Strange Delusions, Obsessions and Fixations Among God’s People

Some years ago, a man who attended the same church as I did came down with an inoperable  brain tumor. The Wednesday evening prayer meetings made much of praying for his healing. One of the elders, whom I knew and respected very much, prayed quite confidently and fervently that he had had an inner witness that this was not ‘an illness unto death,’ and about trusting God for healing. Nevertheless, within three weeks the man passed away from the brain tumor.

At another time, a prominent Christian author had one of her infant grandchildren fall into a serious disease. According to her relatives, she was determined that God was going to heal that child, but before long, the child passed away also.

At another time, a prominent leader in Great Britain was convinced that a young couple who had attended his Bible college were called of God to minister alongside him at his Bible college. If memory serves me correctly, he also had some dire predictions of what would happen to them if they did not follow the leading that he claimed that he had. They did not have the same sense of leading and assurance, and ended up going to South Africa, and before long had a fruitful ministry in revival that affected many worldwide.

At still another time, a young man showed up at the front door of Joni Eareckson (before her marriage to Ken Tada). After some questioning, he revealed that he had read her book Joni, and had driven across the country due to feeling that God was leading him to propose marriage to her. He was shocked to learn that he was the third such young man to show up on her doorstep in the past six months. She and her caretaker were then able to have a gentle talk with him, where they explained to him that God does not mislead us, but there are times that we misread his will.

One definition of a delusion is that it is a fixed false belief. The definition of a fixation is ‘the state in which an individual becomes obsessed with an attachment to another person, being or object.’ The result of this fixation is often foolish, immature, neurotic, dysfunctional or even destructive behavior.  An obsession, then, is a fixed, often false, idea, desire or image which dominates a person’s life and actions, and it often results in foolish, immature, neurotic, dysfunctional or even destructive behavior. Here is what I would define as the end result of a delusion, fixation or obsession for a believer: the relentless hot pursuit of what is not the will of God from the scriptures. And when an obsession involves one or more other people, it becomes the relentless hot pursuit of what is not the will of God from the scriptures in someone else’s life.

Unfortunately, many times, otherwise godly and sensible people fall into these kinds of delusions, fixations and obsessions. For many, these are simply a difficult and temporary part of growing in Christ, where they come to a more mature and well grounded faith in him and a more serious and wise ability to follow his will as in the scriptures. This results in more mature discernment of one’s own thoughts, emotions and intentions, as well as those of others, and most of all of the will of God. According to the scriptures, where that person becomes more fittingly part of the ranks of the spiritually mature, , “ . . . whose perceptive faculties have discernment of right and wrong through having been exercised in continual use” (Hebrews 5:11). Most of these examples that I cited at the outset would have fallen in these kinds of temporary delusions and resulted in what should be the normal outcome, the realization that we might misread the will of God and a due caution and care for discernment of the will of God.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen anything much in the way of more modern pastoral literature on how to understand and deal with the deluded, fixated and obsessed. Several centuries ago Richard Baxter had some insightful things to say, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones commended what he had to say as being relevant, although the primary obsession he mentioned were those that believed that they had committed the unpardonable sin.  These suffering people may have actually had some form of what we now recognize as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though. What I’m writing about isn’t so much something that may be able to be traced to an organically based mental illness – a kind of brain dysfunction or disease – but is a kind of disordered thinking and relentless pursuit which occurs in people who may be otherwise normal in the way that they behave.

From my personal experience over the years among believers and others, I believe that there are a number of other manifestations of thoughts and behavior among believers that count as delusions, obsessions and fixations. My personal thought is that a great deal of the literature on pastoral care has focused on the kind of people that psychiatrists such as E. Fuller Torrey have called, “the worried well” – people who have no discernible brain dysfunction but need guidance and support through normal difficulties and adjustments of life. I would submit that the obsessed, fixated and deluded fall into a third category – those may have no discernible brain dysfunction but who show stubborn obsessive and delusional behavior and often stubborn malignant and destructive tendencies toward others. And those in this third category would therefore be as much a concern of the pastor and theologian since there needs to be a genuine moral foundation to be able to call such behaviors of thought, word and deed as living in a falsehood and morally wrong and destructive.

In no way, however, do I think that Christian belief in itself can be characterized as a delusion, fixation or obsession, contrary to some of the most vocal atheists. Rather of the people that I’ve known who could be characterized as having some kind of delusion, fixation or belief, their Christian faith and their actions which correspond to scripture and Christlike love are rather the most sane parts of their life and behavior. Whatever they have in the way of their Christian faith and their adherence to scripture in fact give them the greatest hope and the strongest and deepest moral foundation to overcome these behaviors. In fact, a greater understanding of and adherence to scripture is actually the best way out of their delusions, fixations and obsessions, and the best hope for relief and remediation for them and for their family and fellow believers from the destructiveness of their behavior.

Here, then, are the observations and recommendations that I would make for these situations in regard to pastoral care and Christian ministry within an loving, caring church that believes in and seeks to live by the Word of God.

Genuine believers can have fixations, delusions and obsessions: The first thing needed to be able to minister to those with delusions, fixations and obsessions is  simply the recognition that the reception of eternal life through faith in Christ does not automatically free anyone from ever having a delusion, fixation or obsession. Coming to a scriptural faith does not mean that a person has been purified of all possible delusional, fixated and obsessive behaviors of thought and life. It is simply a great overreach of II Corinthians 5:17 to assert that salvation means that our every thought becomes correct and conforms to reality and our every feeling and intention is pure and well grounded. It does mean, though, that there is real hope that anyone can through Christ discern and grow beyond his or her delusions, fixations and obsessions. And in addition, the resource of a scripturally wise and loving church can enable people to develop relationships of sufficient depth, confidentiality and safety that these kinds of problems can be dealt with, and the past can be covered with forgiveness, patience and confidentiality.

It’s often astonishing to realize how many otherwise seemingly normal, functional and spiritual people may be ruled by extraordinary obsessions in different areas of their lives. And because the image that many people have of insanity is that it is constant in all areas of a person’s life and results in constant irrational behavior, others may not really understand the walking insanity that constitutes these obsessions, fixations and delusions. They see the social rationality in many situations, but they do not recognize that the walking insanity of these fixations, obsessions and delusions, which are often cordoned off into separate areas of a person’s life, is really a form of walking insanity which manifests itself in certain situations and with certain people.

Obsessions, fixations and delusions are rooted in disordered thinking, foolish and wicked schemes and unfulfilled desires. For people to enter into these kinds of obsessions, fixations and delusions, there are definitely some common trigger situations and common . Usually these related to the pursuit of deeply held and entrenches wants and desires.

It can be quite painful, spiritually and emotionally draining and even spiritually and emotionally debilitating to be the target of an obsession, fixation or delusion. Few believers and Christian leaders seem to understand how serious it can be to be the target of an obsession. One of the terrible effects of a delusion, fixation or obsession is the extent to which it can deprive the target and others around the target of personal safety, social safety, family safety, church and workplace safety. In fact, the obsessed may come to gloat in how much they terrify and intimidate the target, and this will happen more and more if the obsessed continue to grow in contempt toward the target. The target has to spend a great deal of thought, effort and time to guard against and deal with the wicked interruptions and interference which often come from the deluded, fixated and obsessed. The deluded, obsessed and fixated may attempt deeply wicked and malicious interference in the marriage prospects, marital and family life, church life, career and vocational life and choices of the target by their attempts to play God in someone else’s life. Stalking behaviors are common at this point: they may stalk a person throughout his or her life (life stalkers) or from church to church ( church stalkers) or from one romantic relationship to another (romantic stalkers) or throughout a person’s career, from job to job ( job stalkers). In fact, the stalking behaviors in which the most deeply obsessed, fixated and deluded get entrapped and enmeshed result in them becoming even murderers.

A personal and continued deliverance from self conceit and personal fantasies strongly lessens a believer’s vulnerability to pursuing obsessions, fixations and delusions. Something many believers need to learn not to do, as a part of deliverance from self conceit, is to let go of a relentless drive to prove oneself right. This may often be the underlying drive that keeps a person in pursuit of obsessions, fixations and delusions: the drive to prove that my ideas are right and my ideas for myself or someone else or some situation are right. Eventually, though, a growing believer will come to the recognition that it is folly to pursue the justification of one’s own ideas, opinions and judgment rather than to hold deeply to scriptural convictions and scriptural conduct toward others. Obsessions, fixations and delusions will often be found to be deeply entrenched wicked schemes, and the renewal of the mind from Romans 12:2 will eventually root them out and purify the thoughts and the thinking apparatus. The person who goes through this process learns that being a follower of Jesus is more than picking up a few new religious ideas and saying some new religious words, but that Jesus becomes Lord over every thought and deed, and his reign over our thoughts and deeds purifies them and guides us to humility, joy and peace.

Delusions, fixations and obsessions are symptoms of character disorders. Delusions, fixations and obsessions are a large part of the behavioral complex of pathological narcissists, borderlines, addicts and abusers. They form within their own thought life a very large private psychological justification of the misery that they inflict on themselves and others. As far as modern psychiatry and psychology is able to determine, all these are learned behaviors without any basis in physical brain dysfunction. And certainly a wise preaching and teaching ministry which deals both compassionately and firmly with people’s obsessions by the Word of God can be a large part of alleviating the misery of these kinds of misery makers – both the misery in which they find themselves and the misery which they inflict on others.

God’s Word is sufficient to break through delusions, obsessions and fixations: The third thing to recognize is the sufficiency of the Word of God through the Spirit of God to deal with and awaken people who are trapped in delusions, fixations and obsessions. The truth of the Word of God is often the deciding factor in pulling believers out of these kinds of delusions, fixations and obsessions. Quite frankly, when I’ve been in contact with believers who are caught in delusions, fixations and obsessions what I’ve seen is that what there is that is right about them is what they know and possess of Christ and his Word.

Demonic influence may be behind many delusions, fixations and obsessions: Dealing with those who are trapped in delusions, fixations and obsessions often leads to a realization that they might have been led into them and are being kept in them through demonic temptation and influence. It’s easily possible to see in some people that these kinds of delusions, fixations and obsessions are in fact demonic strongholds in their lives, and a real fortification of the powers of darkness. The scriptural model for the traps in which the deluded, fixated and obsessed find themselves is the temptation of Jesus Christ, where Satan appealed to his legitimate desires for provision, God’s will and demonstration of his Messianic credentials but sought to entice him to fulfill them outside the will of God. It’s easily possible to see, then, how giving in to the same kinds of temptations that Jesus faced can lead to the kinds of delusions, obsessions and fixations.

It is in these cases that wise, confidential and faithful prayer with fasting for a real truth encounter of the deluded, fixated and obsessed is necessary.  In these cases I would advise very much against making this the kind of prayer request where someone goes around trying to collar every warm body in the fellowship of believers to pray for this, but rather the private prayer of two or three faithful believers who can trust God together for the pulling down of strongholds. Most certainly, someone who likes to talk a lot about others behind their backs – even if that person has the title or office of pastor or elder — is NOT a good candidate for this kind of prayer or ministry – and certainly godly and conscientious pastors and elders need to advise such a person to shut up in a godly, gentle and loving fashion.

Here are the foundational characteristics of delusions, obsessions and fixations:

  • Extreme and unreasonable urgency: There is a highly exaggerated sense of urgency and need for something that is desired from the target of the obsession and fixation. There is pretty much no willingness to wait for any change of circumstances and results from extended prayer. In fact, the obsessed and fixated often are quite vehement in their demands for what they want from their targets. They want it now, immediately, and they will demean, disparage, slander and pretty much do anything to get what they want from the target. The way that this is demanded and pursued demonstrates that the delusion, obsession or fixation comes from fallen human nature, often enough under the instigation of demonic beings, and not from any legitimate scriptural desire.
  • Dehumanizing the target: Where an obsession involves another person, there is often a complete disregard of the legitimate needs, thoughts, desires,  choices and feelings of the target of the obsession, especially where scripture recognizes these as completely legitimate. The other person simply does not exist as a real and separate person to the obsessed, with real and legitimate needs, thoughts, desires, choices and feelings. There is simply a treatment of the other person simply as an extension of the thoughts, needs, desires, choices and feelings of the obsessed, and certainly not as a person who can read, understand and follow the scriptures and who can follow God without the help of the obsessed person. This tendency to treat others this way often surfaces in the pathologically narcissistic. Often the target is someone to whom they feel superior in some way, from whom they believe they can achieve some self aggrandizing goal, and in whom they may believe there is insufficient personal resources and support from other people to fend off or fight off their delusions, fixations and obsessions.
  • Growing disparity over time of the narrative of the obsession and reality: There is a large and growing disparity of the deluded, fixated, and obsessed in thought, word, and deed  with both scripture and reality, unless God gives deliverance to the deluded, fixated and obsessed. This reflects a growing self deceit and life of outward deceit. The precepts of scripture and genuine, objectively verifiable facts of the situation are insufficient to dissuade the fixated and obsessed. Even so, there needs to be a firm reliance on and adherence to scriptural teachings on belief and conduct by those who may be in contact with the fixated and obsessed. In fact, there may well be wild misinterpretations of scripture that help to  reinforce the deluded, fixated and obsessed in their ideas. Extreme exaggeration is found when comparing what is said with what is real.
  • Extreme stubbornness: There is an extreme intransigence and stubbornness in the rightness of one’s thoughts, words and actions, even when these are shown to be contrary to scripture and verifiable facts. This shows the great hardness of heart that can be part of the spiritual component of delusions, fixations and obsessions. They are convinced that they are right, even when scripture and circumstances show them to be wrong, and they continue for months, years or decades in their hot pursuit of what is not the will of God for their life and for the lives of others.
  • Rooted in heart idolatry: Deluded, fixated and obsessional behavior can therefore become a kind of idolatry, where getting what one wants from a person or a situation is what a person truly wants far more than submission to the will of God. It’s easy, therefore, to understand how the deluded, obsessed and fixated can be under the control of the reprobate mind (Romans 1:28-32). The types of idolatry often seen here are the personal Messiah complex, the idolatry of getting one’s own way, the idolatry of crushing a perceived enemy,  the idolatry of the public image and the idolatry of romantic or sexual escapes.
  • Oblivious to the actual effect of their behavior: The deluded, fixated and obsessed are often oblivious to or in denial of the actual effects and consequences of their behavior on others, particularly their targets. They may make extravagant claims of great affection, love and good intentions toward their targets, and show real or feigned hurt and astonishment at that person who may in fact be running as fast and as far away from their obsessiveness for them. They do not recognize that scripturally, “Love does not do harm to one’s neighbor” (Romans 13:10) – that the actual effects and consequences of their behavior are what scripture addresses, and not mere statements of intentions.
  • Magical thinking: There is enough magical thinking within evangelical churches with flood of quasi-scriptural or psychobabble formulas that arise from the evangelical media and publishing industry. Magical thinking is that living according to the scriptures means that if a person does these things everything will work out in this life for that person and conversely, if someone isn’t living as someone else thinks that they ought to then it’s because they are acting contrary to the magical formulas. It is the divorce of trust and obedience from a true daily relationship with God through Jesus to trying to get what a person wants in this life through adherence to what may be sometimes simply acts of conformity to the words and deeds of fellow believers or sometimes even something close to scripture, but treating the whole thing as a series of magical formulas to get what I want for myself and from others. One of the consequences of this way of life is that , along with a personal lack of discernment, the absorption of these formula brings along with it a kind of arrogant callousness that believes that another person’s life can be used as a laboratory to experiment with these formulas. These people are often then on the lookout for someone else to use as their experimental ground for their often deluded versions of these formulas, and they may often exhaust themselves trying to enmesh others in what turns out to be only a series of very wicked and childish web of their schemes. The truth is that naïve and easy going believers may themselves descend into acquiescence and cooperation with these wicked and childish schemes. This  will never lead to peace, but rather to greater enmeshment and enslavement to these formulas. God’s way is never to have any believer ever enmeshed and  enslaved to another believer, but to follow the scriptures with open eyes and a loving trust and obedience directed at him through Jesus Christ.
  • Loss of sense of God’s presence:  The obsessed, fixated and deluded may sense this and in fact it might be quite troubling to them when they begin to follow the path of an obsession, fixation or delusion. may have periods of strong sense of condemnation from going against conscience, conviction of the Holy Spirit. In scriptural terms, such a person is walking in darkness and living a lie (I John 1:7-10) and such a person is often also walking in hatred toward another person as the obsession deepens. A deep hardness of heart may then result from this obsession, and that person may actually find conviction of the sinfulness of the sinful behaviors lessening or ceasing. These are not a sign that the behaviors which the Word condemns are correct, but rather that the Spirit of God is beginning to distance himself from someone who is going further into his or her hardness of heart. God has not promised always to make us repeatedly aware of our sin, but rather has stated explicitly that his Spirit will not always contend with people bent on their ways of wickedness (Isaiah

There are several examples of the obsessed within the scriptures. Saul, the king of Israel is a strong example of the destructively obsessed, with his destructive obsession has its center in envy of God’s designated successor, David, the man after God’s own heart. And his New Testament namesake Saul of Tarsus, before he became Paul the apostle, is another example of destructive obsession, where his destructive obsession had its center in religious zeal. Many, if not the vast majority, of abusive men and women are destructively obsessed with others, and often one or more particular people – to subjugate, rule, control or even destroy that person.

Here are the characteristics of the destructive, envious obsession of Saul the king of Israel:

  • His obsession arose from anger, fear and jealousy (I Samuel 18:8-9, 12, 29).
  • His obsession was justified to himself, at least, by his fixed false beliefs about David having a conspiracy against him and being in rebellion (I Samuel 22:13).
  • His obsession included deluded zeal for his household and his dynasty (I Samuel 20:31)
  • His obsession became destructive to own family members when they refused to be drawn into it (I Samuel 20:30-34).
  • His obsession was exacerbated by demonic influence (I Samuel 19:9-10).

The obsession of Saul with David, as mentioned, produced an outburst of raving, maniacal rage when family members directly addressed it (I Samuel 20:30-34). Unfortunately, this is sometimes what happens when one of these obsessions, fixations and delusions is directly confronted or when it becomes apparent that the obsessed, fixated and deluded is not going to get what he or she wants in that situation. This is why direct confrontation may need to be done in a way and manner where the person doing the confrontation can take due concern for his or her physical safety. And this is why many of the bystanders remain bystanders or even cooperate with the obsessed, since they come to fear becoming a target of the same rage of the obsessed.

Both King Saul and Rabbi Saul show something else even more: that a position of leadership, even zealous religious leadership, is no barrier to becoming enmeshed in a fixation, delusion or obsession. Rather, it may become an outlet for a more destructive pursuit of an obsession or fixation than would be not be possible from someone not in leadership. Quite frankly, being in the office of leadership may then become part of the justification of the fixation, obsession or delusions. The demand for what they want is then based on being in the office of a religious leader. When this happens, someone in the office of spiritual leadership – such as a pastor or elder – may change from being a servant of the Word to a self appointed oracle or agent of the will of God in a situation, in one’s own life, or in the lives of others. This is termed spiritual abuse, and the authors Kurt Koch, Ronald Enroth and Neil Anderson have documented a number of such cases. Again, many people in our churches, including other leaders, often then become enmeshed in the schemes that the obsessed, fixated and deluded pursue. The stark implication is that people in our churches need to be much more heavily scripted in a discerning faith in and obedience to the scriptures themselves, and not to the pronouncements of someone in the office of a leader.

Romantic delusions, fixations and obsessions: These can become either obsessive love, or an obsessive desire for the love and admiration of another person with no intention of ever returning any love for that person. This would be a case of habitual pursuit of unrequited love. If I were serving as the pastor for someone where I observed these situations, what I would look for here would be a situation which the person was expecting to escape, a situation where that person never had much of a chance to learn and practice suitable methods for dating and courtship and wise evaluation of a prospective spouse. These might be a part of a pattern of extended and unwanted singleness or difficult relationships of those who had a number of boyfriends or girlfriends and still want that attention and admiration. Sometimes these indeed can become dangerous to the target. A scriptural example of such a romantic situation gone terribly wrong is the rape of Tamar by Amnon (II Samuel 13:1-22). Previously I wrote about these kinds of situations in Dangerous Infatuations. A more serious area is that of sexual obsessions, and these may eventually result in the sexual control, exploitation and abuse of another person. But these obsessions ultimately result in personal self gratification that comes at a terrible price and expense to another person.

Ultimately, though, these kinds of obsessions are rooted in an idolatry of romantic love and/or sexual gratification that is rampant in our modern North American culture. Ultimately these obsessions need to be properly directed toward directing all one’s expectations and satisfaction in marital love.

Dependency delusion: A person can also develop a kind of vocational and financial dependency that is related to an obsession. This comes when they come to believe that their provision as dependent upon someone else’s effort and ability instead of their own work efforts, or if they tend to indulge themselves in get rich quick fantasies.

Power and glory fantasies: These are characteristic of narcissists, and they may become obsessed with image and position  maintenance and indulge in deeply deceptive and malicious behavior related to their  social and reputational ambitions. Their behavior is all in support of an exaggerated self importance and a  habitual internalized self flattery. In churches, this may result in an indulgence in reprehensible church politics.

Fixing fixations: These are characteristic of the persona who exhibits the classic systems of codependency. This is where someone takes up a personal Messiah complex in attempting to fix what they believe is wrong with another person. The most entrenched may harbor a core belief that they or others will achieve some kind of happiness when they all live according to their whims, desires and ideas – and their whims, desires and ideas may not even originate from them, but may in fact simply be the ambient psychobabble of the culture. Parents and ‘empty nesters’ are particularly vulnerable to the ‘fixing fixation’ and they may result in repeated and entrenched inappropriate parenting behaviors of those who are not their children.

Social/Reputational: Again, this is  image maintenance, where a person obsesses to sustain his or her habitual, internalized self flattery.

Vengeance obsessions: These can be related to deep disappointment and hurt, and literature is filled with them: Achilles, The Count of Monte Cristo, and  Captain Ahab for starters.

Here are my final observations on the subject:

  • The Bible, rightly and sanely interpreted, is the safe guidepost to avoid and escape delusions, fixations and obsessions. Hold strongly to the primary truths of the Word in all situations. Moreover, as part of following the truth of the Word of God, there needs to be an unwavering determination to understand the truth in all situations and to an determination to act in accord with the love of Christ in all situations. Certainly the environment in which obsessions, fixations and delusions run rampant is an environment where there is a careless attitude toward following the Word, toward understanding and discerning the truth and toward treating others with the love of Christ in all situations.
  • Obsessions, delusions and fixations unmask our habitual idolatries. They show how much we may value our own reputation, ideas or self indulgence over the will of God as expressed in his Word.
  • Obsessions, delusions and fixations can be a path to victory or defeat when viewed as a trial of faith and obedience for both an individual believer or a fellowship. Understand that these situations may be a test of whether one will act in humility and submission to what the Bible says. For a person to attempt to support a course of presumption with growing encrustation of exaggerations and outright lies shows that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, was never a sponsor of that course of words and actions from the beginning.
  • Obsessions, delusions and fixations may in some cases persist in families and across generations. Damaged parents may pass on their own obsessions, delusions and fixations to their children, either through what they show in their behavior or in maturity they fail to pass on, or through outright enlistment of their children to help with their dirty work. Thus some obsessions, fixations and delusions follow generations in this way. The classic examples of this are the intergenerational family feuds noted in our literature, history and culture, such as the long standing and destructive Hatfield/McCoy family feud.
  • Obsessed, fixated and deluded people often try to enlist pastors, church leaders and other believers to aid them in their pursuit of their own obsessions, fixations and delusions. Pastors and church leaders especially need to avoid becoming enmeshed in the obsessions and delusions of others, though other believers will often be recruited as well. Be warned that there can be dire spiritual, emotional, social and perhaps even legal consequences and unnecessary personal damage of being enmeshed in someone else’s obsession.(social behavior of the abuser – Ephesians 4: no partnering with the shameful deeds of darkness) maybe exploitation of real compassion, but maybe promises of some good result in their lives, such as promotion, etc. – need recognition that they are making a deal with the devil in these cases
  • No one has perfect discernment of the will of God in all circumstances at all times, apart from the explicit statement of the Word of God, and any such declarations about another person need to be subjected to thorough discernment by the scriptures. Understand that having been led by God in any past situation does not mean that a person has become a flawless or even reliable discerner of the will and purpose of God in all situations, and being in an office of leadership does not equip a person to be any kind of oracle for the will of God for anyone’s life apart from clear and explicit statements of the Word of God. ; often comes from believing that God is acting in a situation just like another situation in the past; ruled by a false understanding of one’s own personal experience and spiritual past
  • The desires and behaviors of the fixated, obsessed and deluded are rooted in the spiritual rubble of an unregenerate past. Many of the these delusions, fixations and obsessions come from unfulfilled desires in a person’s personal, spiritual and professional life, and may well be rooted in the experience and circumstances of a person’s childhood and adolescence. Ephesians 4:17-24 is key to recognizing and rooting out these kinds of influences. I think that if a person is exposed to an in-depth preaching and teaching on this scripture on this passage early in one’s Christian life, it would have a great effect in reducing and preventing later deluded, fixated and obsessional behavior later, as well as encouraging believers in general to depart from habits of thinking, acting and speaking rooted in their life before they came to Christ:

    “This I say, then, and I testify in the Lord, that you are no longer to behave as the Gentiles behave in the futility of their way of thinking, since they are darkened in their understanding, since they are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them through the hardness of their hearts. They have become totally insensitive as they have given themselves over to sensuality to the accomplishment of all kinds of uncleanness with a desire for more and more. But you did not learn Christ in that way – if indeed you have heard and been taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off the old Man in regard to your former way of life, which is degenerating in its deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new Man, which has been created according to God in righteousness and true holiness.”

  • Personal and spiritual safety may mean putting separation between the obsessed and the target of that obsession. For their personal and spiritual safety, some people may leave church or change jobs to escape obsessions of others. In these cases there may never be a final repair of the relationship. In the case of dealing with someone who is romantically obsessed, a  refusal should probably be either over the telephone or in a public place with a trusted friend nearby (though not near enough to be a party to what probably should be a private conversation). But in these cases, care must be taken not to taunt, ridicule or demean the obsessed person and certainly not to spread any tales of the misbehavior of the obsessed. It is entirely possible that eventually the obsessed person may come to his or her senses and even become a good wife or husband to someone else in the future, even if that takes many years.
  • The target of an obsession, fixation or delusion often needs understanding, compassion and care as much, if not much more, than the fixated, deluded and obsession. The target is often the forgotten person in these situations. Where this treatment is actually abusive, the body of Christ needs to be loving, compassionate and supportive as much as possible. Here are some other posts where I dealt with the care of the target:  Deal Forthrightly with the Hidden Abuse in the Modern Church, Care First, God Does Not Demand Toughness; He Provides Overcoming and Enduring Grace , JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS SYMPATHY and JESUS AND THE ABUSED: HIS HELP 
  • The first step in the path of dealing with an obsession must be ending the behavior. The first step in counsel of the fixated, deluded and obsessed must be ‘Stop it.’
  • The sinful behaviors which come from an obsession, fixation or delusion need to be confessed as sin with heartfelt repentance. Call for confession and repentance may need to be quite explicit and also quite private. The fullness of repentance may only come over time. For instance, the sign of a control obsession ceasing would be when that person can say repeatedly, over the course of time, something to the effect of, “I don’t care whether this person follows my ideas of what he or she should do, but rather I want and pray for the will of God to be accomplished in that person and the image of Christ formed in that person without any of my personal specifications added in.’’
  • The obsessed, deluded and fixated need to learn and exhibit a forgiving, patient and generous spirit over the long term as an outgrowth of their repentance.
  • Others need to understand that they are not to be a party to repeated complaints, instigations and enlistments of twisted ‘help’ against the target of the obsessions, fixations and delusions.
  • It may become necessary to remove an obsessed person from a place or office of ministry, especially if that person is repeatedly crossing ethical and legal boundaries and repeatedly complaining and enlisting others in his or her wicked schemes.
  • More needs to be said about believers avoiding fantasies and daydreams and subjecting their wants and desires to the Word of God and prayer. Here I don’t mean fantasy literature, but any kind of fantasies and daydreams which build up false hopes and exaggerated desires within our hearts. Our modern entertainment industry serves up a lot of ready made fantasy and unrealistic behaviors to many highly suggestible people, and  fantasy and role playing games may become an escape and lead to more obsessive behavior for some people. Even more, much has been written and said about the role of popular romance novels and movies on many people. These may entertain the majority, but they become pathological when they begin to influence our behavior our behavior and lead seeking believers to act out what they have absorbed. Certainly Solomon was right in the proverb about how hope deferred makes the heart sick, and certainly exaggerated false hopes  and magical thinking make it sicker. The teaching of Psalm 37:4-6 makes it clear that subjection to the Word and to prayer of all our desires are the ways to find the fulfillment of our legitimate desires. I mean more in the way of learning how by the Word of God and prayer to formulate godly goals and godly means of attaining those goals.
  • Many may fall into obsessions, fixations and delusions through

    an overspiritualized understanding of matters of healing ,  of the call of God to ministry for oneself or for others or on matters of marital prospects. But God’s will and the way of the Holy Spirit is for a long faith and obedience to the Lordship of Christ in a persons life and transformation of that person’s thoughts, desires, emotions and character into the likeness of Jesus Christ ( II Corinthians 5:14-15, II Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 14:7-12). In no way, though, can we treat anyone who is a believer in Christ as if his or her obsessions, delusions and fixations will have the last word or are the last word about them, since God is more than able to deliver them, and he often chooses to do so over the course of a long sanctification of that person’s thoughts, emotions, desires and character.

Two Articles on Tim Tebow and Their Significance

I’d like to draw your attention to two articles recently shared on the Wall Street Journal’s online site that deal with the recent publicity about Tim Tebow, the forthrightly Christian quarterback for the Denver Broncos pro football team.

The first article, Does God Care Who Wins Football Games?, is by Fran Tarkenton. Tarkenton is a former pro football quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants, and is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL that never won a Super Bowl. He puts a wonderfully positive spin on what has been happening this season with the attention that Tim Tebow and his outspoken Christian faith has received. That Tim Tebow finds reason to praise God in a touchdown pass is wonderful; that he finds time and joy in visiting death row inmates and sharing the gospel with them should encourage every believer in Christ. 

The second article, The Secrets of Tebow Hatred, by the conservative Jewish commentator Michael Medved, has some more sobering thoughts. It reminds us that if we follow Christ, we may attract envy and hatred from others, especially if we show Christlike purity in our lives, and remain faithful to him even under intense scrutiny. In some people it comes down to Schadenfreude – the desire to see an upstanding, virtuous person fall, and to gloat over that person’s misfortune, especially if that person seems too good to be true. Medved mentions the discomfort that someone who seems to have so much going for him can do to make people who feel their imperfections and limitations more strongly.

This kind of schadenfreude is something that believers also need to be aware of as they live and work in this world. Certainly it’s possible for some believers to have been blessed with physical and intellectual capabilities that others do not have, just as some receive adversities. Certainly it is possible for some believers to excel and to prosper in this world, especially in the Western world, and  especially if they work hard and act with financial wisdom, and escape such financially ruinous situations as divorce and addiction. But just as certainly, we need to make sure that this kind of Schadenfreude does not infiltrate our churches and our relationships with other believers. And here’s why.

If I am a believer in Christ, Tim Tebow and I are both members of the body of Christ. His prosperity is in some way mine also, and any scorn or rejection heaped on him is mine also.

It was the same way also with the scorn and hatred that came to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as part of the Don Imus controversy. I listened to the coach and the women on that team express their strong Christian convictions as the controversy heightened, and I realized that what they experienced affected me in some way also.

So this also applies to the brothers and sisters in Christ in our church fellowships. What they go through in either blessing or suffering is in some way that of us all. And this is a reason why when there are social competitions and jockeying for position, rivalries and guerilla wars in our churches, they are so cancerous, and why even those who are not directly involved are affected. And this is a reason why when something happens that signifies honest blessing to one of us, that it also blesses the rest of us. “And if one member suffers, all the other members suffer together. If one member is glorified, all the other members rejoice as well” (I Corinthians 12:26).

The Hateful Heart


In reading I John this morning, it’s striking how much the aged apostle warned not only against false doctrine, but against false lifestyle. He defined false lifestyle not only as habitual disobedience but also as persistent and habitual hatred of another believer – another brother or sister – in Christ. See further such passages as I John 2:9-11, 3:11-15, and 4:19-21. Upon reflection, if I were again to be in the position of having to be the pastor of a small, struggling church, I would preach on at least one of these passages at the beginning of my ministry. I think now that one of the reasons that these churches become these small, struggling congregations is that there is at least one person with a persistently hateful heart toward other believers that is poisoning the fellowship.

It’s also striking to me how little preaching and teaching I can remember in the North American church that warns against the hateful heart. Yet there is abundant apostolic warning about it. In fact, the apostle Paul in Titus 3:3 describes the unregenerate life as one of living in “malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” Moreover, he places it among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. Yet, as far as I can tell, the average evangelical believer has probably heard more preaching and teaching that contain warnings about lust (that usually start with David’s midnight glance at Bathsheba) than even one on the terrible danger of the hateful heart. Unfortunately, this is normal when sin is treated as simply a matter of outward conduct, as not doing something which is socially embarrassing in modern evangelical circles. Unfortunately, the hateful heart is not something that can be overcome with the usual prescriptions of the modern evangelical self help tendencies. And I think that the abuse of others which has often gone unrecognized and unrebuked in the modern church may well be because of a failure to recognize this reality: the hateful heart is the malicious heart which is the abusive personality.

There’s a question that I have from all of this: Who left hatred off our list of sins?

For myself, I would say that the most serious and striking warning apart from the clear teaching of scripture to avoid hate another came from the account of Betsie ten Boom’s warning to her sister Corrie not to let her heart given in to hate, even as they lived through the horrors of Ravensbruck. It’s worthwhile to continue to read the book and show the movie of the Hiding Place even if only for that one warning. Warnings about letting hatred infect the heart also have come from Dr. Martin Luther King and John Perkins. Dale Galloway’s 1970’s book, Dream a New Dream, also contained a tremendous warning against hatred. And these warnings highlight one of the ways that hatred is spread, as a reaction to the hatred and abuse of another person.

I think that one big reason why there is so little warning about the hateful heart given in current preaching and teaching is that there is simply too much credit given to ‘good intentions’ among modern evangelicals. Yet this is the camouflage of choice for someone who is acting in persistent hatred: the claim to have ‘good intentions.’ So, here is what Solomon had to say about ‘good intentions’:

“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips,
and whoever spreads slander is a fool”

(Proverbs 10:18).

“A malicious man disguises himself with his lips,
but in his heart he harbors deceit.
Though his speech is charming, do not believe him,
for seven abominations fill his heart.
His malice may be concealed by deception,
but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly

(Proverbs 26:24-26).

So, in other words, scripture does not command believers to take someone at his or her word whose conduct demonstrates malice, envy and hatred, even if that person sometimes acts cuddly and charming, and claims to have ‘good intentions’ for the target of this kind of conduct. Rather, scripture here explicitly says not to believe the claim of good intentions. Rather, it’s reasonable to observe that genuinely good intentions most often result in  mistakes that can easily be repaired with a simple apology and clarification of a misunderstanding, not in long term, habitual malicious and slanderous conduct.

One of the reasons why hatred can infect a church is simply a failure and often a refusal to recognize the symptoms of the hateful heart. These are simply the persistent habits of hateful treatment of other people. Recognition of these patterns of conduct isn’t acting as the final judge on what is in someone’s heart, but rather recognizing what Jesus said about, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). How can anyone make a credible claim to ‘good intentions’ for another person when they persistently subject that person to and instigate others to subject that person to:

  • Constant ridicule and mockery (what does scripture say about ridicule and mockery?)
  • Constant deceitful and malicious contradiction (what does scripture say about deceit, subterfuge, dissembling and lying?)
  • Constant spitefulness (what does scripture say about malicious conduct?)
  • Consistent display of disdain and contempt toward the target
  • Malicious stalking of the target to gather information, disrupt life and legitimate pleasures, and recruiting of other people to monitor the target and report on his or her contacts with other people and activities (this kind of stalking and spying is evident throughout the Psalms, and was characteristic of Saul’s hateful treatment of David and Tobiah’s attempts to outmaneuver Nehemiah)
  • Constant demeaning of the actual character and achievements of that person
  • Exploitation of life tragedies and known disappointments for further sadistic abuse (how often does this happen throughout the Psalms, that someone gloats over and attempts to exploit the afflictions of the Psalmist – to deliver cowardly kicks to a person when he is down?)
  • Slander of the person’s character and personality – (in this day and age, this may include slanderous attribution of mental illness or trumped up difficulties – malicious embellishment, exaggeration and fabrication — to give a false justification that the target deserves the hateful treatment – or it may include blaming the target – projection — for the actual sins of the person with the hateful heart).

Moreover, genuine Christlike love does not consist in words but in deeds (I John 3:18). In these cases of claims of ‘good intentions,’ the words are camouflage. The other words and deeds demonstrate the presence of a hateful heart, for “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (Romans 13:10).

It’s been my observation that churches which have a long term, stable ministry develop a way of dealing with people who demonstrate hateful conduct over a period of time. Hateful conduct has a way of spreading among naive and immature believers and hateful people tend to try to recruit others to their wicked schemes. Simple rebuke and correction, though, can often bring a genuine believer to his or her senses – something like, “I’ve been hearing a tone of contempt and disdain for this brother or sister in Christ when you talk about his or her ‘problems,’ and it seems like you are trying to darken his or her reputation more than be of genuine help. I think that you should spend some time praying for this person, and apologize for the way you’ve been talking about him or her behind his or her back” – though it takes some scriptural nerve and Spirit led conviction to do this. Sometimes, though, the hateful person and his or her henchpersons end up leaving of their own accord if over a period of time their conduct is rebuked and they end up not getting their own way – these are cases where their disappointments are well deserved, and the body of believers may charitably hope that they eventually learn from their disappointments. Sometimes – and thankfully, few times – it takes strong discipline and expulsion from membership by the elders, upon the basis that this hateful conduct is divisive and falls under the directions of Paul in Titus 3:10-11. Note also these scriptural directions of the fellowship of believers on how to avoid hateful conduct when it seeps into and poisons a fellowship:

Hebrews 3:13: “ . . . encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Hebrews 10:23-24: “ . . . let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Note that the bitter root or root of bitterness, as in the King James Version, is a person who leads others astray and away from the path of godliness; the term is pulled from Deuteronomy 29:18.)

Ephesians 5:6,11: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them . . . Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, who who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also will be tempted.”

The apostle Paul’s description of the hateful nature of the unregenerate person in Titus 3:3 describes two of the reasons that people find for hatred of others. Here are those two, with some others:

  • Dislike of something about that person. This can sometimes open admission of hatred for that person, that kind or class of person. This would include any kind of class or racial prejudice. In many cases someone may openly admit this in a milder form: he or she is a person or type of person “ . . . that I have problems with” – that expression should be a red flag and should not be glossed over if it is freely admitted, especially if it’s in a setting like a small group where others can counsel and pray about the problem of dislike and potential and probable hatred for another believer in Christ. The reaction of other believers to these kinds of statements should be in accord with Galatians 6:1 rather than a blithe tolerance.
  • Envy of something that the other person has in some way that the person with the hateful heart may feel deprived of. Again, Galatians 6:1 gives the appropriate reaction.
  • Vengeance for some perceived wrong done against oneself or someone that a person wants to protect, such as a friend or family member. The scriptural reaction is not to take vengeance!
  • Exposure of the sin of the hateful person by correction or simply by the consistent Christian life of someone who is following Christ with all his or her heart. The convicting words and sinless life of Jesus was the reason that he gave for the undeserved hatred dealt to him (John 15:18-25), and it can be behind the hateful treatment of a believer who is following Christ with integrity and love (I John 3:12-13).  If this is the reason why when a believer known for his or her consistent Christian life becomes the target of hatred, the presumption cannot be that he or she deserves the treatment – particularly if the treatment contains such insinuations such as he or she being such a ‘goody two shoes.’ While some believers may well be self righteous and ‘holier than thou,’ the presumption cannot be, in the light of scripture, that that kind of epithet is always justified. Moreover, a believer in Christ can expect this treatment from the backslidden in a church fellowship and the world without Christ in general.

Another of the characteristics of the hateful heart is overkill: the malicious behavior against the target becomes more pronounced, exaggerated and persistent than any of the excuses or justifications would warrant, and eventually it becomes evident that the hatred is all that there is behind the malicious behavior. It’s been my observation that this deep, persistent and self justifying kind of hatefulness is especially characteristic where the hateful person actually knows that there is no justification for the malicious behavior than his or her own hatred.

Here are some scriptural ways to dealing with hatred and the roots of hatred:

  • Forgiveness and refusal to retaliate (‘get even’) for genuine and perceived slights, hurts and injuries
  • Refusal to judge, especially in the sense of the unfair application of one’s own likes and dislikes, preconceptions and prejudices to another person
  • Contentment in what God has given, can give and may yet give as a barrier against envy
  • Prayer for the supernatural, Holy Spirit power to love as Christ has loved us (Ephesians 3:16-17)
  • Commitment to the way of loving others at all costs
  • Redirection of one’s hatred to its true purpose, to a hatred of sin, and the sin in one’s own heart first of all and most of all.

There are two final observations that I’ve found from I John.  The first is that the hateful are spiritually blinded (I John 2:11). Usually others will find that whatever comes from their lips that sounds spiritual and Biblical is second hand; it comes from listening to and stealing the words of another’s spiritual experience and Biblical diligence. In fact, reading the Bible for themselves and spending time in prayer alone with God is usually something repulsive to believers who have become enmeshed in hatefulness. Even more, pastors who become hateful grieve the Holy Spirit and usually end up destroying their own ministries, even if they don’t end up in scandalous sexual sin. Their preaching becomes a litany of mockery, ridicule and controversy, that entertains some and grieves away many others. What they have done is descended from being someone for whom the Word of the Lord is his delight to standing in the way of the sinner and sitting in the seat of the mocker (Psalm 1). Rather,scripture itself calls for turning away from all that is hateful to be able to receive the Word of God profitably into one’s heart and soul: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (I Peter 2:1-3).

Finally, the most important observation and most serious for every professed believer in Christ: a hateful heart is eternal evidence against the reality of one’s conversion and a spiritual disease which testifies against the genuineness of a person’s regeneration (I John 3:14-15, 4:20). I would not mention this at all if it had not come with scriptural justification and apostolic authority. It’s one of the realities which the apostle John warned against, and it’s something that someone who takes the Word of God seriously in its plain sense must take seriously as well. This is something that I write with no pleasure and with all the seriousness that I can. It’s something against which a believer needs to fight with all that is within him or her through the power of Christ in the Holy Spirit, so that he or she does not allow hell to have an earthly outpost in his or her hateful heart.

This, then, will be one sign that genuine revival has come to a believer, a church or a number of churches: the purification of hateful hearts to the loving holiness and clarity of Christ.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Present Enemies, Ghosts and Scapegoats: Those Whom We Love to Hate

Present Enemies: those from whom we receive hostility, or those toward whom we feel hostility and anger, the desire to hurt or hit back for hurts received, for ourselves or those whom we desire to protect, such as family members and close friends.

One of the most lurid examples of vengefulness is the boastful song of Lamech, Genesis 4:23-24:

“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech,  hear my words;
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

(God promised to avenge Cain seven times if anyone would take his life in vengeance for his murder of Abel. Lamech is boasting that his vengeance accomplished more than God for less provocation.  This is an example of the extreme defiance of God that the Bible depicts among mankind before the Flood.)

  • Write down one time that someone hurt you and how you responded.
  • How typical is that of how you normally respond to hurts?  Very typical or often or sometimes or rarely?
  • How would you say that you normally respond to someone that hurts you?              
  • How would someone who knows you well say that you respond to hurts? Ask one person.

Ghosts: Former Enemies who still affect us

Midnight, July 16, 1943: a powerful force of United States Navy battleships, cruisers and destroyers was eighty miles southwest of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. General Quarters was sounded after several large ships reported radar contacts eight to twelve miles away. So the Japanese Navy was going to oppose them after all! They were ready for them; the Japanese would not be able to use their expertise at night tactics to win a quick victory!

The battleships and cruisers began to fire their big guns at the reported targets. During the next few minutes lookouts reported the wakes of torpedoes headed toward the ships. Others saw the flares and searchlights from Japanese warships. Men below decks felt the concussions of  shells that exploded beside their ships. One neurotic sailor had a nervous breakdown under the stress of battle.

No Japanese ships were within miles of the US force, though. The radar contacts were return echoes from islands from one hundred to one hundred fifty miles distant. All the visual sightings and perceptions of torpedoes, flares and searchlights, and explosions from near misses were from the wakes and gunfire of the other ships in the force. The power of suggestion made them appear  to be from enemy warships.

The “Battle of Kiska” gives a chuckle to old sailors, but something like it occurs in those who still continue to fight old battles with enemies long gone, separated by the circumstances of life or no longer the substantial threat they once were. Sometimes people continue to fire their guns and perceive opposition when the enemies are not there, and the others in their lives suffer the consequences.

Is there a former enemy who continues to rule the way that you act? (Ask someone close to you also if you seem to be fighting old battles.)

Scapegoats: Those on Whom We Heap Our Own Sins

The objects of blameshifting and smokescreening:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).

One of the most insidious ways that some deal with a guilty conscience is to accuse others of the sins that they themselves commit. This is a form of diverting the attention of others and one’s own conscience which Jesus here exposed.

Much of the needless criticism and gossip that some professed believers indulge in is actually of this nature, and the sin is sometimes deepened when the claim is made that these unrighteous accusations come from the Holy Spirit. But the truth is that no one has ever made himself look good by throwing mud at others, and the true conviction of the Holy Spirit does not work through slander and insinuations.  Indeed, it means that one is acting in the way of ‘the father of lies’ and  ‘the accuser of the brethren’ rather than of Christ.

The gossip needs to go to the scriptural method of dealing with his or her sin before God and man through repentance and receiving the forgiveness of Christ rather than the indulgence of a hateful spirit.

The objects of envy:

Spiritual envy:

“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous . . .  “ (I John 3:12).

Spiritual envy is the envy of another believer more mature in Christ, consistent  in his walk with Christ or seemingly prominent among fellow believers in ministry. It is begrudging another person what he has in spiritual gifts, experience and attainment by a false comparison with one’s own.  It is the reason why some professed believers try to bring down others who might seem to have more than they in their spiritual lives.

Material envy:

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”
(Psalm 73:2-3).

Material envy is the begrudging of another a superiority in material prosperity without regard to his or her spiritual standing.

The Christlike Way to Win: I Peter 2: 21-23 and Romans 12:17-21

The Example: “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.”

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.”  — I Peter 2:21-23

The Command: “Do not return anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, `It is mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” –Romans 12:17-21

Step 1: Avoid making enemies in the first place. Plan to do what is right and honest the first time; avoid doing anything which would appear to be harmful to another person.  Determine to admit when you are wrong, to tell no lie, and to give no one a reason to be angry with you. Many problems with others would neither begin nor continue if you determined to be honest, courteous, respectful and humble.

If you find yourself taking offense at the actions of another person, ask yourself whether another person intended hurt, or there was simply unexpressed or unreasonable expectations on your part. Misunderstandings may be at the bottom of some perceived hurts. Give others the benefit of the doubt, and be more ready to listen than to react: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20). Personal vendettas from misunderstandings interrupt what God is really trying to do in your life and the lives of others.

Step 2: Plan not to try to hurt and punish those who do anything to hurt you. It is wrong for anger at someone else to lead you into sin (Ephesians 4:26).  Plan and rehearse your  godly reaction. Make it an immediate reaction to the situation. Too often lingering resentment comes when some people, particularly the unassertive, clam up when they become angry. Others escalate the situation when they blow up in response to someone else.
Scriptural examples of godly reactions:

  • The soft anwer: “A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word turns away anger.” — Proverbs 15:1
  • Blessing and prayer: ” . . . bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” — Luke 6:28.
  • Gentle rebuke: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” — Galatians 6:1
  • Forgiveness: “When you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him,  so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” — Mark 11:25

Step 3: Let God be the Judge. If the other person has truly transgressed his will, God will enforce the consequences. Give the situation to God in prayer and ask him to be your Defender.

Step 4:  Plan to do something good simply out of obedience to God’s Word. Loving actions must come even if there are no loving feelings. The consequence may be a change of heart by the perceived enemy. The “Love Feedback” can turn that grudge around, and has the potential of strengthening the relationship rather than destroying it, and turning the potential enemy to a friend.

See also Matthew 5:43-48, for additional teaching from Jesus in accord with this passage. Ephesians 4:1-3 and 4:29-32 also describe Christlike actions, replacing hypersensitivity with patience and resentment with forgiveness.

Take the previous example of how someone hurt you and write out a reaction more in line with what Christ would do in your situation.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.”
— Matthew 5:9

“Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.”

— Psalm 34:11-16

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.