Mark #16: Accountability
The apostle Paul warns the Christian community against the evil of judging one another concerning certain doubtful or debatable practices151 where one Christian holds one opinion and another a different opinion. He then concludes this portion of his argument with a reminder of every Christian’s accountability at the Judgment Seat of God. He writes:
But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or again, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God.” 12 Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:10-12)..
The stark reality of Scripture is that every person, Christian and non-Christian, is accountable before a sovereign God (see Rom. 3:9-19) and will one day have to bow before Christ (Phil. 2:9-11). Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked” (Luke 12:48b). Many reject this declaration of Scripture by all manner of human rationalizations and bias, but their rejection cannot alter the reality of accountability.
Jesus emphatically taught that a day of judgment is coming when every person will have to give an account. For instance, in a context where the Pharisees had spoken evil of Jesus by attributing His miracle to Satan, Jesus condemned them as a brood of vipers who could never say anything good since their hearts were evil. He then went on to make the point that people are responsible for all their actions and words, which will acquit or condemn them on the day of judgment. In Matthew 12:36 He said, “I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak.”
Unfortunately, however, man is a rebel who wants to do his own thing without any or very little accountability for his actions. Since the fall of man (Gen. 3), this has been the case, but a worldwide phenomenon of our day is a defiance of any form of established authority whether religious or secular, social or political. This sad reality has colored the beliefs and actions of our present society worldwide. Without a sense of accountability to a sovereign God, the world can quickly gravitate in the direction of the ruthless acts and tyranny of people like Hitler. When God either does not exist in the beliefs of men or when the truth about God is distorted into man’s own image of who and what God is like, everything is permitted, morally speaking.
Today, we live in a time when, having fundamentally rejected the absolutes and clear teachings of Scripture, man seeks to make God accountable to him for his comfort and pleasure. Thus, people are not only doing what is right in their own eyes, but the prevailing attitude is ‘Do your own thing. You are only accountable to yourself and your own self-fulfillment.’ This is a shift from a God-centered perspective of life to a man-centered perspective. This is all part of man’s attempt to dismiss any accountability to God. The reality is that when men seek to ignore accountability to God and others, they leave themselves vulnerable to the cold misery of slavery and eventually to the menace of a dictator.
Accountability to God and to one another according to the directives of Scripture is the foundation for freedom and liberty. But what is true freedom and wherein lies its source? Freedom is not the right to do as one pleases as a capricious child. Certainly it means the capacity to exercise choice, but never so that it is devoid of responsibility or accountability. Freedom is both the responsibility and the ability, by the grace of God, to do what is right according to the absolute and righteous standards of truth as given to us in God’s Holy Word. Many see freedom as the right to abandon accountability to God and men in order to do what they please in the promotion of self gratification. But that is not freedom. It is slavery, or at least leads to slavery. Speaking of false teachers who either twist Scripture to their own self-centered objectives or deny its authority altogether, Peter writes, “…promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19). Beliefs or one’s world view always has consequences. It is like a train which is free to do what it was created to do as long as it is on its track.
Accountability is one of the means God uses to bring about solid growth and maturity with the freedom to be what God has created us for. But as we’ve just stressed, the problem is that we live in a society that has become very individualistic. The prevailing attitude is be your own man or woman, do your own thing, be your own boss, and often this attitude is promoted or stated in a way that undermines accountability to God and others. The Bible in no way denies our individualism. Indeed, it promotes it, but in a way that holds us each accountable to others. Proper individualism leads to a certain amount of inventiveness, ingenuity, and freedom, but it can also breed license and irresponsibility without accountability. The fact is you can’t make disciples or produce growing and mature Christians without accountability.
So again, true freedom is not the ability to do as one pleases, which is license, but the power by God’s grace to do as one ought. But what do we mean by accountability?
The Meaning of Accountability, What it is
By accountability, we are not talking about coercive tactics, the invasion of privacy, or bringing others under the weight of someone’s taboos or legalism or manipulative or dominating tactics. Rather, by accountability we mean developing relationships with other Christians that help to promote spiritual reality, honesty, obedience to God, and genuine evaluations of one’s walk and relationship with God and with others. We are talking about relationships that help believers change by the Spirit of God and the truth of the Word of God through inward spiritual conviction and faith.
Being what we are, sheep that are prone to wander, accountability to others is simply one of the ways God holds us accountable to Him. Left to ourselves, there is the great temptation to do mainly what we want rather than what God wants and what is best for others. So what is meant by accountability? We are talking about teaching, exhorting, supporting, and encouraging one another in such a way that it promotes accountability to Christ and to others in the body of Christ, but never by manipulation or domination.
The Necessity of Accountability, Why we need it
In his book, The Disciple Making Pastor, Bill Hull writes about the need of accountability in the disciple-making process. He says,
To believe you can make disciples or develop true maturity in others without some form of accountability is like believing that you can raise children without discipline, run a company without rules, or lead and army without authority. Accountability is to the Great Commission what tracks are to a train.152
So, what are some of the reasons for establishing some form of accountability?
(1) Accountability is an essential part of a functional society. But even more importantly, the prototype for it is the Triune Godhead itself. Though the members of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are co-eternal and co-equal, each being God of very God, Scripture gives evidence of an accountability that exists within the Godhead. From the standpoint of the Holy Spirit, this is seen in the truth of the procession of the Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son to believers (see John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). The Spirit accepts His role as the Enabler or Comforter to come and indwell believers of the church age. As to the Son, He accepts His role as the suffering Savior of the world first by becoming true humanity that He might die for our sin and then as our Advocate sit at God’s right hand, etc. (see Phil. 2:5f; Heb. 10:5-10; Rom. 8:34f). But this accountability of the Son is also seen in Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 3:23; 11:3, and 15:24-28.
And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
This in no way implies that the Son is inferior to the Father. Rather, it shows that when death is conquered at the close of the Millennium, then all things will come under the administration of the triune Godhead. This concept is illustrated in a corporation in which there are three equal owners, but for the sake of the orderly function and effectiveness of the company and by the agreement of each partner, one is elected president of the company with other two serving as vice presidents. Each has different roles and responsibilities and the things they are accountable for.
(2) Accountability helps to promote biblical controls or checks and balances. It provides the necessary discipline and support needed to see people reach godly goals. While we are all ultimately accountable to God, as stressed in Romans 14:7-12, God has established other levels of accountability to aid us in the matter of control, support, and growth.
God has given the Word and the Holy Spirit as His agents of control to help provide direction and controls on our lives, but accountability to other believers becomes another key instrument to aid in bringing about self-discipline and inner controls.
(3) Accountability is necessary because like sheep we tend to go our own way. We are all self-willed. We want to protect our comfort zones and avoid having to deal with certain issues that are important to becoming obedient Christians, which is one of the goals of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Making disciples means teaching others to obey the Lord and this is very difficult without some measure of accountability. Accountability is part of the means God uses, as will be demonstrated below.
(4) Accountability promotes servant-like leadership in keeping with the pastoral mandate to watch over the flock (Eph. 4:11f; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). One of the key requirements of a servant leader is faithfulness to the things entrusted to him (1 Cor. 4:1-2). So, in 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul told Timothy to entrust what he had learned to what kind of men? To faithful men. The fact he was to selectively train only faithful men suggests accountability. Is it not a strange paradox that we generally accept accountability in most aspects of life as something which is necessary, but when it comes to the body of Christ, many fight accountability, especially, if it begins to affect their comfort zones or their self-willed agendas.
(5) Accountability is protective to both leaders and to the flock. The biblical model for church leadership is a collective leadership of elders which provides a structure for genuine accountability.
Shared, brotherly leadership provides needed restraint on pride, greed, and “playing,” to quote Earl D. Radmacher,… Human leaders, even Christian ones, are sinners and they only accomplish God’s will imperfectly. Multiple leaders, therefore, will serve as a ‘check and balance’ on each other and serve as a safeguard against the very human tendency to play God over other people.”153
Shared leadership provides close accountability, genuine partnership, and peer relationships—the very things imperial pastors shrink from at all costs.154
As to the flock, Hebrews 13:17 tells the flock to submit to their leaders because they keep watch over the souls of God’s people. People too often understand this primarily in a negative way, but keeping watch not only means correcting people when they fail to walk with the Lord, but helping them to do so. As will shown below, the goal of accountability is not riding herd over people like a task master—something completely contrary to Scripture. Rather, the goal is to help people grow in Christ and learn to find Him as the source and force and course of life.
The Justification for Accountability, It is biblical
There are numerous New Testament passages which teach the concept of accountability of the flock to the leaders (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:1-5; Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). But the elders are limited in their capacity to effectively promote accountability throughout the body of Christ. As the Lord was focused on only a few, the twelve and then the three, so the leaders should follow his example. The need for accountability goes beyond the leadership and falls into the realm of the “one another” concept of the New Testament.
and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
First, it should be noted that “submitting” is the fourth in a series of adverbial participles. These can be detected in most translations by words that end in “ing” beginning with verse 19. These participles are best understood as expressing the results of the filling by means of the Spirit (vs. 18). Submission, which certainly includes accountability, is applied to the whole body of Christ as a Spirit-produced and mutual responsibility to promote obedience to Christ.
“Submitting” is hupotasso, a military word used of soldiers submitting to their superior or slaves submitting to their masters. In the middle voice as here, it carries the idea of voluntarily submitting or subordinating oneself. As a specific application of the various areas of accountability, hupotasso is applied in relation to God in 1 Corinthians 15:28, Hebrews 12:9, and James 4:7, to Christ in Ephesians 5:24, to wives in Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, and 1 Peter 3:1, to parents in Luke 2:51, to masters in Titus 2:9 and 1 Peter 2:18, to secular authorities in Romans 13:1, and in a general sense of a voluntary submission to others in the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 16:16, 1 Peter 5:5, and here in Ephesians 5:21. Included in the word ‘submission’ are the ideas of authority and accountability to another. “In Scripture it appears in contexts describing servanthood, humility, respect, reverence, honor, teachableness, and openness”155 and I might add, accountability. But we should quickly add that such submission or accountability is to bring about greater and greater obedience to the Savior as those first and foremost accountable to Him.
1 Peter 5:5
In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
In 1 Peter 5:5 we again meet with the word hupotasso. Here it is applied to younger men with older men of wisdom. But if accountability is going to work, there must be genuine humility toward one another (vs. 5b). Further, accountability with humility is related to humbling ourselves under God’s authority—its goal is becoming accountable to God.
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.
Verse 11 uses two more terms which show the emphasis in the matter of accountability as believers minister to one another. “Encourage” is the Greek parakaleo. It means “to call along side to help, to enable, to comfort, exhort, encourage.” It is the verb form of the word used of the Holy Spirit as the comforter, encourager, helper, enabler, but the verb may also contain the idea of “exhort, appeal to, or challenge” to a certain behavior as in Romans 12:1; 15:30; 16:17. “Build up” is oikodomeo, “to build up, edify,” or “to restore, repair.” Accountability to one another always has as its goal the restoration and edification of others in their relationship with the Savior because we are all accountable to Him.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 (see also Heb. 13:7, 17)
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all.
Verses 12-13 naturally point to a dual accountability. First, there is that of the leadership whom God holds responsible to care for His flock (Heb. 13:17). Then there is responsibility of the flock to submit to the leadership. These leaders, like shepherds, are responsible for the spiritual well being of the local church.
Verses 14-15 move us to the whole body and point to three methods by which we may help one another remain accountable to the Lord: by warning, encouraging, helping, and to three distinct need groups: the undisciplined, the discouraged, and the weak. From these verses we see how accountability has many faces or aspects as we learn to reach out to one another, but the goal is being accountable to the Lord by helping one another relate our lives to Jesus Christ by faith. Finally, this entire passage which deals with accountability concludes with a general application to all, “be patient with all men” followed by a warning in verse 15 that includes the goal or objective, seeking the good of others.
As seen in the previous study on Teamwork, 1Corinthians 12:20f teaches Christians are members of one body, not independent agents. In that regard, we are responsible to each other within certain limits. The Lord is the head of the body and that includes each member, but He works through the various members of the body and accountability to one another is one of the ways He holds us accountable to Him.
Illustrations and Types of Accountability
Within the church, the body of Christ, their are a number of illustrations of the form in which accountability make take shape in the process of making disciples.
(1) Paul with Timothy and Titus. If we each had a Timothy or a Titus, someone we are giving ourselves to, someone we are helping to grow, someone we are responsible for and who is responsible to us, certainly we would see a great deal more spiritual maturity and obedience.
(2) Paul and Barnabus. Paul had a Barnabus (a son of encouragement) with whom he could identify. Paul could go to him with problems and discouragement. He was someone with whom he could pray, or from whom he could get counsel, guidance, and encouragement. He was someone to give another viewpoint or perspective. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
(3) A team or small group. This is not just a prayer group or a Bible study, but a small group of men or women with whom to interact, share ideas, pain, burdens, and victories. It is a small group like the disciples of the Lord or like a board of elders, those with whom we can pray and discuss the Word together without fear of rejection.
(4) Marriage illustrates another place where accountability takes place. If we are married we need to develop our relationship with our spouses so we can share our problems and concerns with each other, discuss them, and get honest input without fear of rejection.
(5) The local church. The local church consists of overseers, those who are to be responsible for and accountable to the flock, and there is the flock, those who are to be accountable and responsible to their leaders as Hebrews 13:17 teaches.
(6) The Godhead. Finally, The Son Himself, though God of very God, is subject to or accountable to the Father (1 Cor. 11:3; 3:23; 15:24-28).
With this in mind, it would be well to think about how one can implement this more in one’s own ministry. Mini-flocks provides an opportunity and team training another, but surely we need more accountability. One method is the buddy system where believers divide up into smaller groups of two or three who regularly meet for fellowship and input together.
Biblical Ways to Promote Accountability
An important question is what happens (or should happen) when a small team meets together?
Goals and objectives to promote Christ-like growth in measurable ways:
Meeting together is not just a time when good old boys meet to talk about fishing, football, or chew the fat. Here are some suggestions.
(1) Study: Part of the time should be spent around a portion of the Word, thinking together about what it means and how it applies.
(2) Prayer: This means it will be a time when the team shares needs and concerns. Pray together when you meet and covenant to pray for each other during the week.
(3) A schedule: Develop a schedule to give guidance in the use of time with the Lord, family, church, the team, etc.
(4) Report: Part of the team’s time should be spent sharing how each member has been doing—the battles, victories, problems, temptations, etc. How each one has been able or not been able to keep to their schedule, prayer time, study, etc.
Some guidelines and warnings:
(1) Be honest and humble about struggles. Watch the tendency to protect those comfort zones and layers of self-protection.
(2) Be patient, and understanding. Don’t come across as condemning. Maintain a spirit of acceptance of the other person. This does not mean there can’t be challenge, exhortation, and even rebuke, but it must be done in love and with patience and acceptance.
(3) Guard your tongue. In keeping with the biblical goal, guard against gossip and being critical. What is shared must be kept in strict confidence. Each person needs to know they can trust the others. (Prov. 16:27; 17:4, 27; 18:8, 21; 21:23; 26:30).
(4) Be faithful or dependable. Do the study or other assignments, show up, follow through.
It was Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, who said, “Every man should have three individuals in his life: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.”156 Naturally, this is applicable to both men and women, but for reasons of maintaining moral purity and to avoid temptation, such should be of the same sex. Hendricks continues:
A Paul is an older man who is willing to mentor you, to build into your life. Not someone who’s smarter or more gifted than you, but somebody who’s been down the road. Somebody willing to share his strengths and weaknesses—everything he’s learned in the laboratory of life. Somebody whose faith you’ll want to imitate.
A Barnabas is a soul brother, somebody who loves you but is not impressed by you. Somebody to whom you can be accountable. Somebody who’s willing to keep you honest, who’s willing to say, “Hey, man, you’re neglecting your wife, and don’t give me any guff!”
A Timothy is a younger man into whose life you are building. For a model, read 1 and 2 Timothy. Here was Paul, the quintessential mentor, building into the life of his protg—affirming, encouraging, teaching, correcting, directing, praying.
Do you have these three guys in your life?157
In view of the fact the Christian life is a spiritual warfare, the following is a great illustration of the importance of having someone to accountable to.
In 1967 we were at war with Vietnam. And there I was, at the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was brutal.
I can still hear the raspy voice of the sergeant: “We are here to save your lives. We’re going to see to it that you overcome all your natural fears. We’re going to show you just how much incredible stress the human mind and body can endure. And when we’re finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army’s best!”
Then, before he dismissed the formation, he announced our first assignment. We’d steeled ourselves for something really tough—like running 10 miles in full battle gear or rappelling down a sheer cliff. Instead, he told us to—find a buddy.
“Find yourself a Ranger buddy,” he growled. “You will stick together. You will never leave each other. You will encourage each other, and, as necessary, you will carry each other.” It was the army’s way of saying, “Difficult assignments require a friend. Together is better.”
Who’s your “Ranger buddy”?158
Appendix: Discussion Questions for Marks of Maturity
MEN 7/52 is a men's ministry of bible.org. Our desire is to see all men become true followers of Jesus Christ 7 days a week/52 weeks a year.
These studies were developed in a team training environment where men were being trained for their role as church leaders, as fathers, and as effective members of a society that desperately needs to see what authentic, biblical Christianity looks like. So, exactly what does a mature Christian look like? A mature Christian is a believer whose life begins to take on the character of Christ-likeness. But what exactly is that? What are the specific qualities that mark out a person as Christ-like? This is the focus and point of this study.
The qualities that should characterize Christian leaders are also the marks of spiritual maturity as described in the Bible. While all of the qualities that will be discussed in this series are not unique to Christianity and are often promoted and taught in the secular world, many of them are, by their very nature, distinctive to the Bible or biblical Christianity. Thus, the characteristics that should mark out a Christian leader are also the marks of biblical maturity which are in essence the product of true spirituality. In fact, biblical spirituality can be described by the term maturity since Christian maturity is the result of growth produced by the ministry of the Spirit in the light of the Word over time. It is this biblical/spiritual element, at least in part, that makes the marks of Christian leadership distinctively Christian.
1. Describe the result of either unbelief in God, or a distorted understanding of His truth.
2. What is the foundation for freedom and liberty?
3. How is freedom defined in the text?
4. Having read the text, how would you define accountability in your own words?
5. What should be the fruit of our Christian relationships?
6. In examining the five reasons for establishing accountability, please describe, in your own words, its impact in the following assertions:
- It is an essential part of a functional society.
- It helps promote biblical controls, checks, and balances.
- It is necessary because, like sheep, we tend to go our own way.
- It promotes servant-like leadership in keeping with the pastoral mandate to watch over the flock.
- It is protective to both leaders and to the flock.
7. Besides submitting to our authorities, the bible calls us to submit to one another. Please read the following verses and describe how you would practice their principles in your own life.
- Ephesians 5:21
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
- 1 Peter 5:5
In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all.
- Hebrews 13:7 and 17.
Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. (v. 7)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you. (v. 17)
8. Who occupies a role in your life similar to Paul’s role in mentoring Timothy and Titus? If you do not have someone like this in your life, then explain why? If you do, describe your relationship with him in detail.
9. Who are the men in your life with whom you have “Paul and Barnabas” type relationships? Please describe in detail.
10. Describe the ways in which you are held accountable in the following:
- Your small group
- In your marriage
- As a member of your church
- With the triune God
11. To whom do you confess and reveal your deepest struggles, challenges, anxieties, and sins?
12. How does this person help you overcome your shortcomings and grow in your walk with Christ?
13. If you do not have a person like this in your life, what will you do, beginning now, to find him and ask for an accountability relationship?
- What is the most difficult obstacle in your character that hinders you from seeking true biblical accountability?