December 18, 2021

Obedience and Duty

Are they still relevant today?

Hyveth Williams

The importance of duty is found in Luke 17:7-10. It's one of the most obscure parables of Jesus with golden lessons we need right now amid the chaos in our world communities. It contains the only recorded instance in Scripture where Jesus used the word “Duty” (verse 10); but it’s so comprehensive that nothing more needs to be said to recognize His high regard for duty.

Here’s the pièce de résistance, the remarkable feature, in which Jesus said that if you have a servant in the field doing his job and he comes in at suppertime, you don't make a big fuss over him as if you were his mother. You don’t tell him to wipe his feet, wash his hands, and sit down while you fix his meal because, “Does the master thank his slave for doing what he was told to do?”1 The answer is, “Of course not!”

If that seems harsh, it’s only because we read it as an unjust relationship between a master and slave in a modern setting. This isn’t about kindness to servants, but our “duty” to do what Christians are divinely called to do. As long as we fulfill our obligation in this relationship, it’s our responsibility, our duty, to do what we're commanded, without expecting to be showered with praise.

We have all kinds of relationships in life that involve obligations, such as duty to God, family, church, neighbor, employer, nation, and so forth. These duties are basic in human relations, and we’re expected to fulfill them without patting ourselves on the back, thinking we’re great, or expecting others to reward us for doing them. In other words, if you take care of your family, don't expect a write-up in Time magazine. It’s your duty. Don’t expect a thank-you card if you pay your taxes. It’s your duty. If you don’t run over anyone on the highway or receive traffic violations, don’t expect the DMV to send you a medal of honor. It’s your duty to drive safely and carefully. Don’t expect rewards for doing what is your duty in any area of life. 

 Jesus emphasized this because He knows the heart of humans, especially its susceptibility to that cancer of the soul called pride. Thus, He gave this warning against pride and the danger of thinking we can put God in our debt by what we do. Remember that everything God commands is our duty, but as Ellen White asserted, “Whatever God should command, He would make a way for [enable] His people to perform.”2 So don’t expect any thanks or rewards, and don’t even think that God owes you anything. 

Obedience, aka doing our duty, is the foundation of our life in Christ. We haven’t even started to build a Christian life until we’re settled on that point; but because we’ve buried this truth, our life, community, and society are in chaos, coming apart at the seams. Everyone is demanding their rights and rewards, but they dodge their responsibilities of obedience to divine commands. These things we ought to do without expecting rewards, but some get very bitter if or when they’re not given public applause.

In this time of chaos in every community, because of disobedience to our divine duty, Jesus is saying that duty can be dull; but to dodge it isn’t only dangerous, it’s deadly. 

Therefore, let’s love one another in the same way Christ has loved us, for this duty fulfills every command.            

Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.

1 Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.  

2 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), p. 482.