Last week at our Thanksgiving Day service my pastor highlighted some passages in Luther's Small Catechism that speak of the attitude of thankfulness that we as children of God ought to demonstrate. For example, the meaning of the First Article of The Apostle's Creed ("I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth") concludes thus:
"All of this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him."
What a beautiful Gospel statement of the Father's love: "All of this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me."
But the next sentence has a word that might seem to rain a bit on the Gospel parade:
"For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him."
Ouch. Duty? That sounds like a "have to," not a "want to." Think of the word "dutiful." When you "dutifully" do something you do it not with joy or gladness or out of a desire to serve but rather, reluctantly, because you have to or because there will be undesirable consequences if you don't.
But as my pastor explained, the word "duty" here is not to be taken as something we do because we "have to" but something we do because it is appropriate--because it is called for. In other words, it is the only fitting response. Think of it. Parents have a duty to take care of their children. Is that care given "dutifully"? Well, maybe occasionally. Parents get tired and sometimes they have to make themselves do the things that they ought. And sometimes they fail. But in the big picture their DESIRE is to care for their children. It is their duty, yes; but it is a duty they embrace, one that arises out of their vocation. They are parents: it is appropriate and fitting that they care for their children and they do so willingly, out of love, not because they have to.
Or think of our soldiers who go into harm's way to keep us safe. They have a duty to protect and defend their nation. Or doctors, who have a duty to provide the best care they can to their patients. Or pastors, who have a duty to shepherd their flocks. I could go on, but you get the idea.
All jobs--all vocations--have duties assigned to them. The duties are the actions that define that vocation and make it what it is--the very fabric out of which it is woven and from which it is inseparable. It's not a matter of, "Okay, you're a baptized child of God and He has given you all this--now you better go and be thankful because, after all, it's your duty." Instead, it's "You're a baptized child of God and He has given you all this. Wow! Of course you're thankful. How could you be anything BUT?"
Leave it to God to turn "dutiful" into "duty-full." He fills us with all good things, including the joyous duty of thanking Him at all times!