The Sunday before Independence Day is a good time to reflect on the blessings multiplied by the sacrifices and risks taken 241 years ago by those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration was formally declared this day, July 2, and not fully signed by every member of Congress until August. July 4, the date chosen for our national celebration, is the day Congress published the document in its final form, so that’s the date on the printed version.
Along with the blessings, however, come duties. No endeavor of man is taken without effort and direction. Rights, which are trumpeted by every special interest and social tribe, are only as good as the duties which accompany them.
The USCIS enumerates the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.
If U.S. citizens, for example, refused to pay taxes (let’s not discuss what kinds of taxes), then government services would stop (eventually, after all credit was exhausted). Those services help secure and defend the rights in the left column. If citizens refused to participate in juries, then the right to a fair trial wouldn’t be possible.
Another word for “responsibilities” is “duties.”
As a citizen, we have duties we must perform, and to the degree we perform them, we secure the rights of citizenship. We don’t earn those rights of citizenship; they are derived from God-given natural rights, as free moral agents. But without our duties to defend them, those rights inevitably will erode and finally be taken from us by others in their own morality (which probably won’t recognize ours).
Since it’s Sunday, my meditation also turns to our duties as servants of God. I’m speaking generally to Christians here.
Salvation is a free gift that we cannot earn. But the blessings our salvation multiplies, and the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — Gal. 5:22-23) must be sustained and protected by doing our duty.
What is that duty?
Primarily, to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus confirmed this in Luke 10:27-28. But who is our neighbor? All of humanity, as Jesus told in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Micah 6:8 says our duty is “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” But what is justice? Final justice is in God’s hands, but our duty is to tell the truth and bear true witness.
Our duty is to be generous with our earthly goods, “for God loves a cheerful (hilarious) giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
Our duty is to pray for those in authority, “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).
We must do these things or we will sacrifice the joy, peace, and love experienced by all who enter in to God’s kingdom and blessings by accepting Christ the Savior. It is not only our duty to ourselves and our own spirit, but it’s also our duty to other Christians.
Luke 17:2 has one of the sternest warnings Jesus gave in the New Testament. “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Woe to him who presents a stumbling block (a bad witness) to our youth. That one is hardly taken seriously these days, but it should.
Our duties to God and to our country are inextricably linked. For America to be great, America must be good. And for America to be good, its citizens must due their duty.
On this July 2, when the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted by Congress, I am focusing on my duty, not my rights. I want to become a better citizen, and better servant of the Most High. Doing that, I believe, is the proper way to celebrate the blessings and rights those men secured 241 years ago.