Duties or Pleasures—Which Do You Put First?
THE Creator, Jehovah God, made us free moral agents. That is, he gave us the ability and the freedom to choose what we will do. At times this means choosing between duties and pleasures.
According to a popular rhyme, “When duty and pleasure clash, let pleasure go to smash.” Although duty and pleasure often clash, they do not necessarily need to do so. But when they do, which do we put first? Duty is defined as ‘that which a person is bound by moral obligation to do or not to do.’ Pleasure is the ‘state of gratification; delight; enjoyment,’ a feeling of being pleased.
As Jesus Christ showed, our primary duties and obligations are those we have toward our Maker, Jehovah God. (Mark 12:29, 30) Chief among God’s purposes for his servants today is witnessing about his name and Kingdom and making disciples. (Isaiah 43:10-12; Matthew 10:7; 24:14; 28:19, 20) To be able to fulfill these duties properly, Christians must continually take in Bible knowledge, regularly associate with fellow worshipers and persevere in prayer. Thus the primary duties of a Christian involve these other duties.—1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 10:23-25; Romans 12:12; Ecclesiastes 12:13.
We also have obligations to our fellowman. Largely, these are of a mundane, or secular, kind. We ‘must work if we would eat,’ for we should not expect to live off others. It is proper that we provide necessary things for our families. We must obey the laws of the land, such as traffic regulations, and we must pay our taxes.—Romans 12:17; 13:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8.
We have duties toward God, duties toward our families, duties toward our neighbors and, yes, duties toward ourselves. Duties, duties, duties! Does this mean that there is no time or opportunity for enjoying personal pleasures? No, it merely means that we must keep pleasures in their place. We must not be like many in these “last days,” persons who are “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.”—2 Timothy 3:1, 4.
In keeping pleasures in their place, we must realize that certain kinds cannot be reconciled with our duties, for they have no place in our Christian lives. Today there are people who flout traffic laws, make a practice of shoplifting or engage in other forms of lawbreaking for the “sheer pleasure” of it, for “kicks,” as they say. Obviously, all such acts are forbidden “pleasures.”
Other individuals pursue pleasure by means of drugs, becoming slaves to narcotics. Still others derive pleasure from using tobacco in one form or another. Such habits also conflict with our duties toward God and our neighbor. Christians are to be a free people, are to have neighbor love and are counseled to ‘cleanse themselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit.’—2 Corinthians 7:1; Matthew 22:39; Romans 6:6, 16; 13:10.
Doubtless the most common form of forbidden pleasure indulged in today is that of illicit sex. All such “cravings for sensual pleasure” run counter to our duties toward God and neighbor. (James 4:3; Proverbs 6:20-35) We must avoid not only engaging in sexual immorality but also toying with it. The very fact that such immoral pleasures are forbidden seems to make them more desirable and enjoyable, even as the prostitute beckons: “Stolen waters themselves are sweet, and bread eaten in secrecy—it is pleasant.”—Proverbs 9:17.
Why are such pleasures tempting to the fallen flesh? Because “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” So a Christian must ‘pummel his body and lead it as a slave,’ even as did the apostle Paul. (Genesis 8:21; 1 Corinthians 9:27) We must not succumb to these illicit pleasures if we desire divine approval.—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Principles Governing Enjoyment of Pleasures
There are many pleasures that can be enjoyed by Christians. But to keep them in their proper place our enjoyment of them must yield to the guiding principles of quality, quantity, timing and cost. To illustrate: Doubtless the pleasure most widely and most often enjoyed by humans is that of eating. Making it a pleasure was surely a loving-kindness on God’s part. This pleasure might be said to be circumscribed by the principle that ‘we eat to live, we do not live to eat.’
For one thing, since principles should govern our eating, we will want to choose foods that not only please our palate but are good for us. We will also want to be careful not to stuff ourselves, not to eat more than what is good for us. Moreover, we should watch our timing. It is known that heavy meals tend to interfere with concentration and highly skilled activity. Even as a professional singer would not want to eat a hearty steak or a turkey dinner just before giving a concert, neither should we do so just before handling a difficult assignment or giving a Bible lecture. In fact, a hearty meal may even interfere with our enjoying someone else’s Bible talk. Of course, people plagued with allergies or diabetes, or who are greatly overweight, have all the more reason to watch these principles of quality, quantity and timing when enjoying the pleasure of eating. Then, too, we do not want to be careless as to cost, becoming extravagant about what we pay for this pleasure.
Another pleasure that many enjoy is watching television programs. As Christians we want to make certain that the programs we watch are both pleasurable and wholesome, if not also educational. Then, too, we want to be careful as to the quantity, not spending too many hours watching TV, lest we fail to get sufficient sleep or to do justice to our duties. Timing also should be considered, for we never want to let TV programs interfere with getting our needed rest or with such Christian pursuits as attending congregation meetings.
What applies to the pleasure of watching TV is applicable with equal force to going to movies or attending sports events. When we should be listening to a Bible lecture with fellow Christians, it really is not fitting to be at some stadium watching a ball game, is it? Nor should we let our fondness for music cause us to make the same kind of mistake.
We may derive much pleasure from pursuing some hobby. But here, too, we must exercise self-control and put first things first. What if our hobby puts us in the bad company of people who smoke and use profane language? Or what if our hobby is too costly, is injurious to our health or works a hardship on our family? If this is the case, would it not be appropriate to change to another hobby?
But even if our hobby or pastime has no objectionable features, we should be careful to keep it in its place. A married man may be fond of bowling. But if his family cannot enjoy bowling with him, it would be wise and loving if he curtailed this activity. Nor would he want to go to a bowling tournament if that would mean neglecting attendance at a Christian assembly. What is true of bowling, of course, applies with equal force to other leisure activities such as hiking, swimming or boating.
Vacations are looked upon as times of pleasure. But, as Christians, here also we would not want to grow careless as to our conduct just because we are among strangers or have time on our hands. Nor would we want to sightsee or visit some recreation centers at the cost of attending conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Pleasure in Discharging Duties
Yes, there can be great pleasure in discharging duties. While many people think that duties and pleasures are opposed to one another, this need not be the case. The fact is that we can gain a great deal of pleasure from discharging our duties—if we have the right mental attitude. No doubt the first man, Adam, had great pleasure in caring for his home, the beautiful parklike garden in Eden. He must also have received much pleasure from getting acquainted with all the animals in that garden and naming them. And when Jehovah God presented Adam with the woman Eve, his pleasure and happiness abounded, as shown by Genesis 2:15, 18-23.
A husband can derive pleasure from doing useful work, regardless of its nature, if he recognizes it as a means to an end—providing honorably for himself and his family. It is the same with a wife who has the right mental attitude. She can derive much pleasure from keeping her home spick and span, preparing tasty, nourishing meals for her family, and so forth.
An excellent example of finding pleasure in discharging duties is found in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They derive great joy from studying the Bible and learning new truths. In this, they feel like the psalmist who said: “I am exulting over your saying just as one does when finding much spoil.”—Psalm 119:162.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also derive pleasure from gathering together at their congregational meetings and regularly held assemblies. Moreover, these Christians find true the words of Jesus: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) In going from house to house preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom, they are primarily discharging a duty they have before both God and man. When they find someone willing to listen and discuss the Bible with them, and especially when this person proves to be ‘conscious of his spiritual need,’ they get joyful satisfaction from their work.—Matthew 5:3.
Sharpening Our Sense of Duty
What will help to sharpen our sense of duty and keep pleasures in their proper place? Justice and reason will help. For instance, we must show ourselves to be just in order to be truly generous. Certainly, it would be unjust to aid others to the point of depriving our family of necessities. And reason makes us realize that to the extent that we renege in fulfilling our duties, to that extent we wrong and harm ourselves and others. Since we would not want other persons to harm us, we should avoid harming them.—Luke 6:31.
Especially will love help us to put duty ahead of pleasure. Loving God means keeping his commandments, fulfilling our duties toward God. (1 John 5:3) Love for our neighbor will make us concerned with his welfare, not just with our own.—1 Corinthians 10:24.
Without question, then, there is room for pleasure in our life. We can derive much pleasure from discharging our duties. And we can enjoy other pleasures, too, if we control them and avoid those that run counter to our duties. So let us watch the quality, quantity and cost of our pleasures, as well as the time we devote to them. This, of course, amounts to putting duty ahead of pleasure.
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Jehovah’s Witnesses find genuine pleasure in carrying out their duty to preach the good news