Healthy Relationships – Welcome to the community of the Trinity, Chapter 7, “How to control others.”

Luke 12:13, “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’”

Envision someone you know right now who is in trouble. They may be facing financial difficulties. Or they may be dealing with a relationship problem (maybe you can share these chapters with them!). Or they may have a serious spiritual problem. Do you think you know the solution to their problem? If you do, do you think they would be better off if they would just listen to you and follow your advice? If you have already shared with them what you think they need to do and they haven’t followed your advice, do you think they would be better off if you were in control of their thinking and choices? Sometimes it seems to us like others would be better off if they would just do what we say….if we were in control of their lives. That's a trap into which some parents fall. In this chapter we consider a warning against that kind of unhealthy relationship control.

Luke 12:13 focuses on a man who wanted help from Jesus in ‘controlling’ a situation in his relationship with his brother. He was likely the younger brother. In those days, the oldest son inherited twice as much of a father’s estate than any other heir. This younger brother wanted Jesus, the wise teacher, to help him get his fair share. Jesus, though he would have been the wisest arbiter available, refused to step into that relational gap. Instead, with the parable of the rich fool (vs.15-20), Jesus warned him to avoid the greater danger in this life at that moment….being consumed by greed and distraction. Jesus didn’t try to take control of his brother’s choice, nor did he think that should be the younger brother’s focus.

But that situation does raise an interesting question. Why doesn’t God exercise more control over this messed up world? He is the Maker, Owner, sovereign and all-wise Ruler of this universe. He can do anything. He knows everything. According to Romans 12:2 his will is ‘good, pleasing and perfect.’ That is, the best thing we can do in any given situation is exactly what God tells us to do (in his Word, the Bible!). If we choose to do anything God tells us not to do, or if we choose not to do something, he tells us to do – it is not going to work out well for us. There is only one way to live this life to the fullest and that is God’s way! So, why didn’t God set up this world like a huge game of dominoes? That way it would all go smoothly. Everyone would be happy and healthy and peaceful. Humans would be robots, but life would be perfect!

Why does God allow what we’ve witnessed and experienced in the past few months? Innocent people have been killed. People’s lives have been devastated by sickness and job loss and isolation because of a global pandemic. Cities have burned and children have been deprived of their education. Humans are capable of staggering evil. And it all goes back to the Garden of Eden. It all started with Adam and Eve choosing to disobey God by listening to the serpent (Satan) and eating the forbidden fruit. Why did God allow the serpent to deceive them? In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) God is the father and we are the foolish son. Why did the father give the son his inheritance knowing what he would do with it? Why does an all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful God seem to allow this planet to spin out of control? Good questions, right?

God could have created humanity (and the angelic realm as well) without free will. He could have created us as ‘robots’ who do what we were programmed to do. But God, the Creator, didn’t want that kind of ‘virtual’ world. He created us for relationship with him. He loves us and wants us to love him. But love cannot exist without choice. True love requires choosing to engage and live in relationship. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) God loves us so much that he gave Jesus to die to take away our sin and restore us to right relationship with him. But we must choose to believe (put our faith in) in Jesus in order to engage in that love relationship with our heavenly Father. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus bids his followers, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Jesus wants to provide us with rest and peace. But we must choose to submit to him and seek him for that to happen. God invites us to choose him, so that we can live together in a healthy love relationship.

Too often we make the mistake of trying to control those closest to us. We think we know what is best for them (often we really do), and when they don’t agree and make wise choices, we try to press them into doing what we want. We need to follow God’s strategy. If we are going to develop healthy and satisfying relationships with our spouse, our kids, our friends, and our neighbors then we must avoid manipulation and opt instead for godly influence. Let’s try to break down what this looks like in real time.

A couple of examples of controlling others (manipulation) include the silent treatment and bullying. I once had someone give me the silent treatment (refuse to speak to me/or acknowledge my presence) for two weeks because I made a choice they considered unwise. When a person refuses to talk to or acknowledge another individual who hurt or disappointed them, it produces hurt not healing, distance instead of intimacy, and division rather than peace. Relational health is always degraded by a refusal to communicate in a clear and open way with someone you want to engage.

The same is true for bullying. When you aggressively pressure someone close to you, to do what they don’t want to do, but you want them to do….you are not creating an atmosphere for a relationship that is satisfying, intimate, comfortable and safe. We don’t need or want pressure and disrespect in our homes. We need people who give us time, space, and support.

Healthy relationships are built using a strategy that pairs with free will. That’s what God does in our lives. He enlightens us with his Word. (Psalm 119:105) He influences us by his Spirit. (Galatians 5:16) He supports us with a loving spiritual family. (Galatians 6:10) And that kind of godly influence is what will serve us best in helping those we care about deeply to find their way to God’s will (what is best for them in any given situation).

So, if a Christian friend is heading down a destructive path how do you assist them with godly influence? First, pray for him/her. Ask God to guide them in ways you cannot. Beg him to speak to them by his Word and through his Spirit. ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17) for those you cherish and want to see grow in the likeness of Jesus. (Romans 8:29)

Make sure you set an example of godly behavior for them to follow. If you are concerned about the words that are coming out of their mouth, make sure they hear you speak in a way that honors God and benefits others. (Ephesians 4:29) If they are going to places that will be filled with destructive influences, invite them to go with you to places where Christian values will be reinforced. Provide anyone you want to influence with the best personal example you can. As Jesus said, "Let your light shine before others."(Matthew 5:16)

Finally, if it is possible (and, often, it is not because people on wrong paths making foolish choices have closed minds) engage them in clear and direct conversation. We sometimes refer to such conversations as interventions. Ask probing questions about their behavior and/or choices. Listen carefully to what they have to say. And openly share with them what you believe they need to hear. Ask God to guide you as you open your heart up to them. Ask him to give you just the right words to say to help them see the error of their way. Prayer….personal example….loving confrontation….godly influence is the pathway to healthy and satisfying relationships.

Joni and I enjoy watching Hallmark together. We watched a HM movie entitled ‘The Bridge.’ It was a two-part story (which really through me off, because usually every Hallmark story has a happily ever after ending that doesn’t leave the viewer hanging). The Reader’s Digest recap – a manipulative father (the mom passed years earlier) doesn’t like the direction his college age daughter is heading. So, he manufactures a phone conversation to break up a relationship seemingly at the heart of her wandering. She, not knowing what he has done, heads home and relents (unknowingly) to his controlling plan. Through a series of HM coincidences the truth comes out and the daughter is furious. Pressed with her rebellion the father tries to use his wealth to compel her compliance. She threatens to go her own way and end their relationship. The father finally agrees to allow her to make her own choices and to go her own way. A healthier, more satisfying, and more honest relationship is launched. And they all lived happily ever after! That’s Hallmark!

Manipulation can get results, but godly influence is needed to build healthy and satisfying relationships. God gives us free will so we can choose him and experience real love. Surely we aren’t so foolish as to think we can figure out a better way to build relationships than our heavenly Father has? ! Influence with godliness instead of trying to control others, and it will go well with your relational world! Blessings!

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