In a sermon delivered as a radio address for Atlanta’s WERD program while serving as associate pastor at Ebenezar Baptist Church during the summer of 1953, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, “Jesus had within himself a power of personal response which was destined to transform his circumstances.”
‘Responsibility’ is a noun and is defined as the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone. Break the word down and flip it on its head and you have ‘response’ and ‘ability’, or the ability to respond.
In general, Dr. King was addressing the issue of personal responsibility within the framework of “the most common agencies on which we project responsibility for our actions.” He lists environment and heredity as the two most likely suspects for deflecting such responsibility.
In both testaments, the Bible references the concept of ‘responsible’ and ‘responsibility’ some 273 times. In Exodus, concerning issues of justice and fairness, the hearers are warned, “Keep yourselves far from any false business.” The consequences thusly follow: “…for I will make the evil-doer responsible for his sin” (Exodus 3:7). In the context of the Christian attitude toward others and to ensure that we not look on another’s sin more acutely than our own, the Apostle Paul commands that every person be responsible for carrying his own load (Galatians 6:5). And in Proverbs the ‘irresponsible’ person is the one without sense (Proverbs 17:18).
So, what is the believer’s personal response and how do we activate its power? The believer’s response is our mandate at the crisis point and is grounded in our salvation which springs forth as hope. That attribute separates us from those who have no such hope. This hope ushers us into a confidence that all things are working for our good (Romans 8:28). Therefore, we can respond – versus react – to the challenges of life, and we may do so with conviction and without assigning the blame for our circumstances to our environment and or heredity.
In other words, believers do not and should not play the blame game! We have the ‘ability’ of ‘response’ (response-ability) and this makes us peculiar.
Unfortunately, this patently Christian principle is vastly underrecognized in our community and within the larger American culture. Blaming someone or something is taught to us at an early age, usually as a survival mechanism.
In Christ, we see the perfect embodiment of how our personal response is activated. Christ loved his enemies. Christ prayed for his accusers and detractors. Christ did not render evil for evil. When his external circumstances were at its greatest intensity, Christ did give in to them. He did not play the blame game. He did not blame Peter. He did not blame Judas. He did not blame Pilate.
Christ responded from the power of his personal constitution and mission to bring salvation and transformation to his external circumstances and he, through God’s word, shows us how to do likewise.
The believer’s litmus for personal response is littered throughout the Holy Writ.
I Peter 5:7 Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice.
Psalms 121 I will lift my eyes to the hills from where my help comes.
Joshua 1:7 Just be determined, be confident, and make sure you obey the whole Law that my servant Moses gave to you.
There are literally hundreds of other verses that solidify the power of the believer’s response to external circumstances.
What is our challenge? To go against the modern tendency to react to things we cannot control and to confidently respond to those things we can. Again, Dr. King: “And so the challenge which confronts all of us is to respond to our circumstances with strength and courage rather than with weakness and despair.”
This axiom is a two-pronged approach in alleviating justice and for personifying character in our young. When we react with weakness and despair, we lose our power, we give ground to the inevitable consequences which accompany fear. We surrender to the tentacles of fate, much like the gazelle caught within the vicious fangs of the cheetah.
At this writing, thousands of people have perished as a result of a massive earthquake in Turkey and the border of Syria. Hundreds remain trapped under the cruel fate of rubble, but heroic stories are being shared of many people being pulled from under collapsed buildings alive. Surely these souls had hope that someone would come to help.
Likewise do Christians have hope in the power of the resurrection!
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