The Forgotten Word

Bible Book: Luke  17 : 7-10
Subject: Christian Living; Obedience; Duty

My subject this morning is “The Forgotten Word.” The late Clarence E. McCartney wrote a book entitled The Greatest Words in the Bible and in Human Speech. He devoted a chapter to each word. One chapter was entitled, “The Saddest Word, Sin.” Another was entitled, “The Most Beautiful Word, Forgiveness” - and he dealt with a number of other great words.

However, he left out one of the grandest words in the English language, or in any language. It is a word which towers like a majestic mountain peak. It is a word which has stirred men to heroic action; it has motivated men to resist pressures that otherwise might have overwhelmed them; it has kept men on the straight and narrow when nothing else would have sufficed. But, alas, it is a word which has practically been eliminated from modern man’s vocabulary. It is a simple yet powerful word spelled with just four letters: D-U-T-Y.

The word duty means, “behavior required by moral obligation.” If something is our duty then we should regard the doing of it as mandatory - regardless of how we feel about it, regardless of what the results are likely to be, and regardless of what anyone else thinks or does about it.

In this day and age, though, the concept of duty doesn't seem to grip us. Thank the Lord, there are exceptions. But for all too many of us, duty has become the forgotten word.

But if you and I are going to make the most of life's possibilities, if we’re going to experience the fulfillment that God desires for us, and if we're going to make a positive impact on those around us, it is absolutely imperative that we understand what the Bible says about duty, and respond accordingly.

Look with me at a parable Jesus told in Luke 17:7-10:

But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Now, Jesus was not suggesting that anyone should be harsh or unappreciative toward a servant. Remember that a parable usually makes one central point—and the point our Lord was making here was that a servant should not obey his master in order to receive accolades, but he should obey his master because the nature of their relationship requires obedience.

There are three profoundly important lessons for you and me that come to light in that parable.

Let's look at them.


The main character in this parable was a hard worker. He plowed; he fed cattle; and then when he came in from the field he prepared a meal for his master and served it. He did those things because he was a servant - and he understood that it is a servant’s duty to obey his master’s commands.

Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Thus it is with you - you are my servants, and therefore it is your duty to obey my commands.” The fact is that every person on the face of the earth ought to be Christ's disciple, and ought to consider himself duty-bound to obey God - and that for at least three reasons:

A. He Created Us

For one thing, he created us. Psalm 100:5 says, “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” We belong to God because he created us, and therefore it is our duty to obey him and serve him.

B. He Provided Us with Redemption

But there is also another profoundly important reason that we are duty-bound to serve God: he has provided for our redemption. Every person in his natural condition is under the power and condemnation of sin. He is, in other words, a slave of sin. Jesus said, in John 8:34, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”

But that’s where God intervened. Rather than see us suffer under the galling bondage of sin, he redeemed us. In olden days, if a kindhearted person saw a slave being treated cruelly by his master, that kindhearted person could - if he had the means to do so - purchase the ill-treated slave for himself and see that from then on the slave was treated properly. Thus he was redeeming that slave from his previous cruel servitude. That is illustrative of what Jesus did for us on the cross. 1 Peter 1:17-19 says: ”...pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:…”

Jesus died on the cross, that we - through repentance and faith - might be brought out of a servitude that was down-dragging and ruinous - and be brought into a loving, kind, gracious servitude. But make no mistake about it: we who are saved are his servants. That certainly is not the whole of our relationship to Christ, but it most assuredly is one part of it. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 we read: “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” That’s why, in Romans 1:1 for example, the apostle Paul spoke of himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ.”

C. He Sustains Us Day-by-Day

There is still another important reason that it is our duty to obey God: not only did he create us, and not only did he provide for our redemption by his death on the cross, but he also sustains us day by day. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

He sustains us spiritually. Once we are saved, he keeps us eternally, and he makes available on a daily basis the resources we need to fight the good fight and resist the devil. It is he that makes it possible for us to have joy and inner fulfillment. It is he who makes it possible for us to experience the “peace that passeth understanding” even when times are tough.

He sustains us mentally and emotionally. It is he who enables us to think clearly, to plan, to understand, and to relate meaningfully to other people.

He sustains us physically. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe - all of it comes from God.

So, for all of these reasons it is our duty to obey him.


But this parable not only teaches us that it is our duty to obey God - it teaches that WE ARE ALL DUTY-BOUND TO OBEY GOD IN ALL THINGS.

Look again at what Jesus said in verse 10: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

The Christian life is not like going through a cafeteria, or a buffet, where you pick what appeals to you and disregard the rest of it. Some folks think they’re being dutiful servants of God because they obey him in certain limited areas that appeal to them - but not so. When 2 Corinthians 4:2 says, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful,” it doesn’t give any exception clauses.

Notice what Jesus said in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:18-20: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

It is our duty as servants to obey all his commands, not just the ones that appeal to us. It is our duty, once we’ve received Christ as Lord and Savior, to love one another, to strive for unity within the church, and to forgive one another when we err. It is our duty to guard our tongue, and to be guided in our speech by the law of kindness. It is our duty to live a clean, upright moral life. It is our duty to reach out and tell others about Jesus. The hymn-writer was on target when he wrote, “Rescue the perishing, duty demands it.”

Years ago I heard the story of a foreign missionary who served in a particularly tough part of the world, and was home in the United States on a brief furlough. After he had spoken one Sunday morning in a certain church, several people came up to speak to him, and among them was a lady who said, “Oh, I know you enjoy your work!” This was the essence of his response: He said, “Frankly, m'am, there are times when I don't enjoy my work, but my family and I have a deep conviction that God has called us to that particular field and we intend to give it our very best. But so far as 'liking my work,' frankly there are times when I don't especially like it. I don't particularly like having my children grow up away from their grandparents, cousins, and other relatives, and I don't especially like their growing up in a strange culture and missing some of the opportunities my wife and I had as children. Nor do I like having my wife and children exposed to the dangers that surround us. But, lady, God help our world if we Christians ever get to the point that we only do what we like to do!”


There is another important truth that is made clear implied in the parable Jesus told. Not only are we all duty-bound to obey God, and not only are we all duty-bound to obey God in all things. Further, WE ARE ALL DUTY-BOUND TO OBEY GOD IN ALL THINGS ALL THE TIME.

The servant in the story Jesus told had been working in the field; he had fed the cattle; but that did not exempt him from the responsibility of serving further when he returned to the house. It is even so with those of us who are followers of Christ, servants of God—performance of duty in the past does not exempt us from serving God in the present - because duty is unending. Of course, circumstances change. Sometimes, for instance, our physical condition deteriorates and requires that we serve God in a different way than we did in the past - and God understands all of that. But within the framework of our God-given strength, abilities, and opportunities, our duty to serve God continues as long as we live.

Because duty is unending, it automatically follows that that how we feel about it doesn’t exempt us from obeying God. There ought to be a willing and enthusiastic spirit on our part - but it is still our duty to obey even if we don't feel that way. In the story Jesus related, we’re not told how that servant felt after working all day in the field. But, being human, he might have said to himself, “I’ve been laboring for my master all day, and I’m just not in the mood for doing anything else.” But if he did have any such thought, it obviously didn’t slow him down; he did his duty in spite of whatever he might have felt. Duty is unending, whatever our emotions at any given time.

However, it seems that all too many of us in this day and age have fallen into the weak-kneed notion that if we’re not all “psyched up” and pumped about a responsibility, then it’s o.k. to leave it undone. But not so. Duty is unending. The great statesman, William E. Gladstone, said: “Duty is a power which rises with us in the morning, and goes to rest with us at night. It is co-extensive with the power of our intelligence. It is the shadow which cleaves to us, go where we will, and which only leaves us when we leave the light of life.”

Higher motives such as love and gratitude ought to prevail, and in the life of a normal Christian who is properly utilizing God's daily resources, they will generally prevail - but we are all human, and nobody stays on a mountain peak all the time. We all have our ups and downs. But even when we are in the valley, it is still our duty to obey God.

A lot of tragedies happen in our world because of people’s lack of sensitivity to duty. A few years ago a preacher friend of mine stood in a group of fellow preachers and requested prayer for his family. His daughter had married a man who seemed to be a fine Christian. They had a precious little baby. But one day that man came in and told her that he didn't want to be married any more, and he walked out, leaving her and that little baby “high and dry.” In sharing that with his fellow preachers, my friend said, “I'm praying that God will convict him. My wife is praying that God will kill him.”

A lot of people have needs unmet in their lives because someone neglected his duty to minister to them. A lot of folks bite the dust in moral defeat because they weren't particularly in the mood for doing the right thing, and they allowed Satan to blind them to the fact that it’s our duty to stay on track and honor God whether we feel like it or not.

At times you may not feel like doing the right thing toward your wife and children, but do it anyway - it’s your God-given duty. Sometimes you may not feel like honoring your parents; do it anyway, it's your duty. You may not feel like tithing, or being faithful in Sunday School and church, but do it anyway, it's your duty. You realize, of course, that I'm not talking about providential hindrances—that's quite a different thing. What I'm saying is that we should never let ourselves “off the hook” simply because we're in the NOTION to do the right thing.

At times you may not feel like keeping your life on a high moral plain and refusing the allurements of the world; but do it anyway, it's your God-ordained duty.


We desperately need to recapture the Biblical concept of duty. In the life of every Christian, there are times when the tide of higher motivation gets low. But in those times, we must keep on keeping on out of a realization that it's our duty to serve God, feel like it or not - and here is the encouraging thing to keep in mind: if we’ll just hang in there, out of a sense of duty, eventually the tide of higher motivation will come back in. Ellen Sturgis Hooper put it like this:

I slept and dreamed that life was beauty.

I woke and found that life was duty;

Was my dream, then, a shadowy lie?

Toil on, sad heart, courageously,

And thou shalt find thy dream shall be

A noonday light and truth to thee.

One of the most outstanding heroes in all of English Naval history was Lord Nelson, and one of the greatest battles ever fought in English Naval history was the battle that occurred near the Cape of Trafalgar in 1805. That major conflict resulted in Lord Nelson shutting out the French and Spanish navies from the Mediterranean and establishing Britain as the major sea power of that day. Napoleon’s fleet included 33 warships, and the Spanish - Napoleon’s ally in that engagement - had a large number of ships. Lord Nelson only had a total of 28 vessels, yet he defeated those two larger, stronger sea powers.

Lord Nelson was fatally wounded during that major sea battle, but fortunately he lived long enough to know that the English had won. His biographers tell us that as he was lying there, bleeding to death, on the deck of the ship—which, interestingly, was named “Victory” - his last words were: “Thank God I've done my duty.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes 12:13 said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.“ Then he added this sobering note in the next verse: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

One of the great Christians of the past was General Charles Gordon, who was nicknamed “Chinese” Gordon. It is said that each morning when he waked up, he would dress himself in full uniform, stand at attention, look heavenward, salute, and say, “General Gordon, Sir, reporting for duty.” That ought to be the attitude of every child of God. Every day that the sun rises we ought to reaffirm the Lordship of Christ in our lives, and recommit ourselves to obeying him in all things.

One of these days each of us will stand before God, and give account as to whether or not we’ve done our duty - not our duty as we might imagine it, but our duty as the Word of God spells it out. Have you fulfilled your number one duty? - as set forth in Acts 17:30: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”

If you’re already a believer, are you fulfilling your duty of serving Christ faithfully on a daily basis, even when you’re not in the mood? If not, I challenge you to get it right this very morning.