When Love Transforms Duty

By J. Spencer Kinard

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    We do many things in life because we feel it is our duty. We pay our taxes, follow speed limits when we’re late, come back to work after lunch—all because it is our duty. And many of us classify obeying God as a similar action. It is duty. We worry that He is peeking around some corner waiting to pounce on us if we disobey. We grimly do what we think is right, such as reading the scriptures when we yearn to read the newspaper, resolutely paying donations, marking our list of Christian attributes with unwavering determination.

    Now, duty has its place, of course. We admire it for what it is. It is a marvelous schoolmaster, a bell which stirs us from our slumber, a stick that reminds us that life is larger than our own small passions. Like children who would rather play in the sunshine than learn arithmetic, we sometimes, perhaps often, need duty to motivate us into higher action.

    But let us never be blinded into thinking that duty alone is enough to transform our hearts and take us back to God. It is far too weak a current to light the way. At some mysterious point, love must transform duty as the morning light transforms a pool of ice. We must obey the Lord not because we fear Him, not even because it seems the right and proper thing to do. We must obey Him finally because we love Him. We yearn to serve. We yearn to be like Him who is the center of our highest ideals and fondest affection.

    It is no accident that the Lord said, “Blessed are those which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matt. 5:6.) Hunger and thirst are words we understand. They tell us something powerful about our human needs. As one writer said, “Nothing is real to us but hunger.” Love is another word with that kind of passion that cracks through barriers of the heart and moves us when nothing else can.

    Yes, the Lord will take our actions born of duty and even bless us for them, but let us understand that there is more. It is love that writes a symphony, a fine novel. It is love that leads a parent to a child’s bedside. And finally, it is love, and only love, that can lead us back to the Lord.