitely not right, you’ve been deprived of much of your strength, health, faculties, etc., sucked from within. It literally is a divine miracle to finally escape from the grips of such prolonged enslavement.

    If the church –the school of Christ– was diligent in teaching the truth, everyone would be taught about the tactics of evil and would know how to read the red flags denounce it and do what’s needed. There is a great lack of teaching about the spiritual battle between good and evil.

    Thank you Jeff and team for this blog exposing just that battle.

  3. Beth

    You nailed it! I lived with this for a very looooong time. Finally, God took the blinders off for me. And He freed me from my abuser. A major reason I didn’t act sooner is that I was taught to submit to my husband, and I did so. Much to my detriment. My mentors had instructed me to ‘submit more’, ‘try harder’. I did not think I had any other options. In those days abuse was rarely spoken about. Thankfully, now, others can learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others. I knew the Scriptures were being violated all the time, but I could not prove adultery and therefore thought I had to stay. I’m sure God used those years to make me more like Jesus, but that kind of continuous abuse is morose and is not God’s will for any woman. For what is left of whatever time I have left, I am thankful to be free. Please keep up with your warnings. This Scripture verse is very obscure, and I’m sure I have read it many times, but the truth of it has not been emphasized. I am thankful for your ministry and the way it blesses me and others. I will mark this Scripture in my Bible for future reference.

  4. SJH

    Predators recognize prey. Abusers are skilled at choosing who and when and how to abuse (no witnesses present).

    Being targeted does NOT mean we are weak, just unaware. Often targets are highly compassionate, caring, non-aggressive people – and the abusers take full advantage of these good characteristics.

    Eventually, the calmer a target remains and surrounds themselves with knowing supporters/witnesses, the mask will slip…and others will come forward.

  5. Knowing is freeing

    Thank you Pastor Crippen, and the other commenters as well – all are quite relatable. Your last line “And now we know.” is awesome. Once the horror and fallout of truly seeing it (the abuser’s/deceivers) for what it is, settles in some – there is freedom. Freedom from SUCH an incredible burden. It seems it was ultimately more painful knowing something was off and not seeing the why, then it is knowing the why and enduring the fallout. I would’ve never envisioned this very tough “seeing” road being so much better (not necessarily always easier, just better!) and freeing, but in our Lord’s design, it is….. and now we know!

  6. Sarah

    Thank you, Pastor!

  7. Dawn

    In my experience, the one thing the church does not teach about is evil and how to spot it. Given how much the Bible speaks about evil and being able to identify it, Christians should be experts in the subject. It is a sign of the sorry state of our churches that this is not true. I grew up with a narcissistic father and suffered tremendous emotional abuse as a result. I have also spent a good many years learning about narcissism and what to look for. I still let these people into my life but as soon as they show the tell-tale signs, I’m on to them. It doesn’t HAVE to take a long time to figure them out. It takes education which, sadly, few people have and thus they have to learn the long, hard, slow, painful way about what they are dealing with.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. My comments are not meant to be critical of anyone. I’ve been at the same place so many people have been. I spent a good number of years questioning myself while dealing with a narcissistic father and, later, a narcissistic husband. I got lucky because a family tragedy was the shock I needed to start me down the path of looking outside of myself for the source of my problems. Now, years later (and it took a long time to get here) I understand better what I see and what I can and can’t allow into my life.

    Education. Churches should be teaching this stuff.

    • Real truth. Thank you. And not only does it require education, getting wise also requires learners who WANT to get wise. So many people don’t.

  8. Grace

    Thank you for bringing clarity and pointing out Scripture which the church conveniently doesn’t mention. On some level, we know there is something wrong, but the conditioning kicks in and tells us it must be us, we are too critical, be more loving, let it go, etc. The evil ones are masters at impression management, which is a deceptive covering for their true nature. A greater harm is when people we think are decent stand by and let it happen.


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