EHR 6: Climb the Ladder of Integrity
11/14/2017 4:09:03 AM
Ephesians 4:1-3, 29-32; Matthew 7:1-5
November 12, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Imagine a fleet of ships sailing together as a convoy. Consider a fleet of naval ships, travelling across the ocean during war time. How do the ships function well together as a fleet or convoy? This is an illustration CS Lewis used during WWII in his radio addresses “Mere Christianity.” These radio addresses were later published as a book with the same title.
In order for the convoy to be successful, in order for them to successfully get where they are going, they have 3 criteria. First, they need to avoid drifting apart, or bumping into one another. The fleet cannot afford to be spread apart too far because then they become lost and easy targets for enemy submarines. Similarly, they can’t afford to bump into one another because that causes damage to the ships.
The second criteria for a successful voyage is keeping your own ship “ship shape.” That is, keeping your own ship in working order. If you don’t take care of your own ship and crew, your ship will fall behind, slowing down the convoy, or potentially sin. Similarly, if you don’t keep your steering mechanisms in good order, you will bump into other ships, getting back to criteria 1.
Third, you have to know your destination. You have to know and get where you are supposed to get. If the convoy sets out from England and is supposed to get to NY, then even if they don’t bump into one another, it’s not successful if they wind up in Brazil! So there are 3 criteria- don’t bump into one another but still stay close together, keep your own ship in proper working order, and know where you are going.
It’s interesting that in 2017 the US Navy has had 2 serious and fatal collisions involving its ships and civilian vessels. In both cases, extensive investigations were done to find out how such collisions happened. In total, over a dozen US sailors died in these incidents! The result of the investigations was that they found fault lay with a bunch of people on each US Navy vessel. Some of the crew were not properly trained. Others were lax in their duty. The commanders of each ship were asleep when the collisions happened and nobody woke them in time. Some of the crewmen were unfamiliar with how the ships controls worked. In general, US Navy ships spend so much more time on active duty now that they don’t get time to train properly. It has been a big mess and several senior Navy leaders and admirals have been fired!
CS Lewis used this illustration of a navy convoy to describe how morality works in society. That is, how do we get along well in society? First, we need to know how to avoid bumping into one another. Second, we know how to keep ourselves in proper moral working order. Third, we need to know where we are going, what is our destiny? If we are merely the result of blind evolution with no God, then our destiny is very different than if we are spiritual creatures created in the image of God destined for an eternity with him!
Lewis was writing over 60 years ago, but even then he noted that society was only interested in #1. That is, society was focussed on how we avoid bumping into one another, but failed to consider how we keep ourselves in good moral working order and failed to consider our ultimate destination. Today the situation is even more extreme! We have reduced morality to the statement “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anybody.” We have reduced it to #1, just don’t bump into anybody. We have forgotten about not drifting too far apart. We have forgotten how to keep ourselves functioning well (spiritually, emotionally and morally healthy) and we don’t even allow people to talk about ultimate destiny or destination.
This is a big problem for society around us. As Christians, our lives should be counter-examples to the society around us. So we are going to examine, today, what it should look like in the New Family of Jesus when we bump into one another and how we keep our ships in good working order. That is, we are going to look at what happens when #1 and #2 fail. Remember, sometimes the reason we bump into somebody else is that we have not kept our own ship in working order. When we have a collision, like the US Navy, we need to do a careful examination of ourselves and the collision to determine where we went wrong, what our responsibility is and how to address it.
To do that, we are looking at a skill called “climb the ladder of integrity.” This is a skill that we will really develop and practice on a Tuesday night for EHR. We can’t go as deep into in a sermon as on a Tuesday night. But I want to lay a foundation for that and give us all a taste of what it looks like.
More than any of the other skills we have looked at so far, this skill builds on the others. Before we do the careful self-examination involved in this skill, we need to do a Community Temperature Reading with the person we have friction with. We need to do an “I’m puzzled” or even a “I notice that…. I prefer….” Maybe the friction can be resolved with one of these skills.
Similarly, maybe our friction is rooted in mind reading or unclear expectations. Maybe they didn’t agree to the expectation we had of them. We need to check that first.
But, if we have applied these earlier skills to our “collision,” and there is still emotional turmoil inside us, we need to “explore the iceberg.” We need to ask ourselves what we are feeling and why. Are we angry with this person? Are we anxious around them? Are we afraid of them? What is happening inside us with this person? Is there a grudge we are holding?
The skill “climb the ladder of integrity” is useful when we feel a strong emotion towards somebody, like resentment or anger, but we cannot articulate why, exactly, we feel that way. Previously, when talking about exploring what it beneath the surface, I said that anger can be an alarm. It can be like a smoke detector or a siren on an emergency vehicle. It can tell us that there is something wrong, there is an emergency, something is on fire. Today’s skill helps us diagnose what the emergency is, what is on fire.
These skills are for when we have relationship stress, or relational friction. Remember, Christian maturity is about how we handle relationships. Christianity is all about agape love, which is a relationship word. Relationships matter! So when our relationships are strained, Christian maturity shapes how we handle that strain. Today we are talking about the need to deal with that strain and then looking at one specific way we can go about handling it.
Please consider our texts for today.
What It Says
There are three passages today. What are they saying? At first glance, they may not seem closely related. But let me point out that they are all about relationships. They are all about how we relate to one another in the NFJ.
Let’s begin with the texts in Ephesians 4. Notice that v1 Paul says he is a “prisoner for the Lord.” We need to remember that Paul wrote these verses while he was wrongly imprisoned! While he was being unjustly treated, while he was battling corruption in the justice system, he wrote, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Wow! This is deep stuff! I know when I’m cut off driving on the road I take offense, I let my feathers get ruffled. Here’s Paul, wrongfully imprisoned, chained to a Roman guard 24/7, and he’s talking about living up to the calling we have in Christ! Yikes!
Paul’s experience of Jesus, his experience of the Holy Spirit working in his heart, gives him perspective on how to handle being mistreated by others. And what is the calling placed on us? We have been called by God, we have been redeemed and adopted, changed and renewed. We are to be ambassadors of Christ. We have been called out of darkness and into glorious light. Our experience of these things should shape how we receive and respond to mistreatment, hard times, affliction, insults and the like.
In other words, our experience of Jesus should shape how we react when we have a collision with another person. When our boat bumps into another boat, our experience of Jesus should shape our reaction and investigation into the problem. Our approach to inter-personal conflict must always be in light of Christ. How did God approach our inter-personal conflict with him? In the NFJ what should our top priority be? It should be the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being. So when we have conflict, our top priority should not be to prove ourselves right, to see ourselves vindicated, to make sure the other person knows exactly what they did wrong and pay for it. Rather, our top priority needs to examine ourselves so that we can approach the other person for forgiveness and reconciliation. Are we willing to examine ourselves to take responsibility for our part in the collisions we have with other peoples?
What should that reaction look like? Paul says we are to be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love. We looked at humility recently in Phil 2. As you may recall, humility means seeing ourselves
as God sees us. That is, as fallen sinners, created in God’s image, deeply loved but deeply flawed, but saved by grace and called to live in light of that grace.
So, in the context of conflict, we need to humbly examine our own hearts. We need to ask God to search our hearts and open ourselves up to that examination. This is like exploring the iceberg we talked about before. Why are we angry? Why are we sad? Why are we anxious? What is our role in this conflict?
We are also to be patient. That means we are to bear insult and injury without complaint and without retaliation. Patience is that long-suffering attitude we take when dealing with the short-comings of others. “As believers bear with one another’s weaknesses and failures in the midst of tensions and conflict, they show a lifestyle that is consistent with their divine calling.” [Peter T. O’Brien, Ephesians, p. 278]
We are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” This means that the initiative belongs to us. It is up to us to make the first moves. It is up to us to take the initiative to examine our hearts, to investigate our role in the relationship tension for the sake of peace. We are not to wait for them to come to us. We are not even to wait for them to tell us there is a problem. We are called to unilateral action for peace. This echoes what Jesus says in several places about when our brother sins against us or we sin against our brother. In either case, on the giving or receiving end of offense, we are told to take action and go to our brother for reconciliation.
The next section, v. 29-32, tells us that even our speech is to reflect the calling laid upon us. We are to avoid harmful speech, including slander and gossip. It’s not ok to verbally kill our brother or sister! Instead, our speech is to lift other people up. Notice that Paul’s concern is with the well-being of others here. Our speech should not tear them down or contaminate them, but instead is to build them up. Sounds like agape love in our speech!
V 31 says we are to actively rid ourselves of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice. Bitterness is grudge holding. It means long standing resentment and a refusal to reconcile. Rage and anger are different forms of the same thing. Rage is a sudden flash of angry passion. Anger refers to a long-standing, simmering, habitual anger. Anger does not have to be explosive to be toxic. Anger can become a habit!
Malice is anger lived out against another person. Malice is when we act out on our anger for the harm of another person.
In contrast, in light of what Christ has done for us (going back to v. 1 and living up to our calling) we are to be kind, compassionate and forgiving. Why? Because this is how God treated us when he had relational friction with us in our sin! We are to treat others, not as they have treated us, but as God has treated us!
We are to rid ourselves of these toxic feelings, attitudes and actions and to be kind, compassionate and forgiving. We are to take an active role in ridding ourselves of things like bitterness, rage, malice and slander. It is not enough to “let go and let God” when it comes to these things. We are to be active participants in working to rid ourselves of these toxic responses to others.
This carries us into our Matthew text. Jesus begins by saying, “Do not judge or else you will be judged.” This is a verse often quoted and often misunderstood. What does Jesus mean when he says, “Do not judge”? Well, let me tell you what it does not mean! It does not mean that we should not use discernment when it comes to other people’s actions and attitudes. It does not mean we are not supposed to evaluate another person’s actions. That’s not what it means at all, but that is often how it is quoted! When we try to call somebody out on something they are doing, when we try to point out that somebody may be bumping into other people, or may not be keeping their own “ship” in good working order, we hear, “Don’t judge.” This is a complete misuse of this verse!
What “don’t judge” means is “don’t condemn.” It means we should not presume to know a person’s final destiny. We should not presume to know God’s evaluation of a person. That is being “judgmental” and “condemning.”
If we choose to treat people this way, God will choose to treat us the same way! Our relationship with God is shaped by our relationships with other people. Think of the Lord’s Prayer in which is says “forgive us… as we forgive others!” This is great motivation to be generous with other people, even when it comes to conflict.
What It Means
So what does all this mean? How do we wrap our heads around it? Let me mesh these two passages together for us. In light of what Jesus has done for us, we should not condemn others or presume to know God’s
verdict on their lives. Instead, we should evaluate their lives out of concern for their well-being, including looking for specks of sawdust in their eye. In humility, we should examine ourselves for planks, first. When it comes to conflict, humbly examine and explore your own role in the friction before going to the other person trying to see their role in the friction. Planks in our own eyes include things like bitterness, rage, anger, malice, slander, gossip, etc.
Remember, when 2 ships collide, there is probably enough fault to go around. It is not likely all their fault or all yours. But in the NFJ, we are to carefully and thoroughly investigate our fault before trying to point out the other person’s fault to them! This is, in part, how we live a life worthy of our calling.
When we are careful to investigate ourselves before condemning others, God will be slow to condemn us too! God uses the same grading scale on us as we use on other people. This is frightening because we are often harsh with others! I know I’m not patient like Jesus. I know I’m quick to see the role another person plays in conflict with me. So it’s scary to think God will be condemning with me if I am condemning to others.
But this is why we have to get back to the foundation- what God has done for us in Christ! Our ability to put the needs of others ahead of our own, our ability to seek the well-being of others, comes from God. It is rooted in our relationship with Jesus. This is the core motivation for all the EHR skills. This is the core motive for this one too. It is precisely because God has already been patient, compassionate, kind and forgiving with us that we are to be patient, compassionate, kind and forgiving to others. That means not condemning them. That means ridding ourselves of the strong feelings and offenses that come when we interact with fellow sinners, even sinners saved by grace.
This is very counter-cultural. This also runs contrary to our sinful nature. It is not natural or easy for us to be diligent in doing this. That’s why Paul had to instruct the Ephesians about it. That’s why so many of his other letters also have similar instructions! This is why Jesus had to keep coming back to forgiving our brothers and treating others as we want to be treated. It runs against the core of sin- which is to put one’s self first.
It is important, at this point, to clarify that most of the EHR skills can be done in a secular way. However, our reason for doing them makes them Christian tools. That is, if we use these skills because Jesus has already redeemed us, adopted us, changed us and renewed us, then these skills become ways of responding to God and what He has done. That is, they become acts of worship. They become one way we can live lives worthy of our calling.
Two people can give money to a charity. But if one person gives it because God has been generous to them, and the other gives the donation in order to get praise for being charitable, one is a Christian act of worship, the other is not. One is an act of agape love, the other is not. In the same way, the EHR skills can be used in a non-Christian way or in a Christian way. The difference is in the “why” which also makes a difference in where the strength to do them comes from too. When our “why” is what God is doing in us and has already done for us, then the skills are Christian acts of discipleship, they are tools for our sanctification. When our why is something else, they are just useful tools.
So what is the Ladder of Integrity? How do we climb it? The Ladder of Integrity is a series of questions we ask ourselves when we cannot articulate why there is relational friction with someone. We have tried the “puzzled” and clarified expectations (or maybe we don’t even know what is puzzling us or what our expectations were!) and we are still unsettled about something.
The 12 questions are not hard in and of themselves, but when we are applying them to a touchy topic they can become emotionally charged. So we begin the process with prayer, asking God for humility, patience and kindness.
Zeroing in on one specific issue, we ask ourselves, or complete a series of statement beginning with “Right now the issue on my mind is….” We need to articulate the issue so we can stay focussed. Then we ask, “I’m anxious talking about this because….” Why is this issue charged? This shouldn’t be a situation where there is clear wrongdoing or sin, but there is still relational tension or friction.
Then, we have to ask God to shine his light on our hearts. This is where humility is important. The third
statement to complete is, “My part in this is….” This is where we need to allow God to show us what we have contributed, either overtly or by omission, intentionally or unintentionally. We need to list all the parts we have played in this tension.
Then, looking deeper, we ask, “My need in this issue is…” What do we need? Most often conflict and tension comes from felt needs not being met. Continue by completing the statement, “My feelings about this are…” and “What my reaction tells me about me is…” Note this is what our reaction tells us about ourselves, not about the other person, their words or actions, but ourselves.
Then we move on to the heart of the friction. “This issue is important to me because I value… and I violate that value when…” Our values, like our expectations, are often held unconsciously. We are not even aware we have them until they are violated. We need to articulate what our value(s) are in this situation and how they have been violated. Examples would include, “I value punctuality,” or “I value excellence,” or “I value including all people,” etc. That our value has not been met is not necessarily a sign of wrong doing by the other person! In some ways, you can rephrase values in terms of expectations when it comes to relationship. Did we articulate and get agreement on meeting our value? That’s moves us back to an earlier skill.
Moving ahead, we need to decide what we are and are not willing to do when it comes to our values. “I am willing/not willing to…”
Having done some thorough analysis of our own hearts, we need to move to action. We cannot stop at analysis, because that lead to paralysis! So we ask, “One thing I could do to improve the situation is…” We also need to prioritize: “The most important thing I want you to know is…” This is like incarnational listening in which the listener asks, “What is the most important thing for me to take away from this?” Your listener may not even know there was tension! You’re laying a lot on them in the moment. Help them process it by giving them the priority for you.
Since relationships matter, and this is a relationship skill, we need to articulate why we want to share with them. “I think my honest sharing will benefit our relationship by…”
We also need to articulate our goal, “I hope and look forward to…”
Having done this hard work, filling out these 12 sentences, examining our hearts, articulating our values, all of which is hard work, we need to practice articulating it to another person. But it is important that this is not the person we are having friction with! Not yet! So share your “ladder” with a neutral person who is willing to help you process this stuff. Share it with them, ask them if it is clear. Let them help you express yourself well. This helps you remove the log from your own eye!
Then, having gotten a 3rd party’s input, share a summary with the person you are having friction with. Don’t go through all the steps with them, but depending on the situation, share with them the highlights, especially about your values, what you hope they hear most, your goals for the relationship and whatever else they must know in order to heal the relationship.
This is a helpful way to rid ourselves of bitterness. It is a way to keep the bond of peace. It smooths over and strengthens relationships. To be honest, this is a very vulnerable thing to do with somebody, especially somebody with whom you have had tension! This is why it is so helpful to base this process on your relationship
with Jesus. Grounding yourself in the love God has for you can give you the courage needed to answer these tough questions. This is a way to cooperate with the Spirit to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Sharing it with the other person is an act of kindness and reconciliation. Being brave enough to do this work and share the results with them will built intimacy and trust with them. IT will strengthen and deepen your relationship with them!
And if you do it in light of what God has done for you in Christ, it becomes an act of worship. It becomes a method for growing in agape love, which means growing to be more like Christ.
When our ships bump into one another, this is a way to investigate your role in the collision. It is a way to help evaluate if you are “ship shape” yourself. In the NFJ it is a way to live with integrity, in which your inward values are consistent with your outward actions. It is a way to honour Christ and what he has done for you. Amen.
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