I had great hopes about doing the most careful study of I John I’ve ever done. I’ve dwelt in the book many times but for some reason have never given it the comprehensive study it deserves. Now I find I just don’t have the strength to think it through very deeply. So, for awhile at least, I’ll just drop it.
What I can do is keep putting into writing some of the ideas I’ve explored over the 55 years since I gave my life to the Lord. I don’t have to think so intensively about them.
One that has come to mind recently has to do with manipulative personalities. Naturally, Trump makes it impossible not to be highly alert to his petty mechanisms as a manipulator: He likes intimidation and flattery. He hates giving people enough information for them to understand what’s going on. Over the years I’ve dealt with several people with personalities twisted just like Trump’s.
But Christians have a manipulative tool not available to others. We can say, “The Lord told me to do this or say that.” Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? But such a way of speaking very commonly and frequently slips into an extremely serious manipulation.
First, it means the speaker is disavowing personal responsibility. We have no right to do that. We are responsible for ourselves and our decisions. Responsible means answerable. To whom are we answerable? Directly to the Lord. We are responsible for ourselves to our Lord.
Second, it puts the listener in the impossible position of feeling as if disagreement means resisting the Lord. If the decision was the Lord’s we cannot very well disagree, even if in every way it seems suspiciously unlike Jesus.
One young woman, who had earned the nickname “Buzzsaw” in another church before coming to the one where I was pastor, had a habit of beginning many of her comments with something like, “I’ve spent hours searching the Scriptures and praying about this and the Lord has shown me what you’re doing wrong.” That’s not helpful counsel, just plain manipulation.
Does this mean we cannot speak what we believe the Lord has taught us? Or that we must always refuse to listen when someone speaks that way to us? Not at all.
Want to pass on a word you believe you’ve heard from the Lord? Do so but do it without the manipulation. If the word truly is of the Lord, it will not need your emphasis or your help to reach the heart of the other person.
Want to know how much attention you should pay to one who speaks to you in that way? Two words come quickly to mind: character and maturity. If the person is mature in the Lord and of high character, we have good reason to take them seriously. There have been certain people in my life whom I trust so deeply that, were they to speak in that manner (none ever has), I would pay careful attention. I would still be responsible for any decisions I might make in response but the decision itself would, at the very least, come close to matching what they were saying.
People of Christlike character do not manipulate others because manipulation is demonic. Simple enough, right?