"Me do it!"
"Do it myself!"
Parents often hear these words when their child is about twenty months old. These first stirrings of self-sufficiency are necessary to help a child mature into a responsibly independent person within the context of interconnected sets of relationships.
Today, however, our sense of connectedness is being distorted despite living in a digitally connected world. We live in a world full of high-tech connections and low-touch loneliness.* We live in a digitally connected world, but we often live most of our lives disconnected from genuine, caring, high-touch community. Because there is so much we can do, learn, purchase, and say on our own with a smart phone in our hands, we can easily lose the genuine touch of people who know the real person we are and not just our online personas. We lose touch with the people at our fingertips because our fingertips live in the world of digital independence.
God's first words to describe our need for high-touch community occur in the beginning chapters of the Bible:
[Then God said,] "Now let Us conceive a new creation — humanity — made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness" (Genesis 1:24 The Voice).
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone..." (Genesis 2:18 NIV).
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. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:8-9).
Reflecting the image of God — Father, Son, and Spirit — we were made to live connected to other people and to God.**
The old wise preacher who calls himself Koheleth says it this way:
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
God created us to live interconnected lives with people who love us and care for us. This is why Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father and live in relationship to each other as brothers and sisters. So the two greatest commands focus on restoring the relationships, the connectedness that was lost with sin: we are to love God with all we are and love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
Church is supposed to be about family, not about being entertained with other strangers in a big box experience. While big group worship and celebration can be a vital part of faith, to lose the intimacy of family and life together is to lose much of the essence of discipleship. Being a disciple is supposed to be about bringing God's Kingdom with redeemed relationships and building a community of character and compassion*** — simply go back and read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 to be convicted of this truth.
Living as Jesus' disciples means we are genuinely connected to others as family and connected to our neighbors by living with them in character and compassion. So for Jesus, this means we are accountable for how our choices, words, and actions impact others with whom we are connected. If we are going to build a culture of honor — whether it is in our family, church, organization, or business — then accountability is a necessary part of the culture.
Notice how Jesus defines five complementary areas of accountability in his discussion of the church, discipleship, and connectedness:
I am accountable to God for how I include others, regardless of their apparent status, so I welcome everyone seeking Jesus (Matthew 18:1-5).
I am accountable to God for how my behavior impacts the faith of those who are new followers of Jesus, so I exercise caution to make sure my freedom in Christ does not cause a younger brother or sister in Christ to stumble and fall into sin (Matthew 18:6-11).
I am accountable to God to notice when someone wanders from the faith and needs to be reclaimed, so I lovingly pursue those who wander away from fellowship with Jesus and his followers (Matthew 18:12-14).
I am accountable to God in how I deal with someone who has sinned against me — my goal must be to reclaim him or her and redeem that person, so I do not try to "get even" with that person (Matthew 18:15-20).
I am accountable to God to forgive from the heart those who sin against me and then repent and come back to the way of God; so I make a commitment to forgive as I have been forgiven (Matthew 18:21-35).
Years ago, an older, eccentric, rough-around-the-edges member of our congregation came up and challenged me. "I wish you would never use the phrase 'member of the church'! Did you know that phrase is never found in the Bible."
I rarely used that phrase, but this was his soapbox. He was a war vet who had lost one arm and two fingers of his other hand in a land mine explosion. So when he explained what he meant, I understood his point.
"You see, Phil, we are members of Jesus' body. So when someone wanders away or leaves or stumbles, we are not losing a club member, we are losing a part of our Body. We are not church members, but vital parts of Jesus' Body!"
We are interconnected. We were all baptized in one Spirit into one Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). What each of us does in our interconnected world — family or Body of Christ — truly matters. It matters not just to me, but to all with whom I'm interconnected. I must not live like my choices are just about me. I must not ignore the struggles and failures of others with whom I'm connected. I must not think my behavior is "just between God and me and is no one else's business." Jesus made clear that I am accountable for including, influencing, restoring, redeeming, and forgiving those with whom I'm connected.
Accountability means that we welcome others as we have been welcomed by Jesus into the family of God.
Accountability means that we do not exercise all of our freedoms because we know our influence can have eternal consequences on others we love and with whom we are eternally connected.
Accountability means that when we sin, wander away, or grow weary in our life for the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ should be there to help bring us back home. It means we notice when folks are slipping through the cracks and don't rely on some church program to go reclaim people we know and with whom we are connected.
Accountability means that we accept the challenging words of a brother or sister who risks violating the niceties of our culture to confront us about our sin and the wounds we have caused them or others.
Accountability means that I lovingly confront a sinful sister or brother in Christ to restore the relationship and not to get even or ruin their reputation. Gossip, innuendo, and personal attacks are ruled out and restoration of the relationship becomes paramount.
Accountability means that we choose to live as authentic disciples of Jesus, people who are the family of God and fellow members of the Body of Christ, who treat each other and deal with each other with character and compassion. Where this kind of accountability exists, a culture of honor thrives.
* This is sometimes called High-tech loneliness. Two Articles to get you started looking into this subject: High-tech Loneliness: How our Inventions Keep us Apart and The High Tech Trap of Loneliness.
** If you read Genesis 3:1-13 carefully, you will notice that sin, at its most basic level, is choosing a thing over our relationship with God and with each other. The fallout shattered the intimacy and connectedness with both and led people to hide in shame from God.
*** Think of some of Jesus' stories and the Lord's teaching takes on even more urgency and clarity. The "Good Samaritan" parable (Luke 10:25-37) and the often repeated teaching about finding the lost sheep come immediately to mind (Luke 15:1-7). And to remind us of the importance of maintaining our connectedness, Jesus taught us to pray:
"forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. ... If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14-15 NLT).
**** For more on the series, Building a Culture of Honor see the following posts: