When asked what they needed to do in order to be faithful to God, John Wesley gave the early Methodists 3 General Rules. They were not long complex rules, but simple ones that would be easy for people to remember and follow: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. Now Wesley didn’t make up these rules himself, they were rules based on the guiding principles and commandments given to us by God. Last week we learned that the one guiding principle God gave his people was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This command was to be recited by the people of Israel every day and taught to their children, which is not a bad idea for us to consider doing today. The command to love God was to be the one guiding principle for all of God’s people.
In an effort to be faithful, however, the people took that one principle and turned it into 613 laws. When Jesus came he tried to once again make things simple. When asked which of these 613 laws was the most important Jesus’ answer was, love God, but then Jesus added this, and love your neighbor as yourself. What Jesus did was to say that loving God couldn’t just be expressed in our words to God and the attitudes and feelings of our heart toward God, love for God has to be lived out in our relationships with one another in very real and tangible ways. Love for God has to be turned into loving actions towards others.
The disciple John really understood this. Years later as he was writing to the church he said this: 1 John 4:20-21. So to love God means that we love our brothers and sisters but then John makes clear that loving our brothers and sisters means reaching out to help them, look at 1 John 3:16-17. So to love God means that we love others and loving others means we reach out to help them in real ways and it’s all of this that forms the foundation for John Wesley’s second rule – do good. It’s not enough for us to simply do no harm we have to be proactive and take God’s love for us to the next level and use that to love and help others. So doing good is putting God’s love into action. Doing good is loving our neighbor as ourselves and the bible is full of passages that affirm this teaching.
Look at Luke 6:27-36. Again we see here that Jesus links together loving God with loving our neighbor – and even our enemy – and that loving others actually means doing something good for them. Loving others is not a feeling or emotion it is helping meet their real needs and offering them grace and mercy.
Jesus says this again in John 13:34-35.
And we hear this teaching affirmed by Paul in Romans 12:9-13. Paul is also making it clear that our love needs to extend to others in very real ways. So it’s clear that the foundation of the Christian faith is to love others which means that we seek ways to do good for them and John Wesley made sure people understood the depth of this call to do good by telling people that not only should we do good but we should:
Do all the good we can.
By all the means we can.
In all the ways we can.
In all the places we can.
At all the times we can.
To all the people we can.
As long as ever we can.
This statement begins to answer some of our questions about doing good. If we were to ask, who should we do good for? The answer is to all the people we can. If we were to ask where should we do good, just in the church or in the community and schools and homes as well? The answer is that we do good in all the places we can. Do we do good by just giving our money or do give our time and talent and prayers as well? The answer is that we use all the means we can, we do whatever we can to do good. Are we ever able to stop doing good? The answer is no, we do it as long as we can. What Wesley is saying is that the call to love others is extensive. There is no limit to the love we are to show God and others and the reason is because there was no limit to the love Jesus showed us when he died on the cross and there is no limit to the love God has for us today. Again, look at 1 John 3:16.
This makes clear that Jesus was willing to love us so completely that he gave up his life for us, he died on the cross for us, and if that is the example of love and doing good we are to follow, then there is simply no limit to the love we are to show others. We do all the good we can at all times and in all place and by all means and for all of our lives.
Now if you’re like me, you start asking this question, so just what does this mean? What is the good I am supposed to do? And when we ask this what we tend to do is start making a list, we love lists. Even though Jesus gave us a list of some good things to do for others like feeding the hungry, giving clothes to the naked and visiting those who are sick and in prison, I don’t think Jesus ever wanted us to take the command to love our neighbor and turn it into a comprehensive check list to follow. I believe Jesus wanted us to make this our way of life.
The same is true of John Wesley and this simple rule. I don’t think Wesley told us to do good with the intention of us making a list of all the good we can do and then going out and doing it. This rule is to be a guiding principle. In every situation we find ourselves we need to instinctively ask ourselves, what is the most good I can do? Am I loving my neighbor the best way I can? If this rule becomes part of our lives and if it truly guides our actions then we will find ourselves doing good more and more without having to check the list.
I have shared this before, but when I was a student at MSU, some friends and I were in downtown Lansing one afternoon and as we walked by an alley we saw a man picking through the dumpster. We all saw him take a bag out of the dumpster, open it up and eat something. One of my friends and I kept on going, but our other friend, guided by this principle, stopped. She asked us, what can we do? We weren’t following the commandment to feed the hungry when we stopped, we weren’t checking some list, were being guided by a rule to do good, to love our neighbor. What we ended up doing was pooling our money and taking the man to lunch because our doing good wasn’t just to feed him, it was to let him know he was loved. It was such a powerful moment I can still tell you what he had, a hamburger and strawberry shake, and our desire to do good meant we made plans the next week to go back and invite him to dinner.
When I was the pastor of Second Avenue Church in Altoona and we started an afterschool program it wasn’t because we were following some command God had given us to care for and teach the children, we were simply being guided by a rule to do good – to love our neighbor. When this church started the Faith Centre 9 years ago it wasn’t to follow God’s command to feed the hungry or clothe the naked, you were simply responding to the general rule – do good. You were seeking to love your neighbor where love meant reaching out to offer real help. By giving us this rule, John Wesley is reminding us that while following God’s laws and commandments are important, what is ultimately important is allowing our hearts and lives to be shaped and guided by love, a love for God that turns into a love for others.
When our lives start being guided by this principle and we actually start doing good, it will be important for us to make sure we keep our motivations in check. For example, we don’t do good things to be noticed, to get praise or to be rewarded. Jesus addressed this in what we heard from Luke 6. We don’t lend to others expecting to get something in return. If we are doing good for what we will get back, it ceases to be good. If we are motivated by pride and ego, which is that desire to be noticed and recognized, then our actions stop being good, they are sinful, so we need to make sure the good we do is for the sake of others and Christ alone, not us. Jesus spoke about this in his sermon on the mount; look at Matthew 6:3-4.
When we do good it should be done as quietly as possible so that we aren’t seeking any kind of recognition or reward for ourselves but just trying to do good for others.
We also need to make sure we aren’t following this rule in some vain attempt to earn our salvation or to earn God’s love for us. When I first became a Christian I was overwhelmed with this idea that I needed to repay God for what he had done for me. Too many times we end up doing good in some effort to repay God or because we think we need to earn our salvation and God’s love. The truth is that there is nothing we can do which will make God love us more than he does at this moment and there is nothing that we can do to earn the salvation that God has already given us in Christ Jesus, look at Ephesians 2:8-9.
So our salvation is not dependent upon any kind of good works, we aren’t saved or loved by God because we do good, God’s love and grace are a free gift. So why do we need to make sure we follow this rule? We make sure we follow this rule because God calls us to us, but there is another reason, let’s keep reading in Ephesians 2:10-11. We do good because we were created to do good. We were created for good works and that is because we were created in the image of God who always does good. If we go back to the creation story we see that after God created things he stopped and reflected on the work of his hands and do you know what he said? This is good. 6 times in the story of creation God looks at his work and says, this is good. From the very beginning God has been doing good so as children created in God’s image, we have been created to do good which is why God calls us to do good.
One last comment on this rule, part of the good we need to do is to ourselves. We learned a few weeks ago that rest and refreshment and taking care of ourselves is part of God’s plan for our lives so we need to take time for some self care – not to be selfish, but because we are also God’s children, created in God’s image and deserving of God’s love and attention. And the truth is that if we don’t truly take care of ourselves, we can’t do good to others. That’s the message that the airlines get right. Every time a plane takes off, what is the message we hear during the in flight safety lecture?
In the event that the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. First, place the mask over your own nose and mouth; then, assist others. In other words, do good for yourself so that you will be able to do good to those around you.
While we need to take some time to think about the good God is calling us to do, we also need to make sure we don’t take this simple rule and make it complicated. It’s easy to take this rule and turn it into 613 or more rules to follow, but that is not the point, the point is to allow this rule to shape our hearts and lives so that in every situation and in every moment of life we will be guided by God’s spirit which is itself – good.
3 Simple Rules ~ Do Good.
1. Take some time to reflect on why we need this rule to guide our lives. Read and reflect on the following Scriptures:
• Matthew 6:1-4
• Luke 6:27-36,
• John 13:34-35
• Acts 10:38
• Romans 12:9-13
• Ephesians 2:4-10
• 1 John 3:11-24, 4:7-21,
• 3 John 11
2. After reading these verses, what is the good you feel God calling you to do?
3. From now to the end of the year, what good can you do in these three specific areas of your life?
• Community (church, school, work…)
• Those In Need