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April 3, 2024: Christian Duty

In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we’ve only done our duty.’ (Luke 17:10, CSB)

Lou Contour, the last survivor serving aboard the USS Arizona at the attack at Pearl Harbor passed away this week at 102. He was the quartermaster on duty when the attack commenced at 7:45 AM. The Arizona was struck amidship setting off a million pounds of gunpowder. 1,177 men died on the Arizona, half of the fatalities at Pearl Harbor. Lou was responsible for saving nearly 20 sailors. After Pearl Harbor, Contour became a pilot and was shot down twice over the Pacific. He then served in Korea and later as a military advisor to three presidents.

One word describes Lou Contour and those with whom he served: duty. The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines duty as: “obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions that arise from one’s position.” In Luke 17, Jesus shows us that faith is lived out in duty. Christian duty does not negate grace, rather grace authors faith, faith begets duty.

The Bible is replete with military language for the living out of our Christian lives. When I first entered the ministry, the denomination to which I then belonged was preparing a new hymnal. There was a strong movement from progressives to strike all military allusions in the included hymns. But striking especially “Onward Christian Soldiers” proved too much. Many today are uncomfortable—not only with military language—but with the concept of duty. Duty requires us to do what we do not always want to do. It entails obligation, self-sacrifice, and acting faithfully when no one else sees or knows.

The Book of First Clement was written by the fourth Bishop of Rome. He writes these words about our Christian duty:

Let us, therefore, serve as soldiers, brothers, with all earnestness under his faultless orders. Let us consider the soldiers who serve under our commanders, how precisely, how readily, how obediently they execute orders. Not all are prefects or tribunes or centurions or captains of fifty and so forth, but each in his own rank executes the orders given by the emperor and the commanders. The great cannot exist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a certain blending in everything, and therein lies the advantage. Let us take our body as an example. The head without the feet is nothing; likewise, the feet without the head are nothing. Even the smallest parts of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body, yet all the members work together and unite in mutual subjection, that the whole body may be saved.[1]  I Clement 37:1-5


[1] Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., pp. 69–71). Baker Books.

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