Is there a difference between obedience and duty when you are doing something for God? What is the definition of “obey”? Merriam-Webster offers this definition: to do what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do. This definition of “obedient” conveys what I believe when I think about being obedient to God: submissive to the restraint or command of authority. Here is what Merriam-Webster has to say about duty:
1) Conduct due to parents and superiors
2) Obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position
3) A moral or legal obligation.
What has prompted me write about two English words that are close in meaning? One is my experience on a missions trip to Indonesia this January and the second is devotion from Oswald Chambers that I read shortly after my return. This was my third trip to Indonesia since July 2009. Our church has a partnership with a national church planting organization and we have sent small teams of three to six people to help them with a retreat that they have for their staff every two to three years. I have led all three teams that have gone. Usually we provide some teaching at this retreat. This year we also helped provide child care for thirty children between the ages of two and seventeen. The travel to get there is quite demanding, usually a short flight to a major hub like Minneapolis or Chicago followed by approximately thirteen hours in the air to Tokyo followed by a two hour layover then a seven hour flight to Singapore followed by a six or more hour layover followed by a one hour flight followed by a three to five hour drive to the retreat site. Sometimes there is an overnight hotel stay before the last road trip. Adding up the time, it is roughly 40 hours of non-stop travel with very little opportunity for a full night’s sleep. This particular trip was a little more challenging as the first short flight was cancelled and we ended up driving to Chicago three and a half hours then starting our flights. We also had our Singapore to Indonesia leg cancelled two days in a row and had to find an alternative airline to get there at all.
I was not excited about going on the trip this time, primarily because the physical demands of the travel from 2011 were still fairly fresh in my mind. I also do not like the hot and humid climate, even when it’s subzero here in Wisconsin. I felt a “duty” to our church planting partners to make the trip again. I felt I was being “obedient” to God to offer to lead and recruit a team. The work being done by the Indonesians is important and their efforts are being blessed by God, especially in a very dark place. My leadership skills were tested by the travel challenges we faced getting there. The team responded well and the Indonesian partners appreciated our efforts once we got there. We did have an impact on the children and their parents as well. While on the trip and since coming home I have been conflicted about my future role in this partnership and about returning in a few years. Reading this passage from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost of His Highest devotion a few days after my return has me wrestling with this even more:
“If we do something simply out of a sense of duty, we are trying to live up to a standard that competes with Jesus Christ. We become a prideful, arrogant person, thinking we know what to do in every situation. We have put our sense of duty on the throne of our life, instead of enthroning the resurrection life of Jesus. We are not told to “walk in the light” of our conscience or in the light of a sense of duty, but to “walk in the light as He is in the light . . .” (1 John 1:7). When we do something out of a sense of duty, it is easy to explain the reasons for our actions to others. But when we do something out of obedience to the Lord, there can be no other explanation—just obedience.”
What I read in Chambers’ comments is that the difference between “obedience” to the Lord and “duty” is my motivation. Even if I have that right, it is not easy for me to discern what my true motivation is for going on this trip, much less my motivation for being involved in our church partnership with the church planters. I would like to think my motivations are pure and submissive to the Lord, not prideful and arrogant, but I’m not completely sure, primarily because of my role as “team leader”. I did not enjoy the challenges of the trip, but I did get satisfaction out of my teammates’ compliments as we returned home. My ego was also fed by the appreciation and gratitude of our partners in Indonesia. Was my behavior and conduct God honoring or Marc honoring?
I wish I could say I have this figured out. I guess the fact that I am still wrestling with it is a good sign that I haven’t completely come down on the prideful side of this discussion. I do want to be obedient to my Lord and Savior. I feel a strong sense of duty to be a soldier in this ongoing battle that we Christ followers are actively involved in. My nine years in the U.S. Air Force may have contributed to that heightened sense of duty. My prayer is that I can balance both concepts in being a servant of Jesus Christ in every aspect of my life, including my business. My prayer is that you also have a similar struggle.