Sins of Omission

Preaching and Worship Resources about Sins of Omission

Whether in thought, word, or deed, sins of omission are instances of neglect or evasion of responsibility to God, neighbor, or self.

In Scripture

"You shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. . . . Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" (Gen. 40:13-14, 23).

"They did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of an evil will. So I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not" (Jer. 11:8)

"But my people have forgotten me, they burn offerings to a delusion; they have stumbled in their ways, in the ancient roads, and have gone into bypaths, not the highway" (Jer. 18:15)

"They have turned their backs to me, not their faces; though I have taught them persistently, they would not listen and accept correction" (Jer. 32:33).

"Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear" (Ezek. 12:2).

"Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!" (Matt. 7:26-27).

"Then he will say to those at his left hand, `You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me'" (Matt. 25:41-43).

Good Samaritan "Jesus replied, `A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side'" (Luke 10:30-32)

"Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others" (Luke 11:42).

"Though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened" (Rom. 1:21).

Pay greater attention "Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it" (Heb. 2:1).

"But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act — they will be blessed in their doing" (James 1:22-25).

"Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin" (James 4:17).

"How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action" (1 John 3:17-18).

Points to Ponder

Evasion of responsibility to God, neighbor, or others takes many forms, including mindless obedience to authority. Somebody orders a soldier to "waste" civilians, or a plant superintendent to fire a whistle-blower, or a secretary to destroy evidence, and they obey. They may not like to do it, but they do it. Later, they defend themselves with the standard rationalization: "I was only following orders." Of course, killing, unjust firing, and destruction of evidence are sins of commission. The omission in the picture is a failure "to obey God rather than any human authority" when divine and human orders clash.

Evasion may include mindless conformity to peer culture. If everybody at school parties hard all weekend, then I will too. If everybody else mocks a weird kid, then I will too. If everybody else thinks getting rich is their only comfort in life and in death, then I'll think so too.

Evasion may include conniving — a failure to oppose wrongdoing and so tacitly consenting to it. Officers of manufacturing companies might reject the addition of a relatively minor safety feature to the vehicle they make, weighing the cost of the addition against paying legal settlements to the victims of crashes preventable by that safety feature. Board members know of this gamble and do nothing.

One way to evade responsibility is to go limp, play dead, to do nothing of consequence and to do it repeatedly. Hence lazy bosses and lazy employees, neither bothering the other. Hence endless rounds of videogames, aimless shopping, pointless exchanges on social media. The person who will not bestir herself, who hands herself over to Nothing, in effect says to God, "You have made nothing of interest and redeemed no one of consequence, including me."

An attitude like this is tantamount to simple neglect of God. In Scripture, God is brokenhearted that Israel is deaf to God's call and blind to God's purposes in the world. Israel often turns her back on God. And so do we all. Bad spiritual momentum is a constant danger. Its features are dreary and familiar. For weeks at a time we go through the motions, never seriously attending to God, never focusing on God, never — with all the weight of heart and mind — turning ourselves over to God. The thought that by such neglect we keep on wounding the only Being who loves us unconditionally, the thought that we are deeply entangled not only in our sin but also in the bloody remedy for it — these thoughts become somehow bearable. At last we put them away and sink into functional godlessness. When we are in that state, God does not seem very real to us. So we do not pray. The less we pray, the less real God seems to us. And the less real God seems to us, the duller our sense of responsibility becomes, and thus the duller our sense of neglecting God


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.