I have written in the past about pastors and other religious leaders using their so-called spiritual authority to control people in their churches. Spiritual abuse is not pretty, particularly because it is done "in the name of the Lord" and the abuser is deceived into believing he is doing the will of God. However, attempts to control, manipulate and coerce others is not limited to religious leaders. Every relationship between two people has the potential to be a relationship where one person trys to control the other person. Whether it be family relationships, workplace interactions, or personal friendships, there is always the risk that someone with whom you relate will attempt to control what you think, when you act, or how you feel.
Controlling and manipulating other people is not Christian. Jesus never pressured people to follow Him. His words, "Come, follow Me" (Mark 10:21) form a selfless invitation, not a strategic manipulation. Followers of Christ always benefit when they accept the invitation to follow, but Christ is unaffected and unchanged whether the invitation is accepted or not. There is no need for Christ to coerce, manipulate or control others to follow Him, because He doesn't need people to follow Him in order to feel worthy, significant and valued as a Person. He is worthy, significant and valuable in Himself. And, more importantly, He both knows and feels His worth and significance. He doesn't need others to follow Him and He doesn't need to know that other people value Him. That's why Jesus never manipulates or controls anyone. What Jesus does is purely selfless because He Himself is without need in His inner being. Jesus wins us over by His love and inner strength. He is fulfilled in Himself. Our rejection of Him does not affect Him because He doesn't need us to feel worthy. Therefore, He doesn't coerce us.
Christ came that we might have His kind of abundant life. You and I won't know what it means to really live until we understand our value, our signficance and our worth in God's eyes. When He becomes our primary Source of life, we will not need others as alternative sources. For example, when the love of Christ becomes my primary source of love, then my life is not threatened by the absence or withdrawal of another person's love. When the significance I feel in life comes from knowing how much Christ values me, then I don't need to manipulate my circumstances or control my environment to ensure other people value me. When I begin to understand that what makes me honorable as a person is the honor I have in God coming and dying for me, then I don't worry too much whether or not people around me see me as honorable. When I begin to see that my reputation is all about what He thinks of me (and what He thinks of me must be pretty doggone good to do what He's done for me), then I don't care what others think of me. When He is my Source, I don't panic at the lack of alternative sources.
So next time you find yourself trying to control or manipulate someone to say, do, feel, or be the way YOU want, ask yourself one simple question: What am I needing? Controllers and manipulators always need something. And, no matter how good and godly anybody tries to make it sound, controlling and manipulating other people to, say, do, feel or be a certain way is evidence that there is a great void in the inner life of the manipulator. That void can only be filled by the knowledge of Christ and His grace relationship with us. For this reason, to give in to coercive behavior is to enable the manipulator to continue finding his life in secondary sources rather than Christ. And to give in or to give up is about the worst thing you could ever do for the manipulator you love in your life.
Think about it.