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Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.02.24 AMI’ve seen it a lot too. Piper:

“Not feeling loved and not being loved are not the same. Jesus loved all people well. And many did not like the way he loved them. Was David’s zeal for the Lord imbalanced because his wife Michal despised him for it? Was Job’s devotion to the Lord inordinate because his wife urged him to curse God and die? Would Gomer be a reliable witness to Hosea’s devotion? . . . I have seen so much emotional blackmail in my ministry I am jealous to raise a warning against it. Emotional blackmail happens when a person equates his or her emotional pain with another person’s failure to love. They aren’t the same. A person may love well and the beloved still feel hurt, and use the hurt to blackmail the lover into admitting guilt he or she does not have. Emotional blackmail says, ‘If I feel hurt by you, you are guilty.’ There is no defense. The hurt person has become God. His emotion has become judge and jury. Truth does not matter. All that matters is the sovereign suffering of the aggrieved. It is above question. This emotional device is a great evil. I have seen it often in my three decades of ministry and I am eager to defend people who are being wrongly indicted by it.”

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26 thoughts on “Piper on Emotional Blackmail in the Church”

  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks so much for this!! This blackmail also happens in earthly families and many Christ honoring family members (especially parents) need to hear and know this truth.

  2. Jason says:

    I think this is a good point that hurt feelings are not always accurate. But there is a concern in the opposite direction as well. If someone honestly shares that they feel hurt or unloved, I think you should do soul-searching to see how you might have failed them. If you say to yourself that their feelings don’t make it true and label it “emotional blackmail”, you might too quickly dismiss their feelings and fail to see ways that you potentially sinned against them (or failed to love and care for them as you could have). And you can always be sorry for the hurt they feel even in the cases where you are guiltless. I think it is rare to look on a situation with relationship pain and not see opportunities to improve or repent.

    1. Ann says:

      Well said.

    2. Eric Potter says:

      I distinctly remember something about getting the log out of our own eye before working on the splinter in another’s eye. I also remember that we are to go to a brother who has hurt us. True, guilt should not be used for manipulation, but if something says we have hurt them, we should consider the possibility that we are guilty. Thanks Jason for pointing out the other extreme which came to mind.

  3. Kathy says:

    Ouch. I needed to hear that. A woman in our church hurt my feelings – but not in a sinful way – and I’ve been nursing resentment over it ever since. Thank you…

  4. Curt says:

    Yes, this is true, but it is also true there are many emotional bullies out there who arrogantly hurt people in the name of truth and hide behind their correct theology as a shield for their sinful behavior. Both are wrog

    1. sophie bowden says:

      There are many churches and leaders who use emotional blackmail and guilt to control church members.
      If you don’t do exactly what they want, you are shunned, victimised and you have no idea as to what is being said behind your back. The leaders don’t even bother to talk to you to try and sort things out or discuss anything.
      No wonder so many people hate churches.

      1. Rod says:

        Thank you Spphie, I appreciated a different perspective. It deeply saddens me, even when a Pastor would use John’s message here to justify their own circumstances. Which ever way you look at it, everyone is a victim – the hurt, the unloved, church elders, leaders and members. Some are quick to judge and appoint blame and others don’t allow for wise discernment to address the underlying issues. We become victims of modern communication and twisted method on social media. I agree with John Piper’s sentiment entirely. The expression of humility is key here and thoughts from Hebrews 13:17 & 17.

  5. Linda says:

    From my earliest memories I did not feel loved. I’m told my first sentence was actually a question: “Do you love me?” I experienced a lot of mental and emotional abuse for as long as I can remember which, in my mind, validated my feelings. I had an emptiness inside all of my life which impacted every relationship with family, friends, my husband, and even God. Even though I’ve had a measure of healing, I still struggle sometimes. It’s like it’s woven into my DNA. However, reading this article gave me a new insight of my own emotional blackmail to people who I feel don’t love or like me. In my opinion it’s a lack of forgiveness, an unwillingness to let the other person off the hook so to speak. I realized how much I dwell on what was done to me and viewing the other person as guilty instead of offering true forgiveness. The article also pointed out to me how my feelings became truth when, in fact, they may be wrong. I didn’t feel loved, I felt hurt, thus the other person didn’t love me. But perhaps they did but it didn’t get communicated in a way that would make me believe it. This has given me a lot to think about and process!

    1. Rachael says:

      What a thoughtful comment. I am glad God gave you the clarity of thought to see things this way

    2. Angela Hogan says:

      What honesty! This is truly refreshing. Thank you for sharing. May God give you grace to heal from the legitimate wounds that some have given you in the past and may He continue to convict us not to hold others hostage with emotional blackmail (in my case, they would never know–I would just nurse resentment silently) and allow us to let go of these offenses as we seek solace in our identity in Christ.

  6. Eudora says:

    Why is it so hard for folks just to admit their feelings? We are the one who owns our feelings right? I don’t have a problem saying, “Ummmm wow that just hurt”. When I do, folks just usually recognize their contribution to my pain and apologize right away. I say “Thank you” … DONE.

    There is nothing left to hold on too.

    1. Linda says:

      But when people don’t recognize or admit or, worse, deny their contribution to our pain, it causes us to learn that it’s not worth saying anything and hold things inside. When I’d try to let significant others in my life know how I felt, I’d be told I was crazy or not thinking clearly or that they were just kidding. That minimized my legitimate feelings and caused confusion because I felt one way but was told I should feel another way.

  7. Ann says:

    And some people use the phrasing “I don’t feel loved”, because they are experiencing the fog of abuse. Due to the dynamics of abuse, which create confusion, victims have not been able to vocalize “I’m abused; I am not loved.”

  8. Lynda says:

    Let me say from the perspective of being shunned by a church leader. It’s not their problem. It’s mine, full of pride and self pity. And, what is pride? My sinful nature. A better, more worthy response is to forgive and let it go. God is big enough to hear my prayers and to lean closer to thoxe who hurt people.

  9. Karen says:

    You guys just can’t give up your power can you? Read the description more closely comparing tozers life and that of his wife. That is not a man who loved well. That is a man who kept all the pie for himself. The problem with your logic if you can cal it that is that the powerful person — usually the man–gets the right to define what the “truth” is.

    1. I agree, for every one person who needed to hear this in order to let go of some perceived slight, I’m sure there was someone else who was just given license to ignore the feelings of people they have abused.

      1. Eric potter says:

        Amen. Double edged sword.

      2. Eric potter says:

        Amen. Double edged sword!

  10. dan says:

    The Gospel.
    When we perceive that we are being treated worse than we should be treated, we call it injustice. We have been hurt. Then we either complain (pridefully displaying our sense of what we deserve) or we bear it (pridefully living with the knowledge of what we deserve).

    The Gospel should tell us that we deserve to be treated badly. We deserve to be an outcast; to be unloved, to be in hell.

    If we assess that a fellow believer has been unloving to us, we should get over our personal hurt rejoice in the fact that their identity is based in Christ’s perfection: God says over them, “You are perfectly loving.”

    So, in my opinion, emotional blackmail consists of denying our brother the Gospel. When we perceive they wrong us, we want to say, “Your identity is ‘un-loving person’ and you must pay.” Pay with guilt; pay with loss of friendship; pay with being gossiped about.

    We need to ask: If Christ already paid for them, why must they pay?

  11. Michelle says:

    Many times I do not feel loved, and what’s more is that those sentiments makes me sad at my own lack of perception. Upon reading this I again came up wanting. How many times have I remained silent when a friend needed encouragement, for example? Reading the circumstances, the evidence would clearly point to an absence of love from me (notice I used only a non-incriminating benign example there). How many of us feel encouraged when we know people are praying for us? Are not those same prayers of equal value when we don’t know of them? This whole thing is about relationships; with God first and then others (Mark 12:30-31)

    Love (straight from 1 Corinthians 13) does not act inappropriately; it does not look for self-gratification, does not get ruffled, nor does it take into account a wrong suffered … it bears, believes, hopes and endures all things. Scripture only ever talks about loving (God and) others, never about how to make them love us. How fortunate for us that God already loves us as seen through the cost of Christ on the cross. Our charge is to be a tangible manifestation of that love [see Philippians 2] including its cost. I am troubled that Emotional blackmail exists but also confident that fearing God rather than giving censorship of our actions to people can abolish its effects.

  12. DS says:

    Dan, I don’t at all disagree with you. However, if you have not personally been the victim of the evils of emotional blackmail, you just might not understand the depth of the wickedness and brutality involved. I had no idea. I know none of you and have no reason to vindicate myself to you on this post. I am simply commenting because I am so thankful for this article by John Piper. Thank you Jared for posting it. I am a Children’s Director and started using The Gospel Project to teach children when the curriculum was introduced 3 years ago. Since that time, I have seen children (and adults) grow spiritually in ways that I didn’t even know was possible. God is revealing Himself to them and they are hungry for His word. During this same time, , I have also experienced extreme personal persecution. Without justifiable cause (no one is perfect but Jesus, i know this) I am not permitted to see my young grandchildren. I won’t go in to specifics because this post is not about me and I want to slander no one. It is about giving grace beyond myself that I never new I was capable of and still being a recipient of cruel emotional blackmail to the point of small children being objects of possession and leverage. I have a throbbing daily heartbreak, but my identity is in Christ alone. I know I deserve hell, but because of Jesus I stand with Him in false accusations and in victory. If you read this and feel led to pray for me, I’ll take it! Thankful for my God who is the King of reconciliation!

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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