Winston Churchill once said, "I love learning, but hate being taught." Just how grateful are we to receive instruction or correction? It's easy to feel defensive, misunderstood, or even abused when we hear criticism.
This week's episode is Part 3 of "Speaking the truth in love" and explores the receiving end - hearing the truth. And even when the criticism seems ungodly and spoken not in love, it is a kairos - an opportunity to submit to your neighbor as you would in deference to the Lord.
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 joins me again today to continue our discussion about speaking the truth and love, where we spent the last two weeks in Ephesians 4. So glad to have you back, Fr. Marc!
Fr. Marc Boulos 0:30
I've been sitting here the whole time, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 0:33
Fr. Marc Boulos 0:34
Hollie Benton 0:36
These past two episodes on Doulos we've been looking at Ephesians four and this phrase "speaking the truth in love." The Apostle Paul emphasizes that 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. It's not my personal truth. It's not my honest feelings. It's not about airing my grievances and getting something off my chest. Speaking the truth in love is the Lord's truth, we are bound to speak it, bound as members one of another as the Apostle Paul lays out in his letter to the Ephesians. It's the truth that must be spoken and adhered to even if it's scary and might cause a conflict. For any person with any leadership responsibilities, it's important to remember that as servants in the Lord's household, we must first and foremost submit to the Lord's instruction, to His truth and not my own. And as someone who may have leadership responsibilities over others, like it or not, we have a duty to refer to that same truth to correct others in the household who might be neglecting their duties. This week, if I may, I'd like to consider the receiving end - accepting that instruction or the correction. If you're a leader with any kind of responsibility over others, it's likely you report to someone who has functional authority over you. This is true in a work setting, most of us do report to a boss. We see functional authority in a classroom setting. Or a parish setting like a choir member who receives signals from a choir director who gets direction from a deacon or priest who receives their instruction from a bishop. There's functional authority within a family setting. Volunteer projects work more efficiently when there's someone in charge. And even if you own your own business thinking you report to no one, the government regulates and holds power over the way you do business. And you're likely bending to what your customers or clients demand from you in your business. Natural or functional hierarchies evolve in many situations. And I think we are better humans, when there's someone in our life to whom we submit.
Fr. Marc Boulos 2:46
if you think back, Hollie, to when we were students in the classroom, the first time we heard that very wise proverb of our teacher, "Everyone has a belly button." And every once in a while, when our egos became a little overactive, which in the classroom was every time we entered the class, we were reminded to just lift up our shirt and look down. And lo and behold, each of us has a belly button, which means that for each and every one of us, there is someone who came before us, our mother, and there is someone who is above us. And you can't erase it. And I personally like the naming system in the Arabic language, where the male in his prime is referred to in function of the one who came before him before he has children. He's referred to by his father's name, the father of his father. Or when he has a son, he's referred to as the father of his son, but he's never referred to by his proper name because you as the male in your prime are no reference. You're always in function of the one ahead of you, or in function of what you produce. You are no reference. You are in, as you said, to use your terminology of functional hierarchy, which means you are duty bound. You have to produce something under the pressure of what came before you and what's above you. And when we think about it in terms of St. Paul's teaching, what comes from above is the will of the Father through Jesus Christ by the hand of the Apostle Paul. And what you must produce is the repetition and the doing of his instruction. Whether you like it or not, that's the duty.
Hollie Benton 4:51
So speaking the truth in love has many layers. First, as we reviewed two episodes ago, the truth is not mine. It is the Lord's truth. Second, it must be spoken in love, even if you're conflict averse and afraid to stick your neck out, which is what we discussed last episode. So the third perspective I'd like to discuss today is being on the receiving end to the truth spoken. It's similar to the first perspective in that we are bound to submit to the Lord's instruction. But we make all sorts of excuses in sin when someone else delivers the message. I think it's fair to say that when most of us receive correction, we're not always grateful. I'd venture to say most times, we think it's undeserved. And it starts at an early age. I remember as a toddler, asking my mother about the belly button I discovered, but when she instructed me to rinse my hair and get out of the bathtub, I didn't want to hear it. When we receive instruction, feedback, or correction, it's easy to feel defensive, misunderstood, or perhaps abused after the boss at work gets on our case.
Fr. Marc Boulos 5:59
"Personally," Winston Churchill said, "I'm always ready to learn. Although I do not always like being taught." Truer words a lying politician never spoke. Everybody loves the idea of education and learning and continuing education. But if we think back to Paul's teaching, and Ephesians, about what to do with the thief, nobody wants to be taught. Because to be taught, in the scriptural sense, is not to sit down and to chat and to ponder and to consider ideas in abstraction. Remember, I explained that you can't teach someone to swim by talking about it. You can't teach someone to dive off the high board by explaining what it feels like. William Shatner played an astronaut for several decades. It's not the same thing as actually getting into a rocket and flying into orbit. You can talk about diving off the high board until you're blue in the face. You don't know what it is, and you haven't done it and you don't know how to do it until your teacher pushes you off the diving board, as my teachers did, or as my father did. He didn't tell me that there were no training wheels on the bike. You have to do the actual thing. You want to swim, you have to be forced into the water. So to teach someone is to actively apprentice them. It's a verb. You don't learn, you are taught. You don't listen, you hear scripture. That's why Fr. Paul always cajoles Richard and I because we play into the language of the modern podcast and refer to the audience as listeners. Fr. Paul always stresses on his podcast that they are hearers because the one speaking is doing the work. They are hearing what is being spoken, it is the speaking and the teaching, that is the action. And no one likes to be taught. I agree with Winston Churchill even though I disagree with Winston Churchill, Hollie.
Hollie Benton 8:16
The way the Apostle Paul writes about speaking the truth in love in Ephesians got me thinking about the book of Proverbs, which the Apostle Paul certainly draws on as a student of the law and the prophets and wisdom literature. The Book of Proverbs offers many rich images about receiving correction and wisdom. And so I'd like to read Proverbs 10:17-25 now. It's a great passage about heeding instruction. And even if you think you've been corrected unjustly, Proverbs is a reminder to conduct yourself wisely with trust that the Lord will settle matters on the last day. So starting at verse 17: "He who heeds instruction is on the path to life. But he who rejects reproof goes astray. He who conceals hatred, has lying lips, and he who utters slander is a fool. When words are many, transgression is not lacking. But he who restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, the mind of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. The blessing of the Lord makes rich and he adds no sorrow with it. It is like sport to a fool to do wrong, but wise conduct is pleasure to a man of understanding. What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more but the righteous is established forever.
Fr. Marc Boulos 9:51
I appreciate your observation, Hollie, I actually think it's a critical point that Paul is a student and not only of the torah and the nevi'im. And here I want to use the Hebrew words, the Hebrew names for law and prophet to point out that the wisdom literature is a distinct scroll. But he certainly draws on the wisdom literature. The wisdom literature within the entire scriptural canon has a specific function for the biblical movement, namely, to become the interface with the nations, and here my joke about common sense and the belly button is not just a snarky comment about the absurdity of the dialogue in the public square in the United States today. It's a comment about wisdom literature, which operates on the axis of fear and death. Not fear as in I'm afraid, but the "fear of the Lord" as in respect, to the extent that you submit and obey without question. The fear of the Lord, in the wisdom literature, in the book of Proverbs, specifically, is the beginning of wisdom, meaning you submit and obey. It's an immutable, untouchable respect, that you don't mess with. Like an altar boy, not touching the holy table, you just don't touch the holy table, period. It's off limits. That is how we have to understand the fear of God's commandments, you don't mess with them, you do not mess with the Lord's wisdom. You hear and obey. But then, with respect to the Lord's wisdom, it pertains to life and death, which means that the Lord's wisdom is universal. Because no matter which culture you live in, no matter which society you participate in, no matter which tribe or nation you hail from, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what language you speak, what food you eat, what gender you are, none of it matters. Life and death is life and death in any situation. And wise advice safeguards life and foolish advice jeopardizes life. And everybody recognizes it to be true. I mean, just do a search on the internet for proverbs from different cultures and read them and you'll understand my point. Now, the Book of Proverbs, the wisdom of Solomon, plays into that, but with a specific agenda, to act as a kind of universal interface to the nations into the law and the prophets, which is how the letters of Paul function, it's how the entire New Testament works. That's why I always joke that the New Testament by itself isn't a Bible. Because what is the New Testament without the Old Testament? It's like having a lightning cable without the iPhone. It won't work, you've got a nice cable there. You paid too much for it because it has an Apple logo, that's about it. It doesn't plug into anything. If your platoon leader gives an unwise command, soldiers will die, no matter where they're from, no matter what their nationality, no matter what language they speak, it doesn't matter. There are certain things that are just factual universally. And that's how wisdom operates. So it's kind of a bridge to the law of Moses. But in this way, also, it's a slap against the religious community. Because as simple and as intuitive as the Proverbs are, those of us "who imagine that we are something," to borrow again from that beautiful letter to the Galatians, we imagine that we are something because we have the law of Moses. Paul makes fun of us, in Romans also, we imagine we're something and we think we're better than people who don't have the law of Moses. And then the interface for them to the law of Moses is a set of Proverbs that everyone can understand and we ourselves don't follow. The joke is on us. That's the trick with Scripture. So how are we going to evangelize anyone when we don't fear the Lord's wisdom, and something that everyone can understand without interpretation, we don't follow ourselves? Which is why Matthew warns us that we make everyone twice a child of Hell as ourselves. So we should stop trying to win converts and start working harder on Bible study.
Hollie Benton 15:01
So as a hearer of Scripture, as a student of the Bible, and as one who receives correction, criticism, feedback or even a harsh word from others, how do I reconcile the words of Scripture and the criticism I receive from man? Am I allowed to judge the criticism I receive, accept some of it and reject the harsh words that don't suit me? Am I allowed to vindicate myself? What if I don't deserve to be taken off the project at work? I don't deserve to be fired? I don't deserve to be sent to the principal's office? I don't deserve to be grounded? I don't deserve to have my business shut down? I don't deserve to be treated like this at my parish council? How do we accept criticism and reproof when it seems contrary to what the Lord instructs? I'm thinking of Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate after Pilate had him scourged. Jesus said to him, "You would have no power over me, unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me to you has a greater sin."
Fr. Marc Boulos 16:02
I'm just gonna say it, Hollie, because you use the word deserve. Does an 11 year old Palestinian girl deserve a bullet in her chest? Does a young black man from the inner city deserve to be harassed just because he's black? Does a young woman in Afghanistan deserve to have to hide under her kitchen table to study the Pashtun language? Come on, "deserve?" This is what amazes me about the way people talk. We all have difficult situations at work. We all face difficult people in different relationships in different scenarios, but we can all think of worse situations. So the real question is, what is our duty to this body of wisdom that we supposedly fear more than the thing we truly fear? That's why that question of the power of death and the New Testament is a big deal. Do you fear Caesar? Or do you fear God the Father through Jesus Christ? Look, we said it a few episodes ago, there's no difference between a manager and a Christian manager. Yes, yes, you want to believe there is because you disobeyed Paul. You believe you are something when you are nothing. You want to believe that you can chip in, and that you are something more than the gospel. But it's the gospel that is something, we are not. The gospel is the differentiator, if you truly submit to that fact, which is how Paul explains the Torah to Israel. If you truly submit to that fact, and you're dealing with a difficult manager at work, your job is not to evaluate Pontius Pilate, whether or not he's a Christian governor, whether or not you think his directives are moral or ethical toward you. Your duty, as one who does not have the authority to judge, is instead to show respect to the authority of God the Father through his instruction and to learn what does the gospel command me to do. And we know what the gospel commands us to do in all situations, always. And for everything, give thanks to God the Father, showing deference to Jesus Christ by submitting. Submit to one another out of reverence for Jesus Christ. So you submit to your boss, and you do what he asks you to do, or what she asks you to do, whether you agree or not, whether it's painful or not. If you feel put down, just accept it. If you take it under the authority of Scripture, it becomes edifying. Because you're learning from God, what he is teaching you by co-opting your humiliation. And instead of thinking about yourself and your comfort, when you leave your corporate job after someone damaged your ego, and you get into your air conditioned car and fiddle with your Apple CarPlay. Meanwhile, an 11 year old in Afghanistan is crying because her parents don't want her to learn English because they might offend the Taliban, so she has to study and hide her books, while you feel bad for yourself as you play with your iPhone. Maybe the fact that the Lord struck you through your cruel boss, maybe through that, you will learn to show a little humility towards the weaker brother or sister and you won't be cruel.
Hollie Benton 20:00
Fr. Marc Boulos 20:01
Just think back to the destruction of Jerusalem. In what story in heaven or on earth have you ever heard of a God who takes credit when the enemy king destroys his own city and says, I did it? Now you can try to make nice with that teaching and theologize your way around it. But if I were to say that the Lord sent Bin Ladon, every single one of you on both sides of the aisle would line up to cancel me. There's no way. You would never let that statement stand. It's too controversial. But that's what the Lord is saying in the prophets. It's painful, so that every difficult situation in life, every negative, Hollie, would be turned into a positive - to be taught. Until we get to a point where truly what the difficult boss is saying to you, enters into conflict with what God the Father has put down in letters divinely inscribed. And when we get to that event horizon, then we're dealing with the cross, not before. You're not carrying your cross, until Calgary comes into view, when you actually are facing execution, because you have to disobey your earthly master, because his or her directive comes into conflict with the directive of your true master, then you have a problem, but it's not rebellion. It's just obedience pushed to such a degree that it forces the issue with the principalities and the powers of darkness and the rulers of this world.
Hollie Benton 21:52
Amen. Thank you, Fr. Marc.
Fr. Marc Boulos 21:54
Transcribed by https://otter.ai