“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18 NLT)
When I was in elementary school, I was the typical kid who loved posters on her bedroom wall. I had this poster of an adorable kitten, with wire-rimmed glasses perched on its little face, and the caption read, “I’m easy to please as long as I have everything my way.” Now, the child in me wanted the poster because I was (and still am) an avid cat lover…but it’s odd that, nearly 40 years later, I can still remember that caption.
My lesson today will probably not sit well with some because I’m going to address this issue of a manipulative, self-absorbed spirit! Nowadays, we’re so “I” oriented that we’ve become sickeningly selfish and inconsiderate of others. Look at our products and their logos! “Have it your way.” A magazine called “Self.” And an entire electronics line whose first letter is “I.” I imagine that most of us are at least a little selfish in one or two areas of our lives (meaning we all need grace and we all need work!), but when our behavior smothers out, harms, and makes life miserable for others, Believers, we have a problem! Do we so quickly forget that we are not of this world, that we cannot act like everyone else does?
Now, while I’m not an advocate of just becoming a doormat for people to walk on, I believe that we’ve swung the pendulum so far in the opposite direction that we are the ones wiping our feet on other people. It’s never a good thing when someone oppresses someone else, but when the oppressor is a born-again believer, it is an ugly stain on the Body of Christ…and it’s most certainly NOT Christ-like.
Whether the emotional bully (what less can we call it?) is making life miserable at home, at school, at work, or at church, or at the grocery store, it’s a nerve-wracking experience for all who have to encounter him or her. So to the diva-mentality person, I speak directly: If you’re lording over other people, holding them hostage to appease your every want, it’s not “empowering” you at all. What you ARE doing, however, is making people hate being around you. Think that injecting fear or dread into others makes you more important, more respected? Think again. People who dread you will turn on you at the first opportunity they have to get out from under your oppressive thumbnail!
Think of how often we bully others with our unrealistic expectations! At a restaurant, we’re the people who are never satisfied with the meal. We find something about which to complain: the coffee too strong, the waitress not fast enough, the bread too done, etc. At church, we’re the people others have to tiptoe around to keep from offending, and we get offended anyway! At work, whether we’re the employee or the boss, we make life miserable for everyone else when it DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY! On our committee, we’re always the person who opposes EVERYTHING, argues over the most trivial details, tries to ask questions that make the presenter look stupid, uniformed, or inferior to us. And at home, we are the common denominator to most of the dysfunction in our families.
It’s bad enough when you are a nonbeliever, but friends, if you are a Christian, your bad behavior is really bad. No one will ever want what you say you have. Think of it…what chance do you have of ever winning to the Lord those people who are constantly bullied, manipulated, or made to fear you? A lot of times, when we’re persecuted or singled out, we want to holler that it’s because we’re believers…but I tell you, sometimes we are despised because we make ourselves despicable. And sadly, we cause Christ’s message to become despised because we represent Him in a shameful way!
I’ll never forget once when I was working in a union mine office. If you know me, you know I’m a gentle soul already, but back then in my early 20’s, I was timid and extremely gentle. We had to do an insurance change, and in order to make it easy for everyone, I had hand-typed the 60 or so insurance applications so that all the employees had to do was sign them. It was my first encounter with the employees as a group. So here I go, nervous and eager to please, and catch them at the shift change. I passed out all the forms and suddenly found myself one short. And it dawned on me…I left the last application stuck in my typewriter! Well, I proceeded to apologize earnestly for the error, and said I’d drive back to the office, get the form, and bring it the following day at shift change. Was I ever in for a surprise! They acted as if I had done it on purpose, that I had singled this man out! They gathered around him, patted him on the back, and assured him that they would make someone pay for this. I was scared to death, trembling, tears in my eyes! Now, they knew it was just an honest mistake, but they were going to misuse their solidarity to make it unnecessarily hard on the company because a young girl made a mistake. My boss never sent me to that particular worksite again. I was devastated!
Don’t get me wrong…I am not anti-union or anti anyone’s rights! I’m just using this story as an illustration to show how we pride ourselves on making things difficult on others because WE think…WE deserve…WE want. We anticipate folks will not respect us so we’re going to MAKE them pay. Manipulation and control are ugly spirits. Are there times when we should stand up for ourselves? Sure there are! But there are many more times that we pout, rebel, argue, withhold sex from our spouse, give someone the silent treatment, file frivolous lawsuits or grievances, or use “who we are” as leverage to make others go out of their way to appease us. I’ll even go on to say this: It’s wrong to try to make other people fear the color of your skin, or your gender, or yes, your religion. Don’t go there! Don’t use these distinctions as leverage to push people around! Do you use fear of what you might do to get your own way? I tell you, it’s wrong. God is not pleased!
So, how does this mentality stand up to Scripture? Let’s see…Children, obey your parents because it’s RIGHT. (Eph 6:1) Fathers, don’t provoke your children to wrath (Eph 6:4). If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer him the other (Luke 6:29). Husbands and wives, submit to one another in love (Eph 5:21). If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak also (Matt 5:40) Sometimes it’s even entirely appropriate that a believer just endures a wrong, suffers a loss, and still takes the high road! (1 Cor. 6:7) Employees, serve as if you are serving the Lord, not people (Eph 6:5-7); and employers/supervisors, treat your employees the SAME WAY and non-threatening, because God is watching! (Eph 6:9). Oh, how this grates against our flesh! We want what’s coming to us, and more, more, more! How quickly we forget that, if we hold our peace, be Christ-like, and obey what the Word says, God will more than make up to us what we lose through relinquishing our own way on everything. We have endless opportunities every day of our lives to pass the test. God’s not wanting us to be abused, disrespected, or walked on…but He won’t use an entitled, self-absorbed Church to further His Kingdom, either!
If we are truly sold out to Christ, our actions cannot contradict the message of the cross! Our goal in life should be to please God, and to share His love with as many people as we can. We HAVE to remember eternity. Do we want to go to Heaven? Do we want to take as many people to Heaven with us as we can? What is our priority, then…having everything in life our own way, or modeling Christ to a lost world?
I’ll say one more thing about the workplace. Folks may argue, “Well, this is work. It’s different.” And I say, “No, it’s not.” There is nothing worse on the job than a boss who’s impossible to work for, who calls himself or herself a Christian. It’s an embarrassment to the Body of Christ when a Christian supervisor or employer is unfair, unkind, and oppressive to the workers. Do you know there are people who will never come to Christ, because they had an obnoxious, overbearing Christian making their workplace miserable? Remember, your job is to be a LEADER, not a TASKMASTER! You know in your heart whether your actions are being done with sinful, “Jezebel spirit” motives. Lead as Christ would lead! And to workers, I say the same thing…it should never be said of a Christian employee that he or she is a slacker, a troublemaker, or the hardest person to get along with on the job.
Finally, at home. I beg of you, parents, if you value your children’s eternal salvation like you do your own, be an example of holiness, gentleness, and peace. Don’t be a parent so rigid and forceful that your children equate their Father God to a mean, contrary, manipulative, unforgiving, unyielding, cruel parent! And don’t be a spouse whose mate will never come to God because your faith is perceived to be nothing more than hypocrisy.
At the end of the day, if we really believe what we say we believe, we will willingly crucify our flesh. Is it easy? No. But will we be blessed for allowing God to prune away the things which keep us from bearing fruit? Yes. May we all remember, it’s not about us. It’s about HIM. Church, time’s running out. Represent well.
“Father God, I have areas in my life which I haven’t yet subjected to Your Word. Some of my ways are just that—MY ways—and they smell bad to you and to everyone around me. Forgive me for pride, selfishness, manipulation, rudeness, and a sense of entitlement that demands everyone around me bow to my every whim. Cleanse me of unrighteousness, because Lord, I confess that these traits are unrighteous. I’m so sorry for misrepresenting you to lost people, for souring others to the Good News. Reveal to me those people to whom I owe an apology, and help me each day to show sincere kindness mercy, and consideration…even to those I don’t feel deserve it; because that’s what YOU do, and I want to be more like You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”