There is a sense in which every area of life places upon us a category of demands, a minimum set of duties which we are required to meet. An employee is expected to show up for work at a particular time, remain on the job a certain number of hours, and do certain things while he is there. To meet these demands is his duty. He’s expected to perform at least at this level.
The same thing is true of family life. To be a father or a mother, a husband or a wife demands that certain minimal duties be performed. Children must be provided with adequate food, clothing and shelter; and the law requires that they be treated humanely. So it is between husband and wife. There are obligations that must be met; there are duties that must be fulfilled.
In every area of life it is the same. The student, the public official, the priest, the church member – we are all confronted with duties which we must perform or else suffer the consequences of our neglect.
But a truth we need to also think about is that the greatness of life lies in that realm beyond the call of duty. Jesus is remembered and revered as the good shepherd because He voluntarily took on Himself that which no one could possibly have demanded. It is in this sense that His cross touches our lives at every point and influences every relationship. A student discovers the joy of learning when he places demands upon himself that no teacher could ever require. Family life takes on beauty and meaning when husband and wife, parents and children begin to give themselves in ways that no law on earth could ever demand. A man’s work becomes a privilege and a pleasure when he stops thinking in terms of minimal requirements and begins to function in that realm above and beyond the call of duty.
All genuine Christian living belongs in this class. It consists in breaking free from and rising above all legalism, to do that which no law can require nor any person can demand. This is the very essence of the life and teaching of Jesus. “Whoever would compel you to go with him for one mile, go two.” That is the summation of His total philosophy. Whatever life demands of us, we will overcome by giving and doing more.
Thus, the privilege and joy of life begins where the demands of duty end. That is the teaching of Jesus in a nutshell. Some may see this as an extravagance of goodness which has no real relevance to the hard-nosed facts of daily living. But it’s more than that. It is the very substance of character, without which no society can long endure.
If a person is going to move in that realm beyond duty, something must happen to him or her on the inside. No one can hire, or bribe, or compel a person to live as Christ lived. Only Crist living within can cause us to do that.
We too need to deepen our relationship with Christ, so that we too can live above and beyond the call of duty.