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Not Controlling Others But Loving And Serving

Category Articles
Date August 4, 2005

We are familiar with our Lord’s teaching concerning the speck we can so readily see in our brother’s eye and the log in our own eye to which we remain oblivious. Though the word is not used in that illustrative teaching, the concept of control is clearly at the heart of our Lord’s message. Jesus identifies the tendency we all have to be controlling personalities. Control, of course, can be a good and necessary thing. For example, it is vital that we be in control of our cars when we drive. But there is also an unnecessary and wrong kind of control that leads to frustration, friction, and failure.

We sinners have a propensity to misdirect our efforts to control. For example, we are inclined to think and act as though we are experts when it comes to directing the lives of others. We also tend to be determined to control, so far as possible, the various factors in our circumstances. Our technological advances have fed the conceit that we can and should be master of all that we survey. Yet, when we act on this conceit, we not only fail to maintain a right and effective priority in our controlling efforts, we also usurp propriety from our Lord. Though we may try, it is only He, not we, who can rightly and effectively move the king’s heart wherever He will, without doing violence to the king’s will. We, on the other hand, must resort to such manipulative tactics as enticement, bullying, deceiving, or sulking in our attempts to attain control over others.

Such manipulative controlling on our part is destined to fail on all fronts. Those we endeavor to control are, at best, minimally compliant-if compliant at all-and nurture not hearty obedience, but a growing resentment toward us. At the same time, we who seek to be the controlling ones never attain satisfaction or contentment through our efforts, for we inescapably perceive the imperfect actions, if not the resentful attitudes of those we try to man handle.

The truth is that we are not called or equipped by our Lord to control others. We are called and equipped to love and to serve others. Yet, even here we must be alert to the tendency we have to corrupt our compassion, perverting it into a tool of manipulation. We might, for example, withhold our love if the one we love disappoints us by crossing our wills, even if such crossing were warranted. We might also lavish our love indulgently on those who please us. Jesus warned us about such subjective and capricious administration of our love when He said that such love issues from those like the tax-gathers, who ever seek to get from, not to give to others (Mt. 5:46). This abuse of compassion also leads not to blessing, but to bitterness for all concerned.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes both control and compassion (Gal. 5:22,23). Yet, the focus of our controlling efforts must not be others, but rather ourselves. It is self-control that the Spirit of God commands and enables, not the manipulative over lording of others. By such self-control we mortify our sins and cultivate righteousness. We also cultivate gratitude to our Lord for the blessed efficacy of His Word and enabling power of His Spirit. We love and serve our God and fellow man because our Lord first loved and served us in Christ. We cultivate peace and contentment in the approbation of our God and by the knowledge that He wisely and lovingly masters all things, rendering them to be servants for our good. Our peace, confidence, and contentment do not rest upon the fleeting and flimsy foundation of others dancing to our tune, but rather upon the sure, solid, and lasting foundation of the holy, wise, and loving plans of our God, who perfectly brings all of His eternal purposes to blessed fruition.

By such self-mastery, we are no longer akin to the demoniac who terrorized others and tortured himself, but we are, instead, clothed and in our right minds, being ready to serve for the glory of the One who loved and saved us and who is our peace. It is only in the soil of such sanctified self-control that pure and blessed compassion may flourish. Then we are genuinely determined not to view others as being debtors to our wills, but rather to view ourselves as indebted to others in the coinage of love (Rom. 13:8). Such orientation is right, satisfying, and blessed to the giver, to the one receiving, and to the Lord, who is the source of all sovereign control and pure compassion.

William Harrell
Pastor Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia

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