By Pastor Glenn Pease
In his book Merely Colossal, Arthur Mayer tells of how he hired a stunt man to be buried alive as a publicity stunt for a film he was promoting. The stunt man knew how to breathe in such a way that he could stay buried for 24 hours and not suffocate. After the papers made a big splash about a man being buried alive, the appointed day arrived, and just as the paper said, the man was buried. The spot was carefully marked with lime, so it could be easily found. Unfortunately, a heavy storm came up that night and washed away all the lime, and they could not find the exact spot. The stunt man was lost. Mayer says 30 men dug frantically in the area for 12 hours before they located him. He was in good condition, but he demanded overtime pay for the extra hours he was lost.
Just about anything can happen, but very few people are ever lost by being buried. The same, however, cannot be said for the truth. Men are constantly losing the truth by burying it. Millions lose sight of the most basic truth in life, which is redemption through Christ, by neglect. They bury this truth under a mountain of meaningless religious ceremony. Christians are constantly losing truths by not applying them to life when they hear them. Preachers are constantly losing truths by getting into ruts and riding hobby horses through the Bible, forgetting that precious treasures are found just off the beaten track.
For example, our passage today contains one of the most obscure parables of Jesus. It is not even noticed in most books on the parables, and commentators skip over it with little recognition. It has been buried in the field of neglect, even though it contains a precious pearl. Verse 10 contains the only recorded instance in Scripture where our Lord used the word duty, but in this one instance He made it so comprehensive that nothing more needs to be said to recognize that duty was a major subject of His teaching. He taught us all that is necessary to know about duty by a simple illustration and application.
I. ILLUSTRATION. vv. 7-9
Jesus says if you have a servant in the field doing his job, and he comes in at supper time, you don't make a big fuss over him as if you were his mother. You don't tell him to set down while you fix his meal. Not at all, for you expect him to carry on his duties as a servant, and get your meal. Jesus says, "Does the master thank his slave for doing what he was commanded?" And the answer is, of course not. If that seems harsh, it is only because we read into it an unjust relationship between a master and his slave. If we put it into a modern setting, it is obvious what Jesus is getting at.
I once worked in a packing house where I was given a variety of jobs. One day I was told to pull hooks off of pigs as they came by. Another day I was commanded to scoop up rosin and throw it into a boiling vat. Another day my orders were to crawl under thousands of pigs hanging in a cooler, and wash the fat drippings off the floor with a hose. Never once did any of the bosses ever thank me for doing what I was told, and never once did I expect such thanks. Why? Because it was my duty to do what I was told, and I was being well paid to do it. As long as they fulfilled their obligation in the relationship, and paid me, it was my duty to do what I was commanded, without expecting them to shower me with praise. I was not doing anyone a favor, I was doing my duty.
That is what Jesus is saying. We have all kinds of relationships in life that involve obligations. We have duties to our family, our church, our neighbor, our employer, and our nation. These duties are the basic factors in human relations. They are so basic that we are expected to fulfill them without patting ourselves on the back, and thinking we are great for doing so. In other words, if you take care of your family, don't expect a write up in Life Magazine. It is your duty. Don't expect a thank you card if you pay your taxes or put money in a parking meter. It is your duty. If you don't run over anybody for 10 years, don't expect the traffic department to send you a medal. It is your duty to drive safely. If you get out to vote, don't gloat and expect to be named citizen of the year. It is your duty to vote. Don't expect rewards for doing what it is your duty to do in any area of life.
Now why did Jesus have to emphasize this? Because He knew the heart of man, and its susceptibility to that cancer of the soul called pride. In verse 5 His disciples had asked for increased faith, and Jesus told them they could do miracles if they had faith as of a grain of mustard seed. Jesus knew they would receive the power to do miracles, and so He gave this short parable to warn them against pride, and the danger of thinking they would put God in their debt by what they would do. Jesus says to them by this illustration, "Remember that everything that you do is your duty to do. Don't expect any thanks, and don't even think that God owes you anything."
Jesus is saying that doing our duty is the foundation of our life. We haven't even started to build until we are settled on that. And it is because we have buried this truth that our society is coming apart at the seams. Everyone demands their rights, but they dodge their responsibilities. They fight for their rights, but flee from their responsibilities. The old duty of youth keeping themselves pure for the one they will marry is being thrown out. Why? Because duty is hard, and no one thanks you for it. The duty of morality does not make anyone a hero. It is just the expected thing for one who lives responsibly.
Adults are being driven dizzy by duties these days. There are responsibilities weighing on them all the time until sometimes they come to despise their daily duties. They go to work, do their job, pay the bills, go to church, go to PTA, and what do they get? Does anyone ever thank them for being dutiful parents, employees, church members, and citizens? No! Very seldom to never are people thanked for doing their duty. Duty is a big bore. So people become duty dodgers, and like the priest and the Levite they pass by on the other side. I was hungry and you gave me no food; thirsty and you gave me no drink-but duty is so dull. I was naked and you clothed me not; I was a stranger and you took me not in-but duty is so boring. I was sick and you visited me not; in prison and you came not-but nobody would thank me if I did. Yes, duty can be dull, but to dodge it is not only dangerous, it is deadly. To evade it leads to judgment.
Many try to escape duty all together. Someone has expressed their feelings like this:
I wish I had a ticket for Siam,
I'm getting bored with where I am.
But when I'm in Siam why all I'll do,
Is wish I had a ticket for Peru.
What can we do? If we can't evade it and be happy, and if we can't escape it and be happy, we can exalt it and be happy. We can put duty up where Christ put it, and recognize that it is the path to happiness.
II. APPLICATION. v.10
Jesus says to apply in the spiritual realm what is true in the natural relationships of life. If you give a man back the ten dollars you owe him, don't expect him to shower you with devotion. You gave him nothing but what you have received. He has made no profit because you have done your duty. In the service of Christ, if you are completely committed, and obey all that Christ commands, remember, you have brought no profit to God, for all you do you do by His grace and power. Recognize this and you will be humble, and aware that you can never do more than your duty. It is your duty to do all, and having done it, you can claim no merit, for what is your all compared to the price Christ paid to purchase you?
The rivers pour into the sea yet add nothing to it, for the sea is the source of their existence. So all we do has its source in God's grace. This exalts duty to the highest level. It is only in fulfilling our duties that we can do anything to thank God for His grace. "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever," is our goal, and the only means to do so is by doing our duty. With this in mind, that we are not in the world looking for thanks, but we are here to express thanks, we approach the daily duties of life with new devotion and even delight, for now we see that as one has said, "As the birds are made to fly and rivers to run, so the soul is made to follow duty." We cannot change the dullness of our duties, but we can change the spirit in which we do them. F. W. Robertson said, "If the duties before us be not noble, let us ennoble them by doing them in a noble spirit."
Jesus is saying that everything that He has commanded is a duty. One of His commands was to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. This covers a multitude of political obligations, like paying taxes, voting, and doing what is in your power to keep government pure. If we are to have any honest ground to stand on in fighting for our rights, we must recognize and perform our duties. Einstein left Germany soon after Hitler took over, but before he did he turned to the universities expecting them to stand for liberty, but they were silent. He looked to the press, but soon it too was silent, and the intellectuals likewise did not speak out. The only source of opposition that was open and honest was the church. Einstein saw that stand and wrote, "Until then I had shown no interest in the church. But now I am full of admiration for the church, and am drawn towards her for the gallant fight she made on behalf of spiritual truths and moral freedom.I willingly acknowledge my admiration for the church, although in the past I judged her of little value."
It is the silence of the church in times of great evil that causes intellectuals to feel the church is of little value. When Christians do not take a clear cut stand on what we profess the world considers them hypocritical. When love is preached, but prejudice is practiced, the world is not impressed by such a clear contradiction. When we fail to do our duty, we not only fail God, we fail men as well. The excuse is often made that one person can do so little, but the fact is, you can always do your duty, and when we do our duty we glorify God and please Him. This is not doing nothing, it is doing the greatest thing we can do. Luther wrote,
Put thou thy trust in God,
In duty's path go on;
Fix on His Word thy steadfast eye,
So shall thy work be done.
Charles Kingsley wrote, "There are two freedoms: The false where a man is free to do what he likes, and the true where a man is free to do what he ought." Eccles. 12:13 says, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." It is not the duty of man to feel good or be happy, for he cannot control that, but to keep God's commandments and do His will is something you can choose to do. Maturity is doing what you are suppose to do just because you are suppose to do it, and not because it is exciting.
People do not want to be bogged down with duty. When Jesus said to go the second mile, He did not say you had to enjoy it. There are things you do because He wants you to do it, and not because you want to. These are acts of obedience. Love is often expressed in duty. Love is not all emotion, for it is acts of the will by which you make it clear where your loyalty is. Prayer is a privilege, but it is also a duty. We are obligated to pray for one another. We are commanded to pray, and so it is better to pray badly than not to pray at all. G. K. Chesterton said, "If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing badly." In other words, a duty is to be done even if it is not done well. We don't pray for one another because we are so holy, or so eloquent, or superior, but because it is the loving thing to do, and love is our duty as Christians. It is our highest duty.
Sometimes duties and delights do go together. It is your duty to love your mate, and that is also enjoyable. It is your duty to raise your children and provide for them, and this can be a great pleasure. It is your duty to learn what the Bible teaches, and this can be one of life's greatest pleasures, but regardless of the pleasure, these duties are an obligation we have before God. Fanny Crosby wrote, "Rescue the perishing, duty demands it." We are not in to soul winning because it is easy or fun, but because there is no way to obey Christ and not care about rescuing the perishing. It is our duty to try and reach people for Christ. The point of all this is, there are many things in life that we are suppose to do, and do them just because we are suppose to. May God help us all to be committed to being people of duty.