Chapter 4 of Benedict’s Rule of Life speaks to the topic of “The Tools for Good Works” and it’s fascinating what he covers in this chapter…with a “punch line” at the end. In this chapter he begins with the simple reminder to first of all, “Love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Then, all else will follow “You are not to kill, not to commit adultery; you are not to steal nor to covet, you are not to bear false witness. You must honor everyone, and never do to another what you do not want done to yourself.” Five biblical mandates all tied together in the opening paragraph.
Then, for the next twelve paragraphs he quotes from an additional eight biblical texts with commentary in between. For Benedict, the tools for good works reside within oneself and how we are to act toward others. In this regard, it’s more about self-discipline than external “tools” to be used in a more utilitarian manner toward others. “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” This different-from-the-world way of living includes such actions as: You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge; rid your heart of all deceit; never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love; bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.
And then, what follows is masterful…instructions for his followers that sticks close to the Scriptures and how best to fulfill what the Lord invites us as believers to be as children of God. “Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting. Go to help the troubled and console the sorrowing.” All of this is outward in focus, but comes from a heart of loving obedience.
- Do not repay one bad turn for another
- Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently
- Love your enemies; if people curse you, bless them instead
- Endure perseverance for the sake of justice
- Do not be proud, nor be given to wine
- Refrain from laziness; do not grumble or speak ill of others
- Place your hope in God alone; always give credit to God
- Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire
- Guard your lips from harmful or deceptive speech
- Listen readily to holy reading, and devote yourself often to prayer
- Do not gratify the promptings of the flesh
- Live by God’s commandments every day; treasure chastity
- Do not love quarreling; shun arrogance; pray for your enemies out of love for Christ…
And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy. The punchline: “The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.” Frankly, this is essential to all such teachings: practice living this way in the safety of the Christian community in which you live – for Benedict it was the monastery, for us today it’s in our homes, our churches, our faith communities where we spend the most time with those we are called to love and serve first and foremost. What grieves my heart today is the strife that exists in those very “workshops” where love is meant to reign supreme.
So, the “punchline” for all of us today is to assess the health and vitality of our own marriages, families, churches, and ministries – these are the workshops where we learn how to love the Lord our God with our full selves and then love others as we love ourselves. Practice such “tools for good works” in the security of your most intimate circles of relationships, work out your salvation in these venues, and then show the wider world what love looks, sounds, tastes and feels like.
As you ponder Benedict’s Rule of Life consider crafting your own personal rule of life. Join the community of others on this journey at www.RuleOfLife.com and like us on Facebook at Crafting A Rule of Life.