Publication:Pastoral Letter, September 2015
Dear Friend in Christ:
The founders of the United States believed that God gave us two books, nature and the Bible, and that those books were in agreement, being written by the same Author. So they used both natural law and Judeo-Christian principles upon which to establish the U.S. government. They believed that was how things worked and would provide a lasting foundation.
This month, I want to discuss with you two natural and spiritual principles that never change: Responsibility and Accountability. These are eternal, natural and spiritual, universal and immutable. They can be our friends or our enemies, depending upon our choices. Robert Spencer (1820-1903) said, “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” To paraphrase kindly, it is foolish to shield people from accountability for their actions.
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, Dad gave me the responsibility to lower the shades in the evening and raise them in the morning. Those old shades were very temperamental. I hated them and perhaps that is why I often failed to handle my responsibility. That is when I met the second principle, accountability. As a result, my stewardship improved.
My parents did not invent the principles of responsibility and accountability; they were seen before time in heaven when Lucifer was given a responsibility. Because of pride, he tried to take on God’s responsibility and he was cast out. He was held accountable, but unfortunately, landed on earth. He has since been our adversary in both areas.
Adam was created to be a steward of the garden, tending it, naming the animals, and caring for Eve. Then they met Lucifer, the snake who “had a better plan”. After their sin, they all met accountability before God. Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise.
Later, God chose Israel to reveal His ways and glory to the world. He gave them principles (laws), promises, and a great opportunity if they obeyed, but great warnings if they failed (see Deuteronomy 28). Sometimes they obeyed, but sometimes they did not; and in those cases, they met the second principle of accountability.
Now I should say that I love Israel because they are an example to us (I Corinthians 10:1-13) and because they provided the lineage of our Lord. They teach us that God is faithful even in our failure, but nevertheless requires responsibility and accountability. Israel paid a high price to teach us these two principles.
Jesus was given the incomprehensible responsibility to save us from ourselves through His life, death, and Resurrection. He became one of us, yet without sin, and faithful always to the Father (see John 8:29). He spoke the Father’s word and did the Father’s will. But He did not suspend responsibility nor accountability. He fulfilled them.
It was Jesus who said “Unto whom much is given, much shall be required” (see Luke 12:47-49). He often used parables to reinforce these two principles: The parable of the talents, the parable of the virgins, and the parables of sowing and reaping. He taught that responsibility and accountability continue on even into future life (see Matthew 25:31-46).
Of course our primary responsibility and accountability is to God, but Jesus also taught responsibility to government, masters, parents, teachers, and the needy. Jesus was both responsible and accountable and taught us to be.
The Apostle Paul was given his ministry by the Lord Jesus, and considered himself a steward of it, not the owner (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). He stated that stewards must be found faithful. He held himself responsible and accountable, but was willing to be accountable to other leaders (see Acts 15).
Good stewardship requires training. Paul had been trained by the foremost Jewish Rabbi, spent years in Arabia studying the Old Covenant, and then traveled with a seasoned brother in Christ. Paul trained others and taught them to train still others.
Training is much more than “telling”. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way that is right….” My parents told me how, showed me how, did the assignment with me, and then held me accountable. Jesus, Paul, and all of the apostles did that. Both responsibility and accountability were made clear. The apostle Paul, for instance, knew his specific sphere of responsibility (see 2 Corinthians 10:13).
My father knew my “older brother” propensity to over-reach my responsibility and get into business that was not mine. The Bible calls that being a “busy-body” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Peter 4:15).
I remember Dad saying, “Charles, leave some problems for God to solve.” I had to learn to focus on my own business.
There are two very important questions to ask the Lord if we are to be clear; “For what am I responsible (or for whom)?” And, “To whom am I responsible?” The list of our responsibilities should include obedience to God, prayer, Bible study, honor of parents and leaders, workmanship, neighbors, and the needy. I am sure that you can add to that list. The list of those to whom we are accountable includes God, parents, brothers and sisters in Christ, bosses, government, and to whomever gives us responsibility. Specificity is vital to both responsibility and accountability.
Regular accountability gives us the opportunity to make incremental improvement and avoid the catastrophic results of ignored accountability. I recently read an article by a noted pastor who attacked “accountability groups” and personal pastoral accountability. Later, he was found to be living in an immoral relationship and lost his very favored position.
I have personally spent time and prayer on these issues and have not always been as accountable as I should have been. I have a pastor and have given him the opportunity to ask any questions he feels led to ask. CSM has a board of directors with the same opportunity.
I know my calling as a pastor and teacher. I know whom I pastor by mutual consent. Jesus said that He knows His sheep by name (see John 10:14). I am a teacher, but I cannot teach everything. I need to know my sphere of instruction, which is primarily pastoral. I do not want to move into areas of speculation (see Job 42:3).
Specificity is essential to responsibility. Generalities lead to general failure. I try regularly to update my written “to do list”. It gets my responsibility out of the theoretical into the practical. It stops me worrying and starts me to action. It prevents procrastination or forgetting. I am reminded that “the devil is in the details” so I try to get there first! The list also keeps me minding my own business.
GRACE AND MERCY
Both of these principles are voluntary. I am a priest unto God and while I am accountable, I give my will to no one but God. If I feel manipulated or controlled, I move on.
Control is for children and the incorrigible. Maturity is when we can be responsible without control. Those who experience control past the appropriate time keep their constituents irresponsible and immature. Those who try to guarantee equal outcomes for irresponsible behavior guarantee continued irresponsibility. We have all sinned and been irresponsible before God and man at some point in our lives. We receive forgiveness if we repent and ask the Lord for it. Therefore, we should offer forgiveness to those who appear irresponsible. As we have received mercy, we are obligated to give it. But if that irresponsibility is within our own sphere of responsibility, love requires that we confront it, in the body of Christ or at the office.
Salvation, grace, and mercy do not take the place of responsibility and accountability. Indeed, they motivate us to both. Remember Jesus said, “Unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” We have received much.
We are secure in the One who foreknew our weakness, Who yet loved and saved us, and the One who remains faithful even when we are not (see Psalm 89). But, the laws of responsibility and accountability are not in suspension. Christian farmers must still sow and reap. Christian physicians must still work to heal the sick. Grace is not a substitute for responsibility; is a motive to do it better; but we still face the consequence of our acts.
An extreme or unbalanced focus on grace leads to license; an extreme focus on responsibility leads to legalism. Neither are biblical. Christ counts us righteous by His blood shed on our behalf. He loves us wherever we are. But He loves us too much to leave us there. If we are humble before Him, His grace and mercy will take us forward to be responsible and accountable.
Grace and mercy preclude our blaming others for our action or lack of it. When we blame others, grace and mercy are not involved. When we accept responsibility for our irresponsibility and ask for forgiveness, grace and mercy get involved.
When we get specific with God, He gets specific with us. Being precise, as we know how to be about our responsibility, will give us an inventory for action. Being specific about accountability will help us develop an inventory for improvement. That is the way it works. In the words of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever we find to do, do it with our might.”
As we pray this month, would you join me in praying for those who are standing for Jesus and live in places of terrible persecution? (See Hebrews 13:3.) Also, please pray for CSM in our mission, and remember us in a special way in your giving this month as we reach out. For more information visit us at www.csmpublishing.org.
Thank you so much for being such an important part of this ministry. We love you, pray for you, and thank God for you!
Scripture References: Deuteronomy 28; John 8:29; Luke 12:47-49; Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Acts 15: Proverbs 22:6; 2 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Peter 4:15; John 10:14; Job 42:3; Psalm 89; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Hebrews 13:3