Who Controls Your Butter?

Who Controls Your Butter? Reflections on Spiritual Accountability

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While attending a dinner, the newly elected Senator Bill Bradley asked the waiter for an extra pat of butter. The waiter replied, “Sorry, one pat per person.”

The emcee overheard and demanded, “Do you know who this is? This is Bill Bradley! All-American from Princeton! All-Pro with the Knicks! US senator! Potential president!”

To this the waiter responded, “Do you know who I am?”

The emcee replied, “I guess I don’t. Tell me.”

The waiter calmly asserted, “I’m the guy who controls the butter.”

I owe full credit to the late Howard E. Butt, Jr. of Laity Lodge, who I heard tell this story. Commenting on it, Butt noted that “Even a powerful person needs someone who controls the butter.”

3 Habits of Spiritual Accountability

This underscores the important business of spiritual accountability. In its most basic meaning, it is a personal commitment to account to others for our actions. In order of importance, this begins with God, then ourselves, and then to others.

Spiritual accountability is a personal commitment to account to others for our actions. – Whaid Rose Share on X

#1 – Accountability to God

Our first and foremost commitment is to God: “So then, each of us must give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). It was this commitment that fitted Joseph for the temptations of Mrs. Potiphar: “How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?” (see Genesis 39:7-20).

Daniel, the three Hebrew boys, and others could be mentioned, but we account to God for our actions now, knowing we will one day give an account for everything we’ve ever done, even “every careless word” (Matthew 12:36).

#2 – Accountability to Ourselves

Our next level of accountability is to ourselves. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” That line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet spoken by Polonius to his son who was venturing off from home underscores the beginning place of accountability.

I’m unable to find the exact quote, but Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that in making major decisions, his greatest concern is being able to live with himself (to be at peace with his own conscience) afterwards.

#3 – Spiritual Accountability to One Another

This brings us to what is for some the most challenging level of accountability—to one another within the Body of Christ.

It goes without saying that accountability isn’t limited to Christians. In social systems and organizational structures, “Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result.”[1]

But accountability takes on a higher dimension among Christ’s followers, hence the use of “spiritual.” This is implied in Paul’s reminder that “…if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 15:8).

We Are God’s New Creation in Christ

Our relationship with Jesus connects us to everyone else who has a relationship with Him. As God’s new creation in Christ, we live out God’s original purpose in creation. He created is for relationships, but sin’s brokenness limits the quality of our relationships.

Our relationship with Jesus connects us to everyone else who has a relationship with Him. – Whaid Rose Share on X

However, through redemptive grace, Christ-followers are privileged to live above sin’s limitations: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1).

It is in the context of offering ourselves to God that we also offer ourselves to one another in mutual accountability. It is one thing to account to God; accounting to people we live and talk with adds to it a practical and relational dimension.

We Need People with Flesh and Bones

When the little girl pleaded for someone to stay with her that night because she was afraid, her father’s reminder that the Lord was with her was met with, “I know, but I was hoping for someone with flesh and bones.”

Likewise, as Christians we need people with flesh and bones to whom we make ourselves accountable. We give them permission to say “no” to us. We include in our circle of influence someone who controls the butter!

How this fleshes out in practical terms will be as different as the examples we find in Scripture. For instance, in Titus 2:1-8, Paul instructs older men and women in the church to model good behavior for younger men and women and to hold them accountable for godly living.

But in Galatians 2:11-14 we note a unique example of accountability among peers, in which Paul calls Peter and Barnabas to accounts for their actions in relation to the new Jewish converts. Calling out the hypocrisy of those in our inner circle will likely seem an overreach until viewed from the vantage point of caring enough to confront.

Last but not least, James, in his in-your-face epistle, speaks of a higher level of accountability for those in positions of leadership (James 3:1). To whom much is given, much is required.

Giving Others Appropriate Access to Our Private World

However, to be clear, making ourselves accountable to others doesn’t mean daily confessing everything we do wrong to those around us. That would be tiresome and annoying, to say the least. Rather, accountability is the commitment to not live in habitual sin by giving others appropriate access to our private world.

This requires both intentionality and vulnerability: intentionality because it is something we choose to do; vulnerability because it involves an element of risk and exposure.

Yet it is this element of accountability that makes it so important to our spiritual formation. As Brene Brown insists, “Vulnerability is absolutely essential to whole-hearted living.”[2]

Needless to say, the best example of whole-hearted living is Jesus, precisely because no one ever embraced vulnerability to the degree He did, “becoming sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21), “enduring the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

The best example of whole-hearted living is Jesus, precisely because no one ever embraced vulnerability to the degree He did. – Whaid Rose Share on X

Doing Life Together in Christ’s Body, the Church

Jesus now invites us to take up our cross and follow Him in a life that loses itself for His sake (Matthew 16:24-25). Dying to our sense of self-sufficiency, we learn to “bear with one another in love, with all lowliness and gentleness” (Ephesians 4:2), as we do life together in Christ’s body, the Church.

This is fertile soil for practicing spiritual accountability, where we willingly yield control of the butter in exchange for a life of integrity and unbroken fellowship with God and those around us.

The start of a brand-new year is a good time to reflect on this. And since this is a leadership column, the following quote is a good way to sign off: “A leader who doesn’t take accountability for his actions is like a ship without a captain.”[3]


[1] Bob Proctor, author and lecturer

[2] Brene’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.

[3] John Maxwell, leadership expert.

Whaid Rose

Whaid Rose, former president of the General Conference, is dean of the Artios Center for Vibrant Leadership and pastors the Newton, NC CoG7. He and his wife, Marjolene, live in Denver, NC.