Lack of Responsibility

Bible Book: Luke  15 : 11-32
Subject: Responsibility; Commitment; Decisions; Dedication; Regret; Guilt

Luke 15:11-32

To many people, responsibility is a disagreeable idea. It suggests duty, obligation, commitment and accountability. These aren't fun words. A writer said, "Halfway through college, I heard a lecture by Pearl S. Buck. She warned, 'It's fun to start a book, and fun to finish a book; but oh the middle! Never give up halfway. The only way to accomplish anything is to finish what you start.'

She told us that when she was writing The Good Earth she was often tempted to throw it out the window. 'Editors said nobody wanted to read about China anymore. I wasn't sure it was really any good. But I stuck it out. Whether it was ever published or not, I had to finish that book!' Of course, it won the Nobel Prize for literature.’

The young man continued, "I lay awake half the night, wrestling with my own decisions. I had made up my mind to quit college. I was poor and lonely and homesick. The courses were hard.  Besides, the depression was getting worse; Dad had lost his job. I told myself I was needed at home. It seemed the perfect excuse; but I kept hearing those words of Mrs. Buck: 'Finish what you start.'"

These words are invaluable. When we have a task to complete, excuses won't do. When we have been given a mission to fulfill, excuses won't do. Paul said, "Each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Rom. 14:12).

Of course, we have a responsibility to God, but we also have a responsibility to other people. Solomon said,

"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

When it is in your power to do it" (Prov. 3:27).

Also, we must realize that the more opportunities we have, the more responsible we must be. Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:48).

He also said, "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15:22).

We lack responsibility because of justifying mistakes, blaming others and enabling indolence.

I. First, We Justify Our Mistakes.

All of us justify our mistakes and excuse our failures. One man who had several business deals go bad was convinced it was because of his bald head. Picking out something in our life that we can't change and making it the cause of all our problems limits our future. If we believe fate has dealt us a bad hand, we'll be a loser.

People say, "If only I had married a different woman, things would be better." "If only I had chosen a different college, I wouldn't be flunking." "If only my parents had done a better job." "If only my pastor had not disappointed me." "If only my company hadn't transferred me."

Such excuses are useless. They accomplish nothing. We are personally responsible for our lives. We'll never develop responsibility if we justify our mistakes and make scapegoats of our parents, our church, our boss, the stars or the government when things go wrong. Sometimes people even try to hold God accountable, but James says, "No way! When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:13-15).

Jesus emphasized honesty. "If you were blind You would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains" (John 9:41).

II. Then, We Blame Others.

A wise observer said, "Poor typists’ express dissatisfaction with their typewriters. Poor golfers blame their sorry golf clubs; and people with poor relationship skills always cuss human nature.

Presidents blame bad economic conditions on the previous administration. Workers blame low productivity on the guy in the next department. We almost never say, "I didn't succeed because I wasn't willing to put forth the effort. Instead, we blame our leaders, our associates, and especially our mates.

Many people claim to be "self-made"; but few say, "I'm a self-made failure." We take credit for our successes and blame others for our failures. Every fiasco is somehow "someone else's fault."

Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matt. 7:1).

Paul said, "You . . . have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (Rom. 2:1).

Our relationships reveal much about us. When we are hostile toward someone, we should ask, "What is this person reminding me of about myself that I hate?"

We project our own traits onto others. Like a projector that throws pictures on a movie screen, the source of the images are in us. Attacking others is about as silly as hitting a mirror because you don't like the reflection you see. Notice, when the prodigal son got home he said, "I'm a mess. I have sinned!  Nobody else is to blame for my predicament but me."

He could have said, "I had an over-indulgent father. He had no business giving me all my inheritance. He should have known that I would waste it." He could have said, "You just don't know how tough it is to be the baby of the family. My older brother is so jealous. He made life miserable for me."

Instead, he said, "No! It's not my father; It's not my brother; It's not my home situation. I'm to blame. I have sinned!"

Any criticism should be used sparingly and objectively. An air traffic controller says, "A pilot coming in for a landing is a good example of how to deal criticism. We often have to correct or criticize his flying. If he's off course, we tell him. If he's too low or about to overshoot the field, we tell him. He never gets mad and says, "Oh, you're just finding fault with me. Why can't you say something positive." Instead, he's aware that the criticism is for his own good. But, of course, the controllers never criticize from personal egotism or hostility.  They do it to achieve a good result for both airline and pilot.  They don't say, "What a dumb way to come for a landing." All criticism should be like that.

Jesus held individuals accountable for their actions. He said, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come!" (Luke 17:1).

III. Finally, We Enable Indolence.

When we try to live other people's lives for them, we are out of line. Enabling is destructive because it teaches false lessons. It rewards unproductive behavior and it creates dependency.  We're only in charge of the space within our own skin and that's a fulltime job.

We each have our own agenda and if we attend to that properly, there'll be no time for enabling others.

When we intervene between actions and their consequences, we are undermining the lessons life is trying to teach us. This nullifies growth. Tough love allows some pain now to avoid worse pain later. When the blue birds teach their young to fly, their methods seem cruel. They urge the little ones out of the nest and then nudge them off the edge. It's a "fly or die" situation, and none die! This motivates them to do what birds are supposed to do naturally. If you take away their necessity for flying, they won't fly and they'll be crippled for life.

Paul was clear about enabling. He said, "When we were with you, we gave you this rule: 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat' " (2 Thess. 3:10).

Years ago, cars often had to be pushed before they would start.  But people didn't push them all the way to New York City. They expected them to become autonomous after a little help.

When we give in to pressure, we're rewarding unproductive behavior. When we compromise principles in order to avoid a hassle, we're sending the wrong message. Enabling creates dependency. Monterey California once had a thriving fishing industry. Fishermen hauled in tons of sardines to the cannery.  There was also a large colony of pelicans nearby. These birds usually feed themselves by swooping low over the water and scooping up fish in their bills. But these pelicans didn't have to fly and hunt. They could eat their fill of fish heads dropped over the sides of the fishing boats. They had it made.  Food was provided.

They were all well fed and happy. But, during world War II, when the cannery closed, these pelicans had a problem. By then, a whole generation of birds didn't know how to fish. They didn't have to. Why should they fly and scoop when there was plenty of food right in the harbor. The birds began to starve.  People tried to feed them, but there wasn't enough. Soon piles of dead bodies were everywhere.

Indulgence can cripple us like it did those pelicans. Enabling also hurts the one who enables. It wastes their resources and causes resentment and bitterness.

Jesus didn't reward indolence. He said, "As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work" (John 9:4).


The Scriptures are clear about responsibility. Jeremiah said, "Everyone will die for his own sin . . ." (Jer. 31:30).

Many enablers suffer from an overly developed sense of responsibility and excessive guilt. We may have the illusion that we are in control of our loved ones well being. If they have problems, we think we're to blame because we should have been able to prevent it

 Once a preacher visited two homes where elderly women had died. At the first house the son said, "Oh, if only I had sent my mother to Florida, and gotten her out of this cold weather, she'd be alive today. It's my fault she died." At the second house, the son said, "Oh, if only I hadn't insisted my mother go to Florida with that long airplane trip and change of climate, she'd be alive today. It's my fault she died."

We must not blame ourselves for things beyond our control.  Sometimes decisions concerning responsibility are difficult.  One woman was trying to decide whether to go home when her father had a heart attack or stay at school and study for finals. Both actions were important. When she discussed things with her professor, he gave her a valuable criterion. "I can't tell you what you should do," he explained; "but I can tell you how to decide. Just do what you won't regret 10 years from now."

Guilt can be both our friend and our enemy. Sociopaths don't have enough guilt. They have no empathy for others and no remorse for their crimes. But some moralistic individuals have too much guilt. They feel terrible about trivial mistakes.  They feel remorse for things that aren't their fault. We need to deal with misdirected guilt. We should let guilt warn us of problems; then when we've changed our behavior, we should let it go. Instead, some people have a pattern of self-sabotage and self-punishment. Criminals who leave damaging clues are often motivated by unconscious guilt.

We need to understand personal responsibility. We can only go so far in helping others. We have to make a realistic assessment of what we can and cannot do. We can be loving, but we can't make everybody happy or solve the world's problems.

Jesus said, "The gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Matt. 7:14).

In order to find the narrow path that leads to abundant life we must not justify our mistakes, blame others, or enable indolence. Paul told young Timothy, "Keep that which is committed to thy trust . . ." (1 Tim. 6:20, KJV)