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Let the Blames Begin

The origins of irresponsibility
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Taking Responsibility for Your Life". See series.


In this series we're going to be talking about taking responsibility. Each week I want you to ask yourself, "Am I taking responsibility for my life—really?"

Responsibility is not a difficult concept to grasp, nor is irresponsibility. Irresponsibility is when I don't take responsibility for the things I am responsible for. And irresponsibility, a bit like greed and some other subtle sins, is almost impossible to see in the mirror. I can see it in other people quickly, but irresponsibility is almost impossible to see in myself, and it is all around us.

I feel like in some ways our whole culture is becoming less and less responsible—that more and more, irresponsibility is almost celebrated. Our affluence as a culture has something to do with that. But there is also a strange confusion around the issue of civil rights in our culture, specifically around the Constitutional rights of the individual given to those of us in the United States of America. I don't think it was meant to be this way from the beginning.

Some of you know more about this than I do, but there is a new twist on civil rights that goes something like this: The Constitution has given me certain rights; therefore, I have the right to be irresponsible, and you don't have the right to hold me accountable. I have the right to do whatever I want to do and say whatever I want to say and act any way I want to act. You don't have the right to hold me responsible. At the same time, you are responsible to clean up the mess that I create through my irresponsibility. You are responsible to foot the bill that I have created through my irresponsibility. As an American citizen, my civil rights give me the opportunity to act irresponsibly, but you don't have the right or the responsibility to hold me accountable.

Now, I am not going to give you examples of this, because if I do you will think I am being political, and I'm not. This reality is something that you can see in our culture, regardless of where you land politically. The problem is irresponsibility, whether it's in your family, in your company, in a church, in a nation.

The nature of irresponsibility

Irresponsibility is contagious, especially when people can be irresponsible and enjoy the rewards that come from it. I mean, why should I work extra hard, and why should I pay my own way, and why should I clean up my own messes, and why should I go without because of my responsibility, when other people have found a way to get by with being irresponsible? In fact, people have discovered ways to profit off of their irresponsibility. Another thing is this: What is rewarded is repeated. It's just the nature of how the world works. So in a culture where irresponsibility is rewarded, it gets repeated.

The last little secret about irresponsibility: Anytime an individual or group of people acts irresponsibly, someone else has to come along and shoulder the burden of that irresponsibility. Irresponsibility is not a neutral thing; it must always be handled by someone. So, in essence, when I act irresponsibly, I am expecting other people who aren't responsible for me to carry the burden of the mess or the chaos that I've created.

When my kids were younger, I wanted them to understand this principle, so here is how I handled it. When I would walk into one of my kids' room and I would see a towel on the floor, for example, instead of picking up the towel, or instead of having them come pick up the towel, I would call them up to their room and I would say, "Child of mine, I want you to ask me to pick up your towel and hang it in the bathroom." They would immediately go to pick up the towel, and I would say, "No, no, no, I don't want you to do it. I want you to ask me to do it. I want you to say, 'Dad, will you please pick up my towel off the floor, because I was too lazy to do it myself.' I want you to ask me to do that." And they'd say, "No, no." And I would say, "No, do not pick up the towel. I want you to say to me, 'Dad, would you please pick up my mess?'" And it would get bigger and bigger, because I wanted them to understand that irresponsibility isn't a personal thing. Irresponsibility impacts everybody that is connected to the irresponsible person. It is not neutral. If I shirk my responsibility—domestic, relational, financial—I am by the nature of responsibility asking someone else to shoulder my burden.

Responsibility is a big deal. It's a community thing; it's a family thing; it's a corporate thing. That's why the distortion of our civil rights is so dangerous. The attitude that says, "I have the freedom to act irresponsibly, and because of my civil rights, you don't have the freedom to force me to deal with the chaos created by my irresponsibility" doesn't work in a relationship; it doesn't work in a family; it doesn't work in a company; and it doesn't work in a nation. Irresponsibility isn't individual; it's corporate. Someone else always has to pay the bill.

Now, it's easy to talk about those "terrible, irresponsible people out there," but I want us to talk about us. There is in all of us something that at times wants to shirk our responsibilities. But if you are a Christian, you can't do that. You must stop it. If you have decided that you're a follower of Jesus, I don't care what political persuasion you are, you can't shirk your responsibility, because ultimately, you are not accountable to your mama or your daddy or your husband or your wife or your family or your boss or even your president; you are ultimately accountable to your heavenly Father.

And as we are going to see in this series, God has given you responsibility, and you are accountable to your heavenly Father for what you do with those responsibilities. Christians should be the most responsible people on the planet, because we understand the connectedness of civilization, the connectedness of family, and how things are connected in culture. We should know better. We should pay our bills. We should pay our taxes. We should clean up our own messes. We should learn to take care of ourselves. We should take care of our families. We should pay our child support. We should be incredible examples of what it means to be responsible, because ultimately we believe we are accountable to our heavenly Father. We can't be irresponsible. We just can't do that. It's off limits for those of us who are believers.

The story of irresponsibility

I want to tell you the story of where irresponsibility began. It's a familiar story, but we are going to look at it from a slightly different angle. We're going to look at this story through the grid of irresponsibility. Let's look at the Book of Genesis: the creation story. We'll start after almost everything has been created, and God creates human beings. Listen to these words, because this is absolutely fascinating. Genesis 1:27: "So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

Before God gives the human race a bunch of stuff to do—before he gives the law and the Ten Commandments—God first gave humans responsibility. Isn't that interesting? Before there was sin in the world, there was responsibility. Listen to verse 28: "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" In other words, God tells Adam and Eve to have some babies and to rule over the earth. Human beings are responsible for the earth. There was just one rule—stay away from the one tree—and a lot of responsibility.

Genesis 1:29 says, "Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'" So, in the beginning God gave mankind responsibility to subdue the earth and take care of the planet.

It's written in Scripture: you were created to be responsible. Isn't it true? We are most fulfilled when there is something we're responsible for and we're doing a good job. Ladies, if you know the responsibility of motherhood, you know how good it feels to be making good choices about your children. We all feel better about ourselves when we are taking responsibility for the things we're responsible for. We were designed to feel that way.

For those of you who are out of work, one of the reasons it's so agonizing for you is because you're not able to take care of your responsibility. It drives you crazy and can even cause you to be depressed. The good news is that the weight you feel is a weight from God; the fact that you are bothered means you're doing exactly what you ought to do: you are carrying the weight and feeling that responsibility. Unfortunately, I know some people who have given up and shirked that responsibility, tired of living with that weight. But as long as you carry it, and as long as you feel it, you are probably in some ways in the center of God's will for your life; he created you to be responsible.

You are happiest when you have responsibility, and you are happiest when you have taken that responsibility and are doing a good job with it. I have never met a happy irresponsible person. I have met people who have made a vehement case for the fact that "it's not their fault; they're not to blame," but after they make their case, there is no smile on their face. We were created to be responsible.

Now, the story of creation doesn't go well after this part. Satan comes in and he tempts Eve, and the Bible says that Adam is right there with her. They both sin, and as soon as they sin, they throw off their accountability to God. They feel ashamed and naked, so they hide. Listen to this famous conversation in Genesis 3 between Adam and Eve and God: "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." When you sin, you do dumb things; we all know that. Adam and Eve tried to hide from the omniscient God. "But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?'" God knows where Adam is, but he gives him an opportunity to be honest. It's like when a father gives his son the opportunity to admit something he's done, when the father already knows his son has done it. "[Adam] answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.' And he said, 'Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?'" In other words, God is holding Adam accountable.

In a culture in which everybody takes responsibility for what is entrusted to them, there doesn't need to be a lot of rules. It's true in a family, in a company, and in a nation. There was just one rule in the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve broke it.

In the next verse, Adam says, "Yes, I broke the rule. I take full responsibility for my actions. Do with me what you will, but leave Eve out of this; she's innocent." Now, for those of you who aren't laughing, it's because you don't read your Bible. The world would be a different place if that was really what Adam had said. Scripture actually says this: "The man said, 'The woman you put here with me, she gave me some of the fruit from the tree, and I ate it.'" Adam shuns the gift of Eve that God had given him; he blames God for putting Eve there with him. Ultimately, Adam says: "I am not responsible for this." Genesis 3:13 says, "Then the Lord God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?' The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'" Eve doesn't take responsibility either.

Irresponsibility and blame

Here we're introduced to yet another insight about irresponsibility. Irresponsibility always creates conflict. Irresponsibility leads to blame, which always creates conflict. And where there is blame, there is usually irresponsibility, right? Where there is blame there is often shame, because there is often guilt. Isn't it amazing—and so rare—when somebody steps up and says, "I'm to blame for what happened. It may not all be my fault, but I'm responsible. It's my family; I am responsible. It's my division; I am responsible. It's my company; I am responsible"?

Blame stems from irresponsibility, but it's not even an effective tool. Have you ever had more respect for someone after they have blamed their way out of something? Do you want to be like that person? Do you want to be around him? Do you want to hire him as an employee? We all know there is nothing to be gained through blame, because blame is usually a way to shift responsibility away from the one who is actually responsible. And wherever there is irresponsibility, there is conflict.

But irresponsibility goes deeper than that. Irresponsibility created conflict with others, but it also creates conflict within us. I may be able to convince you that I am not to blame for something, but I'll never fully convince myself, because I know the truth. You never see irresponsible people smiling after they have successfully shifted blame, because even when they are successful, they carry the guilt and the shame of not carrying their responsibility.

We were designed to be responsible, and when we shirk those responsibilities and expect someone else to shoulder the burden, we cannot fulfill our God-given potential. We will be happiest, most satisfied, and have the most clarity in life when we once again take on that for which we are responsible. It's never too late to get out from under the burden of guilt that comes from irresponsibility. Your heavenly Father would love to lift that off your shoulders, but it means your truly taking responsibility for your life.

Two challenges

There are two things I want to challenge you to do this week. First, listen to your blame. We all do it, and I'm not asking you to be a better person; I just want you to listen to the words that come out of your mouth as they relate to blame. We are so used to blaming other people or circumstances for our own health, our own well-being, our own education, our own grades, our own job, our own performance. So listen for blame terminology that you say or think.

As you catch yourself blaming someone or something else for something, ask yourself this question: Am I taking responsibility for my life—really? Because wherever you shift responsibility away from you—wherever you blame—somebody else has to pick up that towel or those clothes on the floor. It's not neutral; we live in community. You can go ahead and ignore your health for many years, but why don't you sit down now with your husband or wife while you're healthy and say, "Will you please take care of me when my body doesn't work anymore because I wouldn't eat right?" Go ahead and have the conversation now. See where that gets you.

The second thing I want you to do needs some illustration. I used to do a lot of marriage counseling, and often one spouse would come in the office and start ranting and raving, "My husband does this …;" "My wife never will do that …;" and it would go on and on. I would sit there thinking, This counseling isn't going to be very effective, because the person who apparently needs to change isn't even in the room. So I would get a pad of paper, draw a circle on it, and say, "This is a pie that represents all the chaos in your marriage. Now, 100 percent of the blame is in that pie, because that's where all the chaos is." I would give them the pen and say, "I want you to draw a slice of pie that you think represents your responsibility for the chaos." The piece of pie that that client would draw was never very big, but I would say, "Okay. So why don't you and I talk about just this. Let's talk about this piece that is your responsibility. Let's talk about your slice." You know what? My approach never worked. I could never get anybody to stay on his or her slice of the pie.

So here is what I want you to do this week: As you experience relational conflict at work, at home, with your friends—any conflict of any sort, big or small—stop and think about your own slice of the pie. Ask yourself, What is in my slice of the pie? Have I taken responsibility for my life, really, or am I enjoying the blame game so much that it has allowed me to ignore what I am ultimately responsible for?

I'll close with this secret about relationships: In any relationship, if you can ever get the two parties to own their piece of the pie, you can make progress. But if everybody is focused on the other person's slice of the pie, you will just have chaos. Remember that as you encounter conflict.


God has created you to handle responsibility. You are happiest when you successfully and effectively handle responsibility, but we live in a culture of contagious irresponsibility, so we have got to be a bit more proactive. It begins with asking ourselves this simple question: Am I taking responsibility for my life, really?

Used by permission of North Point Resources.

For DVD of this series useful in small groups settings, see: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=894391&p=1022189

Andy Stanley is the founder and pastor of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The nature of irresponsibility

II. The story of irresponsibility

III. Irresponsibility and blame

IV. Two challenges