I had a conversation earlier this week
about how Christian effect change in the world. As we talked I
realized that this week’s lesson from A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader
provided a good answer. In the past century we have seen two broad
movements from the church that sought to impose its principles on the
world. In the first half of the last century forces that we
disparage as liberal sought to impose a Christian Century. It
failed. Now a movement from conservative circles embarks on a
similar quest … history is not on the side of its success. Why?
In part it’s because a living relationship can never be imposed on
individuals. A moment of personal decision must be met and a
decision made to persevere with the saints in a holy life.
In John’s gospel this shows up in a
pronounced shift between John chapters 12 and 13. One moment Jesus
is in conflict with Jewish authorities and the next he is ministering
to his disciples. They withdraw with Jesus from the world as he
prepares them for his death. John’s letter to the church
functioned as a kind of as a kind of commentary on John’s Gospel
and in today’s lesson we see a shift from the first portion of the
letter centered on dealing with hostility from the world and now the
focus is how we are to live together.
For this is the message you have heard
from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be
like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And
why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his
brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters,
that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to
life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in
death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know
that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know
love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to
lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in
anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need
and yet refuses help (11-17)?
Little children, let us love, not in
word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know
that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him
whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts,
and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask,
because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him (18-22).
And this is his commandment, that we
should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one
another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments
abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he
abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us (1 John 3:11-24,
In 3:11 above we see the second mention
of “the message we have heard from the beginning” from Jesus (see
1:5). Just as Jesus shifted from arguing with the Jewish authorities
to teaching his disciples how to live together, so now John shifts to
an increased emphasis on community love within the body rather than
hostility from without.
John takes a moment to help us
understand that Cain failed his brother Abel by not loving. For John
the absence of love is hate! So we are to learn to love one another
… the point of laying down our lives for each other. And then John
begins to meddle in our lives.
He asks us to turn inward. What does
your heart say? Are you in love with brother and sister? Do you
harbor a secret hate for another? If so, God knows it and your
murdering attitude will bring judgment!
But, if we have love … then God is
able to do abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine through us
(see Ephesians 3:20)!
Allen’s Advice for a People Called
Avoid Evil … Follow broad rules
like the Ten Commandments to avoid doing evil. But that is just the
Do Good … We get to love God
with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We get to!! So get
into the game.
Pay Attention to God … All of
this is rooted in God. Spend time with God in worship, devotion,
Here is how it is stated in The
Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church (paragraph 62).
In the latter
end of the year 1739 eight or ten persons came to Mr. Wesley, in
London, who appeared to be deeply convinced of sin, and earnestly
groaning for redemption. They desired, as did two or three more the
next day, that he would spend some time with them in prayer, and
advise them how to flee from the wrath to come, which they saw
continually hanging over their heads. That he might have more time
for this great work, he appointed a day when they might all come
together, which from thenceforward they did every week, namely, on
Thursday in the evening. To these, and as many more as desired to
join with them (for their number increased daily), he gave those
advices from time to time which he judged most needful for them, and
they always concluded their meeting with prayer suited to their
This was the
rise of the United Society, first in Europe, and then in America.
Such a society is no other than “a company of men having the form
and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together,
to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in
love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation.”
That it may the
more easily be discerned whether they are indeed working out their
own salvation, each society is divided into smaller companies, called
classes, according to their respective places of abode. There are
about twelve persons in a class, one of whom is styled the leader. It
is his duty:
1. To see each
person in his class once a week at least, in order: (1) to inquire
how their souls prosper; (2) to advise, reprove, comfort or exhort,
as occasion may require; (3) to receive what they are willing to give
toward the relief of the preachers, church, and poor.
2. To meet the
ministers and the stewards of the society once a week, in order: (1)
to inform the minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk
disorderly and will not be reproved; (2) to pay the stewards what
they have received of their several classes in the week preceding.
There is only
one condition previously required of those who desire admission into
these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to
be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the
soul it will be shown by its fruits.
It is therefore
expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to
evidence their desire of salvation,
First: By doing
no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is
most generally practiced, such as:
- The taking of
the name of God in vain.
- The profaning
the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by
buying or selling.
buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in
cases of extreme necessity.
buying or selling slaves.
quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning
evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying
- The buying or
selling goods that have not paid the duty.
- The giving or
taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
- Uncharitable or
unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates
or of ministers.
- Doing to others
as we would not they should do unto us.
- Doing what we
know is not for the glory of God, as:
- The putting on
of gold and costly apparel.
- The taking such
diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
- The singing
those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the
knowledge or love of God.
- Softness and
- Laying up
treasure upon earth.
without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a
probability of paying for them.
It is expected
of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to
evidence their desire of salvation,
doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as
they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far
as possible, to all men:
- To their bodies,
of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by
clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in
- To their souls,
by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse
with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are
not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”
- By doing good,
especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so
to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another,
helping each other in business, and so much the more because the
world will love its own and them only.
- By all possible
diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
- By running with
patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and
taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of
Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking
that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the
It is expected
of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should
continue to evidence their desire of salvation,
attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:
- The public
worship of God.
- The ministry of
the Word, either read or expounded.
- The Supper of
- Family and
- Searching the
- Fasting or
These are the
General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to
observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the
sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we
know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any
among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let
it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give
an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will
bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no
more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.