Number three in a Sunday series on virtue
The oath of the Boy Scouts of America reads,
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
This quote is probably the best application in words of what the virtue of duty requires of anyone, even if they aren’t a boy scout. Duty is defined in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary in many ways as the word can even mean a form of import tax.
However, as it applies to individual action, Merriam-Webster defines duty concisely as,
…a moral or legal obligation
In other words, it is conduct that one does out of a sense of responsibility and commitment to what one believes is right and moral. The Boy Scout oath is a good framework for examining dutiful action.
Duty to God
The ultimate duty to recognize is the duty to God. It is first in both order and importance.
Today it is also the least recognized duty among the populace. One metric that is relevant here is church attendance in the nation.
The Barna research group reveals that the vast majority of Americans identify as Christian. Similar numbers also state that their faith is important or very important in their lives.
However, as the saying goes, ‘actions speak louder than words.’ The percentage drops precipitously when the numbers turn to those who actually attend church on a fairly regular basis.
When a self-identified Christian attends a religious service at least once a month and says their faith is very important in their life, Barna considers that person a “practicing Christian.” After applying this triangulation of affiliation, self-identification and practice, the numbers drop to around one in three U.S. adults (31%) who fall under this classification. Barna researchers argue this represents a more accurate picture of Christian faith in America, one that reflects the reality of a secularizing nation.
Granted, this is somewhat of a subjective measurement. In modern practice, attending a ‘religious service’ can mean doing so with a group in an online setting.
The picture is even bleaker when European nations are considered.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary predicts that five years from now, the number of Christians in Western Europe will have fallen by almost 23 percent since 1970. And actual attendance is abysmal, with less than 2 percent of the population darkening the door of a church on a regular basis in Britain, France, or Germany.
These figures should not be taken as encompassing all that is rightly considered duty and devotion to God. However, they are disturbing trends which should serve as a warning to America and the world.
Duty to Country
A duty to one’s country includes a plethora of other duties which support this obligation. For example, it might include a general duty to obey the laws, or pay your taxes, or to vote.
For those Christians who embrace their duty to God, those general duties to God are commanded in the New Testament. Romans chapter 13 is one famous passage attesting to that,
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval Romans 13:1-3 [ESV]
Beyond that, duty to country also includes items such as the urging of Scripture to pray for our leadership.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 1 Timothy 2:1-3 [ESV]
Duty to a country is most often symbolized by the epithet of patriotism and recognized most often by military service. Yet, the idea of a “peaceful and quiet life” prevailing in a national sense requires the critical duty to provide for loved ones and family as well.
The reason providing for family and loved ones is so important is simple. Unless the family unit can prosper in any nation, the nation itself will fall into tyranny and ruin.
Duty to Others
The next important duty is our duty as individuals to be of help to others as much as we can. This duty can be easily misunderstood as simply giving charity to those in need.
However, though charity is important, it is only one aspect of helping those around us. It includes other factors such as helping our employer by performing our tasks to the best of our ability.
The most profound manifestation of duty to others is to aid and advocate for those whom the Bible calls, ‘the least of these,’ among us. This is fleshed out by Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:31-46.
In the passage, Jesus states some specific actions which characterize duties to those not as fortunate as we may be. He says these acts include feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, visiting the sick and those in prison, and clothing the naked.
What is often misunderstood is that duty to others rests upon the individual and not on the government. It is not fulfilling one’s duty to demand that the state care for the needy.
That attitude prevails in socialistic society and it can seem to be a good thing. However, it represents placing personal responsibility on others to help others, which is simply a shirking of duty.
Duty to Oneself
The final duty is the duty to oneself. This is the most misidentified duty of all in modern culture.
The order and conception of this duty is essentially correct in the Boy Scout oath. It says one should strive to be fit and healthy in body, mind, and morals.
Yet, in modern society the idea of caring for or improving yourself have been inflated to the position of the first of all ‘duties.’ I have heard and read many philosophical statements and much religious preaching which promote this concept.
It is a concept at odds with God’s Word. And eventually it leads to destructive ego-mania tearing themselves and other’s apart.
The movement toward exalted “self-esteem,” and “self-image” today lends itself toward arrogance in its adherents. A dangerous arrogance that makes self an idol worshiped by a fool.
The Scouts have it right because they are in agreement with the teachings of Scripture. Jesus put it this way,
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9:35 [ESV]
Jesus is teaching about humility here. Humility is what makes room for grace in life.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 [ESV]
Duty to oneself does not mean inflating your self-esteem like an ego balloon. To paraphrase the late Dr. D.James Kennedy, “God doesn’t want to give you self-esteem, He wants to give you Christ esteem.”
Christ’s example for us to follow is to serve others, to think of them before ourselves. It is not to think less of ourselves, it is rather to think of ourselves less and others more.
That is the essence of the virtue of duty. To serve God, Country, Others, and Self as best we can.
Next week we will examine the virtue of patience.
Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001
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Inset Image 6 courtesy of J. Stephen Conn’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
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