What does the Bible say about teamwork? The Apostle Paul teaches in his letter to the Galatians to "Bear one another's burdens," and that "each must bear his own load." For servant leaders the responsibility goes way beyond sharing the load equally.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Fr. Marc Boulos, welcome back! I'm eager to explore the notion of teamwork today, which usually means how people with different skills or different roles and responsibilities work together to produce something more effectively or efficiently. When a team works well together, we might say that the sum of the whole team is greater than the sum of its parts. Being part of a highly functioning team can be really exhilarating and satisfying. But when we are part of a dysfunctional team, it can be really draining, whether it's a team at work, a volunteer group, a parish council, or even a family unit. I've had the joy of playing on a volleyball team where we leverage the strengths and abilities of each player, those who power serve, dig, set, and hit. Or even working together as a church choir with those who can read music, some know the church rubrics, others can blend and sing different harmonies, some can do solo chant, and there are those who can be cultivated as substitute conductors. Most people have experience at work or with a volunteer team where people cast vision, create, implement, engineer the details, foresee potential obstacles, and communicate well, and there are those who even have the tenacity to just get things across the finish line. If we have a team made up only of those who can offer suggestions or great ideas, but no one is willing to be accountable to actually do the work, we won't get anything accomplished. So today, I'd like to explore how the Apostle Paul frames this in Galatians 6, where he says to bear one another's burdens, and also, each man will have to bear his own load.
Fr. Marc Boulos 1:58
I'm so glad we're talking about Galatians, because if we want to understand the Bible, we need only hear Galatians. Like any text in Scripture, to understand this little text, you have to understand the Bible. But if you can understand what this little text is preaching, then you understand what the Bible is preaching. That's how it works. If you hear Galatians, you're hearing Genesis, and if you've heard Genesis, then you'll hear what Paul is saying in Galatians. Now, specifically, with respect to the topic at hand, which is Paul's teaching about our responsibility to bear one another's burdens, and at the same time, the accountability to carry one's own burden. It reflects, for example, what he says systematically in 1 Corinthians, if you have a problem with your spouse, it's your problem. If your spouse has a problem with you, it's your problem. I'm paraphrasing, but that's systematically how Paul talks, the judgment applies to you, you can't apply it to your neighbor. Now, in Galatians, specifically, Paul's dispute is with those whom, in another letter he refers to as the ministers of Satan, specifically, those who in verse 12, desire to make a good showing in the flesh, by compelling you to be circumcised. They want to force you to be circumcised. Why? Because they themselves are interested in making a good showing. They have a kind of a marketing culture. They want to show you how appealing their "-ismos" is by "-ismos" I mean, their "-ism" their Judaism, or their Christian-ism, in our context, or whatever it is, their ideology, their social identity, their religious identity, the thing they boast about in the flesh, and they mark it. And they put banners up to say, look how great this is, you should join us. They want to brag, and they want to use - and I'll use the terminology of the modern workplace - they want to use the team and the expanded team to be able to bolster their bragging so they are bragging on the backs of the weaker brother, the Gentile, so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. They want the thing that the world values. That's the thing that you can market, the thing that the world values. The thing that is precious in the sight of the Lord can't be marketed.
Hollie Benton 5:06
Fr. Marc Boulos 5:07
They want the thing that is precious in the eyes of men, that thing voids the cross of Jesus Christ, and when they forward that thing, they profit on the backs of those who are a part of their "team." But Paul doesn't allow that. He doesn't allow the one with authority to steal glory on the backs of the weaker brother, and that does have implications for the American workplace. You, whatever your station, in the household of faith, you are responsible for what you are responsible for, you have to bear accountability for your own burdens. And among those burdens, according to the will of God the Father through Jesus Christ by the hand of the apostle Paul, among those burdens, is the assigned duty to care for the burden of your neighbor. But there's no expectation in that instruction to you, that the neighbor should care for you. That's how scripture works.
Hollie Benton 6:16
So let's jump right into this reading from Paul's Epistle to the Galatians chapter six, and just the first six verses. "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor, for each man will have to bear his own load. Let him who is taught the word, share all good things with him who teaches." So just to provide some context which you've already started to do, Father, this letter to the Galatians lays out the primacy and unifying message of the Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles, over the Jewish rite of circumcision. After the Galatians had originally received the gospel that Paul preached, there were leaders of the Jewish circumcision party who came in to trouble them and pervert the gospel of Christ. Preaching, as you said earlier, a showing in the flesh through circumcision, rather than living and walking by the Spirit, through obedience to the Word that they received in the gospel of Christ. So chapter six is the last chapter in Galatians. The apostle Paul is wrapping up his letter by exhorting his hearers to bear one another's burdens. So Father, Mark, how does this command to bear one another's burdens fit with the simultaneous instruction that each should test or prove his own work and bear his own load? He doesn't say, share the load, he says, bear his own load. Yet he also says to bear one another's burdens. I'm thinking, the shorthand for teamwork is often teamwork equals "share the load" or "share the load equally." But the Apostle Paul doesn't say, share the load. So how does this work?
Fr. Marc Boulos 8:19
Let me answer you with a line that I used recently, in a Bible study. I was conveying the judgment of one of the prophetic texts in the class. And someone raised their hand and said, I thought God was merciful. We have an entitlement mentality, because we're Westerners, and we're Americans. We just want to go to church with our credit card and ask where the vending machine is for mercy and plug the card in. But that's not what Scripture is. Scripture is pressure from on high to correct our steps, in anticipation of the judgment. God, when He is merciful in Scripture is merciful to everyone else, except you. So what Paul is doing is what the text does systematically. It is speaking to the individual, the way a parent speaks to a child. You have a responsibility and what your sibling is doing is none of your business. You do not allow your child to speak about what the other child is doing, only what their responsibility is. So that's how Paul is setting it up. That's how scripture works. It's functional judgment. You are responsible to examine yourself and to be responsible for how you behave, which includes taking care of the burdens of your neighbor, but in the end, you will be held accountable before the terrible and dread judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the burden that has been assigned to you. That is your duty to God the Father through Jesus Christ, for the sake of the household of faith in Galatians. But you answer for what you do. To the extent that someone in the household is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual, which is a technical term, in Galatians, the pnevmatikos. The pnevmatike are the ones who walk according to the rule of Paul's teaching. It has nothing to do with spirituality in the modern sense. If you are spiritual in the Pauline sense, it means you are under the control of Paul's Epistle, you walk according to this rule, which he will say very soon in chapter six. And if you walk according to this rule, you are under his control. And you conduct yourself not as a person who is self governed, but as a person who is governed as one under authority, which means you are not the judge. It is the Spirit then, of Paul's teaching, the Spirit of God that handles the discernment. If there's an issue in the community, you are not the judge, you are not responsible, except for your own sins. This is very difficult for people to understand in a communal context. If you're spiritual, meaning you're doing your duty, and carrying your load and your burden, and making every effort to memorize Galatians, and to walk according to this rule that the Apostle has laid down, then you'll be able to correct a person gently according to this rule as one who is spiritual, as one who is numbered among the pnevmatike, those who walk according to the rule of Paul's Epistle. And then it will be as though Paul himself is correcting someone in a spirit of gentleness. And then you will be doing your duty to bear your burden in the community. And you will be judged for every word you utter. So you have to be careful not to insert your words when you speak to a brother or sister. So it's not a team in the way we talk about team because how does a manager talk about a team? Well, my team did this, and my team did that. And all they did was sit down and assign a bunch of work, and then check emails. And then after two or three individual contributors killed themselves on a six month project, they take their names off the PowerPoint, and present it as their own work, and say, Look what we did, or look what I did. When you play that game, you remind me of Peter, in Galatians, glorying in the flesh of the weaker brother, for your own gain, making a showing in the flesh at the expense of someone under your authority, at the expense of someone who is in a lesser position than you. And then you call it a team and you say we did it. You didn't do anything. The guy paid one-third your salary did it. That's why I'm leery of this language about team, Hollie. We play the game of team and say how much we value our employees. But it's not true. And we're not honest with ourselves. That's why the only correct and true and sane thing is what Paul is saying, is that each will be held to account in the judgment for what he or she has done. It's not a question of equality. Because if you have more authority, and more resources, and more responsibility - Peter, James, and John in the Letter to the Galatians - then you will be expected to do much more than the individual contributor who did the whole project by himself in six months for one-third the pay. So it is in a way dealing with this question that is a big issue in corporate America about teamwork, Hollie, but as always, because it's scripture, in a way that's very difficult and painful to bear.
Hollie Benton 14:02
For those of us who carry some kind of leadership responsibility, or perhaps we are on the team, perhaps lower on the pecking order, how do we put this into practice? How do we let go of the kind of teamwork where everybody is contributing their fair share, to bearing one another's burdens and letting each be responsible to bear his own load without measuring how much each is contributing to sharing that load equally?
Fr. Marc Boulos 14:31
You are accountable to God not to exploit the people you work with, which means you have to ask yourself and examine your conscience every day. Am I doing everything that I can and should be doing in my station with the resources and the responsibility that has been assigned to me to make sure the work is complete? Or am I using other people for my own gain and my own advantage, and then saying "we" did it. Churches do this all the time. One, maybe two people prepare a huge banquet, and then someone says, Thank you St. Elizabeth (Church), for hosting a banquet. Now, I don't believe in thanking people publicly in church. Because when you do that, you are still taking glory and boasting in the flesh at the expense of the kingdom. You're playing Peter, James, and John, and you are shutting people out of the kingdom. Because as Matthew teaches us, they will have already received their reward. And I don't want that around my neck in the day of judgment, but it's worse to give the credit to the team. Because then not only are you shutting the whole community out of the kingdom, you are also shutting everybody out with the added rub, that you're doing so at the expense of the one or two who did the work. And that would be an extra check mark against you when you stand before the dread and terrible judgment seat of Jesus Christ. Now everybody hearing this can say, Yeah, well, Father, Marc, that's not what we mean, what's wrong with just thanking people and telling them that they did a nice job? I'm not here to tell you what I think about just thanking people. And I'm not here to tell you whether or not it's a big deal. What I'm here to tell you is what Matthew said, and what Paul said in Galatians. He asks it openly, Am I here seeking the praise of men, or of God? And then Matthew follows up very succinctly, that if you receive praise from men, you have already received your reward. And this business of team versus individual ultimately becomes a way to steal the work of the weaker brother. And Paul won't let you in Galatians.
From the perspective, Father, of those one or two people who are doing the heavy lifting, doing the work of preparing the banquet, they would like to share the load, they would like the team to get more involved. What does Paul have to say to them?
On the one hand, there are people right now who don't have something to eat. There are people who are homeless. So just the fact that you're preparing the banquet means you have access to food, so you're not a victim. Having said that, Paul already gave you his answer. If you, whether you're doing the work or not is irrelevant because you're no reference. Don't imagine that you're something when you are nothing. And if you think that doing extra work makes you something, you need to go back to chapter one of Galatians and start over because you didn't get the message. In any case, at the beginning of chapter six, even though you are nothing, the letter of Paul is something and if you are a spiritual, and you see that someone is not doing what the letter says, You who are spiritual should recite the letter to them in a spirit of gentleness. But that's it. You can't complain that you're doing what the letter said. You can't complain that they're not doing what the letter said. And you can't imagine that you're better off because you're doing something that they should be doing. If you are baptized, and under the authority of Paul's teaching, you have to bear accountability.
Hollie Benton 18:34
Thank you, Father. We make a good team even though I know you do most of the work.
Fr. Marc Boulos 18:39
We make a great team. We make a great team, Hollie, and here's the thing, I'm gonna say, Thank God. But I know our listeners are wondering if they should thank God and if that's the case, they heard the Apostle Paul speaking today. So thank God.
Hollie Benton 18:57
Transcribed by https://otter.ai