Concerning Our Whole Life and Conduct
A short Hutterite sermon from the 17th century
Dear brothers and sisters, we are gathered here, we hope, in the name of the Lord our God, under His fatherly blessing, care and protection, that we might further remind and admonish ourselves from His Word, and from the teachings of Christ, the prophets and apostles; and speak and deal with those things which are useful and necessary for our comfort, salvation and blessedness.
Therefore we should often refresh and renew the covenant and vow which we made with God in Christian baptism, and examine our whole life and conduct. We should call ourselves to account and judge whether we bear the true image of Christ upon ourselves, and whether we stand truly before the Lord, at peace with God and His church. We must also ask whether we remain in our first vocation and zeal, so that through neglect and forgetfulness, we do not come to sorrow of heart and spiritual harm.
Because man is so changeable and wavering and can soon stray and neglect his first love, this warning is very necessary. The apostle Paul says: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:1.3)
With this Paul gives us plainly and clearly to understand to what we are called and what our vocation is. Namely, we are to live in true love, peace and unity. As he says elsewhere: "God has called us to peace." That is why we must seek with the greatest diligence to live at all times in true love, peace and unity, and avoid from the bottom of our hearts all quarreling, confusion, destruction and disunity. For God has pleasure and joy to dwell where people live together in love, peace and unity. There He will give His grace and blessing.
As the kingly prophet David said in Psalm 133: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore."
The wise man Sirach also took pleasure in such things: "I take pleasure in three things which are beautiful in the sight of God and of mortals: agreement among brothers and sisters, friendship among neighbors, and a wife and a husband who live in harmony." (Sirach 25:1)
But if the bond of love, peace and unity is to be stable and proceed along its true course, then such a noble work demands gentle, surrendered hearts, dead to themselves, lowly and humble, which at all times regard their neighbors as higher than themselves. Such people do not seek their own profit, but the profit of others.
As Paul said, humility and meekness come first, as the virtues through which the bond of love and peace can be maintained and stabilized. But if a man still loves and thinks of himself and has not completely died to his own desires, then he fears being deceived or placed at a disadvantage. He fears getting the worst of the bargain, and true and lasting peace can never be achieved in such a one. Therefore meeting and living together will be of little help or use to us if we do not act and behave according to the way demanded by the Word of God and as the Lord wishes.
The world, or godless people, also meet from time to time for divine service in their churches, and also in taverns and dance halls and gambling halls. They also gather by the thousands to wage war, and are full of enthusiasm and unwearied in their deeds. But the Lord has no pleasure in such meetings, for here the devil is served mightily, and many thousands suffer damage and hurt; for often the one incites the other to sin and all manner of evil.
This is not the way that the Lord has gathered and called us. We should not damage, hurt, hate, and strive with one another. We should admonish and urge each other to do good. The Lord has gathered us together that we might serve one another with the gifts we have received from Him, loving one another and regarding each other as worthy of all honor. With this the Lord has done a great service to the righteous, in that He has gathered them together; and it is an especially glorious grace from God, if it be so granted, that one need not traffic with the godless rabble, for in community one believer can watch over the other. This way, a simple person who cannot guard himself sufficiently against the cunning of the devil can also be preserved, if he is obedient and follows good counsel.
The letter to the Hebrews teaches us: "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Heb 10:24-25) Paul writes to the Thessalonians: "Encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." (I Thess 5:11)
Further, Paul writes to the Romans: "Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up building." (Rom 14:19) Then later in the same epistle, he teaches: "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him.... Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (Rom 15:2, 7)
For that reason, on pain of losing salvation, we must pay heed that we do not show the opposite, that we are not an offence or hindrance to our brother or neighbor through a bad example or superficiality, or what would be worse, if we were to address him with sharp words because of a small offence to us, so that his trust in us is weakened and his heart distressed. Such a one would not be edified, but torn down and broken.
We should rather be diligent to act towards our neighbor as Peter teaches: "Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing." (I Pet.3:8-9)
Paul also writes to the Colossians: "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful." (Col.3:14-15) Here the Apostle places before us the example of the members of a body, how they bear one another and care for one another so that the body might not stiffer harm. We can see this in our body and members, for if we walk on a slippery pathway or road, and the one foot stumbles a little, the other quickly supports it. If the body passes through thorns or bushes, and a twig is about to strike our eye, the hand is amazingly quick to avoid this and raises itself in protection.
Now because we know ourselves to be members of the body of Jesus Christ, then we must faithfully help one another, the one faithfully guarding and watching over the other. The one must seek and further the profit and well being of the other, whether by address, admonition or rebuke, or as the situation demands.
If we see that someone is not walking according to the truth of the gospel, we must admonish him in a brotherly way to warn him from misfortune, and accept the warning and admonition made in love from another, as we also promised in Christian baptism.
As Paul teaches: "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6:1-2)
Jesus and His apostles knew very well that matters would not always be carried out with love and kindness in the church of the Lord, but that at times there would be unkindness and lovelessness. One has to be patient and bear with the other during these times; for when there is disunity, struggles and strife and all manner of distress arise, and if each one seeks to be in the right, it is not possible for all to be satisfied with what is said.
For this reason they have prescribed a glorious teaching and exhortation for us, and a fine order on how we should behave when struggles loom. That is, we should gladly forgive and pardon one another, if our brother has sinned a little against us, or offended us with a word. In these cases, we should not examine one another too harshly. For as we behave and deal with our neighbor, so also God our heavenly Father will deal with us.
This is why Christ teaches His disciples: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.... For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Mt. 6:12, 14-15)
"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6:36-38)
Christ teaches us further how we should act: "Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (Luke 17:3-4)
"Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." (Mt. 18:21-22)
Tobit teaches his son: "Watch yourself, my son, in everything you do, and discipline yourself in all your conduct. And, what you hate, do not do to anyone." (Tobit 4:14-15)
We are very sensitive to what others do to us, but not always sensitive to how we treat others. We often do not perceive this, even when it has been told to us
We need not ask how to act toward our neighbors. We have the example already with us. If we like men to act with kindness and consideration towards us, then we must do the same to others.
"Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." (Mt. 7:12)
Psalm 133: "For there [in brotherly community] the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore."
Hutterite Sermon #2: We must Follow Jesus Obediently in order
to Become His Disciples.