Accountability cuts two ways in this passage. First, the familiar pattern for discipline within the church is outlined, which is a means for holding the offending party accountable for transgressions that run counter to the life described by Paul in the Romans texts. Second, accountability calls upon the church to lovingly and prayerfully hold members accountable for their sins. It is this second kind of accountability that is hardest for us. Locked in our false smiles and terminal “niceness,” we avoid a confrontation with sin even if it is killing the community.
There is a connection with Ezekiel’s charge to be the sentinel. If you speak the word, the responsibility belongs to the hearer. If you fail to speak and they go on sinning, bound by death, the responsibility is yours.
Now, surely many will approach this subject warily, fearing witch hunts and the like. We should. However, this text also lifts up an anticipatory tone: “let such a one be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.” Let me see, how do we treat those folks? We invite them to the table. In the act of discipline, the goal is to recover the lost, not to judge. We anticipate reconciliation, and we provide a means for the lost to come inside the walls where it is safe. If we speak, and they do not listen, we hope. If we do not and they fall further into rebellion, shame on us. –– Timothy V. Olson
This prophetic parable takes place in a transitional chapter of the book of Ezekiel and at a turning point in the prophet’s ministry. . . [when] the long dreaded announcement of the fall of Jerusalem comes to the captives in Babylon.
Ezekiel has been announcing the stern words of warning and judgment to those in exile for thirty-two chapters. . . In verses 10 ff., Ezekiel receives a new commission to preach a word of hope. . . Ezekiel is not called to be effective, simply to tell what he sees and hears.
Ezekiel is not assured a warm reception by the people. The sentinel, Ezekiel, and perhaps all who endeavor to proclaim the word in any manner are accountable for what they do. The assurance of Ezekiel’s call to warn of the fall of Jerusalem rested in his trust, in his anticipation that what the LORD said would be true—a promise kept. As Ezekiel turns now to a message of hope, the foundation is the same—anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises. –– Timothy V. Olson
After Paul asserts how we are to relate to the authorities, he narrows his counsel to talk about relating to our individual neighbors. We are to be ultimately accountable only to God. We should not, then, set ourselves up to expect neighbors to be accountable to us. Instead, the rule of love applies. At verse 11, Paul provides the foundation for our action. It is not fear of retribution, it is not earning our points before God, it is anticipation of the new age awakened in Christ that grounds our love. –– Timothy V. Olson
Timothy V. Olson is the Lead Pastor for Mission and Vision at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, Iowa.
Homily Service 38, no. 10 (2005): 3-12.