The question, “isn’t duty and obligation the same thing as love?” has come up 3 times now in different places. It’s caught me by surprise which is unusual, so I thought we better chase that rabbit down the hole.
First of all, I don’t want to beat up on “duty and obligation,” old-fashioned notions like honor and responsibility. We have a real deficit of those things in the modern world,and I do believe they are a component of love, a part of the story.
Also, many men tend to perceive love as a verb, and so “duty and obligation” they may understand, it has some action to it. An ethereal kind of thing like “love,” not so much. If it’s somehow related to feelings, back away even more slowly…..
However, they are not the same thing at all. Duty and obligation may get you through those bumps in the road, those hard times when love is just not nearby, when you are doing responsible things seeking the favor of God, rather than your own feelings or someone else’s joy. That’s an awesome thing, that’s a great stop-gap, but that’s not really “love.”
Duty and obligation speaks to work, responsibility, reputation even, social status, one’s own feelings of virtue and self-worth. It may be sacrificial, but it is not emotionally sacrificial. It is far more about presenting yourself as worthy and responsible.
What makes love different? I’m not entirely sure, but I know it requires an emotional investment and can tailor itself to the individual needs of the people you are serving. Consider a mother caring for kids out of nothing more than a sense of obligation and duty, day after day. Those kids won’t feel loved, desired, wanted. They’ll probably start to feel like a burden and grow to resent her.
Or perhaps a husband with a wife who goes through the motions, but feels nothing for him, disinterested, disconnected, cold. Her performance may be flawless, but her heart is not there. Love costs us something.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this perception of love as simply interchangeable with “obligation and duty,” is not biblical, either.
God did NOT say, out of a sense of obligation and duty to the world, I gave my only begotten Son. He said, For God so LOVED the world. Jesus does NOT say, the greatest commandment is that you fulfill your duty and obligation to your neighbor as yourself.
Even more important, we have the Lord’s unmerited favor. We did not earn it, it is not a debt that was owed to us. If “love” where interchangeable with “duty and obligation,” than Jesus was obliged to go to the cross for us, not in selfless sacrifice, but out of duty which sounds much more like He owed us a debt rather than the other way around.
Kind of interesting, what sparked all three of these discussions was obedience, our alleged duty and moral obligation to obey. Interesting, because I have never thought of it that way at all. In the context of faith, apart from Him, I have no “moral” on which to base the obligation. In the context of marriage, all in good humor here, but my alleged “duty and moral obligation” as motivation would last all of three minutes.
It just doesn’t work for me at all. Grace is what drew me to the Lord, amazing grace, and grace is what enables me to love Him. Love is what compels my surrender. Rewards and punishments, duty and obligation, are not even in the picture, as in they imply some kind of force or manipulation or obligation.
So if I were to love God out of a sense of duty and obligation, I think that would be most impolite. He wants our whole heart, not us just going through the motions out of a sense of duty. The Lord loves a cheerful giver, right? Love requires us to give something of ourselves cheerfully, perhaps all of ourselves, and therefore can not be satisfied or substituted with something like duty and obligation.