“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”
(Philippians 4:5, NIV)
We’re in the midst of a sermon series on John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules: Do no harm; do good; stay in love with God. Last week we talked about “Do no harm.” This week the topic is “Do good,” as in, do all the good you can wherever you go. On November 26th, we’ll cover “Stay in love with God.”
In my sermon last week I highlighted the distinction (developed by the people at the Arbinger Institute) between a "heart at peace" and a "heart at war." A "heart at peace" sees others as people. This kind of heart values the hopes, dreams, cares, and concerns of others in the same way we see our own. A "heart at war" sees others as objects and minimizes the hopes, dreams, cares, and concerns of others. This kind of heart sees them as of lesser value than our own. A "heart at war" harms others—mostly unknowingly and without intention, but causes harm nonetheless.
“Doing good,” as Wesley’s second rule commands us to do, must come from a "heart at peace." Trying to do something good apart from a "heart at peace" can be almost as destructive as the harm done from a "heart at war." Paul, in Philippians, reminds us to be gentle and to allow our gentleness to be on display at all times.
Paul adds these words: “The Lord is near.” God is watching us! Not in the same way Santa watches us to determine if we’ve been naughty or nice—but the Lord watches us so that he can offer encouragement for us to be gentle in all circumstances. Because the Gentle Lord is near, we have his "heart at peace" to guide us into a life of gentleness. It’s not something we can do on our own.
Through God’s "heart at peace," we are empowered to act for the benefit of others as well as for the benefit of ourselves. Our motives are pure. Our intentions are noble. Our desires are admirable. Our methods are synergistic. Our strategies are unifying. And the outcomes are phenomenal. All of this is tied up in approaching Wesley’s second rule with gentleness. We don’t force solutions. We don’t allow selfishness to guide us. We genuinely seek the well-being of all who are involved.
May God guide us into a life of gentleness that empowers us to do the highest good possible through a "heart at peace."
Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church