Love is Not A Bully
MARCH 22, 2018
The “love” chapter found in 1 Corinthians 13 may well be the most quoted, and yet least heeded passage in the Bible.
It is practically a given that a recitation of it will show up in most Christian weddings. We all know that love is patient and love is kind, but how much attention do we pay to what love is not? Paul says love is not: envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily angered.
These are the characteristics of bullies. People rarely consider themselves to be bullies. It is easy to see the sins of others, but pride blinds people from seeing their own guilt. Matthew 24:12 warns that in the last days “the love of most will grow cold.” I see this taking place all around me.
Years ago I tried my hand at homeschooling since many women in my church were passionate about it and encouraged me to try. Both my children and I were frustrated most of the time, but once we put them in school they thrived in the structured environment, and enjoyed being with other kids. One day a woman from my church pulled me aside and lectured me about how selfish I was, and the ruin that awaited my children. I doubt she would have said what she did to my husband, even though it was largely his decision to put the kids in school. She thought she could bully me into being a mom like her.
I have used anger and guilt to motivate people too. I used to be in charge of the preschool Sunday school at church. One week I pulled a woman out of the service to take her turn teaching the kids. I was indignant that she had several children in the program and here she was sitting in church, neglecting her scheduled day to serve (notice I didn’t pull her husband out. This is the kind of guilt Christian women put on each other, while the men remain exempt). As I curtly escorted her downstairs, she broke down and apologized for neglecting her duty. Through her tears she told me how her life and marriage were falling apart, and she was desperate to hear something, anything from God’s word that morning. Her brokenness softened my anger, and allowed me to see my ugly self-righteousness and lack of compassion. I told her she could go back to the service, but instead we let the children play and were vulnerable with each other on the playground bench.
Anger and bullying are love-killers. But they have become the go-to reaction of people in our culture when they don’t get their way—even in Christian circles. Dare I say, especially in Christian circles? James says that the source of these quarrels come from “your desires that battle within you. . .You want something but don’t get it” (James 4:1-2).
Anger works to control behavior in the short term, but it kills relationships in the long-term. The greatest command for believers (love God and others) is shoved aside in favor of theological controversies (1 Timothy 1:4), worldly wisdom (Colossians 2:8) and behavioral demands (Colossians 2:20-23). Here is an excerpt from my book Grace is Free on this topic:
When did it become okay for Christians to be angry people? As our culture declines, the anger of religious people seems to grow. . .We try to get people to conform to our Christian standards, but they won’t cooperate. We are angry that those sinners are ruining our perfect Christian utopia. . .[but] do we preach a gospel of social pressure that forces certain behavior, or do we preach the good news about a Savior—Jesus Christ—who died and rose again to reconcile sinful people to God? Growing up, I encountered many angry people who admonished me to stop my bad behavior. But I don’t recall anyone ever telling me I couldn’t. Some Christians wore their anger as a badge, smiling smugly after they had bulldozed someone into proper behavior, or cornered some unsuspecting non-believer to lecture them on why they were going to hell.
Christian bullies infiltrate churches, monopolize resources, wear out fellow church members with their demands, and spread malicious gossip. Should this come as a surprise? Not at all, Paul warned the Ephesian elders: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them (emphasis mine). So be on your Guard” (Acts 20:30)! He also warned Timothy and Titus not to indulge in “godless chatter” and “stupid arguments” because they are unprofitable and only produce quarrels (see 2 Timothy 2:23 and Titus 3:9-11). I believe some women are particularly wired to let bullies control them. Many of us were raised to be quiet and submissive, and therefore a target for abusers.
Women also learn how well guilt and bullying works, so we use it on each other. As a young mom, I felt immense guilt and insecurity on a daily basis. I would have done anything to get out from under those feelings. Appeasement was often the path of least resistance with Christian bullies. I learned to tell them what they wanted to hear, but then did whatever I wanted when they weren’t around. I learned to put up a façade to please people.
Consider the account of Martha and Mary from Luke 10. Martha was angry that Mary wasn’t helping her in the kitchen. Mary may have succumbed to the guilt and pressure, except that something more appealing than appeasement was before her—Grace. God’s grace takes away guilt and pressure, whereas people-pleasing only increases it. I think we can safely assume that Martha tattled on Mary to Jesus because she couldn’t control her. She thought Jesus would be on her side. Instead, Jesus protected Mary from Martha’s expectations. Mary chose what was better and it would not be taken from her (Luke 10:42).
With the onslaught of the Internet, bullies have bigger platforms than ever. Read the comments section on most (even Christian) blogs and you will witness hatred spewing from the keyboards of thousands of bullies. I believe this is a blind spot in our generation of Christians. Do we honestly believe we can bully people into the kingdom of Christ or into whatever other agenda we have?
Bullies may get their way, but it will cost them their relationships. Love isn’t like business. If you are envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking and easily angered, you will push people away. They may not openly confront you. They will simply slip away.
It is helpful to take an honest look at your relationships. Would you be willing to consider that perhaps you have been a Christian bully? I know that I have. I have also been the recipient of Christian bullying. Both have driven me to my Savior’s feet for forgiveness and protection.
Here are some questions to ask yourself: Are you rude and critical to your family members? Do you give and withhold affection based on the performance of others toward you? Do you react with anger when someone doesn’t do what you think they should do, or believe what you believe? Do you bull-doze people into thinking like you? Most of us would say no. Most of us can immediately think of someone who has treated us this way.
There is hope for both bullies and victims of bullies (we have all probably been both at one time or another). That hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect life on our behalf and died to pay the price for our inability to “be good.” We may have His righteousness for free if we will receive it by faith alone (Romans 3:21-23). Christian rest comes when we lay down our own guilt at the foot of the cross as well as our expectations of others. And what sweet rest it is.
Read more from Marci Preheim here.