If you clicked on this hoping for a 5 minutes church/pastor bashing session, I’m very happy to disappoint you. When the phrase spiritual blackmail comes up, it’s easy to swivel our necks around the church hall looking at others and not ourselves.
I’ve been a Christian for a few years now and I think I have some understanding of how spiritual blackmail works. It’s a nasty smell that can emanate from the pew and the pulpit. My suspicions were confirmed recently when I read the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. To give you a whistle stop tour of the story, all ten were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom (Christ) but only five had enough oil to last the distance.
All were eager, but not all were prepared >> That’s a sermon for another day.
As expected, the five who ran out of oil asked their fellow ‘brides-in-waiting’ to share some of their oil with them. No biggie, right? What caught my attention was the response of the five virgins with extra oil to the request; they said a big flat out ‘NO’. Not ‘maybe’ or ‘we’ll think about it’ – just outright ‘NO’. Hold on a minute, aren’t Christians supposed to be generous, loving people who go the extra mile to help their neighbours?
Although Spirit filled, sanctified and tongue-speaking, the wise virgins did not allow themselves become emotionally manipulated by the request of their fellow virgins, who I might add, had a genuine need. Hear their response: “there might not be enough to go around; go buy your own” (Matthew 25:10 MSG).”
The lesson I got from their measured but firm response was that saying ‘no’ to valid requests of people does not mean I do not love them. If the wise virgins had obliged the request of the foolish ones, they would have compromised their own readiness. All their hard work and foresight in bringing extra oil, would have been tragically wasted too.
As Christians, we ought to ask the Spirit to help us discern when to refuse requests from fellow Christians that can potentially deplete us of stamina for the race ahead.
Although the five foolish ones had to resign to going out to purchase some oil, a part of me can’t help but wonder if they got the ‘hump’ because their request was denied. I can imagine their conversation on the way to Tesco to buy more oil. Try your best to read this bit with a thick Nigerian accent 🙂
Foolish Virgin A: Can you imagine those small girls not giving us some of their oil? What selfishness and arrogance!
Foolish Virgin B: Tell me about it! They had EXTRA oil; all we asked for was a little oh! Christians of nowadays sef…selfish to the core!
Foolish Virgin C: Don’t mind them, after they’ll be carrying big Bible and shouting everywhere about love. When you ask them to demonstrate their love in a practical way, they run away like…
Foolish Virgin D: May God forgive them!
Foolish Virgin E: Amen oh!
What I’ve described in this conversation is a sense of entitlement Christians can develop when it comes to our relationship with other believers. The same happens in families. The thought process goes thus: “he’s a fellow believer, so he’s bound to say yes to me,” even though it is at a great cost to the person.
If that’s you, you need to check yourself and stop taking advantage of others. Nothing gives you a right to other people’s resources, property or time. Be ready for your request to be met with a solid ‘NO.’ The person you think has gallons of oil might actually have just enough for themselves and their family. Asking for some of that puts them in a very uncomfortable dilemma.
Don’t make assumptions about anybody. If they damage their own lives in a bid to help you at all cost because of a misplaced sense of responsibility to meet every need you have, then you are not your brother’s keeper.
We all have a part to play in ending spiritual blackmail. The foolish virgins have to be prepared for a ‘no deal’ and the wise virgins need to avoid developing a messiah complex where they think they’re responsible for everyone’s salvation and well being. You hear that?
You are not God. You cannot save/help everybody. You are not omnipotent and never will be. Do your best to love your neighbours but don’t allow yourself be blackmailed. Know when to say a polite but firm no and encourage personal responsibility.
Tell them to go to the shops and buy some oil themselves, after all that’s what you did too!