Saturday, June 02, 2018

Grace and Duty

Today in my quiet time with God, I was struck by this Bible verse involving David, ancient Israel's greatest king:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1)

[This illustration seems to capture well the boredom, languor, and lust that David gave a foothold in his life as he failed to do his duty.]

So begins the sorriest part of David’s life.

Until now, he exercised faith in pursuing God and God’s will.

But one spring, when his duty was to lead his armies in war, he decided to stay home in Jerusalem.

What led to David’s decision to stay behind?

  • Was he tired of war? That would be understandable. But he still had his duty.
  • Was he feeling entitled? That can happen when we reach a certain age. But we still have our duty.
  • Did he feel that the armies could do well without him, that he had trained them well enough? Maybe. But it was still the duty of kings to go to battle with their armies.
  • Was he tired of doing his duty, in need of what people today call “me time”? Yes, but...
Somewhere I’ve read that Martin Luther was asked how best to discern the will of God for our lives. The Scriptures give us a good picture of God’s will for all of our lives. But, Luther said, if God’s will is still unclear to us, we should ask ourselves, “What is my duty?”

God has made each of us part of families, communities, nations. We are called to love God and to love others. This will first be expressed in the networks of relationships I have with my family, community, and nation. What’s my duty to them?

When I am baptized, I become part of another community, God’s eternal family, the Church. In the Church, as Christ’s disciple, per Jesus’ new commandment, I am called also to love my fellow believer as Christ has loved me, with sacrificial love that puts the interests of others over my own.

David’s dereliction of duty, while forgiven by God, had horrible consequences.

So what happened that spring when David should have been with his army but stayed behind in his royal home?

He got up from his bed one night (2 Samuel 11:2). (Was he unable to sleep? Did he have a conscience that was pricking him? We don’t know.) While walking on the roof of his home, he caught sight of a woman bathing, Bathsheba.

David had her brought to her house. They slept together. (It’s hard for a woman to refuse a king bent on misusing his power to gain sexual favors, especially when that king has been anointed by God.)

Problem #1: Bathsheba was already married. (As was the king.)

Problem #2: Bathsheba became pregnant, while her husband, Uriah, was off to war.

The problem with the sinful avoidance of one’s duty is that, as it creates more problems unless you bring it all to God with repentance and faith, it only leads to more sinful avoidance of one’s duty.

David doesn’t want to take responsibility for his child. So, he arranges for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, a member of the armies that David should have been leading, to get leave to go home to his wife in Jerusalem. Ostensibly, Uriah’s mission is to report to David on the battle’s progress. But David’s hope is that the soldier will go to his home, make love to his wife, and create the plausible fiction that the baby Bathsheba is carrying is Uriah’s, not David’s. Uriah doesn’t take the bait: He refuses to enjoy the comforts of home while his comrades are still sleeping in the fields by night and fighting enemies by day. (In contrast to David.)

That’s when David hatches another plan. He enlists his field commander as a co-conspirator to ensure that Uriah is killed in battle. That way, David could bring Bathsheba into his house as his wife. Clearly, that hadn’t been David’s original plan, but it would, he thought, let him save face.

The plot unfolds. Everything goes according to plan…

Until the prophet Nathan confronts David for his sin.

Unlike his predecessor, Saul, who expressed regret for his sin, mainly for getting caught, David is genuinely repentant. (Psalm 51 is his song of repentance and restoration to God.)

Nonetheless, there are times when sin has its consequences. God’s grace is such that whether the world catches us out or not, He will forgive the repentant. But our sins, even the forgiven ones, may set consequences in motion over which we have no control.

In David’s case: 
  • The child he had not wanted died, bringing grief to both Bathsheba and him. 
  • A second child was conceived, Solomon. Bathsheba, who probably never loved David, would scheme and connive to put Solomon on the throne, making David the object of palace intrigue. 
  • Solomon would become Israel’s most powerful king, but he would also spiritually destroy Israel, introducing the worship of deities other than the world’s one true God Who had called Israel into being.
All this happened because David failed to do his duty.

None of this should be interpreted, of course, as saying that David, in failing to do his duty, was failing to earn his salvation. THAT’S NOT THE WAY GOD WORKS!

We are saved by grace through our faith in the God Who has, since the days of David, been definitively revealed in Jesus Christ. Believers are called to do their duty NOT as a means of gaining forgiveness and new life from God. We’re called to our duty of loving God, loving neighbor, and loving fellow believers IN RESPONSE TO THE FACT THAT THROUGH JESUS AND OUR FAITH IN HIM, WE ARE ALREADY SAVED FROM SIN AND DEATH!

The doing of our duty then becomes a way of expressing gratitude for unmerited grace: the gifts of forgiveness, new life, and purpose that belong to those who trust in Christ.

There have been times in the past few days when I have gotten “fussy” with God about the fulfillment of my duties. (Not so much in my work, but in my life in general.) 

I’ve murmured and whined. 

For this, I repent. And I ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to help me do my duty “...heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Colossians 3:23). 

Because, in the end, in all my duties and relationships, whatever good I do, I really do it for the God I know in Christ. 
  • The God Who loved me enough to go to the cross, 
  • loved me enough to offer me salvation as a free gift, 
  • loves me enough to stand by me always (Matthew 28:20)
God loves me in spite of who I am and what I often do. That should be reason enough for me to do my duty.

God, forgive me when in my fussy selfishness, Your grace doesn’t seem reason enough to do my duty to You and to others. And when I “lose my mind,” forgetting what I know of You and Your grace, restore me to reason and gratitude to You, Lord.

Today, Lord, my prayer is David’s on being confronted for his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah: 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 
Make me willing this day, Lord, to do my duty. (Psalm 51:10-12) In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. I'm also a sinner and, by God's grace in Christ, a saint.]

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