Duty Is Not A Dirty Word (But Deserve Might Be)

An Undeserved Dinner Out
Enjoying an undeserved dinner out tonight, the caption under the smiling couple in the bright booth read.
Correction: Deserved, a friend’s comment said.

It was a sweet comment with kind intent. Completely innocent.

But it still made me wince.

Why Deserve is a Dirty Word for Me

Because if I’ve learned anything on my own clumsy quest to keep a thankful heart, it’s this:

Banish I deserve. Replace with My pleasure to serve.  Or with that line from Luke 17I’ve only done my duty. 

Because I’ve learned that whenever I start to think I deserve- whether praise or a shout-out or a dinner out-I’m heading right for Discontent Falls. Whenever I start thinking relaxation or reward is my right or appreciation or applause is my due, I’m setting myself up for an ugly spill.

Because deserve means worthy and earned, and flies in the face of unmerited favor. Deserve, therefore, cannot coexist with grace. And God’s servants stand in grace.

Because as a servant of Christ, I’m called to be a servant of all. Which means that I’ve got to train myself to replace “Applause Please” with, Just doing my duty. 

Because I deserve breeds ingratitude and God’s Word says ingratitude is a sin (Romans 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:2).

That’s why I wince at deserve.

Owned, Not Owed

Being a Christian means we are owned by God, not owed by God. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ, redeemed from sin at very high price.

No matter how long we’ve been at these works of faith and labors of love. Or how many dinners we’ve served and dishes we’ve washed or how many times we’ve forgiven when we’ve been hurt.

No matter how many years we’ve written the checks or worked the nursery or taught Jr. High Sunday School.

Because all that’s our job- all a day’s work. Because we are owned not owed.  We’ve only done our duty. 

When Pride Rears Its Ugly Head

But the flesh isn’t totally dead. If it doesn’t get us with self-pity when we don’t get the praise we crave, it might snare us with boastful pride.

It can happen like this: You start feel like God is using you, and it feels good, so then you start  to think, “You know, I’m doing okay living for Jesus. There’s some fruit.  I’m helping folks know Christ.  My life is sort of in order, I’m growing in self-control and getting more patient and kind and… Aren’t you impressed, God?”

That may have been happening with the apostles in Luke 17.

So Jesus told them a little story.

We’ve Only Done Our Duty

The parable, found in Luke 17:7-10 takes aim straight at my I-deserve, entitled heart.

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Did you catch the three questions? Jesus meant them to be obvious- no-brainers.

  1. v. 7- Would the master treat the servant like an honored guest, and invite him to sit down to dinner? (No.)
  2. v. 8- Would the master expect the servant to do what servants are supposed to do? (Yes.)
  3. v. 9- Would the master thank the sermon for doing what he was told to do? (No.)

Easy, right? Because most of us don’t have any problem pretending we’re the master.

But, then, verse 10 hits us like a cold shower: So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Defining Duty

Duty is defined as a moral or legal obligation; conduct due. It’s what’s expected of our station.

It’s why we’re not applauded for paying our bills. WeEnergies and Kohl’s don’t throw a party for me when I pay my bills. My boss doesn’t throw a party when I meet my deadlines at work.

Nor should they. I’ve only done my duty.

There’s no fanfare, applause, or medals. But there are a couple big perks for servants.

Servant Perk #1

The Greek word for servant in the Luke 17 story is doulos. 

John MacArthur explains,

doulos was bound to a master and cared for, kept in the home like a family member. He had stability and work to do  there. This is doulos, a bond slave, which meant he was basically attached to the owner, lived in his house, was cared for, provided for… It was a wonderful thing when it was handled well.

By contrast, day laborers would have to hope someone would show up and hire him each new day. No long-term work meant no security and no stability.

So that’s servant perk #1: Servants have steady work and provision.

The second servant benefit is even better.

Servant Perk #2

Servant Perk #2: A servant is close to the action of his master.

In John 2,  when Jesus turned the water into wine, the host didn’t know where the wine had come from. But the servants who had drawn the water knew. They were close to the Master had done the miracle.

Darrel Cook says, In Christian service, when we’re up close to the Master, when we’re right out there where the action is, when he chooses to do something for his name’s sake-we’ll get to see what He’s doing for his glory.

It’s counterintuitive to think that we’ll see God’s glory when we are just doing our duty. But it’s how He designed it.

Oswald Chambers explains,

We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power… and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him. One of the most amazing revelations of God comes when we learn that it is in the commonplace things that the Deity of Jesus Christ is realized.

If we will do the duty that lies nearest- the dishes, the youth group, the forgiving, the patience and kindness- we shall see God.

Blessed are the [dutiful, undeserving] pure in heart for they will see God.

Do You Have A Servant’s Heart?

How can you tell if you’ve got a servant’s heart? If this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus?

I like the answer Lorne Sanny, former president of the Navigators, gave when a man asked him how he could know if he had a servant attitude.

Sanny replied, “By how you act when your are treated like one.

When someone treats you like a servant, do you get offended and think, “I deserve better treatment than this?”

Or, do you say- and mean it- “It’s all good. because I’m an unworthy servant.” 

For a servant’s duties might not be ones they’d pick, or would have imagined. Like what just came at me tonight- recouping pricey Pokemon cards stolen from one son and acquiring an Abe Lincoln hat the another. 

George Eliot was right:  We must find our duties in what comes to us, not in what we imagine might have been. The Master assigns the tasks we can’t imagine.

And, yes. This can be so hard. 

Heavenly Confetti
I feel it too. Because too often after a day at work then helping with homework then dinner and dishes, I do feel like I deserve better. Like confetti from heaven should dump down and we should all hear the thunderous voice declare, “This is my hard-hardworking daughter. With her I am well pleased. She deserves a night out.”
We can’t lose heart. The absence of heavenly confetti doesn’t mean our Master doesn’t care. God is not unjust. He will not forget your work and the love you have shown for His name as you have ministered to the saints and continue to do so. 
And don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return.
We’ve got to keep serving. And waiting.

Blessed Are Those Slaves

Because Jesus told another parable about servants and masters and sitting down to eat. It’s recorded in Luke 12,

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.

We are servants. But our Master also calls us friends.

Kent Hughes says,The eternal marvel is this: God will do for us what our earthly masters will not do. And it’s all of grace. When Jesus returns for his servants, in some sense, he will wait on us.

We- his servants- will sit down at a banquet we have not prepared, nor do we deserve.

Just Doing Our Duty

All of that means that this vapor lifetime is just practice time for God’s servants.

Because when we fast forward to very last chapter of the Bible you’ll find servants serving again. There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.

Forever and ever we’ll serve Him in glory.

And our duty will be entirely our pleasure. 

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

More on Duty and a Poem:

1. Keven DeYoung put together a great list  of dozens of biblical reasons to obey.  Duty is only one. But it’s a good, God-given motivation. That’s why duty is not a dirty word.

2.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention in a post on duty, what John Piper famously called, “that dangerous duty of delight.”

The Bible does not teach that we should treat delight as a mere byproduct of duty. C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote to a friend, “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Yes, that is risky and controversial. But it is strictly true. Maximum happiness, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is precisely what we are duty-bound to pursue.

3. A favorite George Washington quote: The consideration that human happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected will always continue to prompt me to promote the former by inculcating the practice of the latter.

4. A poem.

“When He Comes”

There’s a king and captain high,
And He’s coming by and by,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes…
There’s a Man they thrust aside,
Who was tortured till He died,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
He was hated and rejected,
He was scorned and crucified,
And He’ll find me hoeing cotton when He comes.
When He comes! When he comes! He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
 They’ll be shouting out Hosanna!
To the Man that men denied,
And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.
– French E Oliver, 1921

3 thoughts on “Duty Is Not A Dirty Word (But Deserve Might Be)

  1. Ellie Sikma says:

    Thank you so much for your blogs, Abigail. My husband and I usually read these together. You teach me more of what being a servant of the Lord looks like. I want to be more and more a Godly servant.

    • abigail says:

      Thank you, dear Ellie. Sorry I missed your commend until now.
      That is the best feedback ever. Oh, to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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