Often cited as part of the Hypocratic Oath, “First do no harm” is a motto of good doctors everywhere (thought is was actually written by an Englishman named Thomas Sydenham). The sentiment is one we in the church would do well to emulate.
Time and again I read or hear things like this: “I still love God, but I’ll never go back to a church again. The people are too cruel/hypocritical/shallow/judgmental.” One or two people saying this could perhaps be explained away, but it’s not just a few disgruntled individuals. It is becoming an epidemic.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
This sort of love is the very definition of doing no harm, since agape always seeks the well-being of its object. So what does it say about the church’s track-record of keeping this commandment when we are driving people away from church?
Love Your Neighbor
To get an increased sense of how serious God is about the need for us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and our brethren the way that Christ loves us, lets look at James 2.
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:8-10)
We can’t tell ourselves, “Well, it’s okay if I don’t love everyone since its not like I’m murdering them.” This is not to belittle how serious murder is, but as far as you’re concerned not loving someone is just as serious a violation of God’s law (James 2:11-13).
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. (Matt. 5:21-22)
Someday, we will have to answer to God for every time we were angry with someone for no reason, every time we looked down on them, every time we treated them with disdain — in short, we will answer for every time we did not show God’s love in our interactions with other people. That’s a sobering (perhaps terrifying) thought.
Don’t Hinder Them
Though the phrase “do no harm” is not found in scripture, we do see several verses that express the same sentiment. God instructs us to put the welfare of others first and do all we can to not hurt them.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-5)
Part of Jesus Christ’s mindset was to help, not hurt, those He came into contact with. He put His people’s needs above His own to the point of dying for them. Following His example, we must also focus on helping, not hindering, our brethren.
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Rom. 14:10-13)
In our dealings with other believers, one of our first priorities should be not giving them reason to stumble in their walk with God. Instead, we should be focused on building each other up.
Importance of Well-Doing
It is not enough to “do no harm,” though that is a good first step. It is also important to actively do good. On His last Passover as a human being, Jesus told His disciples that the Father is glorified when they “bear much fruit,” which is one of the signs that they are indeed followers of Jesus (John 15:8). We can say we’re following Jesus, but if we aren’t bearing some kind of good fruit then we are not glorifying God.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
This isn’t just James giving us an example of the kind of works we are supposed to do (e.g. help destitute brethren). He’s also making a comparison that tells us faith without works is as useless and empty as talk and no action.
You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2:24-26)
Rahab did have faith, but it wasn’t effectual until shown by her works. She could have just sat in her house believing “the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath,” but she would have died along with everyone else in Jericho if she hadn’t taken action to help God’s people (Josh 2:9-11).
In Luke 10, Jesus was discussing the two greatest commandments with a lawyer who had a questions about the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” When he asks, “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, a Jewish man is beaten and robbed and the spiritual leaders of the day declined to help him. It was a Samaritan — someone the Jews had no dealings with (John 4:9) — who saved the Jewish man’s life. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” The lawyer says, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37). The answer to the lawyer’s question is that we are obligated to love and help anyone who needs us, even if we don’t like them and especially if they are our brethren.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal. 6:7-10)
We’re supposed to do good and help others whenever we have the opportunity. That’s part of what love is, and love is essential in the type of church Christ is building. The closer we get to being the church that Christ is aiming for when He says “I will build My church,” the more likely we will be to welcome people toward God rather than push them away.