Manipulator and Manipulated

By Pastor David M. Choi

Acts 12:20-25

King Herod is now angry and upset, for no other reason than the fact that Herod is not used to not getting his own way. This is very unnerving. Not because a man is upset, but because a man with an enormous amount of power is upset. And of course, if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that the ones who suffer most from the volatility of egotistical tyrants are the ones who are innocent. In this case, Herod takes his anger out on the innocent by denying them their basic rights of food and protection.

What are they to do? Usually, the innocent seldom occupy positions of power and influence, and so, really, all they can do is stroke the tyrant’s ego. Herod puts on his royal robe, sits on his throne, and delivers a speech (v.21). Then, the people cry out, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (v.22). Maybe that’ll put him in a good mood. They tell him what they think he wants to hear, believing this sort of response offers the best chance of restoring peace.

Clearly, Herod is a master manipulator. He is a master manipulator because he has power. Yet, we shouldn’t forget that so much of the power he possesses is because he is a master manipulator. On the other hand, there are those who are being manipulated, and that puts them in an awkward position. Recall, in v.23, an angel of the Lord strikes Herod down due to his abuse of power. This is not just an indictment against Herod; it’s an indictment against the people as well. You see, Herod’s offense is manipulating people into giving him the glory instead of giving God the glory. The people’s offense is that they end up playing along.

Some of us are quite like Herod. We’re really manipulative, using our friends as means to feed our own egos. Others of us are more like the people in this passage. We’re willing to play along by giving people of greater influence false praise, so long as they make us feel a sense of safety and belonging. For most of us, though, I think we’re both. Wittingly or unwittingly, we manipulate people towards our own ends, while bending ourselves towards the end of others. We manipulate, and we end up being manipulated.

However, God makes it clear that with whatever power or influence we possess we should use these things to point people to God and not ourselves, for God alone is worthy of glory and praise. At the same time, therefore, the Lord tells us in Colossians 2:8 that we have a responsibility to guard ourselves against those who would try and manipulate us. Some people in our lives – call them toxic – try to lure us into their orbit, by promising peace, love, popularity, and acceptance, if only we would flatter them and indulge their ego on a regular basis. Thus, we need to be aware of how our influence is shaping others, while being aware of how the influence of others is shaping us.

Really, it all comes down to this: is God the one being truly glorified? In other words, is your influence working to help others to bring glory to God’s name? And for those who have significant influence in your own life, are they helping you to do the same?

Lord, you alone are worthy of praise. This morning, I ask for your forgiveness. Forgive me for manipulating others towards the glory of my own ends. Help me to use whatever influence I have to point people away from myself to the greatness of your holy name. At the same time, I know I’ve ascribed glory to many creatures who are essentially undeserving. For this as well, I ask for your forgiveness. Indeed, in my life, there are some friendships you’re calling me to redefine and others you’re calling me to walk away from. In your mercy, grant me the wisdom to know the difference, so that my life would ascribe to you all that you are worth. Amen.

Author: cyg-pd

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