Wesleyan Roots: “On Pleasing All Men”

Wesleyan Roots: “On Pleasing All Men”

A Message on Romans 15:1-6

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 14, 2018
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Romans 15:1-6 (NRSV)

 

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. 3 For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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This past Thursday I attended a funeral in Mt. Pleasant. The person’s life we were celebrating was named Billy Wayne Flanagan, and indeed it was a life worth celebrating.

 

I got to know Billy Wayne a couple of different ways. First, he was the cousin of Tommy Earl Burton, my roommate for four years at seminary in the “Commuter Dorm.” Tommy Earl and Billy Wayne (yes, their families have a thing for middle names…) both grew up in St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant.

 

Billy Wayne and his wife Kristi have attended that church since he returned home to Mt. Pleasant after earning his law degree something like 40 years ago. Not only that, but Billy Wayne played the piano for the church. And when I say “play the piano,” I mean REALLY play the piano! Wow, he was good.

 

Billy Wayne and Kristi were the lay representatives for St. Andrew UMC at Annual Conference every year. Many times the Flanagans and the Burtons and me (and Pam if she was attending) would go out to eat together during Annual Conference.This photo is from one of those times.

 

I also knew Billy Wayne through the Northeast Texas Emmaus Community. He was very active in the community and played piano at more events that I can count. And one time at one of the Emmaus events I played guitar while he played piano. I count that as one of the highlights of my life.

 

To know Billy Wayne was to know an extraordinary person, although being the person he was, he would never admit to being extraordinary.

 

He was extraordinary, though. He always had a smile. It never was about him, but about others. He lived out his faith by putting others before himself.

 

Tommy Earl gave the message at the funeral. He told about something Billy Wayne’s mother said happened when Billy Wayne was just a young boy.

 

Here’s how I remember it. Billy Wayne was about four years old. One hot day the whole family was out working in the yard. After a while Billy Wayne walked from the yard into the house. He was gone for quite a while, so his mother started walking to the house to go check on him.

 

When she got to the door she was met by little Billy Wayne, doing his best to balance a tray with several tall glasses of ice-cold milk on it, one for every person working in the yard.

 

Even from a young age Billy Wayne put others before himself. The huge number of people attending the funeral service, including myself, testified to the fact that Billy Wayne Flanagan lived his faith by living his entire life in the service of others.

 

At first glance the title of John Wesley’s sermon that we’re looking at today, “On Pleasing All Men,” might be perceived as being a message on the tension between serving God and serving what others expect of us, a Godly worldview versus a human worldview.

 

But that is not the case. The scripture that Wesley’s sermon is based on comes from Romans 15:2. The NRSV translates it as, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

 

Or the translation Wesley would have been more familiar with: “Let every man please his neighbour for his good to edification.”

 

It doesn’t take long in reading Wesley’s sermon to find out this sermon is about serving others. Here’s what he says.

 

“We are directed to please them for their good; not barely for the sake of pleasing them, or pleasing ourselves; much less of pleasing them to their hurt; which is so frequently done, indeed continually done, by those who do not love their neighbour as themselves. Nor is it only their temporal good, which we are to aim at in pleasing our neighbour; but what is of infinitely greater consequence, we are to do it for their edification; in such a manner as may conduce to their spiritual and eternal good. We are so to please them, that the pleasure may not perish in the using, but may redound to their lasting advantage; may make them wiser and better, holier and happier, both in time and in eternity.”

 

So, if I understand Wesley correctly, in order to live out this scripture we have to do more than just be nice to others. We have to do things for others that will benefit them not only physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well.

 

One of the traps for us as Christians is doing good for all the wrong reasons. We can’t do good things for others for publicity or recognition. We can’t do good things for others to create a warm fuzzy feeling within ourselves on how good or righteous we are. We can’t do good things for others for a tax write-off. We have to genuinely care for others, for their well being, to have compassion and…well…love for them.

 

In his day Wesley was critical of the writings of others at the time who failed to include the main point of helping others: love.

 

“Many are the treatises and discourses which have been published on this important subject. But all of them that I have either seen or heard were miserably defective. Hardly one of them proposed the right end: One and all had some lower design in pleasing men than to save their souls, — to build them up in love and holiness.”

 

As Paul says, “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.”

 

Wesley even made three points, which he called “directions,” on how to do this.

 

Point 1: “Let love not visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant ruling temper of your soul.” In other words, you can’t just turn love on and off. True love, the kind of love Jesus has, and teaches us to have, is constant. As Christians we should keep practicing love and focusing on Jesus that it becomes the “main thing” in all aspects of our lives.

 

Point 2: “…study to be lowly in heart. Be little and vile in your own eyes, in honour preferring others before yourself.” Now I have to admit that the part about being “vile in your own eyes” is a little disturbing, but I think what Wesley is saying is to not put your own needs and preferences before others. Curb your ego. Less of me, more of thee.

 

Point 3: “…labour and pray that you may be meek as well as lowly in heart.” Be meek. We just don’t hear that much in the world today. Meekness is considered to be a weakness, not a strength. But if we want to love others the way God loves us, we must be meek. It’s actually  strength. And it’s not an option.

 

At the end of the sermon, Wesley gives us a nice summation of what he is saying: “To sum up all in one word-if you would please men, please God!”

 

Now I’m not going to point to ol’ John that he used more than one word, but his point is spot on. To please God we think of others. To please others we live the way God wants us to, there by pleasing God.

 

Listen to Paul’s words as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’”

 

If ever there was a great example of selfless service it is Jesus Christ. Talk about putting others before himself! Jesus came to earth and was fully God and fully human. He could have given up on trying to teach the disciples, especially when they got things wrong, but he didn’t. He could have smited down the Pharisees and Sadducees who were upset with him because he was rocking the boat and challenging the status quo, but he didn’t. He could have stopped his arrest, beating and execution on the cross, but he didn’t.

 

He went to the cross because he was thinking of others. He went to cross because he was thinking of me and you. He went to the cross because of love.

 

So my challenge to you this week, brought to you by the Apostle Paul and John Wesley, is to live a life of service to others. Live your life like my friend Billy Wayne Flanagan did, a life of service to others. Live your life like Jesus Christ did, a life of love of God and a love of others.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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