If you have someone on your team or in your charge who is not performing well, how do you speak the truth in love? This week's episode reminds us that St. Paul's epistle offers the truth, spoken from Christ the head, and through His word we are bound together as a body. Speaking the truth in love is not about finding the courage to express your honest opinion nor to post your personal truth online. It's about having the humility to bow your head before the Lord, hearing and repeating His truth in love.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast at 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. I'm joined again today by Fr. Marc Boulos, co-host of the Bible as Literature podcast on the Ephesus School Network. Hi, Fr. Marc! Welcome!
Fr. Marc Boulos 0:29
It is good to be back.
Hollie Benton 0:30
That's right. So, as we were discussing the past few episodes, I'd really like to use this podcast as a way to provide a daily scriptural reading and reflection for those who have any kind of leadership responsibility. So many of us are charged with some kind of responsibility, 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 and scripture is that foundation for anyone who must serve others in any capacity. Scripture is our daily bread. It would sustain us in any leadership challenge we may be facing. And so today, I'd like to consider the challenge of what the Apostle Paul calls "speaking the truth in love." People in leadership responsibilities, like those who manage a team at work, or even work with volunteers to plan some kind of an event, sometimes have to provide correction to those on our teams. And sometimes sometimes it's innocuous, like correcting a title on a report. But sometimes we have to address incorrect behavior or neglect. So speaking the truth in love can feel really personal. It can feel uncomfortable. I think many people would rather avoid it altogether.
Fr. Marc Boulos 1:46
It's interesting, when we hear an instruction, like this phrase, speak the truth in love or speaking the truth in love, as you said, when we hear a beautiful poetic text, something that has been co-opted in the English language and modern usage, you know, speak the truth in love, or the way that it's been adapted to this social justice language of speaking truth to power. I mean, all of this is a kind of moralistic language, a Hellenized use of the verse that again, is extracted from the text, uprooted from the text, and replanted in a situation in a context that makes it break down as scripture. I want to just root our discussion of this word "truth" in its context in Scripture, not in philosophy.
Hollie Benton 2:42
You're absolutely right. What I'm really interested in is whether speaking the truth in love from this Ephesians passage really has something to say about situations where we may have to correct people at work or in volunteer project situations, or whether St. Paul is addressing an entirely different context. So let me read Ephesians 4:11-16, so that we have a little more context around this phrase, "speaking the truth in love." "And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and have the knowledge of the Son of God to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the cunning of men, by their craftiness and deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth and love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and knit together by every joint with which it is applied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. "And before going on, I I do think it's important to note that speaking the truth in love is related to the head, which is Christ. We find oneness and unity expressed at the beginning of this chapter and throughout the entire letter to the Ephesians. St. Paul speaks earlier about the calling to which you've been called. He refers to the unity of the spirit. There is one body and one spirit and one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. So this oneness, I think, is stressed so that when we get to this phrase, "speaking the truth and love," it is clear that it isn't a separate, distinct, pluralistic truth. It's certainly not your truth. And like you said, Father, today we hear so much about speaking your truth. Find your truth. Be your authentic self. Speaking truth to power. It's vain talk, and I think the Apostle Paul really obliterates it in this letter to the Ephesians. The truth to speak in love is certainly not my truth. It's the truth that the Lord has provided. It's not my truth to get off my chest, the truth is single, it's unified. It's one and it comes from that unity of the spirit and the bond of peace.
Fr. Marc Boulos 5:21
And to be even more pointed, it's not even a truth. So even if you step back and say, we're not talking about Hellenistic truth, philosophical truth, theological truth, personal truth, or even practical or scientific truth, or even honesty, he's not talking about honesty. Because someone in a management position might say, Well, I'm going to speak the truth to you now about the fact that I think your work is terrible, but I'm going to do it lovingly. I could see someone extrapolating this verse and trying to use it in that manner. That's not what Paul is talking about. And I'm thankful that again, you took a step back and read the section here in Ephesians, chapter four, because it is about the bondage. Ultimately, in Ephesians, we are bound together as one body under the head. But the terminology points to a very specific reference for what Paul means when he says truth here. He's referring to the head, who commissioned him. Jesus Christ commissioned him to bring the written gospel that we're now hearing, because you graciously read it to our listeners on this program. He commissioned Paul to deliver that written Gospel to the Gentiles. That is the teaching that we must submit to against the wind of all these other teachings that want to pull you and blow you around in different directions to and fro on the face of the earth. The conversations that we had around doulos leadership, not customer service leadership, which is what people mean when they say servant leadership, because people are building a business in this country, they're not submitting as slaves to Jesus Christ. They're bringing their offering to their business and trying to attract customers, without understanding that it is God who makes the body, not man. It is that truth that pertains to the teaching, which is the words of Paul's letter that equips the body that binds the body, the way you bind a broken bone. It's not just that you bind us together as slaves, you know, the beautiful word from Ephesians, syndesmos. But you bind the body, the way you bind a wound, so that all the parts fit together to work correctly, according to the written will of God the Father, which the head speaks, and Paul has written down. So that's how we're equipped to operate in unity. It's very practical, it's not philosophical. It's not referring to a truth or even a teaching, let alone some human doctrine. It's not referring to any of that in abstraction. And this is critical because when the self righteous upon the earth, talk about speaking a truth to power, be it their truth, their neighbors truth, their group's truth or whatever truth they think they're excited about, they are taking up the mantle of the Pharisees, negative self characterization of themselves in Scripture. Remember, Paul was a Pharisee. And he condemns the self righteous by ultimately condemning himself. That's why the Pharisees are as big or a bigger joke, or equally as much of a joke, as the disciples of Jesus are in the New Testament. They're the butt of the joke, because the Pharisaic school is the Pauline school. It's a self critique. They're critiquing self righteousness. So how do you bring a critique without sounding like somebody on Facebook who really thinks that they have something to tell everybody? You critique yourself. It's very powerful. The scriptural movement is unparalleled inwhat it is doing. So it is speaking. Scripture is speaking. It is critiquing in love, but it's harsh. And it's always judging the one speaking. That's why you have to be leery. Someone who says they're preaching to you a sermon, but then extols how wonderful their religion is, is someone you should be dubious of. You can't say that you're preaching Paul's letter, and then explain how great your religion is. How can you do that?
Hollie Benton 10:14
So the message is for the hearer, the truth is being taught to me as a Doulos in the household, the instruction for my ears and the correction against the teachings of men, the cunning of men, the craftiness and deceitful wiles. What does a doulos, a servant in the Lord's household, do when he's in charge of another group of people, and someone on the team isn't getting their work done? This is assuming that the servant leader, or the doulos, has made sure that their co-doulos, their co-servant isn't enduring some other burden that we as a body should be responsible for, but has clarified some sort of mutual accountability and understanding. And the co-servant really does seem to be neglecting their duty to the rest of the body, to the rest of the team, for the work that is required. It could be a paid employee, or it could be in working with a group of people at church to serve the poor, or to teach Sunday school, or whatever. How does speaking the truth in love address this kind of situation?
Fr. Marc Boulos 11:21
Well, it's very simple. And people aren't going to like my answer. Because what people want to hear is, what's the difference between a Christian manager and a regular manager? Or even worse, What's the difference between an Orthodox Christian manager and a regular manager, Fr. Marc? My answer to you is absolutely none whatsoever. And people who work for a living know this to be true if they're honest with themselves, because we've all worked for great managers, and we've worked for terrible managers. So there is such a thing, as a manager who manages correctly - not just their individual ability, but honesty, integrity, acting according to principle and not according to ego. We know what we value in a good manager. We know when someone acts out of principle, that they'll give us difficult news at a time that serves the work, serves your growth as an individual, serves the mission of the team, and does not serve their ego. It's that basic, and everybody knows it. So the real question is, why can't all managers function that way? Now, we all know that there are plenty of people who are Christian or Orthodox, who are terrible managers, maybe the worst managers around. And I've worked for atheists, I've worked for people who are different religions, I've worked for people who don't know what religion they are, who are amazing managers. So how they arrived at a situation where they're able to keep their ego in check, and manage correctly, I don't know. And it doesn't matter to me as an employee, I'm just thankful that they put the team, the mission, and my personal development before themselves. But here's what I do know, as you said, Hollie, as a slave of Jesus Christ through Paul's Gospel, I do know that I need to keep my ego in check. I also know that that is necessary in order to do anything correctly, especially take on the responsibility of leadership, which means that I need to submit to this teaching, and I need to apply this critique to myself. Notice at the beginning, I talked about the problem of self promotion. Abuse happens very often in corporate America because of marketing culture: we are the best company ever, we are the best team ever, we're going to do the best things in the world, all this language. And that's why you're going to burn the midnight oil for the next six months. And you're going to feel good about it because you're so wonderful. And the world that I come from, the way that you and I, Hollie, were formed as students, we didn't get compliments from those who taught us and that is something that I will be grateful for for the rest of my life because it saved my life. Because a compliment not given is value not extracted for the sake of the gospel. So that value can be given for the sake of the gospel somewhere else. So critical, the self critique, and it's dangerous to call it a self critique, because the writer of Scripture is the one doing the self critique. We are the ones being critiqued so you are not allowed to judge yourself. So I want to be very specific in my choice of words, Hollie, if I may, we have to submit to the Pharisees' self critique which condemns us, and realize that we are the Pharisees. Then you can't go on Facebook and talk about how bad those other people are. Because you realize, as we learned all those years ago, in that beautiful speech in the book of Amos, that we, Israel, are the worst of all, and we're not even Israel, Hollie. We're just a bunch of sorry Gentiles.
Hollie Benton 15:28
Speaking the truth in love is not having the courage to post your Facebook or your Instagram post.
Fr. Marc Boulos 15:34
No, it's having the humility to bow your head before the Lord, as we hear beautifully in the liturgy again and again. Bow your head to the Lord. I wish to God, we would actually hear this commandment in the liturgy. It's the most beautiful, beautiful liturgical expression. And then I wish we would understand that we're supposed to do it when we greet people who disagree with us, people who are different than us, people who don't like us, people who are under our authority, people who are above us on the command chain. We, as subjects of this teaching, in the household of faith under the headship of our one leader, who is the conquered emperor, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ, who is conquered. When you see the seal, Isus Hristos Nika, in your mind, you should realize that you're being gaslighted by scripture, because Christ was conquered. He's no conqueror. The victory is on hope. But he was crucified and demoted. And he is the one head under the true headship of His Father who can't be depicted and who no one has seen. So what is it that people are talking about when they want to talk about leadership? Either we are serious about our baptism, or we are using the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to promote our product or products. That is the American sin. And we need to keep saying it for the sake of our brothers and sisters in this country.
Hollie Benton 17:20
Amen. We bow our heads to the Lord who speaks the truth in love to us if we would only hear it and submit.
Fr. Marc Boulos 17:27
Praise the Lord.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai