“17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.” Galatians 4:17
For many years, I struggled to understand what Paul was talking about in this passage. And most translations have not helped me put my head around the verse. But recently, after experiencing some brutal manipulation in my spiritual community, I got it.
Have you ever experienced rejection from a group because you didn’t have the same opinions as they did? You had an invitation to join, but only if you adopted their opinions. When you didn’t, they shut you out in hopes that you would chase after them. “Please… please… let me in you group!”
“They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.”
The circumcision group in Galatia felt that the Gentile Christian should become Jews first (get circumcised) before accepting the Jewish Messiah. And to make their point, they used their clout as Jewish Christians (the first Christians and the ethnic group that produced the Christ) the ostracize the uncircumcised. This is a form of spiritual abuse… emotional and psychological mistreatment powered by spiritual beliefs. Many confuse this emotional manipulation with church discipline, but that is a gross misunderstand of spiritual correction.
The shame of rejection can sometimes drive us to do whatever we can to find acceptance again… even violate our own convictions. And many leaders exploit this emotional and psychological dynamic to manipulate congregants. It seems this psychological tactic is common place in the church. This kind of leadership “wisdom” is not from God. It’s not affirming of the dignity of a person (imago dei). It’s not reflective of the fruits of the Spirit (patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness). Its not loving. Quite the opposite. it is straight from the pit of hell… and its time we start doing better.