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"Only our duty"

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 6:41 pm    Post subject: "Only our duty" Reply with quote

Only our duty

The major biblical metaphors for leadership assume responsibility “for” and responsibility “to.” Son, steward, servant and shepherd all convey an intermediary role between God and His people. We are responsible to Him for others. These are all metaphors about work that we do for God. Even “son” is one who represents the Father in his work. (This is all over the gospel of John but starts with Adam, “son of God,” as the Gospels have it in Luke 4:38; cf. Gen. 5: 1-3).

The passage from which my title comes is Luke 17:10, the concluding statement of a short parable on servanthood. When the master of the house comes in from his work, Jesus said, won’t he expect his servants to prepare his meal and get dressed to serve him first? Referring to typical cultural expectations, Jesus went on to say, the master doesn’t thank the servant for doing his job. The servant recognizes his place. “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.’” (ESV)

Jesus was certainly addressing entitlement in this brief vignette. He actually begins with a rhetorical question: “Would any of you…say to [your servant]… ‘Come at once and recline at table?’” (v. 7). The irony of a slave (the word is doulos) asking to be served by his master is the backdrop for setting proper expectations for the Lord’s own servants. Fundamentally, was this about them or about Him? I once asked a Bedouin shepherd what he looked for in his help. “Someone who works hard and does what he’s told.” Pretty obvious but often overlooked.

Plenty of authors have written and spoken on the spirit of entitlement in our age. Those of us who have raised children, pastored congregations or led organizations know that the “serve me first” mentality went viral and we have a pandemic. Some of us would ask the Master to serve us first – and expect a “thank you” for all we’ve done for Him besides!

My reflection has more to do with the concept of duty that seems to have been lost in our narcissist, consumerist, and presumptuous entitlement Geist. Spouses leave each other because they don’t feel love any more. Parents leave children because of their special needs – needs that take parents into a world of self-sacrifice never imagined when “family” was first imagined. Leaders leave their calling when the work has a lot more give than take, and the slow death to self is too much to bear.
In these times of pain and distress we expect some kind of reward. “Thankless” work is not what we signed up for.

Jesus put a blunt edge on the words of the faithful: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”

Eastern cultures have a long heritage of behavior determined by duty. We used to have a stronger sense of duty in the West as well. Coupled with honor, duty still persists in the culture of the military. You can also see it periodically in organizations and communities with strong loyalties to leaders and visions. Generally, however, this is a voluntary posture, one that we feel free to give up if we are not also served in the process.

I trust that this short parable will remind us that duty is at the heart of being in the family of God. He adopted us into his family and gave us work to do. It will take a paradigm shift to move from thinking of a God who is standing by to serve us to being a people who stand by to serve God.

Postscript: Let me provide a special word of encouragement to those who have been hanging in there out of duty, keeping your vows, finishing out your terms, doing the right thing when emotion and energy is long gone. Although we deserve no reward for serving the Master, He has decided to promise one anyway. Not a wage we are owed but a reward we couldn’t earn. For that we should feel nothing but gratitude.

And hope.
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