Failing to attend to the Lord's instruction to "Do nothing from selfishness or conceit," becomes even more pronounced when we attend to the business of persuading others:
"What Scripture is telling you is that you're exploiting your neighbor, and you're under judgment. So proceed with caution, because the Lord is coming. If we can just learn to be honest with ourselves about what we're doing, then there's hope that we will cause less harm to each other in our business dealings. We have to be held to the Lord's standard that we are to be perfect as His Father is perfect. And then we have to be fully aware that we're not, so that we don't think too highly of ourselves." - Fr. Marc Boulos
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos a podcast on the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for those who would serve in the household of God, and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Today I'm joined by Fr. Marc Boulos founder and co-host of the Bible as Literature podcast, which is a flagship program on the Ephesus School Network. Welcome, Fr. Marc.
Fr. Marc Boulos 0:32
It's good to be here.
Hollie Benton 0:35
Father, the Ephesus School Network I know is committed to Biblical Studies and teaching and so I'd like to discuss with you Fr. Marc how to reboot this Doulos podcast as a way to provide a daily scriptural reading and reflection. For those who have leadership responsibilities, whether they be clergy or business leaders or managers, parish council members or ministry leaders, civic leaders, teachers, police, healthcare workers, truly, I mean, really all of us face some kind of leadership responsibilities, even as parents and students, attending to people in our care and doing the work assigned to each of us. The Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative is committed to inspiring servant leadership, generosity and social action. These missions really go hand in hand and with respect to leadership development, even servant leadership development, we're really inundated with so many resources, books, videos, podcasts, programs, coaches, planners, and it's easy to get distracted with all the latest and greatest shiny objects at our disposal, forgetting that scripture is really foundational for anyone who must serve as a leader in any capacity. Scripture is the manna from heaven that God provides - the daily bread that would sustain us in any leadership challenge we might be facing.
Fr. Marc Boulos 1:56
Well, look, I'm always going to go back to the fundamentals. So just in the terminology, we're already stuck. The minute we say servant, and I know you have to because that's how it works in the English language, that's how it works in the way that people communicate. That's how it works in the culture. But unfortunately, because the dominant metaphor of American English is commerce, and capitalism, you know, there's a saying that was floating around recently on the internet, that "Christianity began as a fellowship, then it moved to Greece and became a philosophy then it moved to Europe and became a culture, and it moved to the United States, and it became an enterprise." And they're not talking about Star Trek, they're talking about a business enterprise. But in any case, the minute you say, servant or service, in an American setting, people are already thinking about themselves and what they're providing. And it's already an act of hubris, what I offer, what I provide. And that's not what we're talking about. Scripture is not about what I do and what I offer. It's about what God tells us to do. It will always be unpopular. Scripture is a commandment. And so the whole point of challenging people who would consider themselves leaders, is to challenge them to reconsider their self-assessment as leaders, because if we're serious about our baptism, there's only one leader. For me, it's not a question of being radical or extreme, or being an academic or being overly scholarly, or I don't know, you could try to categorize it any way you want. The word that I would use is serious. Either we're baptized or we're not baptized. And as Fr. Paul likes to point out, in the Greek, the verb form is ahoristos, meaning without horizon, which means technically it will be determined by the Lord on that day, whether our baptism took. We're going to be judged as to whether or not we were truly baptized into Christ, whether or not we put on the garment of His household and we pertain to Him as our patrician. It's a big, big, serious question. We have to submit and allow the words of his instruction to provide the leadership. That's the bottom line.
Hollie Benton 4:38
So with this reboot of the Doulos podcast, I'd really like to start with a reading, with a text, with a scripture, with a commandment, instruction. And with that reading, allow the text to search us. What question is the text asking? What is the call to action that comes from the text and with each reading, perhaps consider a common everyday challenge leaders face, like resilience. That's a buzzword that we hear. Hiring and firing, resolving conflict, setting priorities, and see whether the text addresses it head on or perhaps even reframes the challenge. Is the scriptural text offering an alternative perspective to the world's so called wisdom when it comes to effective leadership? Or is the text offering a solution to a leadership issue? Or am I forcing it to do something to relieve my own conscience or justify myself? And we all know the problems with proof texting, it's the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a position without regard for the context of the passage they're citing. Even a modern leadership challenge, like building consensus, or avoiding burnout may or may not be the thing, the matter at hand that scripture addresses. A leadership challenge may be its own idol, a standalone idea, a story, our story, a false god imbued with the power of our own words, not God's word. Proof texting is idolatry. It's building an idol with our own hands fashioned after our own image to justify ourselves. Idolatry was a temptation 2000 years ago. It's still a temptation today. Understanding what it means to serve as a doulos tou theou, a servant in the household of God, must be understood by searching the instruction, the commandments of that household in which we serve, right? I must not read a passage and then close the book and allow whatever leadership buzzword that's flying around and talk about that so that it suits me and glorifies me as a so called servant leader,
Fr. Marc Boulos 6:46
You have to, before your one on one with your coworker, your employee, if you're scriptural, you should have a hard time saying my employee or my staff because they don't belong to you. And you can say, Oh, yeah, Father, Mark, we all know what you mean. But I don't know what you mean. Because if you say, my staff, my employee, my wife, to my ears, you're using the language of ownership. And you don't even notice it, because that's the language of American English, is possession. We are obsessed with happiness, because that's just a euphemism for the possession of property in the United States. So when you go into a one on one with your coworker, or a coworker, we have to get rid of any sense of possession of the other person, when you go into meet with a coworker at the office, and you and your station are responsible for their workload, and the workload of their colleagues, you don't go and quote scripture to them. You are not their priest, or their instructor, you have to go into your room, close the door, and read Matthew 25 one thousand times, and then go to the office and meet with them. And you can't say well, which verses should I read? That doesn't work that way. You have to read the whole thing from cover to cover, preferably in the original languages, but translations will have to do. And just keep reading, keep reading over and over again, for the rest of your life. And when you go into the room to meet with your coworker, whatever their position in the company, and whatever the position in your company, your premise has to be that you are wicked and under judgment, and you are there to submit to them out of deference to Christ, as Paul says in Ephesians, to submit to them. Now, what that submission looks like, is highly contextual, and highly functional. You have to go into those situations and try to understand. Does submitting to your child mean coddling them, for example, as a parent, or does it mean being stern? If you love them, sometimes you have to be stern. And sometimes you have to coddle them. It's situational. It's functional, how do you operate in a certain situation under certain conditions. To submit means that you are not just doing willy nilly what you feel or you think is right. You're under obedience. You're not obeying them and you're not obeying yourself. You are obeying Christ. This is the key. For example, Hollie, in that beautiful text from Ephesians chapter five that we hear famously in the wedding ceremony, and in our tradition, I'm referring to a text that our listeners might be familiar with because they happen to be Eastern Orthodox and attend a wedding service. But there are literally endless examples that they haven't heard because they're not reading the text from cover to cover every day for the rest of their life. And the fountain is bottomless, and the wisdom is bottomless. What it offers us is bottomless, and endless and its benefit for fellowship and the common good.
Hollie Benton 7:28
So let's do a reading today from Philippians chapter two.
Fr. Marc Boulos 10:21
Let's not talk about the Bible. Let's hear what God has to say.
Hollie Benton 10:24
And these are famous verses about humility, and servant leadership. "Do nothing from selfishness, or conceit, but in humility, count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Before we discuss these verses, I do think it's important to note that Paul's letter to the Philippians was addressed to all the saints in Christ Jesus, who were at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, so the net is cast wide to include several addressees. And we also learn from the first chapter that Paul is seeing his own imprisonment for the sake of the gospel, it's actually serving the advancement of the gospel. So the verses that we hear in chapter two about "doing nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility, count others better than yourselves, let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interest of others." (We can even have this memorized by the time we get done with this podcast.) It can be trusted by the apostle who is writing because he's not only preaching this word, but he's accepting it and heeds his own instruction while he's in prison.
Fr. Marc Boulos 11:31
So these are beautiful verses. But it's more beautiful than people think. These are the kind of verses that people would extract as a morality and have a retreat with, and then talk about the importance of being meek and mild. But that's not what we're doing here. Let's just take a step back before we come to verses three and four of chapter two, let's take a step back as you started to do, Hollie, when you were explaining the context of the letter. The theme, as in the case of Ephesians, as in the case of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, letters, is demotion and also imprisonment, bondage. But specifically, he is demoting and pressuring the leaders of the church that you refer to. Why in the program of doulos leadership do we make such a thing out of the translation of doulos as slave? Why do we insist on the use of that word, because look, in the New American Standard Bible and the title of this book, the title, meaning the first verse, for lack of a better word, they say, Paul and Timothy bondservants. But the word in Greek as you're going to guess, it's Paulos kai Timotheos douloi. They're slaves. So it's in a way interesting that here uniquely, it's not how Paul always refers to Timothy, but here he's referring to Timothy on the same level as him, but as a slave, but he's pushing everybody down. Everybody. Paul is a slave. Timothy is a slave, everyone below them is pushed down. What does that say about the addressee of the letters? Not you and I, we're not the addressees. We're listening in on something that was written, as you said, quite correctly to the leaders of the church at the time. It's painful to hear it that way. But it's a put down. If you've listened to one Corinthians, for example, one thousand times, you know that it's the systematic belittling of the addressee. And Paul already here is playing the same game of pressuring, and belittling. Everybody is being pushed, pushed, pushed. Remember what we said, in the doulos leadership principles, Jesus Himself, replaces Caesar as head of the empire and is belittled. He takes over this title Son of God, which is the imperial title of the ruler of the Roman Empire and then he demotes the title. Everybody gets pushed down, which reflects the teaching of the prophet Isaiah, that there is only one ego, which is the ego of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It's very important. So when you come to these beautiful verses, Hollie, that you chose for today, and I'm so thankful that you selected these verses, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit," sometimes translated as vain glory, empty glory. In fact, that would be a better translation when you look at the original Greek, "but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves." Now show be somebody who actually does that, or who claims to do that. And I'll show you somebody who's not honest with themselves, let alone honest with you. But this teaching reflects the teaching of Jesus and Matthew that you have to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect, which you can't be. But you have to be. Well, that's not doable. Fr. Marc, that doesn't make sense. We can't write a self help book with five steps to perfection, and then say they won't work. Right? This isn't a self help book, and you can't package it and sell it and market it. This is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. You can't assimilate it or synthesize it. And once you do, as Paul said, you make it void. This is the gospel, you are stuck with what it says. Now he's telling you, you have to be perfect. And we all know you can't be. So if you want to do what they did in the Reformation and decide, oh, no, no, no, no, it can be solved just through grace and everything's fine. And we're all saved, and there's nothing to worry about. I mean, that makes no sense. That's not what the New Testament is saying. Or if you want to argue that you can earn it through ascesis and religiosity, that's not what the New Testament is saying either. It's saying you have to do it, and you can't. And now you're stuck with the Now What, which is dependence on God. But you're not off the hook. You're stuck in that quandary. I want to make everyone hear the pressure of what Paul is saying, because people hear this, Hollie, and they think, Oh, isn't that so nice, everyone's more important than me. And then they walk around with a humble tone, you know, kind of meek and mild, making a good showing in the flesh, and condemning themselves with their, to use your terminology from the program, their false humility,
Hollie Benton 16:52
The commandment makes us realize that we fall short. And we're stuck with it. And then Now What makes me think of a leadership challenge that people in our daily lives, we have to deal with persuasion, sales. If we are in a business for anything, we are persuading, we are trying to sell, maybe for pious ears, for sensitive ears, maybe the word is persuasion, selling myself, selling my product, selling my services, selling my church, in terms of persuading one to join my parish. If I'm charged to count others better than myself, I'm stuck. How do I answer the question when somebody asks me, Why should I hire you and not someone else? Why should I buy your service and not another service? Why should I buy your product? Not the products of somebody else? Why should I go to your church and not to the other? How do we - how do we put this into practice?
Fr. Marc Boulos 17:50
Well, I mean, as a priest, I don't try to convince anybody of anything. I just teach. This is what Scripture says, it's a proposition, take it or leave it. You're asking me why. Paul says, it doesn't matter. stay as you are. In terms of business, persuasion, you can make arguments based on information and data, you can make a case for certain points of view. But scripture is pressuring you to understand that you're the problem that you shouldn't think too highly of yourself. You should never ever put yourself before other people. That's what this verse is saying.
Hollie Benton 18:29
It's not practical father, it's not practical. How am I supposed to earn my living?
Fr. Marc Boulos 18:34
Well, you're going to earn your living. That's the funny thing. It's like the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, people are going to have children. Don't worry about it. That's what I love about that commandment in Genesis. The Lord said, "Be fruitful and multiply." It's going to happen. You don't have to worry about it. People are going to find a way to make money. That's not the problem. The problem is, who is challenging those who pursue wealth, to be honest with themselves about what they're doing, and what they are? Who is challenging them to think twice about the needs of the person they're extracting value from? That's the question that we're dealing with in Scripture is the needs of our neighbor. We're not dealing with what we can get from our neighbor. So if you're coming to me and saying, What can I learn from scripture about business? What Scripture is telling you is that you're exploiting your neighbor, and you're under judgment. So proceed with caution, because the Lord is coming. If we can just learn to be honest with ourselves about what we're doing, then there's hope that we will cause less harm to each other in our business dealings. We have to be held to the Lord's standard that we are to be perfect as His Father is perfect. And then we have to be fully aware that we're not so that we don't think too highly of ourselves. When we're about to talk about our expert opinion on leadership, with some poor graduate from the university, who we're about to put through their paces, as a freshman at our white shoe firm, so that we can walk home with a big bonus at the end of the year. I've seen it and I've lived it. And thanks be to God, the gospel is my familiar friend and my companion in this life, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 20:37
When it comes to persuasion or sales, I do think it's important not to condemn my brother, not to throw him under the bus. Basically, take what you get, I'm not here to convince you, but I'm not going to put down the neighborhood church on the street corner.
Fr. Marc Boulos 20:54
Look, I can sell you a product. You know, Hollie, I've worked in business, my whole career. I've been a professional for 30 years. We negotiate deals, I've been involved in sales, I've been involved in big projects, and I work hard, and I make the case and I do negotiations. We've done it all. But at every step of the way, I am constantly under the pressure of God's judgment through his teaching, that I am the problem, and I'm accountable for everything that I do. And I'm constantly constantly keenly aware that everything I do could jeopardize the well being of the people I'm working with. And there are decisions where I have to step back and walk away. There are things I can't engage in. And there are things I have to say, I can't do that. There are jobs I have to quit. There are just limits. There are things left on the table, because of the gospel. And it doesn't mean that I'm blameless, or I don't stand accused before God, because I'm not the judge. As Paul says, in one Corinthians chapter four, I don't know what the Lord has against me, He may have plenty, I will find out. Until then I proceed with caution. This is the attitude that we have to acquire from hearing this teaching over and over again. And once you realize that we always act out of selfishness, and Paul is saying do nothing out of selfishness, once you realize we all bathe in vain glory, when Paul is saying, don't act or do anything out of vain glory, and once you realize none of us act in humility, some of us are good at pretending we're humble. I try very much not to pretend I'm humble, because I'm not. At least I'm not the judge of whether or not I'm humble, but I'm not gonna fake it with a veneer of Midwestern nice. But knowing that these are the things I'm supposed to do, and that perfection is demanded of me, and that I don't do them, makes me very afraid when I'm in a one on one with one of my coworkers. That's the business of the divine writ. And you can't mess with it. And you can't package it. You just have to hear it over and over again till it's in your bones. "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Do you how many times I've squeezed a vendor for blood? Just on that basis alone I'm in danger of Hellfire. Oh, well, no, no, no, Fr. Marc, how can you say that? It's your job to get a good deal from the vendor. I don't know if that's the case. That's not what I read here. I'm not supposed to look out for my own personal interests. Well, but you're doing business. It's business. You know, you have to do business. Yes, I understand. I understand that negotiation with a third party is negotiation. It's a kind of game. We all understand that. But I also understand that I've put the screws to some people over the years in my business dealings. Who's to say what the Lord will say on that day? I can't say, because I'm not the judge.
Hollie Benton 24:18
Nor can we make excuses.
Fr. Marc Boulos 24:20
Yeah, I won't excuse myself. Come on. You want me to rationalize? Well, that's just how it goes? Once you rationalize, and you say, well, no one is really perfect, no one can be perfect. That's not what Matthew says. You see what I'm saying, Hollie, once we systematize and rationalize, we remove the pressure. And suddenly we justify ourselves and scripture doesn't let you do that.
Hollie Benton 24:43
Yes, of course. Thank you, Father. I appreciate the time today. Thank you for this reading and may the Lord have mercy on us.
Fr. Marc Boulos 24:51
Thank you. Take care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai