Monday, 29 September 2014

Reasons or excuses?

What’s the difference between a reason and an excuse?

A reason is the explanation why something has happened, while an excuse is an explanation why something has not happened.

For instance: ‘Mr Cameron, thank you for getting to our meeting on time. How did you manage it?’
‘Well sir, I got up extra early and gave myself additional time to get here.’ (Reason)

Contrasted with: ‘Mr Cameron, thank you for coming to our meeting. I’m afraid we started ten minutes ago.’ ‘Yes, I’m sorry, the traffic was worse than I expected.’ (Excuse)

Or another example: ‘I was given the job. The reason I was, was because I was the best qualified.’
Contrasted with: ‘I didn’t get the job, I’m sure I was the best qualified, but they obviously wanted to employ a woman, to make their office look politically correct.’

Reasons, generally, are explanations for why something successful has happened and why the credit should fall to us, while excuses are generally explanations for why failure has occurred, and where we try and shift the blame onto somebody else.

Biblically we see excuses first given in the garden of Eden. ‘The woman you gave me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’

Here Adam tries to excuse his sin by blaming God for the woman he had given her. A very typical excuse. It’s not my fault Lord, its my wife’s. Actually, its yours, the one you gave me, she is at fault.

Here lies many of the problems in marriages - even Christian ones. The husband is unwilling to look for reasons to make the marriage successful, instead he brings forth excuses for why the marriage is struggling.

‘It’s because she’s not a Christian (or at least, not a Christian that agrees me) that we’re having trouble. She doesn’t follow what the Lord explains wives should do in 1 Corinthians 7:4,5.’

This is just an excuse for a failing marriage. Husbands are the heads of the household, if a marriage is failing we husbands are responsible, even if we are not at fault. It’s too easy to play the victim.

At the end of time, when the kingdom comes, and the hearts of all are revealed, the truth is that no excuse will justify our sins. As we stand before Jesus, what’s he going to hear from us? Excuses for our sins, or reasons why we lived for his glory? 

I trust we want him to hear reasons for success. We don’t want to have to give excuses for why the churches we were involved in did not advance, or why our children stopped following the Lord, or why our spouses were unhappy.

Knowing the difference between giving reasons and making excuses helps us understand why things happen in the world. If God is disciplining us, for example, its because he has our good at heart. A good father always disciplines his children if they stray. Attentive and wise children stop and consider the lessons we need to learn from the discipline. Foolish children look for excuses to continue in their sin. They blame God for their problems, just as Adam did in the garden.
And so, as they persist in their sins, the discipline continues, and the problem does not go away.

To put it another way. There is a reason for everything. If things aren’t going well the reason will probably be sin, of one form or another. The solution is to recognise our own part in causing the problem, and repenting of it. Then we will learn the reason for the discipline was because God wanted to get us back on the right path, and we will thank him for his correction.

But if we persist in making excuses we will find that we end up losing the kingdom. Consider, for instance, what happened to Saul in 1 Samuel 15. Instead of destroying the Amalekites and their livestock, Saul kept King Agag alive (probably to obtain a ransom) and he also preserved the best of their livestock. When asked to explain why he had disobeyed the Lord, Saul blamed the people for his sin.

We find excuses everywhere. My child got into drugs at school (well, who sent him to school, or at least, that particular school?) I didn’t get my homework done (the dog ate it). My child got ill (unspoken thought - because God is mean).

But we do better to look for reasons. Why is your marriage successful? (Because I sought, as much as I could, to glorify God in my marriage. I tried, as much as I could, by God’s grace, to be as Christ is to the church). 
Why are your children so well mannered? (Because the Lord said, ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ and so we really strove to train them). 
Why did your child succeed at school? (Because I paid close attention to his friends, protected him from the dangers of the internet by not giving him a computer or internet access phone).

Jesus warns us about making excuses. In the parable of the ten talents, the wicked servant does nothing with his talent, and when he makes his excuse (‘I knew you were a harsh man’) he is not excused by his reasoning, but thrown out of the kingdom. So it will be with all who think God is harsh, perhaps because he’s only given us one talent while others have ten. (Matthew 25:14-30). 

Likewise, in the parable of the great wedding feast, the man who had not changed (repented of sin), who thought he would be fine at the wedding, was thrown out speechless (that is, he could not think of an excuse which would spare him).

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment? ’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22)

So what’s the big lesson in all of this? 

Simply that excuses count for nothing. Excuses prevent repentance occurring and forgiveness taking place. On judgement day they will count for nothing. God’s children must look for reasons to bring their Father glory, not for excuses why we did not.