So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4
The so-called “Pygmalion Effect” originated in Greek mythology. But it was George Bernard Shaw’s stage play “Pygmalion,” which first made it popular in modern times. The play features Professor Henry Higgins, who insists that he can take a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, and, with some intensive training, pass her off as a duchess. Later a musical adaptation, “My Fair Lady,” made the concept even more widely known.
Today an entire subset of management training and development is devoted to the Pygmalion Effect. Managers are taught to see their employees as if they already are outstanding workers and to look for and reinforce behavior that supports this view as a way of increasing competence. The idea is that once an expectation is set, even if it isn’t currently accurate, people tend to act in ways that are consistent with that expectation. Surprisingly often, the result is that the expectation comes true.
In making her look like a duchess, and showing her how a duchess acts, Prof. Higgins accomplished step one with Eliza Doolittle. But when the people she met assumed she really was a duchess and treated her like one, Eliza began to see herself that way too, and her behavior changed to meet her newfound expectations. It’s what I meant in explaining the “act as if” principle in part 4 of this series. Act as if you already are a certain way, and you’ll eventually become so. This effect is also sometimes called the self-fulfilling prophecy.
What’s The Point?
In writing his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul was playing Henry Higgins to our Eliza Doolittle. He was trying to convince us that even though we were formerly children of the devil, we’ve now been brought into the family of God, members of an elevated class of the human race, highly esteemed by a Creator Who sees us as His finest work of art.
Explaining that God already sees us that way, Paul’s intention was to elevate our expectations of ourselves so that we’d begin acting in a manner more consistent with the high station to which we’ve been called. He admonished us to “be made new in the attitudes of our minds,” and “put on our new selves” (Ephe. 4:23-24) and then explained what that meant.
We are to deal honestly with each other, contribute to the common good, settle our disputes amicably, avoid unwholesome talk, and foul language. (Remember how shocked we all were when we first heard the Nixon oval office tapes? The President and his assistants were using language inappropriate to their high calling, and we expected better of them.) “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” Paul said. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephe. 4:31-32)
We’ve been seated beside the King of the Universe as His co-regent. We’re the ultimate royalty, and this is how someone who’s been given such an enormous blessing should act. In our relationships with God, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and our own families, we’re to adopt standards of behavior befitting our stature, with love and respect for each other and gratitude toward our Benefactor being the common threads that run through them all.
Teach Your Children Well
And speaking of the family, let’s take a moment to clear up a misunderstanding in our relationships with our children that Paul alludes to but could use some clarification. “Fathers, do not exasperate (provoke to wrath) your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord,” he wrote. (Ephe. 6:4). The phrase training and instruction means a comprehensive education; mind, body, and spirit. Fathers are responsible for preparing their children to accept their places as responsible, productive members of society, living according to God’s laws. (Mom’s can help, too.)
This is not a companion to the previous verses (commanding children to obey their parents) that gives fathers the right to punish disobedience while cautioning moderation. Have you begun to hear the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” again lately? Ever look it up in the Bible? You won’t find it. The closest one says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Prov. 13:24)
The Hebrew word translated rod means staff or scepter, a sturdy length of carved wood that was a symbol of authority. (Nowhere does the Bible advocate beating children with such a weapon. The only place the Lord’s rod is mentioned is in Psalm 23:4, where it’s a source of comfort.)
The word that’s translated discipline is used 50 times in the Old Testament and 38 of those times it means either instruction or verbal correction. It’s never translated punish. The root word from which discipline comes is disciple. To disciple someone is to train or instruct him.
Paraphrasing this proverb we get something like, “A loving father will exercise his authority as head of his family by giving instruction to his children to prepare them for adulthood, and correcting their behavior as necessary. Failure to do so is an indication of his lack of love for them.” In a very real sense, we’re to be the Prof. Higgins in our children’s lives.
Kings And Priests
Ever hear of a young prince being beaten to prepare him for the responsibilities of royalty? Of course not. What you do hear is that no expense or effort is spared in giving him the finest education, training, and preparation in the social graces. High expectations are clearly communicated and constantly reinforced. Inappropriate behavior is quickly isolated as being beneath someone of his stature.
We are a royal priesthood, Peter told us. (1 Peter 2:9) Like the hypothetical prince above, our children are also destined to be kings. As their parents we have a God-given duty to prepare them, elevating their expectations of themselves, as Paul elevated our expectations of ourselves, by educating them in the ways of our royal priesthood. The public schools are openly hostile to these ways, and not only cannot be relied upon to do this for us, but will often try to subvert our efforts in this area.
And don’t look to the church, either. Though they make a valiant effort, our Sunday Schools get less than 750 hours total out of our kids’ first 18 years. Contrast that with the 12,960 hours of school time and the 26,280 hours they’ll spend in front of the TV by age 18. No wonder 71% of all the kids who attend church and Sunday school regularly at age 14 no longer go at all by age 20. It’s our job, dads.
The Ultimate Pygmalion Effect
Back to our main point. The major problem between Prof. Higgins and Eliza that makes them an imperfect example is that Prof. Higgins knew that deep down Eliza was really just a flower girl, after all.
“You see,” she lamented, “Really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will.”
We have no such problem with our Creator, even though He’s always known us far better than we know ourselves. Prof. Higgins and Eliza were stuck in time with memories of the past. But because of what our Lord Jesus did for us at the cross, we’ve become a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). And God, Who isn’t contained by the dimension of time, chooses neither to remember how we were nor to see us as we are, but only as we will one day be, conformed to the image and likeness of His Son. Perfect. (Romans 8:29) Our challenge now is to see ourselves as He sees us and to elevate our expectations of ourselves accordingly. Selah.