Jesus said, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty‘ ” (Luke 17:7-10).
The concept of initiating or finishing a task out of a sense of duty is not very common in our self-actualization culture. By self-actualization, I mean that even in our areas of service, the focus is often on us. We would never say it out loud, but even our service can be colored by the thought, “What is in this for me?”
Recently, a high school youth group went on a summer mission trip to participate in a very effective apartment ministry to children. After the trip, the leadership couple and the students sensed a call to start a similar ministry at an apartment complex near their home church. At first, there was a buzz of excitement within the youth group about this effort. But soon the excitement waned and the adult couple and two or three students were the only ones spending Sunday afternoon at the apartments.
What happened? As is sometimes the case in the fickleness of student’s interests, it became uncool to be spending Sunday afternoons with these underprivileged children. Back in their familiar routines, the students found what they considered to be better things to do with their time. And the idea of just doing something out of a sense of duty, whether popular or not, was a foreign concept to most of these teens.
But Jesus lifts up an unselfish dedication to duty, in and of itself, as a valid motivation for doing the right thing. A mom preparing the 20,000th meal for her family, an adult child caring for her aging mother, an unemployed professional taking a lessor job to provide for his family. These are all pictures of carrying on and doing one’s duty.
The concept of duty or loyalty to God is a great motivator for doing the right thing. So when we have done all that God has asked us to do, we can say, “We have only done our duty”; only what is expected of us by our King.