Teaching Values: Responsibility

by Jeff Asher

Responsibility is defined in the dictionary as, "Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority." A person is regarded as responsible when he is "capable of making moral or rational decisions on his own and, therefore, answerable for one's own behavior." The principle of responsibility is recognized on nearly every page of the Bible. Here are just a few examples: Matthew 23:16; 27:24; 28:14; Luke 12:42; Acts 5:28; 19:40; Romans 14:4.

Everyone is Responsible for…

You are responsible only for today. You cannot change the past. What is done is done. God can forgive sin. But, the fact remains that your actions are a part of the history of your life. You do not have to live in the past nor let the past rule the present (John 8:11; Romans 3:25; Mark 16:15-16). But, you cannot change what has happened; you must live through it and with it.

You cannot affect the future. By this I mean, there are forces in the world over which we have no control (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Some things are controlled by the immutable laws of the universe and cannot be changed regardless how much we may desire it (Matthew 6:27; Luke 12:25, 26). Other things are in the hands of God and are best left to His will and desires (Matthew 5:45; James 4:13-15). We can make reasonable plans and have expectations, but the future may not turn out as we wish it to be.

Only today is yours (Matthew 6:34). We need to do the very best with it we can and recognize that the choices and decisions we make within it affect us now and forever (Romans 2:6-11; Ezekiel 18:26-28). Today is the only day over which we have any real control; therefore, the choices we make are important (2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:13; Joshua 24:15).

You are certainly responsible for yourself. I think most folks recognize it in principle, while maybe not owning up to it in practice; each one is responsible for his own actions (Romans 14:12; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Ezekiel 18:1-24).

However, we're also answerable for what we think and say (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 5:28-30; 12:34-37). Now, our thoughts may not always have the same consequences as our actions, but thoughts are what determine our words and our actions (Mark 7:20-23). We may change our thoughts, and even regret our words, but we are still accountable for having had them and their character determines the nature of the heart from where they came (Luke. 6:45).

We are also responsible for what you fail or refuse to do (James 4:17; John 12:48 Hebrews 10:26-31). All of us are liable to forget some things, but I am not talking about lapse of memory. Rather, it is neglect and rebellion. We are responsible when our will is such that we do not do what we know is right we insist on doing what we know is wrong. There are many things in this world with which we can become entangled and overpowered (II Timothy 2:26; II Peter 2:20). The fact that we are subdued by them does not release us from accountability.

Choices Have Consequences

In the realm of physical "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." In the spiritual realm for every action there is a consequence.

As already established, all are free men with the power of choice (Joshua 24:15; Romans 10:16; Hebrews 3:7). You are free to do whatever you want. However, you are not free of the consequences of your actions (Proverbs 1:24; Ezekiel 3:19).

General Gerry Johnson said it very well when he observed, "No man was ever endowed with a right without being at the same time saddled with a responsibility." We do not have to make some of the choices we do, but we cannot avoid the consequences of our choices, nor shift the blame to others. A lot of men have tried, but God does not release us from our obligations in this matter (Genesis 3:12-13; I Samuel 15:20-21; Exodus 32:22-24; Matthew 27:24).

Teach Your Children Responsibility

Jesus taught us how to teach responsibility. We can and must do so, for the good of the nation, for the good of the family, for the good of the church and, most importantly, for the good of our children.

First, learn that one is responsible to the limits of his ability. Jesus taught that in the parables of the talents and the unfaithful servant (Matthew 25:15; Luke 12:47-48). Early training, therefore, should consist of gradually giving responsibilities to our children according to their newly acquired abilities (see: Galatians 4:1-2; I Corinthians 13:11). Duties about the home should increase with age and skill with a view to making the child a useful adult when on his own.

Second, when responsibility is given, the recipient must be held accountable. Jesus taught this as well in the above mentioned parables (Luke 12:47 Matthew 18:23). The one talent man was not punished because he did not do as well as the other two servants. He was punished because he did not do what he had the ability and, therefore, obligation to do. A wise parent recognizes different levels of ability in his children and deals with each accordingly. But a fool fails to hold all equally accountable according to his individual ability. When parents do not make children give answer for their actions they eventually will have rebels with which to deal (I Samuel 2:22-26; 3:13).

In order to teach responsibility it is necessary to let the young suffer the consequences of their choices. This is why the prophet said, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth" (Lamentations 3:27). When parents are giving gradual responsibility they are able to help assuage the severity of the consequences. Children learn that the consequences can be serious by learning young from the results of their lesser responsibilities. It is better to learn that each man must bear his own burden (Galatians 6:5) when that burden is a household chore or a missed homework assignment than a job deadline or a utility bill.

Finally, parents must be an example in accepting responsibility (Job 19:4; Acts 25:11). Your children will never learn to be a mature, helpful, resourceful and responsible member of any community, if all they ever see is a parent that casts blame elsewhere refusing to accept responsibility miserably chaffing under the consequences of bad choices. Be responsible and your children will grow up to be responsible.