Even though Paul was very well-read and a student of the well-known rabbi Gamaliel, Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” [1 Corinthians 2:1-2] He was, in essence, making it simple.
John Wesley, though very well-read and a classical scholar, called himself a “man of one book,” meaning the Bible. What he was expressing was the simplicity of focus and discipline in his life.
Henry David Thoreau’s well-known commentary on a disciplined life deserves to be revisited here: “Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million, count half a dozen…” [Thoreau, Walden (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965), 67-68]
Doesn’t this speak to us today? There is a lot of complexity in our lives, isn’t there? Simplicity seems like an impossibility. We yearn for simplicity at a certain level, but are we even sure what that means?
Sunday, I will complete a series of sermons entitled Three Simple Rules — a name taken from the title of a book by Bishop Rueben Job. Back at the beginning of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley developed the General Rules of the United Societies. He developed three rules that are short, pithy, and easy to remember. These became known as The General Rules and remain part of our life as a Christian denomination to this day. These three simple rules, put into contemporary language by Bishop Job, are:
- Do no harm
- Do good of every possible sort
- Stay in love with God
Sunday, we are considering the third General Rule: Stay in love with God.
When we love someone, we are intentional about our relationship with our beloved. We talk. We eat together. We learn about our beloved. We sacrifice for that person. We celebrate the good in our beloved. We are energized by being with that person. We work at the relationship, but the work doesn’t feel like work. So, what does that look like when it comes to our love of God?
Notice HOW Jesus called us to love God — with all our HEART, SOUL, MIND, and STRENGTH. It isn’t just about how we feel. Rather, it is a love that encompasses ALL of who we are:
- The heart, biblically speaking, is the seat of the spiritual life, of the inner being.
- The soul is life itself, and that includes feelings and desires.
- The mind refers to our understanding and intelligence, meaning that we put those things at God’s disposal.
- And our strength is our capacity and power to act.
- Jesus was saying that to love God means that we put all those parts of ourselves at God’s disposal.
When it came to the third General Rule, Wesley identified some “means of grace” that he called “works of piety.” They can be put in two categories:
Individual Practices – reading, meditating, and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others.
Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study.
I have noticed in my own life throughout the years that when I do not consciously live by the General Rules, I feel off-track, and I am ineffective in my Christian life. When I consciously live by the General Rules and practice the means of grace, then I am on-track and effective in my living and in my witness.
Are the spiritual disciplines that keep us in love with God a top priority in your life? I once saw a sign that said, “The best time to plant a tree was 15 years ago. The second-best time is today.” If the works of piety are not a part of your life, then perhaps a paraphrase of that sign will speak to you: The best time to begin practicing the works of piety was 15 years ago. The second-best time is today.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Romans 12:1-2, 9-21 (Common English Bible)
1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.