9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:9-21
John Wesley the spark that ignited the Wesleyan movement that gave way to our United Methodist denomination sought for Christians to live in societies. He therefore, taking his lesson from Jesus, laid forth three “simple” rules for those who were a part of these societies to live by.
1.Do No Harm
3.Attend to the Ordinances of God/Stay in Love with God
— John Wesley (Nature, Design, and General Rules of our United Societies)
Over the next few weeks we are going to explore these rules and how Christ calls us to love God and love neighbor and serve.
So today we will start with that first rule, “Do no harm.”
This seems to be a fairly simply stated rule, but as I watch the news and what is going on in our national and global climate harm is often too easy to pick out. This past weekend a large group of protestors gathered in Charlottesville to bring forth their brand of harm onto those who are different than them. White Nationalists of all different kinds gathered and condemned anybody who wasn’t white and condemned those who stood with the ones whom they condemned. I wish I could say that this was an anomaly…something that doesn’t often happen, but this kind of harm has leeched its way so deeply in our society that it has come even into our religion. We say that God has ordained these things and has done this stuff to make the earth pure, and in doing this we have not only caused harm to our fellow human beings, but we have now brought the harm onto our God. Our God who created us in love and calls us to live the same way. I can no longer sit idly by and not condemn these hateful acts.
However, the truly harmful things is our response to these acts. It is our inaction…allowing the evil to be perpetuated…that is our role…that is our harming of others. To watch events such as the ones yesterday unfold and not feel something, or even do something says volumes for the harm we allow to occur in the lives of God’s creatures. Much like those who sat back and allowed the Nazi’s to rise we too are sitting back and allowing evil and hatred to control our society.
There is a reason that one of the rules for John Wesley in his early societies was do no harm. It is because over and over again in Scripture Jesus places love of God and neighbor above everything else. Over and over again Jesus does not condemns but loves. Christ teaches us about this divine grace. That same grace which Paul identifies in our scripture today as genuine love in verse 9 (Rom. 12:9).
The word for love used by Paul in this passage, and by Jesus in much of his ministry is agape, a word some of you may have heard before and may be familiar with. A greek word study on agape produced the following statement,
“agape denotes the love which springs from admiration and veneration, and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it. Love in its fullest conceivable form.” (https://thebible.org/gt/index)
It is known to be the purest form of love there is. It is a love that has no borders. It knows no race, no gender, no sexuality, an even no religious belief for that matter. It is a love that is called to extend beyond the boundaries of even our own understanding. To do no harm means that we live by the law of love. However, we fail at love. We fail when allow atrocious acts of evil and injustice to occur within our society. And in all this we do harm, either by our action…or even, more often, our inaction.
But our failure is more deeply rooted than surface level. Bishop Rueben Job says we fail to follow this rule for three reasons. Because:
1.) we lack the self-discipline to trust God in difficult situations (TSR. Job, p. 24)
2.) “We have bound ourselves to a certain ideology or theology rather than binding ourselves to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.” (TSR. Job, p. 24) That is we become have legalistic and care more about the legalism than we do about sharing the message of Christ’s love. And
3.) “We are afraid of its consequences” (TSR. Job, p. 26) In that we may be afraid of looking weak in the face of an enemy, we are afraid how the world will judge us and so we act like the world.
It is tough to do no harm, because it means we have to let go of ourselves. We have to get out of our own way. To do no harm means we discipline ourselves, it means we live by the commandments Jesus gives us to love God and love neighbor, and it means living without fear of how the world will judge us.
This is our task. When we do harm we are perpetuating the evil in the world. Even when we find some self-justifying reason for the harm it is still harm. Even when someone has hurt us that does not give us the right to harm them in return. Paul closes this passage saying ,
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)
In that he says that evil only perpetuates more evil, but when we break the chain of evil and love then we bring the world into an age of love that is not perpetuated by injustices such as racism, sexism, marginalizing of the poor, and brings us to a place where peace…and not war reigns.
Bishop Job says this act of doing no harm requires examination, guarding, and transformation of heart. (TSR. Job, pg. 30-32) It is to consider that true love should manifest from us the same way it manifests from God and that is unearned, undeserved, and unlimited. Love is for anybody and everybody. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they have done, even what they believe. Doing no harm is loving, and loving is about giving people the respect they deserve as a created creature of God.
And so while others may not I stand before you to condemn the acts of the hate groups that cause harm to many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I condemn the evil, injustice, and oppression that has reared its ugly head into our society. I condemn the oppression of African Americans, Latinos, Immigrants, LGBT persons, and those in poverty. And I look to those of us who may have remained silent in the past to stand up and take a voice for the side of love. No longer can we be a part of the harm in the world by our action or inaction.
Let us listen to those opening words from our scripture today as Paul writes to the Romans,
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” (Rom. 12:9-10)
We must exhibit this agape love to all individuals. That is what it means to do no harm. It means we don’t outwardly and inwardly try to harm our God or our neighbor.
Never does Jesus tell us in Scripture who we should not love, but Jesus’ message is a love that is big enough for everyone.
- Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living by Rueben P. Job (TSR. Job. pg ??)