Any Well-Trained Monkey . . .
"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment . . ." Philippians 1:9
I have not forgotten, and have sometimes forgotten, what Mr. Ikard whisped in my ear. I was a new bank management trainee , sitting in “Charge-Off Committee” - an “intimate” gathering of the bank’s executive management and about 60 of my peers, where bank officers were called to “receive therapy” about their wrong decisions for their loans that had gone bad - loans the bank had to “charge-off”. Another bank officer was giving self-justifying explanation after explanation about his various decisions in making and dealing with one such loan. As he spoke, Mr. Ikard, who would eventually become the president of the entire holding company, leaned over to me and whispered, “He should have just said no. Any well-trained monkey can say yes. He should have just said no.”
It is not easy to say “no”, in life or in the church. We confuse “being grace-based” with “being nice”, and so we confuse saying “no” with “not being nice”. But when we say “yes” or waffle when we should say no, we need to understand:
- We are always choosing consequences. We can see the consequences of saying “no”: the person might be disappointed, perhaps because they have invested their personal identity in the idea. We might be accused of “being mean”, not gracious, not loving, cold, etc. But saying “yes” always involves consequences, too: once we devote time to one endeavor, we are necessarily saying no to every other possible way we might have spent our time or money to build up the church.
- The grace of God requires us to learn to say no well. By “well”, I mean humble: we don’t know the heart of the other person; we assume the best; we listen for underlying motivations. I mean gentle: it’s not easy hearing “no”, especially when you’ve invested a lot in your idea or venture. And I mean constructive: the “no” is an opportunity to discuss other important truths that perhaps had not been previous considered, that if they were, would build up the church even more.
- We are not loving the church when we say “yes” when we should say “no”. Not “not loving well”, but “not loving”. It is decidedly not love to avoid immediate consequences for oneself, while disregarding the future consequences that the “yes” will bring on God’s church. Wise, authentic love absorbs the immediate negative, for what would cause its beloved to flourish. An ability to say no well makes us more loving, more human, more like Christ - less like monkeys, even the well-trained.