Assuming Spiritual Responsibility

Posted by on Mar 13, 2022 in Blog | 7 comments

young boy in jacket holding white flower pot

One of my more bizarre conversations as a pastor was when a man informed me I was the reason he cheated on his wife. As he said in a voice increasing in volume with each word, “It’s your fault! If you were a better preacher, and inspired me more, it would never have happened.” Hmmm.

While I can’t say the conversation left me encouraged, it also didn’t cost me too many sleepless nights. But it does raise some interesting questions. How responsible are we for the spiritual well being of others, and for that matter, how responsible are we for our own spiritual well being. I’m going to hedge my bets on this, pointing to the nuance found between Galatians 6:2 and 5: “carry each other’s burdens… each of you should carry your own load.” Put slightly differently, do what you can to help others, but in the end, it is up to them. Or to quote the old proverb, “You can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Let’s take the questions in reverse order. How responsible are we for our own spiritual well being?

Part of being an adult is assuming responsibility for ourself and the actions we take.

True, at times there are extenuating circumstances that made things very difficult (and we must differentiate between being a sinner and being sinned against), but unless we view ourselves as puppets on chains we must own our decisions, actions and attitudes. You might have read the quote attributed to Victor Frankl (probably inaccurately): “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Regardless of who said it first, it’s worth pondering. Perhaps it is part of what Paul has in mind when in 1 Cor 10:13 he reminds us that with every temptation there is also a way out. Whether we take it or not is up to us. Pointing the finger at others simply increases the wrong.

In an age of consumer Christianity, it is easy to blame our spiritual jadedness on worship songs we don’t relate to, preaching that doesn’t connect or churches that serve instant coffee. But we know that this is just bluster and that it is our own hearts that need deeper interrogation. Why not say: I am responsible for my spiritual growth. It will be shaped by what I read, what I listen to, the conversations I initiate (and those I withdraw from), the actions I take, how I allocate my time and the choices I make. From time to time one of those decisions might be to join a different church family – though if that happens more than 2 or 3 times in a decade (excluding if you have moved city), be willing to ask if you are the problem (you might not be, but do consider the question).

So the first person we should assume spiritual responsibility for is ourself. (Ok, I know some are going to push back and remind me that our spiritual growth is a result of God’s goodness and grace, and it assuredly is. But I am talking about our part in the process, and yes, I do think we have a part. It’s the Phil 2:12-13 paradox, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you.” We work, and God works…)

If I am responsible for myself, am I also my brother’s keeper?

Could I suggest a 62% yes and a 38% no (I like precision!). The yes percentage goes up the longer I have been a follower of Jesus. Do you remember the remarkable discussion between God and Abraham in Genesis 18:16-33 where Abraham negotiates God down from 50 to 10 righteous people as the minimum requirement for Sodom to be spared? Later Jews took that to mean that any village or town with 10 righteous people could form a synagogue – a place which would not only nurture the people of God but provide a spiritual covering for the area. Just 10 were enough (initially it had to be men, but in conservative and reformed Judaism women are now included as part of the minyan – the ten).

Most churches in the Western world are smaller than they were a few years ago. The majority, however, are still able to pull 10 or more people together. If not, remember Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20). In the Baptist tradition I come from, that is usually understood to mean that two people intentionally meeting in the name of Jesus is enough for it to be church.

Churches are made up of people who intentionally gather in the name of Jesus to worship together, to be nurtured in the faith and then to be sent back into God’s world. Instead of trying to persuade those outside the church to come to our smaller and smaller gatherings, why don’t we view them as a time of spiritual equipping so that we can go out as Gods people into God’s world, assuming some spiritual responsibility for the people God has entrusted to our care – be that because they are our co-workers, our neighbours, our family or our friends. What if, in part, we saw them as our spiritual responsibility – given to us as a sacred trust from God. I might not be my brother’s keeper, but I might well be the only Jesus follower that Joe, Cath and Ravi know. How might I bless them, and be the God person in their life? No I am not responsible for them – but I am also not not responsible for them. God has put them in my path. I am responsible for my response to their presence there.

So was the angry man right to blame me for his unfaithfulness? No. But a stab of pain did go through my heart when he told me what he had done, for we are in this together, and when one stumbles, at some level, we all do. And when some of us get it right, we can all celebrate… it’s about carrying each others burdens even as we each carry our own load.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

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7 Comments

  1. Comment *A very thoughtful and helpful blog, Brian thanks for articulating it so well.

    • Thanks Peter. Always appreciate you and the work you do.

  2. As always, thought provoking, Brian.
    Thank you.

  3. Taking responsibility for our own let alone others spiritual health is a huge challenge for so many. We live in a blame culture so nothing is ever really my responsibility! Great to challenge this and find a balance. Thanks!

    • Thanks Phillip. You are right – it is more than a little counter-cultural, and all the more important because of it!

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