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The Tenuous Relationship between Duty and Desire

No one that is emotionally and psychologically whole wants a sexual relationship with their spouse based solely on duty rather than desire.  And yet, 1Corinthians 7:3-4 describes and prescribes this part of the relationship as a “duty” of which we are not to deprive one another, except by mutual agreement, and for a limited time, 1Corinthians 7:5. (The Greek word is opheile {of-i-lay}, and is used in Matthew 18:32 and Romans 13:7 as a debt and that which owed, respectively).  Instead of mere obligation, we want to be desired and appreciated, and to have this part of relationship be a loving and natural expression of such.  Stop and think a moment:  Does the duty that is owed in and through this aspect of the relationship diminish the need we have to be desired?  Of course it doesn’t.  Now, if we can understand and appreciate this, then we ought to also be able to comprehend that although we have a duty of obedience to God, He prefers our service be motivated by a desire to please Him. 

 

Such is the delicate and tenuous relationship between duty and desire.  Do we think, or perhaps even worse, assume, that God appreciates our service to Him when it is based only on duty, without any real desire to please attached?  Put in other words:  Do we think God is pleased with our service to Him when it is given merely from a sense of obligation rather than motivated by love?   

 

And yet despite these things, duty certainly has its place.  Joseph, through God’s providence, was put in a very responsible and powerful position within the house of the Egyptian, Potiphar.  But Potiphar’s wife repeatedly urged Joseph to lie with her.  He consistently refused, but note carefully his stated reason(s), “Behold, with me around, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.  There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.  How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” Genesis 39:8-9.  Joseph’s words include both an implied duty to Potiphar, as well as a stated duty to God that kept him spiritually pure regardless of what he may have desired on a purely personal and physical level. 

 

Thus, duty can be the right motivation- especially when our desires may not be what they ought to be.  Which of us hasn’t attended a mid-week bible study or a Sunday evening worship out of duty when, for any number of reasons, our desire was to stay home, or do something else.  Though our heart may not have gotten us to the assembly, our mind said it was the right thing to do.  I don’t know about you, but on those occasions, something always seemed to be said or done that made me glad I went to “the house of the Lord,” cf. Psalm 122:1!   Duty prevailed over desire, and I was blessed for my obedience.  But more importantly, I think God was pleased with my obedience, even if it was motivated more by duty than desire.

But there is a “flipside.”  Paul very much wanted the Corinthians to contribute to the collection of funds for the poor saints in Jerusalem, and even provided instructions on how they could do so, 1Corinthians 16:1-4.  But, he did not want the Corinthians to be obligated or compulsed by duty to participate.  Again, note carefully the inspired text, “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver,” 2Corinthians 9:7.  Though he surely had the authority to order their compliance, he much preferred to appeal to them, hoping and trusting that their desire would lead them to the proper conclusion and activity (cp. Philemon 8-9).  If the Corinthians were merely obeying an order from a sense of duty, they would not receive the benefit of participation themselves, as they would if prompted by desire, cf. 2Corinthians 9:8-11.  Additionally, the implication of “for God loves a cheerful giver” is that, at least in this case, desire was preferred over duty by God.

 

Ultimately, we need both duty and desire to work together for us “to be pleasing to Him,” 2Corinthians 5:9.  We need to rely on our understood duty when our heart’s desire may be in conflict with God’s will.  And we need desire to prevent our service to Him from becoming mere obligatory ritual for us.  Thus, this combination- or conflict, depending on which side you fall, of head (duty) and the heart (desire) is necessary to keep the body and its soul on the right path!  Obviously, the absolute best and highest aim is to have our heads and hearts on the same page… so that our hearts desire what our heads understand our duty to be.  Let’s work on getting them together, shall we?  It will solve a lot of inner conflict for us by allowing us to enjoy doing the right things for the right reasons.  But more importantly, it will make us pleasing to God in every circumstance and situation.