IN high school I loved to play basketball. If I had any free time at all it was more than likely spent outside shooting hoops. The only problem was that I lived a good distance from most of my friends so I spent most of the time shooting around by myself. When I wanted to take basketball more seriously I would spend hours at a time shooting around on my hoop or dribbling the ball up and down the street. However, when I got tired or decided I wanted to do something else I would leave my driveway and go on to the next activity. It’s not that I wasn’t dedicated but rather that it was easy to get distracted by other things. It wasn’t until the summer between sophomore and junior year of high school that things changed.
I moved into the same neighborhood that my school was in and started spending a lot of my free time playing basketball with friends. I had one friend in particular who I played with all the time. Both of us played on our school team as well as outside at the park or in the gym. Whatever free time we had, we spent it playing ball. We had even joined the same basketball training camp that summer because playing basketball was all we wanted to do. We both had the same goal in mind: to get better at basketball. When he was tired or he didn’t want to play, I would hold him accountable to meet at the park and practice and he would do the same when I didn’t feel like I wanted to play. When we were both in basketball camp it was the coach and other players that held us accountable to be there running drills or hitting the weight room. We constantly challenged each other to never be satisfied with our current level of skill, but to improve our skill.
It was through my basketball experience that I quickly realized how important it was to have someone hold me accountable. The accountability I experienced in sports was not one that kept me from making mistakes, but rather one that helped me grow towards becoming the basketball player I wanted to be. It was with my early church experiences that my perspective on accountability changed. It no longer included close friends growing with me rather it was with groups of men whose purpose was primarily to keep me from sinning. This was my accountability experience in high school.
If you didn’t have a church youth group, don’t worry, I’ll give you some insight into the experience from my perspective. Usually in these youth group accountability situations, you were assigned a person that you were (supposed) to confess all of your sins with. Letting people know when you sinned was (supposed) to keep you from smoking, drinking, watching pornography, cheating, watching rated R movies, etc. The problem for me was that I didn’t want to confess things I had done to a stranger or even a friend. Me not trusting the person wasn’t the problem but rather it was that I often found this to be very unhelpful. I would go to the person, confess sins, and then go on living the same way. They never seemed to have any plan or advice to help me change. It was either this or they had not gone through the same problems and difficulties themselves. Either way, this form of godly accountability didn’t work for me. This is not my way of saying it doesn’t work, because it may work for some people, maybe most, but for me it did not. Therefore, I would like to propose an alternate way of looking at accountability.
If we are going to discuss what it means to be accountable in a godly way, we have to look at Scripture for honest examples. Before we begin, I would like to remind you once more that I am not saying accountability cannot work with someone who is a stranger, or someone who can’t relate to your difficulties. Whoever helps with your accountability should be there to make sure you don’t mess up, but they should also be there to go through the struggle with you. There are plenty of biblical examples of people holding each other accountable, but I believe the passage I’m choosing to share with you truly encapsulates all the aspects of what it means to be accountable in a godly sense.
The biblical example of accountability that resonated with me occurred between the prophet Jeremiah and the Kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel). Jeremiah was a prophet of ancient Israel, specifically the Kingdom of Judah. Usually when you think of a prophet, you probably think of someone who foretells the future. This was my first assumption of what a prophet is. I thought a prophet was someone who could predict my future, or the future of the world. I thought it was somebody who was given special divine foresight, or who had a sign that said “Fortune Teller” above their door and tried to scam me. However, the prophets of Israel were neither of these. While it is true that many prophets are associated with foreseeing the future, this was not the sole purpose of the Israelite prophets. They were more like social critics. They would foretell the future but their prophecies had a much more important concern.
The ancient Israelites were a unique group of people that found themselves in a strange predicament. Most of the nations that surrounded them worshiped multiple gods while they were only dedicated to one god…or at least they were supposed to be. Their god’s name was Yahweh. Yahweh picked Israel as His chosen group of people to bless them and have them be a blessing to the world (Gen 12:2). He made a covenant (a.k.a agreement) with them which consisted of the Israelites worshiping God only and in return He would bless them in the promised land. Though Israel was Yahweh’s chosen people and His covenant with them was unconditional, the experience they would have in the new land was not. In order for Yahweh to bless them in their new land, they had to uphold certain laws and obey certain commands (Deut 30:16-20). One of these commands, and arguably the biggest one, was that they would worship Him alone. For us this may not seem like a big deal, but for a group of people who are surrounded by nations that constantly worship many other gods and seem to be successful in doing so, this can be quite a hard task. It is because of the difficulty of this task that they had to be kept ACCOUNTABLE if they wanted to uphold their half of the covenant. They needed people who intimately knew their experience in order to keep them focused on their covenant with Yahweh. This is where the prophets came into play.
Jeremiah was called to prophesy during the reign of Josiah, the King of Judah, in the 7th century BCE (Jeremiah 3:6). He was called because Israel had broken their covenant with Yahweh by following other gods (Jeremiah 22:9). Although this might be the most important part of the covenant that was broken, it was not the only part broken. They had failed to uphold many of the other commandments as well. They did not treat the poor with care (Jeremiah 2:34) which was a part of their covenant with Yahweh (Deut 15:11). Jeremiah criticizes them for exploiting foreigners (Jeremiah 7:6) which God had commanded them not to do (Deut 24:17). The list of different broken commandments by Israel goes on and on. Jeremiah, and all the major biblical prophets for that matter, hold Israel accountable while being part of the Israelite community. These prophets are intimately woven into Israel’s life which allows them to speak as a part of the community, not an outsider. Jeremiah is not some stranger far removed from Israel who is only there in order to make sure that they don’t mess up. He does more than just check in with Israel for a moment to criticize them and then go away. Jeremiah is a part of this community and he shares in both their blessings and their curses. We have to remember that Jeremiah was not called to keep Israel from sinning. They had already committed their sins. Instead, he was called to warn them that the path they were on led to destruction so that they might repent and return to following Yahweh.
Jeremiah’s message was one of rehabilitation and hope for the people of Judah. Jeremiah’s vision for Yahweh’s people is that of repentance (Jeremiah 7:3-6). He criticizes them in order to show them how they have gone astray and urges them to turn back and follow God. For Jeremiah, the promise of restoration is the driving force behind his prophecy (Jeremiah 30:1-3). He sees Judah heading on a path of destruction so he intervenes, criticizes, and declares a message of repentance for Judah so they may live according to God’s commands and receive the blessings He has chosen for them. He does all of this while walking with Judah through the heart of the problem the entire time. Whether they were living up to God’s call or completely failing in it, Jeremiah was a part of it.
This is a great example of a person holding other individuals accountable for their actions. Accountability works so much better when the person who is holding you accountable is right there with you. If you are going to be there to hold somebody accountable in a godly way, it is crucial that you are able to experience what it means to be accountable to God yourself. How can you help someone else on their path with God if you yourself don’t know what it means to struggle with faith? I know for me, it is easy to confide in, or take seriously, the criticism of someone else when I know they have been through the same thing as me. So now I urge you, walk with others in matters of faith. Don’t do it alone. We were never meant to live life alone. We all share in each other’s success or failure. Don’t be scared to reach for a helping hand if you’re in a time of need, and don’t be afraid to offer a helping hand to someone who could use the accountability. Christianity is not something that can be done on an individual basis. We NEED others to help keep us on the path God has called us to live. Walk in community with one another, and live into the promise God has made for us. Stay blessed.
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