Have you ever worked for someone who had trouble confronting a difficult employee? Perhaps you've noticed yourself avoiding conflict by working extra long and hard to cover someone who is stealing energy and productivity from the team. What do you say? How do you say it? Is humility the same as avoiding conflict?
This week's episode continues the study of Ephesians 4:25-32 and the responsibility we have as "members one of another" to speak the truth in love even when we would rather avoid the conflict.
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 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 is joining me again today to continue our discussion of Ephesians 4. Fr. Marc is a co host of the Bible as literature podcast on the Ephesus School Network. So great to have you again, Father, Marc!
Fr. Marc Boulos 0:33
Again, and again, let's gather together on the Doulos podcast. It's good to be here.
Hollie Benton 0:40
So last week, we heard how the Apostle Paul laid the groundwork for speaking the truth in love, which was the focus of last week's episode that comes from Ephesians 4:11-16. As we discussed last week, it's clear the Apostle Paul isn't talking about my own personal truth or my honest feelings as though speaking the truth in love is the same thing as getting something off my chest. The truth is the Lord's truth, and we are called to submit to it, and then to speak it to one another to edify the whole body for which Christ is the head. We touched on the question last week about how to handle situations where we may have some kind of leadership responsibility, like overseeing a department or a team at work, a group of volunteers, a classroom of students, even the clients or patrons we serve at work for which we must address, sometimes, incorrect behavior carried out by someone in our care, or working within our leadership responsibility. Last week, the stress was on remembering that as a leader, the corrective of the Lord's instruction is meant first and foremost, for the one who assumes any kind of leadership responsibility. And before we're too dismissive and say, yes, yes, I get that, I understand I need to be humble and check my ego and not go around pointing out the fault of my teammates, or my group of volunteers, my students or my clients, for the sake of my own glory. Just tell me how I'm supposed to speak the truth in love so people don't get mad at me. So remind us again, Fr. Marc, about the importance of bowing our heads to the truth spoken in love that comes through the instruction of the Lord.
Fr. Marc Boulos 2:21
There's this great program on Netflix, about the Flat Earth Society. And I love this show, Hollie, because there are a group of people, a community of sorts, who have a kind of religious worldview, in which they believe the earth is flat, and they're convinced, and they've published papers, and they have an entire theology that explains how this is how it works. But in the midst of this community, there are one or two people that are trying to validate their theology by doing real experimentation. And at the end of the program, one of these hard working serious, sincere theologians conducts a valid experiment with external controls. He wants the earth to be flat. He believes the earth is flat. But he looks at the result of the experiment. It's the last scene of the film and he says, oh, oh, my. That's speaking the truth in love scripturally. There's no ego there. That's how you check your ego. What does the data say? How many times have we been in meetings at work where everybody has an expected answer, a commonly held answer that they want to hear, a convenient answer. And some poor engineer or some data scientist, someone raises their hand and says, Well, that's not what the data says. That's not what the result of the experiment was. That's not correct. It's not an opinion. It doesn't come from someone's worldview or theology or philosophy. It's just a reflection of the facts and they speak it plainly. This example helps illustrate what Paul is saying in Ephesians. The text is there. We know what we are commanded to hear and repeat and do. And we have to hear and repeat this text and do it. No matter how inconvenient it is, no matter how divergent it is from what everyone expects us to do. No matter how divergent it is from what everyone is saying or wants us to say. Very often when you simply say what St. Paul is telling you to say people are offended because it goes against the grain. I just heard a beautiful podcast, you know, The Daily, it's published by the New York Times, where they were explaining the language that Facebook uses to describe abusive content. They call it meaningful interaction. So when someone in Ethiopia posts an emotionally evocative image that is violent, and taps into the psychology of the Civil War victim mentality, and that image causes more bloodshed, according to Facebook, that's engagement, and meaningful interaction, thus is sophistry. So Facebook makes money and people in Ethiopia suffer because of the manipulation of language because of people telling lies. To speak the truth in love is to say, actually, what's happening is someone is posting an abusive image that evokes an emotional response that is causing suffering. That may be inconvenient for social media company's bottom line, but it's a fact. Now, again, the facts and the truth that we're speaking about are the content of Scripture. But the analogy holds Hollie, so we have to be willing to say what Paul is telling us to say. And we can't be afraid of the consequences. And we have to say it.
Hollie Benton 6:34
I think we all have experience with some leaders who are really conflict averse, they don't want to speak the truth. I'm thinking about your example from Netflix, you know, the scientist may have an emotional connection to his community, is he going to be willing to share that data? I'm thinking of leaders too who motivate their teams through compliments. They even pick up the slack and work extra long and hard hours to cover for team members who are slacking. People may say about them, Oh, they're so nice, They're so humble. I know I myself am much more tempted to avoid conflicts and be seen as a humble leader than to face conflicts for the sake of others on the team. Or as we hear in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, the body of Christ, which is how I think we should consider even our teams at work if we're serious about every person being in the hand of God under the Lord's purview. So I'd like to read a passage from Ephesians four, and to consider how and why it's important to speak the truth with our neighbors and not to avoid conflicts, as I, and I know so many others with leadership responsibilities, are prone to do. So Ephesians four, starting with verse 25: "Therefore putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with his neighbor for we are members of one another. Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal but rather let him labor doing honest work with his hands so that he may be able to give to those in need. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you with all malice and be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.
Fr. Marc Boulos 8:42
Ephesians is the letter written in chains, Paul is a prisoner, and we're all being bound together. This beautiful word - syndesmos - we're bound together like prisoners. That's the forceful unity in Ephesians, under the singular authority of God the Father, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. But it's actualized by the speaking, not of our falsehoods, our empty, vain human speech, but by the speaking, the hearing, and the doing of God's instruction. That's what makes us members of one another. That's what unifies the body. Now, you're going to say, Father, Marc, you're a broken record, and I'm going to respond, no, Paul is a broken record. Because there's so much nonsense that Paul has to keep repeating the same thing over and over again. That's what the Bible is. It's the same thing over and over again, and a huge portfolio of literature, to try to drown out the really impressive and interesting diversity of stupidity in the ancient world. And it's gotten worse. The fact that you know, the earth is not flat does not make you better than the flat earth theologians, because you were once a flat earth theologian, but I brought you out of bondage from that folly, which means now you owe me. It doesn't make you better than the people who are still confused. It makes you in debt. Remember our conversation about the gospel that is free of charge, but somehow still has a price tag? This is the price tag. Who do you think you are? You think, because now you suddenly have figured out that the earth isn't flat, that you're better? I mean, that's the problem with this whole liberal, conservative, educated, not educated nonsense in the US. It's all fine and dandy that you realize that they're fools for thinking the earth is flat. But you are more absurd for looking down your nose at them. Because if you know that that's the case, you have a duty, in bondage to this gospel, to teach. You have to figure out how to teach, because we are all members of one another. Remember that in the Pauline teaching, when he talks about the body of Christ, he's not talking about your church, let alone your building, or the members in your local community. He's talking about the people in your neighborhood, go back and watch reruns of Mr. Rogers. If you're trying to figure out the body of Christ, where you serve, you need to listen to Mr. Rogers and ask the question, Who are the people in my neighborhood? And if you think this way, then you can't be self content that everyone inside your building believes that the earth is round. You have to ask yourself, what is my responsibility to the people outside my building, not to look down my nose and laugh how great I am that I'm not like them. So verse 26, is of the utmost importance. In that regard. Hollie.
Hollie Benton 12:29
I'm wondering Father, verse 26, I see it cutting both ways. When I would read this as a younger person, the more conflict-averse person that I was, I would read, be angry, but do not sin, do not act out, don't act rashly. But I think people who are afraid of their anger still give in to sin by holding a grudge, by letting the sun go down on their anger, by stuffing it down, and holding the grudge, giving opportunity to the devil. So I think it works both ways - people who would act out on their anger, and those who try to shove it down. I'm really interested in the duty that someone who has leadership responsibility may need to address and deal with conflict on their teams.
Fr. Marc Boulos 13:17
Oh, clearly, your reading is absolutely correct. My dad used to quote this verse every day, it was his daily prayer. And he would say it to me frequently, that you can't let the sun go down in your anger. If you have a problem with someone, you need to address it immediately. Now, his attitude as a very straightforward person, and someone who took scripture very seriously, his whole life was that you're going to answer in the judgment, so you don't mess around. If you harbor some frustration, and you sit on it, the Lord may require your soul of you this night. That's how my dad operated. So if you're being passive aggressive, and you don't have the guts to tell someone how you feel, and you just avoid the conflict, and you sit on it, God may not give you a chance to ever address it. So there's a little bit of that edge that the Lord is coming always in this instruction, don't waste time, address it immediately. You can't be a coward and avoid conflict. And you can't be selfish and indulge your anger. You need to address the issue directly. On the one hand, the earth is not flat. It doesn't matter if everybody says otherwise. You can't give into that nonsense. At the same time, you have no right to harbor anger against them because you're not God. So you deal with it by addressing it head on. That's the key point. Because you settle it and if they don't listen, yala, bye, what are you going to do? You can't control everybody. Your only duty is to clear your conscience before God. It's like the passage in Matthew, you go with one or two witnesses. As Paul says, if they don't listen, you hand them over to Satan. But you have to clear your conscience. Because you were just told by Paul, your duty is not to utter your nonsense, but to repeat the teaching.
Hollie Benton 15:33
Even verse 28, "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor doing honest work with his hands so that he may be able to give to those in need." Leaders who are conflict averse, like oh, no, no, no, I'll take care of it, I'll pick up the slack, I don't want to trouble them, I'll do the work. But they really take away, and in many ways, they're the ones stealing, stealing away the responsibility, the duty from another person to "do honest work with his hands so that he may be able to give to those in need." That's important for a leader to actually do his duty and not avoid the conflict, for the sake of the person who may be stealing.
Fr. Marc Boulos 16:14
What Paul is explaining here is household order. This instruction, you could apply it to someone who is in a leadership position. It also applies to parenting. It applies to any relationship, it applies to everyone in the body. What Paul is saying is very practical. One of the things that I try to explain in Torah to the Gentiles is that you cannot teach someone how to swim with a diagram. You cannot teach someone what Scripture is saying, with a curriculum or an outline, you cannot teach anything by cliffsnotes, it won't work. What Paul is talking about here in verse 28, is apprenticeship, you force the hand of the one who steals, you force them not to steal, and instead to work. This is very difficult for people to hear. Because we would rather spend hours and hours and hours having discussions where we encourage and explain and come to an understanding where we feel better, and we realize our mistake. And that's not what Paul is saying. He's saying they have to be told to stop stealing, and they must be forced and put to work. They must be forced, and put to work. And in the doing of the work, performing with his own hands what is correct and good and proper, he will have something to share, he will learn from doing. I want to stress this point. Which means that the duty of the leader here is not just to point out that you shouldn't be stealing, which can be a kind of snobbery, it's cheap, it's not leadership, it's not teaching, it's not parenting, to say you shouldn't steal. People do that all the time. If you want to tell people what they should and shouldn't do go on Facebook, you'll get lots of likes. But to actually confront someone, and have the conflict to use the modern word. I like to talk about the destruction of Jerusalem, but I'll back the truck up and use a gentle word like conflict. Or now they're making us say constructive conflict. You go in and you force this person, you don't allow them to steal whatever it takes. You force them to work with their own hands, and they learn from doing, and then they can share with the one who has a need. And they will learn how to love by being forced to love. Because love is what we learn to do. By our actions. You want to stop stealing? Someone needs to tell you to stop and then make you stop and make you do the correct thing. That's what parenting is. But it takes guts. And it takes a willingness to wade into the conflict. That's how Paul speaks for the first two chapters of Ephesians. Everybody thinks in Ephesians he's speaking so generously and wonderfully and blowing kisses to the community. He's not, he's threatening them. Look at all these things God has done for you. Now everybody stops there. And then we have retreats about how nice God is. But Paul is not talking that way. He's showing you everything God has done for you in order to pressure you, and he's telling you all this while he's sitting in prison. So you better believe he's pressuring you to pressure the guy who's stealing. He's telling you, it's your responsibility that there are people who still believe the earth is flat. Why aren't you preaching the gospel?
Hollie Benton 20:18
Yeah, with the American style of leadership, there's so many people who fall into "Who am I to tell anybody what to do?"
Fr. Marc Boulos 20:26
To me what you just said, this "Who am I" business? Those are the unwholesome words of which Paul speaks. He's not talking about vulgarity in the traditional sense. He's talking about non-scriptural words, non-edifying words, he's talking about words that do not serve the whole. Look, Hollie, it's difficult for me to talk about this, because of my many sins, holding back is not one of them. I've had to learn to hold back. And it's a discipline that I've cultivated, I can sit silently in a meeting for hours and listen, by discipline. It's not my default setting. But what I have done in my professional life, is pushed people and pressured people who are very risk averse, and very conflict averse. I've pushed them and pressured them to take a stand and enter into the fray. Because it's necessary if you're going to in any way, shape or form, help your neighbor. If you are not willing to stand up and take a stand, then you should not be in a position of authority, you should sit down. That's why you'll never hear me say Who am I? If someone is asking the question, Who am I then they shouldn't be standing there, go figure it out, and then come back. Because to stand there and have the responsibility of saying something is a big responsibility. So I've told people in one-on-ones flat out, I've told them you need to take a stand. I don't know what to do about this employee. My response sometimes forcefully is you need to teach. Well, I don't know what to say. Then you need to figure it out. What's the problem? What is the behavior that needs to be addressed?
Hollie Benton 22:29
It's not about taking a stand for what I want. It's taking a stand to do what your employee needs, and to do what the team needs for the body of Christ.
Fr. Marc Boulos 22:41
Definitely. What is it that needs to be said to your point, write it down, I'll tell people write it down and just say it, the earth is not flat.
Hollie Benton 22:53
Duty to act, even though it may be uncomfortable, scary, even for the conflict averse.
Fr. Marc Boulos 22:59
Thanks very much all it's always good to chat.
Hollie Benton 23:01
Thank you, Father.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai