They’re All About Duty

June 4, 2008

“With humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” — Philippians 2:3


Two characters in the TV show The West Wing are arguing about whether or not the Gilbert & Sullivan song “He Is an Englishman” comes from Pirates of Penzance or H. M. S. Pinafore.

“It’s the one about duty,” one offers.

“They’re all about duty,” the other counters.

(The song is from H. M. S. Pinafore, by the way.)

Conflict is inevitable.  Even among those who seek to live according to the teachings of Jesus, there will be disagreements, discord, even disunity.  Even though he prays for unity in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Luke 17 Jesus acknowledges that “stumbling blocks are inevitable,” even for His disciples.  Every person who walks with God will eventually find Himself a perpetrator of some sin or other.  The good news of the gospel, of course, is that there is forgiveness for sin in the blood of Jesus.

That’s when we are the perpetrator.  But what about when we are the victim?

As Americans, we tend to think in terms of our rights.  We want justice, protection from those who would harm us, even safety from the consequences of their attempts to harm others.  But as disciples of Jesus, we are called to think in somewhat different terms.  The one who stumbles is told that even as you stumble you have a duty not to take anyone else down with you.  The one who is the victim has a duty to forgive, no matter how many times or how severely he is harmed.  Jesus is not handing out rights, but obligations.

No wonder the disciples said, “Increase our faith.”

Herein lies the heart of Christian unity.  Harmony between believers is possible, but only if we can learn to trust one another.  For many, the hardest part of faith is not carrying out one’s own obligations, but trusting someone else to perform theirs.  A little bit of trust, a little bit of humility, a little bit of a servant’s heart deflecting glory away from ourselves (after all, we’re just doing our duty), a little bit of recognition of what God has given us so we can share it with others, all add up to a healthy, unified Christian community.

Unity in Christ depends on us all recognizing and doing our duty.