Sooo…Who’s Responsible?

There are few experiences more annoying–even infuriating–than placing one’s confidence in somebody who proves to be irresponsible.

Little things that may not seem that important, when left undone, can become big things in a hurry. Some people go through money as if it were being administered intravenously–whether they have it or not. And even friends can keep borrowed items far longer than necessary, and then return them damaged.

King Solomon said, “Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.” (PRO 26.6) As a monarch who relied heavily on trustworthy messengers, his observation clearly comes out of his own experience.

There is a foolproof test for responsibility–faithfulness, as it is sometimes called.

There is a foolproof test for responsibility–faithfulness, as it is sometimes called. This concept was taught to us by a dear friend, Jerry Smith, many years ago. My wife and I used it as we were raising our children, and I have used it repeatedly with people I have known and served and mentored.  I have never found it to fail, and there’s a reason for that.

The test is like a three-legged stool, the seat of which might represent the character trait of faithfulness, or responsibility. Each of the tests is a leg of the stool–and remember, the tripod is the most stable structure known.

Little Things

The first test is responsibility in little things. Things that are eclipsed by the big things. Things that are mundane. Things that often go unnoticed. Things that are viewed by some as non-essential.

I already know what you’re thinking, because I thought it myself: “Wouldn’t the big things be a better test?”


With the big things–a job interview, a doctoral thesis, a large bank deposit, a high-level competition, a take-off–one is expected to be responsible. There is a lot at stake, and not being prepared, disciplined, or meticulous would result in a life-altering failure that could affect many people.

The little things–the things that may not harm anyone or even be noticed if they are neglected–are the true test of responsibility. I used to ask our children, “If you can’t be responsible for making your bed, do you think I’m going to give you the keys to the car?” I’m convinced some of my friends have studied bookkeeping somewhere along the way.  I’ve asked myself, “If he can’t even return a book, or return it in good condition, am I going to lend him my tools, or my car, or my money?”

Being responsible in the little things demonstrates faithful character. If one is responsible in doing the things that are not noticed, one will also be responsible in doing the things that are.


You knew we’d get to this one, eh? Did you know there is more written about money in the Bible than about any other topic? Surprised? You shouldn’t be. I think there are two reasons for that.

First, we need the stuff. It’s pretty tough to get through even a day without using it for something. There is absolutely nothing wrong with money, or with having it. Money itself is amoral. It’s the love for money that’s the problem.

And that brings me to the second reason the Bible has so much to say about it. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus remarks, “…Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (MAT 6.21) Just after he reminds Timothy that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment,” (1 TIM 6.6) Paul writes, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 TIM 6.9,10)

Take a few minutes and think about all the evils in our world that have their root in the love of money. You’ll be astounded. The Spirit knows our hearts, and He prompted Paul to make a profound observation here. It’s as true now as it was in the First Century. Maybe more so, in fact–we have a lot more to spend our money on, and we don’t even have to have it to spend it.

I am somewhat amused when financial indicators suggest that the economy is picking up because people are buying new cars again and the retail industry is healthy. Both of these industries are credit-based, so the fact that people are driving themselves farther and farther into debt is not, to me, a good economic indicator–even though it keeps people employed.

The best way to learn about someone’s priorities is to read their chequebook. Or their bank statement. How a person handles money is a very accurate test of his or degree of responsibility. Children tend to copy their parents’ spending habits. Teaching them to manage small amounts of money well in their youth will equip them to manage larger amounts well when they’re adults.

Other People’s Property

This test has so many applications it isn’t even funny. I just heard today that our city is concerned about the number of cigarette butts on the ground. This is a pet peeve of mine, and if I were a cop and saw somebody throw a butt on the ground, I’d fine him for the maximum amount for littering. Ottawa’s concern is that the toxic filters–millions of them–are steeping in rainwater and leaching into the water supply. But poison aside, did you ever stop to think that littering is a responsibility issue? I once heard about the manager of a fast food restaurant the hired teenagers during the summer. Before a scheduled interview, he would go outside and spread trash and litter around the place and then stand back and watch. If a prospective employee picked up and discarded the trash, he or she was hired upon walking in the door: “No interview necessary, son. When can you start?” This man knew the value of the third test. The ground is usually other people’s property.

In our culture, time can often be placed in the category of Other People’s Property. If I am 15 minutes late to a gathering, or to a meeting of–say,  four other people–I have stolen one hour of their collective time. If I don’t even communicate that I am going to be late, I show them that their time doesn’t really matter to me. I believe this is a failure of the third responsibility test.

Do you return things you borrow, and do you return them in as good or better condition than they were in when you got them? If you borrow a friend’s car, do you return it with a full tank? When you take your toddlers to another home and they break something or write on the wall, do you offer to make it right? These are tests of responsibility.

I remember when one’s word was viewed as gospel truth. When we sold our home in Nova Scotia in 1998 and moved to Atlanta, I got a glimpse of the difference between how things used to be and how they are now.

We had a hot-shot lawyer in Atlanta who sported a refined Southern accent, big 90’s hair, a chic designer dress, and stiletto heels as long as Pogo sticks. She occupied her own Chanel ecosystem. She passed around so many papers for us to sign, my wife and I felt like we were either at a peace treaty or the merger of two multi-nationals. In the middle of the proceedings, Ms. Lawyah crossed her legs, tossed her mane, and said in her honeyed drawl, “Now, Ah will need the bill of sa-ale for yuah house in Caaanada.”

I gave her a sheet of legal-size paper, printed front and back.

Batting her industrial strength lashes, her perfectly arced  brows raised in confusion, she asked, “Way-uh’s the rest of it?”

“That’s it,” I  replied. “We wanted to sell, and they wanted to buy. We signed here,” (I turned the paper over) “and they signed there.”

Would that it were always so easy. It’s a responsibility issue. A question of faithfulness. It used to be that people were as good as their word. Not any more. So people are always having to cover their bases in triplicate.

Where did these three foolproof tests for responsibility come from, anyway? Well, right from the mouth of Jesus Christ:

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?”                (LUK 16.10-12

Use them yourself–in your home, your church, your school, your workplace. You’ll see that they are 100% valid, and will help you to train yourself and others in the lost grace of responsibility.


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