Virtue And Duty

Text: Luke 17:7-10

"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

I'm still very young but I can remember a day when a person could get good customer service. In my short life I have seen the ethic of customer service go out the window. I think it began with Taco Bell's value menu several years ago. Soon after every fast food restaurant began to lower food prices and give free drink refills. This of course was good for the wallet. But with the lower prices also came lower standards. When I worked at McDonalds as a teenager, if a hamburger sat in a bin for thirty minutes it was thrown away and a new hamburger was cooked. Nowadays all their hamburgers sit in the bin for at least thirty minutes and then are microwaved. Needless to say, a McDonalds hamburger is not what it used to be.

The real problem, though, is that the standards of service have really suffered. When you step up to the counter you are seldom greeted with a smile and often not even greeted. Many times I have waited in vain at the counter for the "server" to ask me, "May I help you?". People in the food service industry these days act like they are doing you a favor by taking your order when they are only doing their jobs. Now how can that be? Were it not for the sake of convenience and those plastic toys I believe a lot of fast food restaurants would be out of business.

The words "duty" and "virtue" come to mind. An employee's duty is to give customer service. An employee's duty is also to show up on time, dressed appropriately, and to give a good day's work. This is what is expected. If that is all they do, fine. A virtue, on the other hand, is what goes beyond the call of duty, something exceptional. We admire people who are virtuous because they do more than what is expected. They give more than the average Joe. Often they are rewarded.

Sometimes it helps to understand virtue by examining its antithesis: vice. If a virtue is an exceptional quality vice is an exceptional liability. And yet they are much alike in that they are both extremes. The difference is like this: a man of virtue may give $1,000 dollars to a noble cause, a man of vice may give $1,000 to a bookie (i.e., gambling). Most people, however, stay in the median between virtue and vice. Many avoid vice for fear of punishment and take no interest in virtue. As Robert Solomon says, "a person, perhaps out of fear of punishment and general inhibition, may well live a life that is virtuous in the moral sense, and yet be an utter zero when it comes to questions of excellence" (Ethics, 82). But how should we as Christians see this? Is it good enough to stay away from vice? Should we be content to pay our tithes and taxes and not commit adultery? What is expected of us?

The first thing we have to understand as Christians is that we must do whatever God asks of us. In Luke 17:10 Jesus says, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" In other words, we are obligated to serve. And yet, many times we find ourselves acting like we've done God some great favor. When we give a generous offering we act like God should reward us in some way. Isn't giving a duty? When we donate something to the church, don't we expect it to be published in the newsletter? When we take food to the sick or the needy, don't we swell with pride? Why? Because we've forgotten that we were only doing our duty. It's the worldliness in us that makes us feel this way.

To the world, giving a large donation to a worthy cause is above the call of duty. To us it is simply a duty. To the world it is enough to pay taxes and stay within the speed limit. In fact, a person of the world can be considered "good" and never really do anything. But we can't be that way. If we do, we are like the goats in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). There is no reward for this. As Christians we must be proactive. There must be a difference between us and the world. It is a difference of ethic. In short, a person of the world can maintain the status quo without really doing anything extraordinary. In the church, what the world calls extraordinary, is just ordinary.

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