[Speak] to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
– Ephesians 5:19-21 (TNIV)
It was late at night, yet the household seemed alive with energy. A father, mother, daughter and son were relaxing in an atmosphere not uncommon to the average upper-class American: three cars, two leather couches and a big screen television. He was the pastor of a large, 3000-member church that had hopeful expectations of growing larger. Spending each summer in Hawaii, he had a national radio program and was even slated to be among the leading speakers in the United States. It seemed that the potential was bottomless, and it had already begun to materialize.
Juxtapose this with a visiting college pastor, young in age and naiveté. With near idolization, this young pastor developed an incredibly close relationship with the son of this seemingly famous pastor and was visiting their house this particular night. In the midst of happiness and relaxation, someone asked a question and silence ensued. The young pastor asked, “What do you think of accountability?”
With unabashed conviction, the so-called wise and experienced pastor proclaimed, “Accountability is stupid … you are going to do it anyway.” Within two months the press released lewd pictures of this pastor with his wife and other women, and his life was transported to ruins; he was asked to leave the Church, kicked off many radio shows, and was in marital disarray because of his documented behavior with other women. What happened? Could it be that the age-old idea of accountability is really the main component to success? Yes and no.
Accountability, to this pastor, was nothing more than openness with others: opening up your life, opening up your faults, maybe even opening up your fears. When asking most people what they believe the heart of accountability is, they would argue “transparency.” But isn’t this nothing more than giving someone the keys to your diary? If someone’s idea of accountability is that two or three close friends get together on a regular basis, speaking about their lives with one another, and then go their merry ways attempting to live out their weeks, I would argue that this is nothing more than a pseudo support group.
Is the purpose of accountability communication? Did God give us the weapon of true friendship so that we could learn how to communicate and express our feelings better? I once had a friend who came to our “accountability” group who weekly had sex with his girlfriend. He knew it was wrong, yet he did it anyway, despite our encouragement to abstain. Were we keeping him accountable? We told him to stop doing it, even showing him passages in the Bible that spoke against such behavior, yet he didn’t stop. We were doing everything everyone had told us: share with each other your faults, even your sins, and “hold each other accountable”—whatever that means.
Accountability is intentional submission to another person. Without the component of submission, the idea where one comes “underneath” another person’s requests, accountability is indeed stupid. I would argue that we should instead write in a journal or diary and then give it to someone to read, for that is basically what happens when we just “share” our struggles. Intentional submission says that we do indeed care what the other person says and suggests, and not only are we going to take it into “account,” we are going to strive valiantly to see the request actualized.
Submission in accountable relationships is really a matter of respect and humility. If I were habitually sinning in an area, say physically with a girlfriend, I would respect friends that I knew had my best interests in mind and do exactly what they requested of me. They might mention something like never being alone with my girlfriend until a certain amount of time, and out of respect, I would submit to them and do what they ask. It’s a humility that says I obviously don’t know better since I am sinning, and that I respect my friends enough to do what they ask. It comes from an eagerness to change and be more like Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 (TNIV) says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” This is not only the crucial component to marriage, as the context states, but to any godly relationship. It is similar to the concept of work. We don’t work for ourselves, but we do everything to the glory of God. We don’t submit to others for the relationship’s sake, we do so out of reverence for Christ; we do so because becoming like Christ is our personal primary.
If our concept of accountability is nothing more than telling other people our burdens, trials and struggles, then like the pastor mentioned before, it will become pointless and stupid. The heart and core of this sort of accountability, left to its own devices and not growing any deeper, is fodder for gossip. If intentional submission to one another out of reverence for Christ is left out of the equation of any particular relationship, we leave ourselves open to betrayal and a stagnancy for growth.
Ephesians 5:17-21 challenges us to not be foolish, but to understand what God’s will is: To be filled with God rather than the world, to encourage one another and rejoice in the Lord because of what Christ has done. And to submit to each other. Could it be any clearer? This sort of accountability—with submission—is the key to success for God.