the evil of manipulation

©2021 michael martin | ask@lifefellowship.org

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the evil of manipulation

We humans have a problem.

We all have selfish desires, but we cannot control the people around us to ensure that our selfish desires are served. With these two self-evident truths in conflict with each other, what’s a sinful, selfish person to do in order to make other people serve our selfish desires?

Our answer is to try to make other people want to serve our desires, and the first and greatest example of this is found right here:

genesis 3:1-5  niv 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? "

2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’"

4 "You will not certainly die," the serpent said to the woman.

5 "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Let’s take a moment to break down this original act of manipulation, performed by Satan. To begin, we should remember that Satan hates Eve and wants to destroy her. But he doesn’t present himself that way. Instead, he appears to Eve as sympathetic that God has placed such an unreasonable command on her:

genesis 3:1b   niv 

Did God really say, "You must not eat from any tree in the garden?"

Satan does two things here. First, he almost quotes God verbatim, but twists it just enough to completely misrepresent God’s Word. Additionally, Satan makes it sound as though God has made an unreasonable demand upon Eve, suggesting to her that God doesn’t want her to have anything to eat. He’s trying to make Eve feel that God is unreasonable and uncaring. He’s trying to drive a wedge between them.

When Eve corrects Satan, Satan, then contradicts God directly.

genesis 3:4  niv 

"You will not certainly die."

As Satan contradicts God, he couples it with what appears to be some helpful insight, attempting to change the way Eve feels about God’s command:

genesis 3:5  niv 

"For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

What "inside information" has Satan shared here? Eve has an opportunity to have her eyes opened, to become like God, and to know good and evil. Those sound like good things, don’t they?

Satan wants Eve to wonder, "Why would God want to withhold those things? Why wouldn’t God want me to be like Him? What is God hiding?" Satan is creating mistrust of God in Eve’s heart. Going further, Satan wants Eve to desire what God hasn’t granted her. He’s driving an artificial wedge of jealousy and mistrust between Eve and her Creator, until finally, Eve plays into Satan’s hands and eats the fruit.

Through the whole episode, Satan never reveals his true intentions to Eve. He never tells her he hates her. He never forces her, tells her, or urges her to eat the fruit.

He manipulates her.

Let’s examine what that means:

definition of "manipulate"

to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or indirect means especially to one’s own advantage

Or, to put it more simply: tricking other people into doing what you want

Look at that definition again. Terms like "control’ or "play upon" or "unfair" are used to describe how one person treats another. That doesn’t sound very kind, does it? Indeed, it’s not. These are all very unkind ways for people to treat one another, and it’s all done for selfish reasons.

Entire books have been written to teach how to manipulate and "handle" other people to get them to do what we want. But at its core, manipulation is not a skillful handling of other people. The fact is, manipulation is evil.

In this study, we will explore this topic, including the tactics of a manipulator and what God’s Word tells us about manipulating other people.

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primary tools of manipulation

The manipulation of other people employs several underhanded tactics, but all of them employ two common themes: lying and playing upon emotions of others. Let’s explore these tactics, along with what Scripture tells us about them.

lying

proverbs 21:6  esv 

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.

While the argument could be made that not all manipulation is lying, all lying is manipulation. Why? Because all lying is done with the intent of misleading other people into thinking and acting the way that we want. That’s manipulation.

However, manipulation also involves masking one’s true intentions and motives, even when sharing truthful information, in an attempt to cause others to think or feel the way we want them to.

Manipulation, then, will either involve outright lying, or the sharing of truthful information under false pretenses. Lying, therefore, is a primary tool in manipulation. To be sure, lying is wrong, and God’s Word has plenty to say about it.

exodus 20:16  niv 

"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

leviticus 19:11  niv 

‘Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.

proverbs 12:19-20  niv 

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

20 Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.

proverbs 12:22  niv 

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

proverbs 26:28  niv 

A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

ephesians 4:25  niv 

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

colossians 3:9-10  niv 

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

john 8:44  niv 

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

playing upon the emotions of others

The other primary tool of manipulation is to attempt to cause other people to feel a way that allows you to advance your agenda.

Think about this for a moment. Using the God-given emotions and feelings of other people against them for our own personal gain is the height of selfish disregard for the welfare of those whom we manipulate. Essentially, this amounts to weaponizing someone’s emotions against them.

example: samson’s women

In Scripture, Samson frequently behaved as a fool. As such, he was evidently fairly easy to manipulate, giving us two examples of being manipulated through the use of his own emotions.

In the first case, Samson had told a riddle to some Philistines which carried a financial bet. When the Philistines were faced with losing the bet for being unable to solve the riddle, they pressured and threatened his wife to coax the answer from him:

judges 14:16-17  niv 

Then Samson’s wife threw herself on him, sobbing, "You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer."

"I haven’t even explained it to my father or mother," he replied, "so why should I explain it to you?" 17 She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people.

In this example, we see several manipulation tactics in play. Samson’s wife uses crocodile tears, along with questions about his love and character to make Samson feel guilty. Then, she persists in her manipulation for seven days, becoming a quarrelsome wife and a "constant dripping." With all of these tactics, Samson’s wife manipulated him into doing what she wanted.

This was not the last time that Samson was manipulated by a woman. Later, after his wife had been taken from him, Samson fell in love with Delilah, who was herself manipulated to learn the secret of Samson’s strength:

judges 16:15-16  niv 

Then [Delilah] said to [Samson], "How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength. " 16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.

Here, Delilah manipulated Samson into feeling guilty and needing to "redeem himself" in her eyes by falsely questioning his love for her. Once again, persistent, "constant dripping" was employed as she nagged him until he gave in to her wishes.

example: haman and xerxes

In the book of Ether, Haman manipulated King Xerxes to decree the destruction of all the Jews, whom Haman personally hated.

esther 3:8-9  niv 

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, "There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury."

In this example, Haman uses deceit and exaggeration to create fear in King Xerxes. Haman used this fear, along with a bribe, to manipulate Xerxes into calling for the destruction of the Jews.

These are but a small few of the many examples of manipulation seen in the Bible, but now, let’s take a look at how lying and the weaponizing of emotions are seen in some of the most common tactics of manipulation.

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common manipulation tactics

There are many tactics for manipulating people, each with their own approaches. But all of these tactics employ, in some form, lying and the weaponizing of emotions. Let’s dissect a few of these tactics and their selfish objectives.

crocodile tears

When one person hurts another, the offended person is Biblically told to work it out with the offender in love and truth (Matthew 18: 15-17). In cases like these, genuine communication and emotion may appropriately be in play, provided that the motives are for Biblical reconciliation.

However, displaying emotion with the objective of making someone else feel guilty is manipulation. This is often accomplished through the use of insincere "crocodile tears". Even without the actual tears, making a show of being hurt, even with sincere emotion, can be a tactic of manipulation.

A manipulator makes a show of being hurt or offended with the intent of making another person feel guilty. Manipulators then use this guilt to put the other person at a disadvantage, making them feel like they need to "make up" for a perceived offense.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: The manipulator displays, whether sincerely or insincerely, an exaggerated display of being deeply hurt by their targeted victim

Playing on emotions: Attempting to make their targeted victim feel guilty, with a need to "redeem" themselves

Selfish objective: To make the targeted victim feel a need to redeem themselves in the manipulator’s eyes by doing what they want

what God’s Word says

hebrews 12:15-17  niv 

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

2 corinthians 7:10  niv 

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.

the eggshell sidewalk

Have you ever heard the term "walking on eggshells?" It refers to the fact that a person is very easily offended unless we agree with or yield to that person’s will. It may seem easier to "walk on eggshells" with such a person to avoid the ugly confrontations, but the truth is, being easily offended is a form of manipulation.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That yielding to the personal preferences of the manipulator is the only way to bless them

Playing on emotions: Attempting to make their targeted victim feel continuously fearful of offending the manipulator

Selfish objective: To use this fear to manipulate the targeted victim into avoiding confrontation and into doing what the manipulator wants

what God’s Word says

1 corinthians 13:4  niv 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

proverbs 15:18  niv 

A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

proverbs 22:24-25  niv 

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, 25 or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.

proverbs 29:22  niv 

An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.

wearing down

In this case, after initially not getting what they want, a manipulator will continue to relentlessly press their case, either with words or with the silent treatment, with the goal of making a person feel tired or exhausted. This exhaustion and eagerness for the conflict to end is used by the manipulator to get what they want.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That the manipulator will give a targeted victim peace if they just yield this one time

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel tired or exhausted of a continued conflict, causing them to question their resolve

Selfish objective: To cause the targeted victim to do what the manipulator wants just for the sake of perceived peace

what God’s Word says

proverbs 19:13  niv 

A foolish child is a father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof.

proverbs 21:9, 25:23  niv 

Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.

proverbs 27:15-16  niv 

A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; 16 restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand.

the wolf in sheep’s clothing

The manipulator may deceptively present themselves as being helpless or harmless and in need, with the intent of making another person feel sorry for them. This, in turn, is used to make a person feel obligated to do what the manipulator wants.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: Presenting oneself under false pretenses, making an artificial show of being in need or incapable

Playing on emotions: Attempting to make their targeted victim feel sorry for them

Selfish objective: To make the targeted victim feel obligated, through artificial guilt or privilege, to do what the manipulator wants

what God’s Word says

matthew 7:15-20  niv 

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

joshua 9:3-15  niv 

However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, "We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us."

7 The Israelites said to the Hivites, "But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?"

8 "We are your servants, " they said to Joshua.

But Joshua asked, "Who are you and where do you come from?"

9 They answered: "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, "We are your servants; make a treaty with us."’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey."

14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

the "martyr" or "victim" card

When a manipulator doesn’t get their way, they may give a heavy sigh and show an insincere willingness to "take one for the team," even though they clearly don’t like how things have turned out.

We all have to work under circumstances that aren’t to our liking, but when we make a show of "keeping a stiff upper lip" with the intent of making others feel guilty, that’s also manipulation.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: A pretended willingness to "take one for the team"

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel guilty for forcing the manipulator to make such a "sacrifice"

Selfish objective: To create guilt in the targeted victim to make them feel compelled to do what the manipulator wants

what God’s Word says

2 corinthians 9:7  niv 

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

insincerely questioning one’s character or intent

When a manipulator isn’t getting what they want from another person, they may resort to questioning that person’s love for them, or insincerely questioning their character or intent. This is done with the objective of making the person feel guilty, and giving them an urgent desire to prove their love or character by doing what the manipulator wants.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: A pretended questioning of a targeted victim’s love, commitment, or character

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel as though they’ve failed

Selfish objective: To create an artificial desire for the targeted victim to "redeem themselves" in the manipulator’s eyes by doing what they want

what God’s Word says

proverbs 3:30  niv 

Do not accuse a man for no reason– when he has done you no harm.

luke 3:14  niv 

Then some soldiers asked [John the Baptist], "And what should we do?"

He replied, "Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay."

psalm 101:7  niv 

No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.

gaslighting

Gaslighting is a tactic whereby a manipulator causes their targeted victim to question their own perceptions and reality through the persistent use of false narratives. It is named for an old stage play and movie called "Gaslight," wherein the manipulation technique is used.

As the old adage goes, "if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth." The actual truth, however, is that gaslighting is manipulation.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That the targeted victim is somehow missing the reality of a situation (through the persistent use of false narratives)

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel as though they’re out of their minds for believing as they do

Selfish objective: To cause the targeted victim to question their beliefs and reality to the extent that they will give in to whatever the manipulator wants

what God’s Word says

isaiah 5:20-21  niv 

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

my notes:

word games

This form of gaslighting involves a manipulator deliberately misinterpreting or misrepresenting a person’s own words to make it appear that they are being unreasonable or unloving. A manipulator will often exaggerate the words of their targeted victim to achieve this.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That the targeted victim said or believed something that is unreasonable or unkind, achieved by deliberately misquoting and misrepresenting the words and intent of their targeted victim

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel the need to defend themselves for things they never actually said or intended

Selfish objective: To cause the targeted victim to question their own intent, with the goal of causing them to yield to the manipulator

what God’s Word says

psalm 56:3-8  niv 

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

5 All day long they twist my words; they are always plotting to harm me.

6 They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, eager to take my life.

7 On no account let them escape; in your anger, O God, bring down the nations.

8 Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll– are they not in your record?

This psalm of David expresses frustration over the twisting of his words by his enemies for purposes of harming him. This frequent tool for manipulation was even used against Jesus Himself:

matthew 22:15-21  niv 

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap [Jesus] in His words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

21 "Caesar’s," they replied.

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s."

Here, the Pharisees used word games in an attempt to trap Jesus. It was similar to asking a man, "have you stopped beating your wife yet?" They were attempting to present Jesus with a "no-win scenario" so they could trap Him in His words and then arrest Him.

Of course, Jesus was having none of that, as He saw right through their word games. Additionally, Jesus saw right through their other manipulation tactic, which was to flatter Jesus with insincere praise.

flattery

This common tool for manipulation is defined in the dictionary. as "to lavish insincere praise and compliments upon someone, especially to further one’s own interests."

As a caveat, being flattered in response to a request or a compliment indicates that we don’t feel we deserve the honor being given. That’s not sinful. But to flatter someone else is a sin.

Flattery’s insincere lavishing of praise is a form of lying, and it is designed for puffing up a targeted victim with the goal of making them feel obligated to earn or retain the praise they’ve been given by catering to the one who flattered them.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That the manipulator an inflated sense of appreciation, admiration for a targeted victim

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel puffed up

Selfish objective: To cause the targeted victim to feel obligated to "earn" or retain the manipulator’s flattery by doing what they want

what God’s Word says

In Scripture, flattery is always shown to be a bad thing, always associated with lying and with selfish or malicious motives. Consider these examples:

proverbs 26:28  niv 

A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

proverbs 28:23  niv 

Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.

psalms 78:36-37  niv 

But then they would flatter [God] with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues;

37 their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant.

proverbs 29:5  niv 

Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet.

romans 16:17-18  niv 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

psalms 12:2-4  niv 

Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.

3 May the LORD silence all flattering lips and every boastful tongue—

4 those who say, "By our tongues we will prevail; our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?"

gifts and bribes

In this case, a manipulator may begin by offering some sort of gift, whether it is financial, material, or some act of service, which may initially seem to be a blessing. Later on, however, these "blessings" prove not to be given selflessly, but rather as a tool for manipulation. "I’ve scratched your back, now it’s your turn to scratch mine."

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That the manipulator has "blessed" the targeted victim selflessly with no expectations in return

Playing on emotions: Making the targeted victim feel indebted to the manipulator

Selfish objective: To make the targeted victim feel the need to "repay" the manipulator by doing what the manipulator wants

what God’s Word says

First, let’s acknowledge that we should endeavor to repay our debts. But this should not be done from pride, so that we can say that we don’t owe anyone anything. Instead, we should repay others as we are able from hearts full of love, for the benefit of others:

romans 13:8  niv 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

However, Scripture makes it clear that when we give gifts to others with the motivation and expectation that we will receive something in return, it’s not really a gift, it’s a bribe. And bribes are not given with wholesome intent.

exodus 23:8  niv 

"Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.

deuteronomy 16:19  niv 

Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.

job 36:18  niv 

Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside.

Concerning the issue of bribes, Scripture does give us one elephant in the room, and it’s this verse here:

proverbs 17:8  niv 

A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it; they think success will come at every turn.

Here, it seems like bribes are a good thing, doesn’t it? Not so fast. This verse is Proverbs isn’t giving advice, but rather is just observing the way society works. In fact, the bribe here is described as a charm, and charms are generally thought of in terms of spells or enchantments, which Scripture definitely condemns.

Going further, the "charm" of a bribe indicates self-deception, as the one who gives the bribe harmfully deceives himself into thinking that a bribe is the best way to achieve his goal.

Clearly, Bribes in Scripture are both given and received with selfish, sinful intent.

pitting people against each other

Another common tactic of a manipulator is to appoint themselves as a sympathetic mediator between two other people in "conflict," all with selfish motives of getting people to do what they want.

In this scenario, The manipulator tells "Person A" that "Person B" has said or done something unkind toward them, and vice versa. Then, the manipulator will pretend to be an advocate and ally to both people against the other in an attempt to drive a wedge of separation between them.

In this case, both people feel an obligation of loyalty to give the manipulator, their perceived ally, what they want, since the manipulator appears to have "taken up their cause" with the other person.

In reality, the manipulator is only taking up his own cause, even at the expense of others’ relationships.

tools of the manipulator:

The lie: That someone else is speaking or acting in an unkind or hostile manner toward a targeted victim, and that the manipulator is advocating for them

Playing on emotions: Making targeted victims feel separation from other relationships, and creating a false sense of loyalty to the manipulator

Selfish objective: To drive a wedge of separation between a targeted victim’s relationships in an attempt to create artificial loyalty to the manipulator and their desires

what God’s Word says

The Bible describes people who manipulate others by driving wedges between other people as divisive.

romans 16:17-18  niv 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

titus 3:10-11  niv 

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

section 4

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beware of manipulators

It’s been said that it is just as much a sin to believe a lie as it is to tell one. God’s Word shows us that this is true. Let’s look at a couple of the many Biblical examples...

the manipulation of adam and eve

At the beginning of this study, we discussed how Adam and Eve were manipulated by Satan in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, both had been deceived and manipulated. Nevertheless, they didn’t get a "pass" for being victims of manipulation. Instead, they were both held accountable for their own sin:

genesis 3:16  niv 

To the woman he said,

"I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

Even though Eve had been manipulated by the serpent, she herself was held accountable for her sin. Similarly, even though Adam was also manipulated, he was held accountable for his own sin:

genesis 3:17-18  niv 

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

the manipulation of king ahab

Known as one of the most evil kings of Israel, some of Ahab’s most evil deeds were actually the result of having been manipulated by his wife Jezebel. Yet despite Jezebel’s manipulation, Ahab is held fully accountable for all of the sin that resulted, even if some of it wasn’t his idea.

1 kings 21:25  niv 

There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife.

warnings about manipulators

The Bible warns us, and our own experience reminds us, that people will come into our lives who will try to deceive and manipulate us.

matthew 7:15-16  niv 

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

2 timothy 3:1-5  niv 

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

2 corinthians 11:13-15  niv 

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

2 peter 2:1-3  niv 

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them —bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

1 timothy 4:1-2  niv 

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.

our responsibility not to be deceived

The Bible’s warnings to us to be on guard against deceivers and manipulators are there for a reason. We have a responsibility and a mandate not to be deceived!

colossians 2:8  niv 

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

matthew 10:16  niv 

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

romans 16:17-18  niv 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

galatians 6:7-8  niv 

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Clearly, God does not want us to be deceived. But how can we protect ourselves? The answer is really quite simple.

The best way to avoid being deceived is to be intimately familiar with the truth.

The truth of God’s Word is the solid food described in Hebrews 5:14:

hebrews 5:14 niv 

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

There’s our answer. We need to be intimately familiar with the truth of God’s Word, which is achieved by its constant use. Then, it will be much harder for us to be deceived.

the benefit of the doubt...

At this point you might be wondering whether we’re being too cynical or untrusting of other people. After all, shouldn’t we assume the best of other people? Doesn’t love cover over a multitude of sins?

The answer, of course, is yes.

However, as we’ve seen. God’s Word also warns us not to be fooled by mockers, fools, and deceivers, all of which describe manipulators.

We shouldn’t assume the worst of people, but when a person establishes a pattern or reputation of unrepentant deceit or manipulation, it is no longer appropriate to trust them.

Instead, for their own benefit, Biblical confrontation of the manipulative attitude is in order. If we truly love another person, we should speak the truth to them in love. After, all, it’s not in a person’s best interests to be a manipulator. If we love such a person, we have a duty to confront them with the truth, as we’re told here:

matthew 18:15-17  niv 

"If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The procedure above, although uncomfortable, involves honest, transparent communication between you and whomever has sinned against you. This should be done in love, for the benefit of the other party so that they will not persist in their sin.

Ideally, as verse 15 points out, this honest, direct communication will win them over, and everybody wins. But even if the one who sinned doesn’t repent, we still have the responsibility to try.

However, if the one who sinned is unwilling to repent upon your rebuke, even with witnesses and with the involvement of the church (as in verse 17 above), we are to take drastic and unpleasant measures. This idea is repeated here in Titus 3:10:

titus 3:10  niv 

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

Indeed, we should give the benefit of the doubt and extend grace wherever we can. But when a person persists in a pattern of sin such as manipulation, Scripture tells us that grace takes a different and uncomfortable form. In those cases, keeping away from such people is what grace looks like, because it is the only way for us to truly communicate the need for repentance, which sets right their relationship with God.

how to tell the difference

So, how can we tell the difference between those who are genuine and those who make a habit of manipulating? As we’ve said, we’re looking for patterns. An occasional sin or act of manipulation is just that. But when a pattern becomes evident, Jesus gave us this observation:

luke 6:43-45  niv 

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Of course, we know that even a good tree might occasionally bear a bad piece of fruit. But if most of its fruit is bad, then the tree is bad.

If we recognize a habit or pattern of manipulation, we should confront it. But if the manipulator persists anyway, then we should recognize them for what they are and keep away from them for everyone’s benefit.

section 5

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plot twist: we are the manipulators

Here’s where things get ugly. If you’ve been thinking all this time that this study exists to protect you from manipulators, you’re missing the point. To be sure, we should be on guard against those who would manipulate us.

However, the best application of Scripture is always to search our own hearts for sin before pointing it out in others:

matthew 7:3-5  niv 

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The truth is, we are the manipulators.

Think about it. As you’ve read this study, you probably recognized some of the manipulation tactics as things that others have used on you. But let’s make this personal. Really, now, haven’t you used some of these tactics on others for selfish reasons?

questions to ponder:

Q. Have I deceived people or spoken truth under false pretenses to gain advantage?

Q. Have I used crocodile tears to make someone feel badly?

Q. Have I caused others to walk on eggshells with me, afraid to oppose me for fear of ugly confrontation?

Q. Have I been a wolf in sheep’s clothing, presenting myself as being in need when in truth I’ve been manipulating?

Q. Have I played the part of a martyr or a victim to gain advantageous sympathy from others?

Q. Have I insincerely questioned the love or character of another person in order to gain advantage over them?

Q. Have I used gaslighting to cause someone else to question their beliefs or resolve for my advantage?

Q. Have I twisted or misrepresented someone’s words to cast them in a bad light to gain advantage over them?

Q. Have I persisted in pushing my agenda despite having been told "no" in an attempt to "wear down" another person to get my way?

Q. Have I caused division between other people in order to get what I want?

Q. Have I used gifts, bribes, or flattery to make other people feel obligated to "earn" my love by doing what I want?

why we manipulate

We’ve seen that manipulation is a serious sin, and one we’ve all been guilty of. But why do we do it? Scripture has the answer to this question too.

selfishness

james 4:1-3  niv 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Our tendency to resort to manipulating other people stems firstly from our selfish desires, and secondly from our unwillingness to ask God, or to straightforwardly, transparently ask others for what we want.

fear and control

Another reason for manipulation is when we desire to be in control of our circumstances because we are fearful that things won’t turn out the way we want.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, provides us both positive and negative examples of this. Here’s the negative example:

genesis 16:1-2  niv 

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her."

Here, Sarai (Sarah) feared that God’s promise to make Abraham into a great nation would not be fulfilled, because she didn’t see how she would ever have children to be Abraham’s heir.

Sarah "took control" of the situation by manipulating the circumstances, giving Hagar her servant to Abraham to have children with her. This resulted in the creation of a nation of enemies for God’s people.

Despite this (and other acts) of fearful manipulation, Sarah is later commended for, on the whole, trusting her husband, trusting God, and not giving in to fear:

1 peter 3:5-6  niv 

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

We can all relate to Sarah. We want to be in control to ensure that things turn out the way we want. But when we realize that we’re not in control, we act in fear.

At its core, manipulation is a selfish attempt to seize control of people or circumstances that are not ours to control.

Yet, we persist in manipulating others, even though it’s selfish, disrespectful and inconsiderate. So, how do we solve this problem?

why we shouldn’t manipulate

First, let’s look at some direct Biblical commands that speak to this issue:

galatians 6:7-8  niv 

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

leviticus 25:17  niv 

Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.

1 thessalonians 4:3-6  niv 

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.

As all of these passages remind us, we should not sow to please our sinful nature, nor should we take advantage of one another.

But beyond all of this, there is one primary reason why we shouldn’t manipulate people...

manipulation is not loving

1 corinthians 13:4-7  niv 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

This passage reads like an antithesis for all of the manipulation tactics and motives that we’ve discussed so far. Here, we see the opposite of manipulation. Love is the key.

So, to wrap up our study, let’s look at what we should do instead of manipulating people...

section 6

instead of manipulating...

Instead of using crafty, underhanded tactics to con other people into doing what we want, we should act in trust for God and love for Him and others. What does that look like? Here are some examples:

trusting God

Let’s face it, folks. We’re not in control. And when we try to seize control, we make a mess.

proverbs 3:5-6  niv 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

romans 8:28  niv 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Even if we struggle to trust other people, we can always trust God, who is sovereign over all things. Yes, we should be diligent in the things God has placed before us, but for all things, whether within our grasp or not, we should always trust God.

truthful, loving motives

Next, our motives should not be for ourselves, but for the glory of God and the benefit of the people around us.

matthew 16:24-25  niv 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

romans 13:10  niv 

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

psalm 37:4  niv 

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

2 timothy 2:22  niv 

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

matthew 22:36-39  niv 

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

37 Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

straight, truthful speech

Next, with the proper motives, we should speak the truth in love. Truth spoken in love will always benefit those who hear it.

ephesians 4:15  niv 

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

ephesians 4:25  niv 

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.

In addition to speaking the truth in love, our manner of speaking should also be considered.

no needlessly flowery speech

Straight talk is the most honest approach to speaking truth. These examples show this principle as applied to taking oaths, but the "straight talk" principle can be applied to all of our speech.

matthew 5:33-37  niv 

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

james 5:12  niv 

Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.

with wisdom and tact

When the king of Babylon wanted to put all of the wise men to death for being incapable of interpreting his dream, Daniel spoke reason to the commander of the guard, employing wisdom and tact in his speech. It’s a good example to follow.

daniel 2:14  niv 

When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.

according to the needs of whomever we’re speaking with

Some people need a gentle approach. Others respond better to the blunt approach. Our relationships with other people provide us with the knowledge to know how to best communicate the truth in love to a given individual.

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ephesians 4:29  niv 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

my notes:

backed up by actions

As Scripture reminds us, our speech is of little value if it is not backed up with action.

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1 john 3:18  niv 

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

james 2:15-16  niv 

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

my notes:

conclusion

At the end of the day, our choice to manipulate or to give ourselves up is clear. On the one hand, we can choose to pursue selfish ends at the expense of others. We can lie, we can weaponize their emotions, and we can use every dirty trick in the book to maneuver other people into doing what we want, regardless of what’s good for them.

Or, we can act in love. We can surrender our selfish desires and be willing for our desires not to be fulfilled. We can obey God’s Word. And we can build others up while building genuine relationships for ourselves.

In other words, we can do this:

philippians 2:3-8  niv 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;

7 rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!