This sermon is part of the sermon series "Taking Responsibility for Your Life". See series.
In this series we have discovered some things about responsibility and irresponsibility. First, you were created to manage and carry responsibility. Second, your irresponsibility eventually becomes somebody else's responsibility, because we are all connected. Third, we looked at the invisible principle that drives all of this: we reap what we sow.
Today as we continue this discussion about responsibility and irresponsibility, we are going to look at a little story in the Old Testament. This story takes place in the Book of Joshua, chapter 7, and addresses those of us who have a tendency to mask our irresponsibility with prayer. In fact, if you're not a Christian or a religious person, one of the things you might not like about religious people is how they are so holy and always praying. It makes you think, You need to quit praying and just do something!
Another group this story addresses is those of you who have what I call "misguided compassion." Misguided compassion is when you are a compassionate person but you apply it incorrectly. When you see people act irresponsibly, instead of holding them accountable, you think of all these reasons why it's okay for them to have acted that way: Well, he had a tough start; she's not as smart as everybody else in the class; he didn't come from a good home. By this kind of thinking you are actually facilitating irresponsibility.
A third group of people this story in Joshua addresses is the group of people who didn't like last week's message. It's for people who feel like they've sown all the right seeds but are reaping the seeds sown by their spouse or parents or children or boss. These are people who are tired of taking responsibility for other people's irresponsibility, because it's not fair.
The Book of Joshua teaches us about irresponsibility.
The Book of Joshua is about Joshua, the leader of Israel, leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. About 650 years before this story happens, God says to Abraham, "I am going to make you a great nation." God gives Abraham a son, and his son has a bunch of sons, and so the nation begins to grow. God also tells Abraham that he's going to raise up this nation in Egypt as slaves to the Egyptians. The Israelites live under the Egyptians for 400 years until God commands Moses to bring them out. Now Joshua is essentially bringing the Israelites back home where God intends for them to dwell.
When Israel first left the Promised Land for Egypt, they were about 45 people. Now they are returning to the Promised Land with about three million. The process is going to be difficult. The other difficult thing is that the Israelites are going to be taking over a land that is occupied by other people. There's going to be a lot of bloodshed and violence. It's hard for us to understand the God of the New Testament ordering all of this, so I want us to look at Genesis 15:16. This is God speaking to Abraham: "In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
Though this dynamic in the Old Testament might not be emotionally satisfying to us, it is the explanation. There were cultures of people in the Holy Land that were so extremely pagan that God, in essence, said, "I am giving them time to right their wrongs, but if they do not repent, it will be better for these cultures to be put out of existence." These were cultures that sacrificed children to pagan gods and treated women brutally. God gave them time to repent from their evil, and then chose to exterminate them.
So God brought the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, and made clear that he did not want the Israelites to marry the pagans or take their cattle or take their gold or silver. God did not want the Israelites to have anything to do with the pagan people. He is starting something brand new, and the only way to do that was to maintain a completely separate nation with a completely different worldview and a completely different sense of justice. God ordered the Israelites to push the pagan nations out and take them over.
God, through Joshua, is leading the nation of Israel into Canaan, and the first thing they come up against is the city of Jericho. The Israelites win the battle of Jericho, but they had to depend completely on him. The next city they encounter is the city of Ai, but at this point there was something Joshua didn't know. During the battle of Jericho, a man named Achan had not followed God's orders to leave everything behind. Achan had taken some gold and silver he had come upon in the city as spoils of the battle. He hides the treasure under a corner of his tent and keeps quiet. Now they are on to fight Ai, and Joshua doesn't know about the spoils in Achan's tent. That is where our story picks up.
Joshua 7:2: "Now when Joshua sent men from Jericho [because they had just defeated Jericho] to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, 'Go up and spy out the region.' So the men went up and spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, 'Not all the army will have to go up against Ai.'" In other words, these men concluded that Ai would be an easy takeover, easier than Jericho. "So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about 36 of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water."
The Israelites began to question, "Where is God? Where is God?" The defeat of Jericho had been so easy. The battle of Ai had not turned out like they thought it would.
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "O, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?
Joshua is saying that what happened with Ai isn't just an embarrassment to Israel, but it is an embarrassment to God, because Israel represents God. "The Lord said to Joshua, 'Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?'" In other words, this isn't the time to pray! I think that if Joshua were to answer this question honestly, he would have said, "Well, I am pretty much blaming you for all the bad things that have happened." God continues:
Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things [things meant to be considered as sacrifice to God], they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, "Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you have removed them."
Here is what's so big about this little story. Here we get a glimpse into what happens in a community of two, a community of family, a community of a business, a community of a neighborhood, a community of a nation when someone acts irresponsibly. The whole nation is impacted. Israel lost a battle over one man's irresponsibility, or in this case, we can just call it disobedience. Achan knew what he was supposed to do; that's why he hid the gold and silver. So one guy acts up and gives into his lust, and the whole community is impacted.
When you read this story from a human perspective, it seems unfair. Why should the whole nation suffer because of one man's irresponsibility? The answer is this: that's the nature of community; that's the nature of connected people. When one person is irresponsible, not only does he reap what he has sown, but everybody connected to him eventually reaps what he has sown. We see this in marriage: when one spouse is irresponsible with money or time or alcohol, the other reaps what has been sown. When parents don't act responsibly, their children can't help but reap what the parents sow. It just doesn't seem fair. And it's not fair. But it's true; irresponsibility and responsibility are community things. That is why we must become intolerant of irresponsibility.
We can't be tolerant of irresponsibility.
As members of community, regardless of the size of our community, we must hold each other accountable to be responsible. I know we all have different personality types, and some people are more comfortable with confrontation than others are, but the message of this series is this: We cannot be tolerant of irresponsibility.
It's easy to feel that confrontation is unloving, but really, it's the most loving thing we can do. Read the New Testament and see how Jesus confronted people. Confrontation is part of spirituality, and the best thing you can do for an irresponsible person—for his sake and for yours and for the community's—is to refuse to put up with his irresponsibility. Otherwise, what is rewarded, or ignored, is repeated.
Ask yourself these questions: Am I taking responsibility for my life—really? And in the network of people whose irresponsibility may impact me, am I willing to step up and confront their irresponsibility—really—before it becomes my responsibility?
You can read the rest of the story in Joshua for yourself, but here is what happens: Joshua does exactly what God says to do. He quits praying; he doesn't even say Amen. He stops hiding behind his prayers. He sends a search party through the camp and finds Achan's gold and silver. They put it back in Jericho where it belongs, and they punish Achan as an example to the rest of the nation. They attack Ai, and they move on from there.
We must take action and be willing to confront.
So here is the question for us: First of all, to all of us religious people, are you hiding behind your prayers? Are you praying when you need to stand up and do something? Have you been praying about the same thing over and over, and it's time to stand up and do something? This might be helpful to you: If God has already addressed what you're praying about in his Word, then you don't have to pray about it. And you don't have to pray about being honest; just go ahead and be honest. You don't have to pray about being faithful to your husband or wife; that's covered in Scripture. There are a whole bunch of things you don't have to pray about; you just need to get off your knees and take responsibility for your life.
Another way you can know whether you need to pray or act is this: if you are trying to pray your way out of something you have behaved your way into, it's time to stand up and do something. Sure, it's not going to hurt you to pray, but you must also take action. If you are substituting prayer for taking responsibility for your actions, that just means you are an irresponsible person who prays. If you have been abusing your credit cards and have given nothing and saved nothing, go ahead and pray about your financial situation if you want, but I have a feeling God is not going to answer your prayer until you stand up and do something about the credit cards and the habits.
Are you taking responsibility for your life—really—or are you hiding behind your prayers? If someone heard the things you pray about, would they be frustrated by your lack of effort towards those things? If you're praying for your kids but not engaging with them, it's time to stand up and do something. If you're praying for a job but not actively investing yourself in the job search, it's time to stand up and do something.
Another question I have for you is this: Are there irresponsible people in your circle or network whose irresponsibility is impacting you, but you're afraid to confront them? Are you compensating for irresponsibility? God bless you that you have a compassionate heart; God bless you that you're able to factor in all the dysfunction in their background. That's a wonderful gift. But ignoring their irresponsibility is a lose-lose situation. It doesn't help them, and it doesn't help you. We can look at any individual and spin a web to explain his behavior so that we get to thinking his behavior's okay, but the truth is that irresponsibility creates conflict within a person, and irresponsibility creates conflict within a community. The answer is not simply to pray or have pity on someone; the answer is to address irresponsibility.
As Christians, we should be the most responsible people on the planet. We should be the ones who are fearless in our willingness to confront irresponsibility in our community, because we are supposed to love one another. Confronting irresponsibility helps the person being irresponsible as well as his or her community.
Are you taking responsibility for your life—really? Or are you hiding behind your religion, your prayers, or your misguided compassion? Perhaps today God will whisper in your ear: Stand up, stand up. What are you doing down there on your knees? Go and take responsibility for your life—really.