"Is 'forcing' your spouse to attend your church with you abusive?" a self-professed biblical counselor recently asked the blog A Cry for Justice.
Now, there are other issues with this particular person's comment, but what's been bothering me is this entire concept of "forcing" and "making" a person do something. Even parents "make" their kids clean their rooms or "force" their kids to behave.
The entire "make them do as they should" is seen as part of leadership, even. Where, if you're in charge, you're supposed to do that. You're supposed to yank with the staff and beat with the rod—but…um, yanking or beating an animal doesn't teach it anything and can even damage its value. Far more effective is guiding the way you want it to go—a gentle pull away from the bad road—and startling it away from bad roads when necessary (say, by throwing the rod across its path).
Believing that you can "make" someone do something is also demonstrating a belief that you have the right to control and puppeteer them, a belief that you can control them, and a belief that you're responsible for their decisions and actions. Which, regardless of if you're on the "free will" or "predestination" side of belief, not even God does to us, so how prideful is it to think that we have that right and ability over other human beings, made in the image of God?
Seeking to force someone to do what we want them to is putting our own wishes above that person, contrary to Philippians 2:3. It's saying that you want others to control you, due to Luke 6:31 and all the "love your neighbor as yourself" verses (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).
This is all aside from Jesus's explicit statements that such lording of authority over others is not to be our way, such as in Mark 10:42–44#42: "But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all." (See also Matthew 20:25–27.)
And then there's also the example of Jesus—which He even references in the verse after what I just quoted. I've heard sermons on how He served us, paid His life as a ransom for ours, and that even applied it to the "big picture" of "We ought to do that, ourselves!"
Yet when the time comes to look at the everyday implications, that's ignored, and so many people snap back into focusing on what "must" "make" others do.
Jesus knew Judas was stealing from the moneybags, but He didn't seek to force or make Judas to behave. No, He taught the man better and let him make his own mistakes, even though He knew where those mistakes would lead them both.
Now, Jesus could've taken some measures to protect Himself from Judas's machinations. He didn't, in order to be our sacrifice.
Jesus taught His disciples. He gave them instructions to follow. He scolded them when it was warranted (and "You annoyed me" wasn't ever used as legitimate justification). But He never "made" or "forced" them.
It's also worth noting that, when cultural context is considered, Jesus's disciples were probably teenagers. Some think 15–18. It's possible that the youngest, John, might've been as young as 13 when the ministry started.
So on what grounds, exactly, do professing Christians claim authority and responsibility to "make" others do things?