The Universal Rule
Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"And whatever you do, in word or deed — do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through Him." Colossians 3:17
Religion, to be anything real, must be a thing of the whole life and conduct — influencing a man in all that he does, and forming his character under all circumstances.
"Whatever you do, in word or deed," says the apostle. There cannot be a fuller description of the whole conduct; for this comprises all we do and all we say. All is to be governed by one principle. There must be a likeness, a consistency, in all parts of the Christian's conduct.
In whatever company he may be, whether with those who fear God or with those who fear Him not — he must show himself a Christian still.
In whatever circumstances he may be placed, whatever he may have to do, whatever events may befall him — the same character and principles should be seen in him.
If he is one man with some people — and quite another man with others; if he appears serious and devout at times — but careless and worldly at others — then how can his religion be real? The Bible rule as to when and where the Christian character is to be shown, is simply this: "Whatever you do, in word or deed."
The rule here given, which is thus to govern the whole conduct, is equally simple: "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus." Let us dwell awhile on this rule — so simple and yet so full. We may take it to mean:
1. Do all, as bearing His name.We are called Christians, after Christ — it is His name that we bear. The "name which is above every name," the name at which every knee shall bow — that is the name which we bear. How high an honor! How great a responsibility! We should never forget our name. We should strive to adorn it in all things, and earnestly desire never to do anything inconsistent with it. Oh, how different would our daily life be — were this simple rule closely, strictly, watchfully obeyed! How many deeds would be left undone! How many words would remain unspoken!
2. Do all, as being His servants.All who bear the name of Christ are by profession, His servants: "You serve the Lord Christ." The man who lives to himself, seeking day by day only to please himself, with no regard to any higher will than his own — cannot be living aright. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." We are the redeemed servants of Christ our Lord, and are to do His will.
But can we act on so high a principle in little things? Can we, in "whatever we do, in word or deed" — seek to serve Christ? Yes, whatever our Master gives us to do — that we are to do as His servants. If an earthly master bids his servant do the most trifling thing — then the servant is doing his will as much in doing that little service, as in obeying his most important commands. So it is with us, as the servants of Christ. It is not the greatness or littleness of the thing which makes the difference — but the willingness or unwillingness, the diligence or negligence, with which it is done. If even little things are done heartily, as to the Lord — He is served in them.
3. Do all, following His example.We have more than the commands of God — we have also the pattern of His dear Son. Jesus once lived on earth, and the history of His life is in our hands. We know how He lived, what He did, what He said, and what He refrained from. We know how He acted toward friends, and toward enemies. We know how He bore injustice and ill-usage. We know that He went about doing good, and that not even His bitter enemies could find any fault in Him. He is our example. We are to aim at being like Him, "whatever we do, in word or deed."
We are to do nothing which He would not have done — nor to say anything which He would not have said. We are to be like Him — not merely in abstaining from evil, but also in doing good. When we meet with reproach — we are to bear it as He bore it. As we are called by His name — so we are to walk in His steps in all things.
4. Do all, as redeemed by Him.His blood was shed for us. This must never be forgotten; this must give a tone to all our thoughts and all our life. In this sense we must, like the apostle, always bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. This is to be our motive, and the constraining power over our hearts: Christ was crucified for us — His sin-atoning blood was shed on our behalf. In this faith, from this motive, by this love — we are to live and act. We must have them always, as a deep and abiding principle.
5. Do all, by His grace.We cannot live to God, but by His grace. We shall fail continually, unless strengthened by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore doing all in the name of Jesus — must mean also doing all in His strength and by His grace. He Himself, when He was going away, promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach, to comfort, and to sanctify us. More, He said further, speaking of a presence by the Spirit, "Behold, I am with you always — even to the end of the age." We are living under these promises now. Jesus, our Master, knows our weakness and need — and is ever ready to help us.
How many temptations have we from within and from without! How often do our own evil hearts incline us not to follow Christ! How often do outward temptations arise to lead us astray! We have no strength of our own — all our sufficiency is from God. We must lay aside therefore, all trust in ourselves and go forward trusting in His promised grace and help. We must "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" — looking unto Him as the "author and perfecter of our faith," and feeling with the apostle, "When I am weak — then I am strong." Christ is all our strength. We are strongest — when in weakness, humility, prayer, and faith — we cast ourselves most fully upon Him. His grace is sufficient for us. "The name of the Lord is a strong tower — the righteous man runs into it and is safe."
There is yet one thing more in the text — thankfulness: "Giving thanks to God and the Father through Him." As all things are to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus — so we cannot even give thanks to the Father aright, but by Him. For He is our Mediator; He has opened the way of access for us; He ever lives to make intercession for us; by Him our prayers and praises are acceptable to God.
If we really "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus," or even heartily strive to do so — then it will certainly follow that we shall be of a thankful spirit. For then we shall be continually realizing what we owe to His love and grace in redemption, and setting before us His example of perfect love; and thus we cannot fail to become more and more thankful in heart. To do all in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give thanks to God the Father — are sure to go together; they both form part of one character.
This thankfulness for redeeming love — will lead to thankfulness for all blessings, both temporal and spiritual. He who has learned to know the love of God in salvation — will see the same love in all that befalls him. Indeed the words, "whatever you do, in word or deed," belong to this part of the text as well as to the former.
We are not merely to praise God occasionally — our hearts are to give Him thanks continually. Whatever we do, thankfulness should be the spirit in which we do it. Even should we be called to follow our Master in bearing reproach or suffering — still we must maintain a thankful spirit: "Give thanks in all circumstances." There can be no circumstances in which the Christian should not be thankful, for there are none which are not ordered in wisdom and love by our God and Father in Christ Jesus.
Happy they who live thus — doing all in the name of Jesus, and doing all with a thankful heart! It is not having much of the world, which can make us happy; but only being truly grateful for all that God sends and serving our Master Christ humbly and lovingly. Happy, thrice happy — are they who find much of Christ in all their daily life — trusting Him, loving Him, serving Him, and following Him!