Two years ago, United Methodist Leaders gathered for a “teach-in” at Lake Junaluska. I had my own cynical thoughts about what to do with all the Bishops and District Superintendents required to attend that meeting, but God did some good in those days. They heard from some good thinkers include Gil Rendel and Reuben Job. Below is an outline of the Bishop Job’s book Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living (2007). Bishop Job suggests Three Simple Rules (adapted from John Wesley’s General Rules):
- Do No Harm,
- Do Good, and
- Stay in Love with God.
- (In youth ministry I used the slogan “avoid evil, do good, and pay attention to God” to help my kids come to understand Wesley’s general rules.)
The other important thing for me in Wesley’s rules were that they were intended for those “desiring to flee the wrath to come.” I find it indicative of God’s prevenient grace that knowing your life was messed up is the requirement for joining the Methodist movement and not professing Jesus Christ is Lord. Introduction: We begin our conversation with a “duh!” Our world is broken. Our nations, our families, our tribes, even our denominiations are broken. This brokenness hinders our witness to the world and Jesus anticipated this challenge when saying: “ Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one ” (John 17:11b). Wesley’s General Rules follow in the tradition of Paul who offered several sets of rules:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:12-14).
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:22-26).
Do No Harm (or as Wesley says, “by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced …”).
If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another (Galatians 5:15).
Job suggests that following this first simple rule “provides a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done” (Simple Rules, 21). This will require a radical reorienting of our lives and this leads Job to offer the following challenges to us when conflict emerges in our lives:
If I can do no harm, I can no longer gossip about the conflict. I can no longer speak disparagingly about those involved in the conflict. I can no longer manipulate the facts of the conflict. I can no longer diminish those who do not agree with me and must honor each as a child of God (Simple Rules, 22).
The hardest part of this rule may be relenting from our ideological and theological positions and “bind ourselves to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord of all (Simple Rules, 24). Because I may have to give up my “position” we often avoid this rule because the consequences are scary. Yet even “a casual reading of the gospels suggests that Jesus taught and practiced a way of living that did no harm” (Simple Rules, 27). Do Good (or as Wesley says, “by 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”).
Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God (3 John 11b).
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good … (Acts 10:38).
You owe your conscience to God; to one another you nothing but mutual love (St. Augustine).
There is scarce any possible way of doing good, for which there is not daily occasion …. Here are poor families to be relieved: Here are children to be educated: Here are workhouses, wherein both young and old gladly receive the word of exhortation: Here are the prisons, and therein a complication of humans wants (John Wesley’s Journal, March 28, 1739).
To do good is not easy, despite it being a direct command from Jesus and a strong suggestion from John Wesley. We complicate the command with questions like what is it mean to ‘do good,’ where do I begin, or what are the limits to doing good (Simple Rules, 36)? Job takes time to deal with the thorny issue of control and challenges his reader to know that doing good is precisely in our control and that our questions do not allow us to abdicate the responsibility to do good. Stay in Love with God (or according to Wesley, “By 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 the Lord, family and private prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting or abstinence”).
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually (Psalm 105.4)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7).
Ordinances, or spiritual disciplines, are the practices that keep “the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing” (Simple Rules, 53). Job takes time to explore Peter and his response to Jesus’ questions “do you love me?” In these moments we are also invited to answer the question individually. Do you love me? If yes, then Jesus says “feed my sheep,” care for my children, do no harm, do good …