Word of the Week: Duty

The story is told that during the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson one of his secretaries suggested dropping work for a diversion which he knew would appeal to the President.

“My boss won’t let me do it,” replied President Wilson.

“Your boss?” questioned the Secretary, wondering who could be the boss of the chief executive of the United States.

“Yes, I have a conscience that is my boss,” said Wilson. “It drives me to the task, and will not let me accept the tempting invitation.”

Our word of the week, “duty” has received a bad rap. It sounds unappealing. Forced. Arduous. Onerous. Laborious. Boring. And burdensome.

Yet, a proper, balanced sense of duty drives us to be true to our conscience. Fulfill our responsibilities. Keep our commitments. And grow our character.

The German statesman and writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe expressed it this way: “How shall we learn to know ourselves? By reflection? Never, but only through action. Strive to do your duty, and you will know what is in you.”

Approached in the right way, duty provides for us a sense of equilibrium between working for the Lord with a forced, slavish attitude because we have to and serving only for the opportunity of a reward. Christian Inventor and industrialist R. G. LeTourneau once observed, “If you give because it pays, it won’t pay.”

The servant in Jesus’ illustration in Luke 17:7-10 worked in the field, tending to the sheep, came in and prepared his Master supper without regard to his own personal needs. The servant doesn’t expect to eat first. Or receive any special commendation.

Likewise, Jesus said, “when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'”

Christian duty is exercised because of our love for the Master. For his grace and mercy. And because we sincerely desire to joyfully serve Him and our fellow man. My favorite writer, anonymous wrote, “Duty without enthusiasm becomes laborious; duty with enthusiasm becomes glorious.”

What an honor, pleasure, and privilege it is to faithfully discharge our responsibilities. When every relationship whether in our homes, vocations, friendships or churches is approached with the spirit of delight for duty, it isn’t a burden but a blessing.

Fidelity to duty builds trust in our relationships. Assures dependability. And offers predictability. Family, friends and our brethren know they can always count of us.

Colonel Abraham Davenport, who served during the American Revolution was speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives in the late 1700’s. On the day known as New England’s dark day, May 19,1780, when the sky turned ominously dark, some feared it was a sign that Judgement Day was approaching. So, there was a clamor for immediate adjournment.

Davenport arose and is famous for his response. ”I am against adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.”

The American Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier composed a poem about Davenport and this day that closed with these words.

And there he stands in memory to this day,
Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen
Against the background of unnatural dark,
A witness to the ages as they pass,
That simple duty hath no place for fear.

Indeed, doing our duty calls for courage and conviction. Determination and dedication. Steadiness and steadfastness.

In the words of Helen Keller, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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