Personal Responsibility

Sermon Manuscript . . .

Own Your Responsibility!

Worldview Series

It was the spring of 2006–Jocko Willink, Navy Seal commander, was in charge of an intense operation in Ramadi Iraq. When units were in position and the gunfire started, something went terribly wrong. In Jocko’s words, “All Hell broke loose.” Amidst the battle, confusion arose between units and unbeknownst to them, two teams were shooting at each other–friendly fire, fratricide (the mortal sin of combat).

After the fire stopped and units figured out what was going on, it was too late. One friendly was dead and several others wounded, including one from Jocko’s own SEAL team. Jocko arrived back to base and found this message waiting for him–“Shut down all operations, the commanding officer, master chief, and investigating officer are inbound to location. Prepare a debrief to explain what happened.”

Jocko knew someone had to be held accountable, and at the very least, someone’s job was at stake. There was plenty of blame to go around. It was an aligning of the stars. Multiple units missed directives, multiple men had made grave mistakes that cost the life of a fellow soldier and wounded others. Jocko entered the debrief knowing exactly who to blame. There was one person ultimately responsible.

He stood in front of the commanding officer, master chief, and investigating officer. His seal team also present, including the wounded SEAL. Before anyone said a word, Jocko looked at his SEAL team and asked out loud, “Who’s fault was this?” One of his SEALs immediately raised his hand, stood up and said, “It was my fault. I didn’t keep control of the Iraqi soldiers I was with, and they left their designated sector.” Jocko replied, “No, it wasn’t your fault.”

Another seal raised his hand and said, “It was my fault, I didn’t pass our location over the radio fast enough, so no one knew what building we were in.” Jocko responded, “No, it wasn’t your fault.” Another seal raised his hand and said, “Boss, It was my fault. I didn’t properly identify my target and I shot and killed that friendly solider.” Jocko said, “No, it wasn’t your fault either.”

Then he pointed to the rest of the seals, “And it’s not your fault, or your fault, or your fault either. There is only one person to blame, and that person is ME. I am the commander, senior, and the man responsible for everything that happens, including the death of that Iraqi soldier.” He continued, “After looking at my notes, and reviewing every detail, here is my plan so that something like this never happens again.”

Jocko gave the commanding officer, master chief, and investigating officer a comprehensive plan with constructive solutions for every area of failure on the battle field. He should’ve been fired, but instead his superiors granted him a second chance and more responsibility. He should’ve lost the trust of his fellow soldiers, but he said the event caused them to trust him more. Jocko shared this true story on a TED Talk titled “Extreme Ownership–When a person takes ownership of their problems, the problems get solved.”

That is an incredible statement, so impactful. I thought to myself, “Is it biblical? Is there a biblical principle here to draw out? Is it important for a person to take extreme ownership of their problems? And does it really lead to the problems being solved? Immediately, this parable came to mind . . .

Luke 18:9 to 14, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11‘The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” 13But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ ”

Extreme ownership/personal responsibility is a Gospel issue! No one enters Heaven without accepting full responsibility for their wrongs and crying out to God for mercy. “Heaven’s gate is low–no one gets in without crawling on their knees.” So here are the trends we see today . . .young people want the recognition without doing good, but they won’t accept the consequences for doing bad. Entitlement and blame shifting–how are they related? Both deflect personal responsibility.

Two responsibilities are made very clear in Scripture . . .

1.  We have a responsibility to work hard as unto the Lord and others (Colossians 3:22 to 25)

2.  We have a responsibility to admit our guilt unto the Lord and others (James 1:13 to 15)

Preface, this is not just a message for Millennials and Generation Z–this is for their parents, grandparents, church leaders, disciplers. Let us apply these truths to our lives and teach them to young people so that they might respond to the Gospel, be saved, and grow. So here is a message from a Millennial on personal responsibility. This should be good.

1. Employ a Christ-Centered Work Ethic

Turn to Colossians 3:22 to 25. Colossians is an incredible book. Paul writes to the Colossians so that they would see Jesus Christ as pre-eminent and central. He writes in Colossians 1:10, “I’m praying for you . . . 10. . . so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects.” Jesus must be not only first in our life, but central, pleasing Him in everything we do.

Look at 3:22–this is the section Paul writes to slaves. In Ancient Colossae, most businesses had a two-tier structure, masters and slaves–family-based business passed on from generation to generation. If you didn’t have family business, you voluntarily entered the slave trade for work. And another family who hired you on became your masters. Slaves were considered the workforce/laborers/employees of this time period.

I’m confident that if ancient Colossae had the business structures of today, this section would probably be addressed to employees. Since is this clearly the type of work relationship Paul had in mind, certainly there is application that can be drawn for us here.

Colossians 3:22 to 25, “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth [according to flesh – κατά σαρκα], not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” What is Paul really getting at? Obey fleshly masters, not in fleshly service, but spiritual service.

There may have been a tendency for these slaves to think that their job was not a spiritual endeavor–to separate the spiritual from the fleshly. We have the same tendency, don’t we? Certainly dishwashing and trench digging are not spiritual endeavors. How many in here have dirty jobs? The dirtiest job I had was dishwasher at a restaurant–I would gag washing plates. I remember the distinct smell of salad plates–they were the worst because of the smell of hot ranch.

We can be tempted to think that our job is simply a means to an end–a secular service to a secular boss for secular approval/monetary gain. It can’t be spiritual, can it? No, Paul says, “Obey in all things . . . with sincerity of heart (internal), fearing the Lord.”

There is in fact a direct correlation between your external obedience and your obedience from the heart/your service to your boss and your service to the Lord. Work is a spiritual issue–it’s a heart issue, it’s a relationship issue with the Lord. We must include work as a life category that we bring in submission to the Lord, not separate. Selfish-ambition, love of money, pride, laziness cannot be characteristics of your work ethic if it is a spiritual issue.

I remember interacting with a young person who was sleeping past his alarm and showing up late to work. That wasn’t the only issue–he had a lot of problems forgetting work responsibilities and was on the verge of being fired. He came to me in distress, asking for help. I asked, “How is your walk with the Lord right now?” He said, “Great, man–I’m reading my Bible every day, praying a lot, inviting my friends at school to the church. It’s weird, because I actually feel really close to the Lord right now.”

I said, “Let me clear up the confusion. You are not close to the Lord right now–you are living in ongoing sin. Don’t treat this work issue like it is separate from your walk with Christ. It is directly related to your walk with Christ. Work is a spiritual endeavor. It is a heart issue, related to your fear of God.”

Look at verse 23 to 24, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

All Work–Hard Work–Christ’s Work

a.  All Work

Whatever you do, everything you do–school, sports, tasks, management, sales, paperwork, delivery, interviews, laundry, dusting, picking up the dog poop

b.  Hard Work

Do your work heartily–literally in the Greek it means “work out of the soul.” Again, all work is a spiritual endeavor that requires spiritual exertions and spiritual strength–dig deep, not secondary efforts but primary efforts

c.  Christ’s Work

As for the Lord, rather than for men . . . it is the Lord whom you serve.” One of my pet peeves is when people call ministry the Lord’s work. It is–it is a high calling. But the implication often is that all other work is not the Lord’s work–big misconception! All work, hard work, Christ’s work–whatever you do, do it for Him primarily. He must be the pre-eminent and central motivation for all we do.

Parents, I encourage you to go through this exercise with your children. Don’t separate Jesus from any category of your life. Don’t change the motivation for your kids. Don’t make everything about performance–GPA, playing time, stats, recognition, rewards. Pleasing Christ should be our pre-eminent and central motivation for everything.

It’s a great instructional tool and avenue into Gospel conversation. It reveals the heart. Own your personal responsibility and employ a Christ-centered work ethic.

2.  Embrace the Culpability of Your Error

Take the blame for your mistakes. Turn to James 1:13. Blame shifting didn’t start with the Millenials and GenZers. It started with Generation A in Eden. One man, confronted with his error, blame shifted and told God, “This woman you gave me.”

James first addresses the subject of trials. His audience faces some pretty serious tests to their faith (persecution, oppression, sickness). They are victims of circumstance. But what is interesting is that James makes a point, a definitive point, right in the middle of this section on trials to say, “You may be a victim of circumstance, but you are not a victim in your sin. Your sin is your fault!”

Read James 1:13 to 15a with me. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin.”

I did this exercise with the high school students–let’s try it with you all here. I’d like you to recite this with me, “My sin is my fault.” Don’t blame shift–it’s not someone else’s fault, especially not God’s. If you believe in the God of the Bible, Creator of all things, Sovereign over all things.” All blame shifting ultimately ends up in His lap.

When Adam blamed the woman, he really blamed God–“The woman you gave me.” Think about how wicked that statement was–God gave Adam a good gift, and in one statement Adam shoved it back in His face. “I just got dealt a bad hand–that’s why I am the way I am and do the things I do.” Who’s the dealer? Who deals the hand? Is it not sovereign God, in control of all things?

When we blame shift, along with Adam we inadvertently blame Him. “God, it’s this spouse You gave me . . .  It’s these kids You gave me . . . It’s the teacher You placed in authority over me.” God is not an eternal prankster, out to get you.

My wife and I love those hidden camera prank shows–usually in those shows there is a man behind the camera coordinating all these wild events that scare people. I would love to be that man–that’s why I’m in youth ministry. I get a little taste of that running youth events. God can be mischaracterized as that man. He’s behind his sovereign joystick blessing certain people, and then making everybody else miserable. That is a massive mischaracterization of our God. His will is not our failure–His will is our sanctification.

First Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” Our will is the problem–our will leads us to failure. “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14 to 15). Can’t point to anyone but yourself–James says it even stronger in James 4.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:1 to 3).

You can see James’ finger come off the page and hit you right in your sternum–your sin is your fault. We drastically underestimate the evil within us. Our desires–our lusts–our pleasures–our pride. Proverbs 3:7, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Romans 12:3, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.”

One can deny their personal culpability for sin, but they cannot deny the consequences. Leviticus 5:17, “Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the Lord has  commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment.” Parents, how do you raise your children to embrace the culpability and consequences of their error?

Let me suggest some things that are scary and painful. Don’t set an example of blameshifting. Bad grade? It must be the teacher. No playing time? It must be the coach. Rebellion in the home? It must be the video games. Not getting along with kids at youth group? It must be the youth group. Don’t stand as their spiritual advocate or savior. This hurts, but you cannot save them.

Only God can draw them to taste and see that He is good. You can teach, show, and love, but you cannot justify them. Point them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow them to trust in their parents’ salvation. Don’t jump so quickly to defend a salvation they may not possess. Allow the genuine fruit of their salvation to prove itself over time. Continue to encourage and exhort.

This hurts worse–don’t overprotect them. Allow them to feel the burden, the pain, and the natural consequences of their sin. Sometimes you have to let your prodigal child taste the pig slop. Sometimes you have to let them reach the end of themselves–a hopeless despair, broken, in pieces, so that they will cry out to God for mercy. It’s difficult to watch your children in pain.

This reality hit me like a ton of bricks with my first trip to the ER with Joelle. At 3 years old, my girl had a split chin and needed stitches. She was laying on the hospital bed, whimpering in pain. The doctor comes in and asks if I’d like to step out. “No, I’m tough.” The doctor said, “Okay.”

Three nurses came in and gently put her in a straightjacket so she can’t move her arms. They are laying on top of her (she is freaking out because, like her mother, she is claustrophobic). She is crying out, “Daddy!” It was hard–I almost lost my sanity and asked him to stop. But I knew and had to remind myself he was healing her wound.

Parents, we need to trust God. Sometimes we lose our senses, our priorities go out of whack, family takes priority over Christ and His Church. We protect them from the wounds of others, protect them from their sin, blame others so they don’t feel the weight. We would do anything to take the pain away. Sometimes God is using that pain to bring about healing. We can’t protect them forever.

Show them a perfect Savior. Employ a Christ-centered work ethic. Embrace the culpability of your sin.

About Morgan Maitland

Morgan served from 2015-2020 as the high school pastor at Faith Bible Church. He is now the teaching pastor at Summit Bible Church in Fontana, CA.

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