According to the Rules

Everyone has a rule of life. But is everyone's rule sufficient for real life?

In this lies the heart of the rule: to love Christ, to shun wealth, to remain close to the heavenly King, and to be gentle towards all people.

  - The Rule of Comghall, Irish, 6th century[1]

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of
this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

  - 2 Timothy 2.3-7

Christianity in Ireland during the 6th-9th centuries was organized primarily around a monastic model. Each monastery was like a small community, with the clergy living within the compound and a community of lay people of various trades living in the outlying areas.

The monks served the people – teaching, shepherding, helping with a wide range of tasks – and the people helped with the support of the monks, just as Paul outlined in our text for today, as well as in 1 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 6.

This symbiosis of monastic community life generated and sustained a movement of revival that lasted for nearly four centuries and brought renewal and awakening throughout Ireland, Scotland, and much of Europe.

Monasticism was a demanding way of life, particularly for the clergy, who were often subject to persecution, deprivation, hard manual labor, and intense spiritual warfare. Monks, pastors, missionaries, and other religious leaders found strength and consistency in living according to rules that outlined the life of faith they pursued.

A rule of disciplines was rather like a constitution or covenant that defined the terms whereby leaders would live and work together in a monastic community. The great benefit of having such a rule was that it ensured that all who chose to live under it – and lay people sometimes took up modified versions of the rule of their community – would have a basis to encourage and assist one another in the work of the Kingdom.

Monastic rules, such as that outlined by Comghall of Bangor, provided focus, consistency, and standards to guide the lives and work of all those who accepted the challenge of living under them. They included disciplines to guide believers in their spiritual lives, relationships, and work. These rules helped monks organize their time, assess their daily lives, and encourage one another in their common mission.

A rule of disciplines can play an important role in promoting growth in the Lord and greater effectiveness in serving Him. Just as soldiers and athletes must abide by certain rules, and farmers must practice all the disciplines necessary for ensuring a good crop, so those who serve Christ can strengthen themselves in love for Him and for their neighbors by entering a covenant with the Lord and a few soul friends to pursue a certain path of discipline.

We all live by rules anyway; each of us has his own disciplines, routines, and ways of doing things that define the way we use our time each day. Most of these “rules” are unwritten, and that means they may be neither as complete nor as helpful as we need. It can be difficult to make needed adjustments when we can’t identify the specific area or practice that needs adjusting.

The better we understand and practice the disciplines that help us to make the most of the time God gives us, the more we can expect to know full and abundant life in the Lord. This is what Paul means by instructing us to live by proper rules and make the most of the time (Eph. 5.15-17).  

Is your life, disciplined as it is, disciplined as properly and as beneficially as it might be? Why not make some more specific commitments and take up a more clearly-focused and carefully-organized path for following the Lord and serving Him? Then find a soul friend to help you stay the course in your rule of discipline, so that you can know more of the full and abundant life Christ has in store for you.

Solomon reminds us, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Prov. 25.28). If we rule our souls well, our souls will rule our lives for the glory of Him Who rules all things.

For reflection
1. What disciplines fill up the time of your life? Are these disciplines helping you to bear fruit for the Lord?

2. Would you benefit from improving your practice of disciplines? Do you have a soul friend to encourage you in this?

Psalm 26.8-12 (Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
Lord, I love Your dwelling place, there where all Your glory shines.
Keep my soul before Your face, lest for sinful ways it pine.
As for me, in righteousness, I shall walk on level ground.
Save me, Lord, renew and bless! Let me with Your Church be found!

Lord, rule me, soul and life, so that I love You with my whole heart and whole mind and all my strength, and my neighbor as myself. Adapted from Columbanus, Monks’ Rule

Monastic Rules and Spiritual Life

Want to learn more about the rules of disciplines followed by Celtic Christians? Write to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and request your free PDF copy of Living to Rule. This little book explains in more detail how monastic rules helped in the work of discipleship and community-building in the monasteris of medieval Ireland. It includes a worksheet that can help you develop a more disciplined approach to your life with the Lord.

The Lord provides for the needs of The Fellowship of Ailbe by moving on the hearts of those who benefit from our work and believe in our mission. If that includes you, please seek the Lord in prayer concerning this opportunity. It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate online through credit card or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Ó Maidín, p. 31.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore