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Monday, April 15, 2013

Individual Responsibility

By Gerald Cowan
    I heard a humorous story – a true one – about the adjustment that takes place in the life of a retired person. It seems that, after a life filled with responsibilities and demands an older man had finally reached retirement. He soon realized he had too much time on his hands, so he looked  for a way to keep himself busy by helping someone else.
    The first place he started helping was in his wife’s kitchen – probably not the best choice he could have made. To his way of thinking things were not well organized in the kitchen. So he set out to organize it for her. When his wife found out about it she complained and set about reorganizing the kitchen, back to the way she had it and wanted it. A few days later he was at it again, and this time he did an even more thorough job than before – he re-reorganized the kitchen. When his wife saw it she devised a way to stop all such efforts on his part. While he was gone she slipped out to his work area in the garage, where he spent a lot of time fiddling with stuff. She organized  the area and the stuff to fit her standards. Of course he didn’t like it! But he never again tried to reorganize things for his wife.
    The story reminds me of how much we all dislike having people interfere in our lives. Nothing will put us on the defensive faster than for someone to start making decisions for us. Children reach a point where they are able to make decisions and choices and can be held responsible for them. All of us accountable people are responsible for ourselves. That is what accountable means: able to decide and choose and answer for one’s own attitudes and actions (John 9:21).
    We often try doing to others what the man in the story did to his wife. We want to reorganize the lives of others and make sure they recognize their failures. We explain to them what they should and should not be doing. We want to make choices for them in almost every aspect of their lives: family, school, work, society, recreation – and especially in the church. And pretty soon, if they don’t conform to what we think is necessary, we start trying to do it for them. We do this especially with children. It will not work! And it doesn’t take long before they let their resentment show.
    Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying we have no responsibility to point out to others, especially brothers and sisters in the church, what God’s expectations are for them and for all of us. As Christians we have responsibility – God expects us to do it (Gal. 6:1-2). But when it comes to doing or not doing, complying with God’s will or not, and fulfilling one’s personal responsibility, each one of us has to do it for himself. You can’t do it for anyone else, and nobody else can do it for you. Each one bears responsibility for himself (Gal. 6:5).
    Maybe the old gentleman’s problem was that he was retired from his own life and was trying to live somebody else’s life. He was no longer busy about the things of his own life, so he had to find someone else to work on. Actually, if one has eyes to see it, he can work on himself as long as he lives. He can always find room for growth and development, and improvement too.

- Gerald Cowan preaches for the Dongola Church of Christ in Dongola, IL.  He may be contacted at

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