Goforth’s Rules

Bob RoaneCounseling, Loving and Trusting God, Wise living

Jesus said: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Goforth and His Rules

Jonathan Goforth (1859–1936) was the first Canadian Presbyterian missionary to China, who served there for almost 47 years. In the front of his Bible, he wrote the following “Rules for Daily Living.”

  1. Seek to give much; expect nothing.
  2. Put the very best construction on the actions of others.
  3. Spend at least a quarter hour daily in Bible study.
  4. Never omit daily morning and evening private prayer and devotion.
  5. In all things seek to know God’s revealed will and obey it at any cost.
  6. Seek to cultivate a quiet prayerful spirit.
  7. Seek each day to do or say something to bring Christianity to unbelievers.

Jonathan’s wife Rosalind Bell-Smith Goforth (1864-1942) served with him in China and Manchuria all along. When he asked Rosalind to marry him, Jonathan asked, “Will you join your life with mine for China?” She gladly made that commitment to the Lord and was a gifted Bible teacher herself. Instead of buying Rosalind an engagement ring, Jonathan purchased evangelistic books and pamphlets and Rosalind approved! They were married for forty-nine years and had eleven children, five of whom died as babies or young children. Shortly after their arrival in China, all their possessions were destroyed by a house fire. Through many hardships, God was shaping and sharpening Jonathan and Rosalind for His service. They obeyed Jesus’ command, “Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”1

Goforth’s “Rules” help me and can assist all of us. They can aid us in following Jesus wholeheartedly, learning what matters to Him, appreciating what Christ has accomplished for us and in us, and cooperating in God’s plan to bring salvation to our broken world.

Seek to Give Much; Expect Nothing

In Rule #1, Jonathan is echoing Jesus’ words. Christ says: “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”2 Our God (Father, Son, and Spirit) is the super-generous Giver, not a taker! And we are to imitate Him.

Scripture says that the Lord meets all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. He generously provides us with everything we enjoy. The Lord shows kindness by giving us rain from heaven and crops in their seasons. He provides us with plenty of food and fills our hearts with gladness. Every good and perfect gift comes down to us from God, the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in Him, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle.3

Jonathan and Rosalind were Christ-imitating Christians who followed John Wesley’s maxims:

Do all the good you can, By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can, In all the places you can,
At all the times you can, To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

The Goforths were God-serving people, not self-serving. They didn’t pat themselves on the back or fish for compliments. They served out of love for Christ and other people. They agreed with John Bunyan who said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Lord, help us to do the same.

Put the Best Construction on the Actions of Others

In daily life and especially in Christian service, people slight us, confuse us, offend us, and disrespect us, intentionally or accidentally. Animal porcupines are respected because of their sharp quills.  When threatened, they hiss and shake their quills as a warning. To defend themselves, they move backward to jam their quills into their attacker. Likewise, prickly people are hard to deal with. They try to protect themselves and stay safe, but they hurt others, not always fully aware of what they are doing.4

We are all flawed people and so are our family members, co-workers, and neighbors. So we must not jump to conclusions and judge that prickly people are bad people to be avoided. That’s not the way of Christ. He says, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”5 And the Lord says in Proverbs, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult….A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”6

Cutting People Slack

Author Steven Covey (1932-2012) learned Goforth’s Rule #2 in a uncomfortable way. He was traveling on the New York City subway, when a father and three children came into the same train car and sat across from Covey. The children were demanding and disobedient, disturbing everyone on the train. Covey rebuked the father for letting his kids agitate everyone. With tears, the dad said that they were on their way home from his wife’s burial service. The children were usually well behaved, but now they were acting out their grief over their mother’s death and burial. The dad didn’t have the heart to discipline them right now. Stephen Covey felt like a jerk for passing judgment on this sad family and he changed his opinion right away. Now Covey felt pity and sympathy for these hurting ones, once he understood their larger story. He was able to put himself in their shoes and appreciate that their grief was much more important than his minor annoyance.7

Whenever we feel like criticizing any one, let’s remember how kind, compassionate, and forgiving Christ has been with us and let’s cut other people some slack. We never know all the reasons why they behave the way they do.

To be continued.

You may also like Following Christ in a World That Doesn’t (Part 1) and Giving Others the Benefit of Doubt

Notes (various Bible translations): I am indebted to Craig Sheppard’s article “Who Was Jonathan Goforth?”     1 1 Cor 15:58.     2 Luke 6:35-36.     3 Phil 4:19; 1 Tim 6:17; Acts 14:17; James 1:17.     4 I heard this illustration from Dr. Rosenna Bakari.     5 Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31; Lev 19:18,34.     6 Prov 12:16, 19:11.     7 Adapted from Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), p. 30-31.