For a Christian, manipulation means attempting to gain control of someone or circumstances using unbiblical means by inciting an emotional reaction rather than a Biblical response. We might be surprised to find how common this happens and discover that we might not only be the manipulated but also the manipulator.
“There is an interesting biblical term that may come close to describing manipulative individuals. The word is oppressor. There are several Hebrew words that have been translated into English as oppressor. Take the word, ‘asoq’, for example. According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the word is concerned with acts of abuse of power of authority, the burdening, trampling, and crushing of those lower in station. Another interesting word for oppressor it ‘tok’. Used in Proverbs 29:13, the term connotes fraud and deceitfulness…manipulators deceitfully conceal significant information from those whom they are trying to control.” ~ Lou Priolo
From our earliest moments of life we become aware of our ability to manipulate. Think of the screeching toddler in the store that wanted something and has just been told, ‘No.’
It only intensifies with age and therefore, practice. Maybe a person has done it for such a sustained amount of time they aren’t conscious of how they are being manipulative? Perhaps…and since we cannot know the heart of another, if someone attempts to manipulate us we need to lovingly confront them with their behavior and hope to reveal their thoughts and motives to be able to address them.
On the contrary, there are those who know exactly what they are doing and forge ahead with tenacity and with willful and deliberate sin to obtain their desired outcome.
If you have to resort to manipulation for a desired outcome, most likely that desired outcome, is wrong. Even if the desired outcome in itself is not sinful, the willingness to sin for it has created an idolatrous desire.
So what is the Biblical response to manipulation?
Jesus never answered a foolish individual with a foolish response. He never fought folly with folly. In communicating with fools, He never employed communication forms that violated scripture. ~ Lou Priolo
Although there were those who attempted to manipulate Christ, none were successful. Christ never responded with the same folly as those trying to manipulate Him because that would be using the same sinful communications tactics as the manipulator. Rather, he exposed their folly for what it was and He did so without sinning. That ought to be our desire as well, to maintain pure motives, if we hope for the Lord to bless our efforts and be pleasing to Him. Otherwise, we become the very manipulator we are trying to expose and we wind up with two fools poorly communicating in futility.
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” ~ Proverbs 26:4-5
Manipulation shows itself in a variety of tactics with the goal of getting its way: flattery, false promises, crying, pouting, marginalizing, badgering, anger, yelling, insulting, degrading, demanding, guilt, false accusations, lying, and even through intimidation or threat. These are all wicked and drastically fall short of loving God and loving one another.
Let’s look at Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16, starting with verse 21: 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Now, some might say that was harsh of Jesus to refer to Peter as Satan. But just as Satan attempted to manipulate Christ in the wilderness to divert Him from the cross and the plans of God, so was Peter.
Peter had lost sight of God’s plans and purposes for Jesus and was focusing on his own desired outcome by rebuking Jesus and demanding that He do no such thing. So much so, that he was willing to disobey God in the process by being a hindrance to His plans. Peter was sinning and Jesus’ rebuke restored Peter to be pleasing and glorifying to God, not a hindrance.
How did Jesus do that? First, He didn’t respond to Peter with the same folly but rather addressed Peter’s personal responsibility by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.”
Secondly, He answered Peter according to his folly with an appeal to Peter’s responsibility toward God’s will, “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
This follows the wisdom provided in Proverbs 26:4-5 mentioned previously. Jesus’ response to Peter should have a profound impact on us that if one of Jesus’ most devoted disciples unwittingly became a mouth piece for Satan how much more easy will it be for us.
So how do you know when you or someone else has crossed the line from convincing truth to sinful manipulation? It happens at the moment when we employ unbiblical means to get the result we want. It’s the moment when convincing truth ends and artificial emotional stimuli to elicit a response begins, being mindful that some manipulators will even go as far as twisting scripture to manipulate just as Satan attempted to do to Jesus in the wilderness.
By loving people we ought to desire for them to choose change because it is reasonable and pleasing before God, not because we have manipulated them into a momentary feeling or action. We convince them from the Scriptures to choose the right course of action but not by piling on pressure until they break under the burden of pleasing us rather than God. It is imperative that we be mindful of holding people to God’s standards, not our own.
“The difference lies in the means we use to persuade. The Word of God is the only legitimate means of persuasion. Legitimate persuasion is cognitive—stirring the mind with reasonable truth. Convincing with tear-jerking stories, histrionics, and emotional outbursts takes an unfair advantage of people and wrongly muddles their thinking. That does not mean we cannot use all the communication skills available to us, but we should avoid playing on people’s emotions… These are artificial and should be avoided because they bypass the reason.” ~ John MacArthur
The misuse of guilt is one of the more prominent ways in which manipulators reach for those invisible chains. Be wise to obligatory remarks that have no Scriptural mandate.
Church Leader to Church Member ~
Manipulative comment: “If your priorities were right, you’d be here (at church) every time the doors were opened.”
Biblical response: “Brother, where exactly does it say in the Bible that Christians are supposed to be at church every time the doors are opened? Haven’t you taught us that God has given Christians other priorities besides their ecclesiastical responsibilities?” ~ Lou Priolo ~ Manipulation, Knowing How to Respond
We can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle our ‘no’. If we are the one that responds ungraciously when told ‘no’, even though a reasonable appeal was appropriate and the answer remained ‘no’, then we need to examine our motives in light of God and His Word.
In the instance that we are the one being manipulated we have a responsibility to lovingly confront it (unless there is imminent danger then we need to seek outside intervention whether through family, friends, church or law enforcement). We must make our ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ mean ‘no’ to ensure we are obedient and pleasing to God rather than man. (Matthew 5:37, Galatians 1:10)
“When you are engaged in a verbal battle with a bully, remember that, ‘the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God’. (James 1:20) If the shoe were on the other foot and you were the one acting like a fool, think about how you would want someone to reprove you…Have as your heart’s desire to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, who never spoke in sinful unbridled anger or foolish, proud defense of Himself. He always perfectly showed love for God and for others even when (and especially when) they were sinning…So, learn to speak the truth in love and be assured that regardless of how the sinful manipulator sins you can ‘keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you were slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” (1 Peter 3:16-17) ~ Martha Peace, Damsels in Distress
For further study please consider the following: