Paul, The Patron Saint of Guilt Trips

How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?

“That’s OK, you go and have fun, I’ll be fine sitting here in the dark, all alone with no one around to help me. I don’t mind, so long as you are happy.”

Did you like that joke? It is representative of what we call a Guilt Trip.

Those of you who read my messages know that I have a lot of issues with the Epistles from Shaul (Paul); not so much with what he says, but how what he says has been so badly – I will even go as far as to say sinfully!- misinterpreted and misused in order to turn Gentile Believers away from the Torah.

And this is the first time I will point out another issue I have with Shaul’s letters, but one that helps me to prove, once and for all, that he was Jewish, to a fault.

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Shaul was an expert with regards to laying a guilt trip on his congregations.

Let’s start with Corinthians Chapter 9. He tells about how it is biblically correct for those spreading the good news to receive payment, but not him! He has never received payment and won’t because he wants to do it for free, as the Messiah has told him he should.

Bragging? Not really, it’s more like

Look at me! I am not taking what is owed to me, even though I know you
want to give it to me.

which could easily make the people feel guilty if they don’t do something for him. Subtle, but effective in getting them to perform tzedakah (charity) for others, not so much because they want to, but in order to feel better about themselves because it will make Shaul feel better.

He follows up this guilt trip in his second letter, in Chapter 8, where he tells them about how Macedonia was so poor yet they gave generously, and he is sure that the Corinthians will do even better.

And if that wasn’t enough, he really pours it on in Chapter 9, when he says he hopes that, after telling everyone how wonderful the Corinthians are, that he won’t be embarrassed by them if they don’t give more than the Macedonians did.

Do what you want to do, and don’t worry if you make me look like a liar.

But those Corinthians aren’t the only ones he lays a guilt trip on.

In his letter to the Philippians, the second chapter is about the problems they are having working together in the congregation. So, he tells them how he will feel so much better, and it will bring him such joy, by knowing that what he has taught them will be demonstrated by their getting along with each other.

In other words, if you guys don’t start working together, you’ll make me feel like I failed, and then I’ll feel terrible!

In Chapter 4 of this letter he tells them how wonderful it was that in the past they wanted to help, but poor them- they couldn’t. However, if they could help now (by sending what he needs) that would be a real blessing to him, but it’s OK if they don’t- he can get along alright. He has learned to be happy without food or clothing, or even when in jail…

It’s OK, I’ll just sit here in this cold, damp cell with no clothes or food; I know
you would help if you could.

The really big guilt trip I see in all his letters is the one to Philemon! He tells Philemon how well Phil’s escaped slave, Onesimus, has been to him and that he is now sending him back (which is what the law required), and that he is asking Phil to be nice to Onesimus and accept him back without punishment.

THEN, after asking this “favor” he says that he won’t mention, of course, that Philemon owes him his very life.

You don’t have to do anything I ask of you, but you do owe me your life,
which I won’t mention because I know you will do more than what I ask.

GUILT! GUILT! GUILT!

And in general, throughout his letters, he constantly asks the people to do as he says in order not to embarrass him in front of the other congregations, because he has boasted about them so much.

And he constantly talks of his trials and tribulations, all on their account, which is fine because he does it voluntarily; but, the underlying guilt trip is that he is suffering for them, so they should do as he asks.

He does tell them about the rewards of living righteous lives, but there is always that subtle guilt trip that they should do this also for his sake because of all he has done for them.

Look, there is a lot of good stuff in the Epistles Shaul wrote, but that good stuff has to be filtered out from the guilt trips he lays on them.

So, if there is any meaningful value to my message today, it is this: when reading the Bible, you need to remember that it is written by people, and except for the Torah parts where Moses is writing exactly what God told him to write, or the Prophets prophesizing what God told them to say, everything else was written by human beings who had their own way of saying things and their own personalities which could never be removed completely from their writings.

Just reading the Bible isn’t good enough. Oh, sure, you can always count on the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, to guide your understanding, but you still need to take some level of control.

Read the Bible with an open mind, learn the cultural and historical usage of the words and phrases in there so you understand what you are reading the same way that the ones who wrote it meant it. Never take any one or two verses by themselves, but always work within Circles of Context: the sentence within the paragraph, the paragraph within the letter, and who wrote the letter, to whom, and why.

Always be critical of what you read: there is no conflict between faithfully believing what is in the Bible is true and testing it. The truth can stand up to critical analysis, and the truth in the Bible will be clear enough, even when you test it.

Being critical and fairly testing what is in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, but always maintain steadfast and unwavering faith that God is God, that Yeshua is the Messiah who was raised from the dead for our sakes, and that the promises of God are absolutely trustworthy.

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That’s it for today, so l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Comments welcomed (just be nice)