The Lost Virtue of Doing Your Duty

The Queen of England died on September 8, and in many ways, one of the last bastions of traditional virtue died with her. The ancients sought lives marked with virtue. Character development pervaded much of their energy and aspirations. But cultivation of virtue has diminished in importance, if not disappeared altogether today. People love to virtue signal, but few seek to actually possess it.

Queen Elizabeth II’s character formation came in an age where virtue still mattered. Her education primarily consisted of learning the etiquette and expectations of being the future Queen of Great Britain. Her ascent to the throne came at 25-years-old. She had only been married four years and had two children. When news came of her father’s death and she became Queen, her primary duty was to the Crown. The Crown took precedence. She could no longer act on behalf of herself or her wants, but for the kingdom. She was duty-bound. The world has lauded her commitment to this duty in the days since her passing and shows our world’s hunger for this virtue once more.   

In the latest installment of the Downton Abbey franchise, A New Era (2022), the setting is in 1928 England. One character, Jack Barber, conversed with Lady Mary, a married woman whose husband had been gone for an extended time and to whom he had grown infatuated. 

Jack asked Mary, “May I kiss you?”
“No.” she slowly and reluctantly replied.
Stunned, he asked her, “Don’t you want to?”
Mary replied, “I’m afraid I’m too old fashioned to believe what I want is the only thing that matters.”

This line crashes against the ‘follow your heart’ paradigm of modernity. It stuns the ears to hear such things in a culture bent on emotionalizing every decision. In a world where “if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad” pervades the zeitgeist, seeing someone choose duty over their feelings causes the record to screech to a halt. Mary rejected the advance, despite her feelings. Why? Duty. She recognized there was more at stake than fulfilling a romantic impulse. Being romantically satisfied didn’t supersede her duty to others.

Christianity teaches this kind of virtue. It celebrates it. In Luke 17, Jesus told a story that most people have forgotten. He asked a series of rhetorical questions about the interaction between a servant and master. Masters do not dote over their servants for the work they do. The master doesn’t beg the servant to recline at the table after a day of plowing the field or tending sheep. He tells him to do the next task: prepare the meal and serve the master. He doesn’t thank the servant for his service because the servant did what the master commanded. The servant performed the duties expected of him. Jesus concludes the story in verse 10 by saying, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Jesus says his disciples are unworthy servants. They do not need excessive praise for doing what He requires. The Lord Jesus expects his servants to perform their duties. This story doesn’t get much attention in our churches or culture because it slaps our self-interested egos in the face and chastens our appeal to rights and freedom. Doing our duty binds us to commitments despite how we feel about them. Doing your duty obligates you to act on behalf of doing what is required, and what is right, rather than what appears satisfying or fulfilling in the short term. The duties that mark the life of an individual vary by each person. Duties find their anchor in God’s revealed will and the unchangeableness of His character and Word. The God who keeps His Word and promises becomes the model of our own duty-fulfilling lives.

Christians should celebrate the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II. There are many praiseworthy qualities that marked her life. The greatest of those was her Christian conviction to serve the role and station God had given her as faithfully as possible (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). As the world eulogizes her for a life well-lived, and a crown well-worn, she would reply, “I was an unworthy servant; I have only done what was my duty.”

Erik is the Lead Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon. He also founded Knowing Jesus Ministries, a non-profit organization which exists to proclaim timeless truth for everyday life. He is married to Katrina, and has three children: Kaleb (who went to be with the Lord), Kaleigh Grace, and Kyra Piper.

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