Understanding Those Who Want To Control You!


March 2005

Dear Ministry Partner,

We have all known people who tried to "control" us in varying ways and with different degrees of success. It may have been a parent or relative, teacher or coach, boss or co-worker, politician, neighbor, or even a religious leader. It is particularly tempting for any person who is in "authority" over us in some way to want to use that authority to "lord it" over us as Jesus said in Mark 10:42-43. Like many things in life where some of a thing is good and too much is bad, some control is appropriate in correct context, but too much control is oppressive and sinful. Understanding this topic of control is one of the major keys to life. Having a better understanding of the dynamics of why others try to control you, what is inappropriate control, how you can live free from inappropriate control, and how to make sure you are not controlling others in a wrong way, will make you much more likely to be a successful disciple of Jesus Christ, and also will most likely result in a happier life.

First, we have to differentiate between proper "management" and improper "control" of others. For example, parents must manage their children in a way that cause them to "obey" their parents’ authority, and to a certain extent obey the authority of other adults over them such as teachers, bosses, and pastors. A full teaching on "submission" would take a large amount of time, but let me say that proper submission to someone else’s authority never means you have to obey them if they want you to do something illegal or sinful. Submission to authority is first of all an attitude of cooperation (as contrasted to an attitude of rebellion). That attitude of cooperation still leaves open the ability to present a Godly appeal to authority if an instruction is believed to be harmful, undesirable, or immoral in some way. But teachers must maintain order in their classroom, employers deserve to have their employees follow their instructions as long as they are pulling a paycheck, and pastors should not have church members continually uncooperative or rebellious against their leadership.

Adults are generally free to change jobs or churches if they feel they cannot serve under a specific person in authority if they find that the overall conditions are not acceptable. Obviously children have fewer options until they are 18 years old, and a Christian wife generally does not have the freedom to just "disobey" her husband who is a Biblical authority figure in the family (which is why the decision of who to marry is probably the most important decision outside of salvation). While on this topic, I always want to be quick to add that a husband has no right to oppress or abuse his wife or children — he should serve and care for them as Christ did for the church (Ephesians 5:25).

So what is "inappropriate" control of others? A person must start with a correct theological understanding that Almighty God — who certainly has the power to control everything — chose to create angels and mankind with a free will. It should be obvious to any thinking Christian that most people on this planet are exercising their free will to clearly disobey God and His Ten Commandments of the Bible. There is a significant percentage of Christians who have fallen into the deception of "sovereignty theology" which teaches that God is controlling every single thing that happens on the Earth. If that were true, then God ordained all the murders and thefts that have occurred on Earth, so those people were doing God’s will and therefore should not be arrested or imprisoned! So if God is not controlling each person, then we should not try to "control" people either (Ephesians 5:1). However, we have all known "control freaks" who in direct confronting ways, or subtle manipulative ways, tried to control everything we did — and typically for their own benefit.

There are two major reasons that some people try to control others. First, all people are selfish because of the fallen nature of the flesh. Some people yield to selfishness more than others, and trying to control other people is clearly a very selfish thing to do. It is "using" others to give more benefits in some way to the "user." This is usually the motive of people trying to control us in obvious positions of authority — relatives, bosses, politicians, even some religious leaders. As Christians, we not only should work at resisting gross selfishness, we need to be sure we are not controlling others simply for our own benefit. Allow me to point out that as a parent, for example, I have the right to tell my child he cannot have the keys and drive the car at age 10 — that is for his well-being as well as my own. And if I tell my teenager he has to be home by 11:00 pm, that is not inappropriate "control", that is prudent parental management. But I should not make every decision for my children — they should have a free will over their college major, life career, and similar issues. Most people should be able to figure out a good grasp of this balance if they are truly trying to be good managers and stewards over those they are responsible for — rather than just selfishly controlling them.

The second major reason people control others is out of insecurity. This is the more difficult to perceive and understand. When people are fearful, insecure, weak, and without faith, they want to stop having those feelings because the Bible says "fear hath torment" (1st John 4:18). Insecure people generally use the more subtle "manipulative" methods of controlling others rather than using confrontation and force. Insecure people sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that if they can just "control" everyone around them — nothing "bad" will happen to them. There are two major problems with that thinking. First, there is no way to truly control a person, because he or she still has a free will. Second, the more a person feels controlled in an inappropriate way, the more likely that person is to try to hurt the "controller" (to set themselves free from the perceived slavery). Occasionally, a person will grow comfortable having someone else make all their decisions in life, and an unhealthy long-term "co-dependent" relationship is established between the controller and the person who is being controlled. But generally, most people don’t like being controlled and will work against the controller (which does not result in a happier life for the controller — often resulting in the controller thinking he or she just needs to control others even more, making a downward spiral in the controller's life).

Sometimes people understand it is okay to try to "sell" us things, so they wrongly conclude it is okay to "control" us along the same lines. Some even conclude it is okay to threaten or deceive others to get them to do the things they want accomplished. That is not management, that is manipulation. As a contrast, there is nothing wrong with providing "incentives" (rewards) to get people to do things, whether it is our children, our employees, or even our relatives. Rewards promised to be given after someone has done a good thing are valuable and very different from bribes (which are payments before the fact to get someone to do something that is wrong). We need more positive consequences for people who are willing to do good things. And rewards don't always have to be monetary — be creative when trying to manage others.

Many times we have to politely "just say no" when people want to control our lives. Jesus Christ should be Lord of our decisions — not a relative, neighbor, boss, or even another Christian. But we also have to guard ourselves from being rebellious or "independent" in a bad way. There are many times it is best or even required to submit to another person, but if we perceive we are being controlled — it is usually best to try to move away from that relationship. The Bible says in 2nd Timothy 3:5, "from such people turn away"(NKJ), "have nothing to do with them"(NIV), "avoid such men as these"(NAS). That is not always possible, and even when possible it may seem to cost a great amount to leave some relationships, like it did for David when he left King Saul — but it may have saved his life (1st Samuel 27:1). Jesus said there would be times His disciples would need to leave some people and shake the dust from their feet in protest (Luke 9:5). It is vitally important that we guard the spiritual condition of our hearts from being oppressed, crushed, or emotionally drained by the greed and control of selfish mankind (Proverbs 4:23).

Helping people live free,

Dale & Judi Leander


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