How Can I Get Others to Listen to Me?
Updated: Jul 5
Hands down, Scrubs is one of the greatest television shows of all time. The diversity of characters, the emotional appeal, and the music all contribute to produce a moving and creative show. One of the most beloved characters is Dr. Perry Cox, a brilliant physician. The main character of the show, the fresh out of medical school J.D., idolizes him.
However, early in the series J.D. discovers something shocking about the ingenious Dr. Cox. The man's personal life is a wreck. He's a borderline alcoholic, his relationship with his ex-wife is highly dysfunctional and destructive, he doesn't play ball with the other doctors, and he has very little friends. On the job he's brilliant, but when he takes off the white coat, everything else in his life falls apart.
This revelation shakes J.D.'s confidence in his newfound mentor. By the end of the episode, however, he decides that it doesn't matter that Dr. Cox is human wrecking ball. He's the smartest doctor in the hospital and therefore worthy of imitation.
The surface message appeals to our modern and progressive sensibilities: don't judge a person's competence, wisdom, or knowledge based on their personal life. Just because a person is a terrible parent doesn't mean they will also be a terrible lawyer. Just because a person is a serial adulterer doesn't mean they will be an incompetent dentist.
I'll admit, there is some validity to this idea. Human beings are complex, imperfect creatures. Life is full of paradoxes, contradictions, and odd correlations. So what if your accountant is also into BDSM at home as long as he/she gets your taxes right? It's not fair to demote or discount a person's professional life based on their personal inclinations. I believe the ugly word for this in our culture is "discrimination."
However, I'm also beginning to notice how inconsistently our culture uses this argument to suit our various agendas. The liberal majority of our nation, for example, discredit President Trump, in part, for this very thing. The claim goes something like this: the rampant immorality of our current president disqualifies him from office. The left may also disagree with his agenda and platform, but add to that his rhetoric, his Twitter feed, and his tough guy act (which often comes off more rude than it does tough), and the left begin chanting, "Impeach! Impeach!"
And yet I wonder, were the tables were flipped, were Donald Trump a Democrat, if the left would suddenly embrace the "don't-judge-based-on-private-life" argument.
On the other end, conservatives don't come off any better. As the pastor of a church deep in "Republican country," I think it's safe to say that the majority of Christian Republicans I know are at the same time both disapproving and approving of the president. Like the Democrats, they disapprove his rhetoric, Twitter feed, and, although to a lesser extent, his tough guy act. Yet, they are overwhelmingly supportive of his Republican principles and agenda. In other words, they tolerate his rough facade and his immoral past, because underneath it all is a good heart trying to do the right thing. All we need to do is just look beyond the divorces, the affairs, the porn stars, the language, and that time he made fun of a physically handicapped reporter. Of course he's not perfect, but who is? As long as he's making America great again, who cares?
And yet I wonder, were the tables were flipped, were Donald Trump a Democrat, if the right would begin chanting, "Crucify! Crucify!"
This is not a political blog. The controversy surrounding the president simply serves as an illustration. What I want to especially highlight is how inconsistent, as a whole, our culture is when it comes to the "don't-judge-based-on-private-life" argument. As demonstrated in the case of President Trump, the argument's validity depends on if it suits our agenda or not.
However, while our culture may be highly inconsistent, Christianity is not. In traditional Christian teaching, who you are privately matters a great deal to who you are publicly.
This perspective originated in the Hebrew Wisdom Tradition. According to the Hebrews, wisdom was not equivalent to intellect, knowledge, or even skill. Wisdom was equivalent to living well. Every aspect of the wise person is controlled, ordered, and properly managed - marriage, kids, household, finances, investments, properties, farms, businesses, health, friendships, everything. Proverbs 2 provides a good example of wisdom's long arm.
Wisdom helps us know right from wrong (v. 9).
Wisdom gives us discernment and understanding (v. 10).
Wisdom saves us from the ways of wickedness and perversity (v. 12).
Wisdom keeps our rhetoric clean (v. 12).
Wisdom will not allow us to confuse evil for good (vv. 13-15).
Wisdom prevents us from committing adultery and the temptations of lust (vv. 16-17).
And I already know what you're thinking. "This sounds impossible. What person can comprehensively manage every component of their life so wisely?" The answer, according to Hebrew wisdom, is God. God is the only person in the world who can keep the paths of our lives straight. That's why, ultimately, the wise person is one who brings all that they are, every part of their life, and places it under the authority and direction of God.
"The fear of the Lord," Psalms 111:10 says, "is the beginning of wisdom." Proverbs 2 echos the same principle. The search for wisdom leads us to the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God, "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones (Pr. 2:6-8)."
According to the Hebrew Wisdom Tradition, the wise person is one who fears the Lord, who discloses nothing from God's management, who places every part of their life on the altar of sacrifice and says, "Not my will, but thine."
When our private and public lives are consistently ordered and directed by God's will, that's true wisdom. Who you are behind the scenes of life matters. It matters to God, but is also matters to the credibility of your witness.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul is giving his protege some instructions for church leadership. In verses 1-5 he says, "Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)"
Then he says that the same thing is true of deacons and deaconesses and anyone who wants to be a leader or exercise some level of authority. Who you are in your ordinary, mundane, private life matters a great deal to your public service in the church. This may seem like a surprise to those of us modern, progressive folks who buy into the "don't-judge-based-on-private-life" argument. "What does managing a family have to do with preaching or teaching or leading a church or Bible study group, Paul?"
That's why we have to understand the Hebrew Wisdom Tradition first. If we get that, we get Paul. A person who's private life is nothing but one disaster after another is a person who has not learned the fear of the Lord yet. It's a person who has not placed all of themselves on the altar of God; a person who has not subjected themselves entirely to God's will.
And any person who has not done that yet, is not worthy of imitation or leadership in the church.
Thousands of years ago, Aristotle taught that an effective communicator must possess three crucial things - Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. A person must have pathos, passion and emotion for the thing they are promoting. A person must have logos, something substantial to say. But a person must also have ethos, which is character. Ethos implies that the person speaking is trustworthy, because they actually believe what they are proclaiming. Their life backs up their claims.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson says it this way: "The reason why anyone refuses his assent to your opinion, or his aid to your benevolent design, is in you. He refuses to accept you as a bringer of truth, because, though you think you have it, he feels that you have it not. You have not given him the authentic sign."
I can't speak for those outside the church. I can barely speak to those inside the church. But I'm confident in this: If you want people to listen to you, if you want to have a voice that moves others to action and change, if you want to inspire others, if you want to be persuasive and lead, authenticity matters. Let there be no division between your private and public life.
Now, can I offer a brief disclaimer? It almost sounds like I'm claiming that if you experience bad things in life you aren't living for God; that when tragedy strikes it's because your faith is deficient. I am making no such claim. The books of Job and Ecclesiastes are also part of the Hebrew Wisdom Tradition. Sometimes we can do everything perfectly and life is still overwhelming.
What I mean by a disastrous person is a particular kind of person; the kind of person who is struggling in life because of one of two things; either they are ignorant or obstinate.
There are people, including many Christians, who are ignorant. They simply don't know that they haven't completely given themselves over to God yet. Many Christians, and I'm in a small group full of them, are still working on it. Many in regular church attendance are dancing the hokey pokey when it comes to God. They put one foot in, they take one foot out. They're God-controlled in some areas of their life, but not in others. They like all the stuff Jesus has to say about loving others, but they hate all that stuff Paul says about morality. They applaud when the pastor says no to racism, but boo when the pastor says no to sex before marriage.
This describes the vast majority of Christians. We're ignorant of the ways of God, because we are still learning and growing. We're works in progress. All of us are imperfect and the Holy Spirit, thankfully, is not finished shaping us into Christlikeness. And so, because of our ignorance, we make poor life decisions that occasionally have disastrous results.
But there's hope for the ignorant. The hope is, things won't always be this way. Life will not always be a roller coaster of emotion. The further you get down the road, the more time you spend with the Spirit, allowing Him to operate within your soul, the smoother the ride gets. Life still happens. Bad things will still occur, but they won't wreck you. They won't knock you off your feet, because you've stopped doing this hokey pokey dance and have firmly planted yourself in the will of God.
Now there's hope for the obstinate person as well, but it's much, much more painful. The obstinate person is a stubborn person. They may know quite a bit about God and Christianity. They may have a lot of intellect, knowledge, and education. Ask them something about the world, religion, politics, or even the Bible and they will probably know the answer. Yet, they are lacking in wisdom, because they refuse to submit themselves to God's leading. They are stiff necked, like a stubborn horse who refuses to listen to and be directed by it's rider. Disaster happens in their life, not because of ignorance, but because of their own stubbornness.
And the way that God deals with obstinate people, Christian and non-Christian, is by humbling them.
God will allow them to experience the full disaster of their own making, again and again. Like unrelenting wave after wave in the ocean, God will hand them over to their stubbornness until they are broken, wrecked, and humiliated enough to cry out for mercy.
So, do you want a voice worth listening to? Do you want a life worthy of imitation; a life that is consistent with the Christ you proclaim? Then continue to learn and be lead by the Holy Spirit out of your ignorance, humble yourself before God before He humbles you, and seek authenticity. Let your public life reflect your private life.