The Old Testament brings us a number of examples of complicity. Sarah was complicit in the deception of Pharaoh, tricking him into believing she was not married (Gen. 12). Rebekah was an active accomplice with Jacob in the deception of Isaac in order to gain his blessing (Gen. 25). The elders and nobles of Naboth’s city were complicit in the scheme of Jezebel to charge him falsely, execute him, and obtain his property (I Kings 21). Tobiah and Sanballat were complicit in the attempted deception of Nehemiah when Shemaiah tried to get him to hide in the temple and delay or stop the building program (Neh. 6:10-19).
But perhaps more interesting are some examples of refusals to become complicit in the sinful behavior of others. When Achan took some of the spoils of battle, the Lord punished the entire community of Israel with a defeat at Ai. Rather than participating in his sin or condoning it, when they became aware of Achan’s sin, Joshua, “together with all Israel,” stoned and burned his entire family and all of his possessions (Joshua 7). Likewise, when the Amalekite who had killed Saul (at Saul’s own request) brought the crown and his allegiance to David, David refused to rejoice or become complicit in his act (II Sam. 1). Instead, he ordered his soldiers to kill the Amalekite, explaining with the words, “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.'” In another enlightening passage, there is the story of David’s three “mighty men” who, having heard David’s longing for water from the well in Jerusalem, broke through the Philistine lines to acquire some for him (II Sam. 23:13-17). David, however, knowing that they had obtained it at the wrongful risk of their own lives, refused to drink and poured it out instead, not wanting to encourage such dangerous and unproductive behavior. He refused to become complicit in their sinful actions.
As with every topic He addressed, Christ’s teaching builds on the commandments of the Old Testament, challenging us to consider and obey God’s intentions with our whole being. Speaking to the disciples and the crowd that was following Him, with the Pharisees present and listening, He says:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. . . Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” – Matt. 2-4, 13-15
In this passage, He has both condemned the Pharisees for their complicity in the evil actions of their misguided followers and challenged His own followers to take personal responsibility for understanding and following God’s laws in whatever form they are taught. In Luke 12:47-48, Jesus also adds some new dimensions to the question of knowledge or ignorance in our sin:
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
In addition to the requirement that we act rightly according to the knowledge we possess, there is a call here to greater personal responsibility for taking stock of the stewardship we have been given and preparing ourselves (“get ready”) to use it as God intends. Christ calls us to go further in searching out and understanding the signs of our times and responding to them than we would perhaps care to.
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