So, in everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Our text is the most famous thing Jesus ever said. I call it, “The Mount Everest of Ethics.” Indeed, it is the summit of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Master this and you’ve scaled the heights, Jesus said, “For this sums up the law and the prophets.”
So far, in His masterpiece message, Jesus has not uttered anything all that new. It’s been mostly a rehash of Old Testament ideals. Ah! But this verse, often called the Golden Rule, is new! And it is without parallel in the Scriptures.
To be sure, there are similar teachings in Judaism. There is the story of a young teenager who goes to a rabbi and agrees to convert to the Jewish faith, “If you can teach me the whole law of God while I stand on one foot.” Without hesitation, the old rabbi said, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other.”
Rabbi Eliezer once said, “Let the honor of thy friends be as dear unto thee as thine own.” To be certain, something very closely akin to the Golden Rule is found in most religions and world cultures. Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Buddhism teaches, “Do as one would be done by.” And the Romans used to say, “Do not do to others the things which make you angry.”
You will carefully notice that all of the aforesaid axioms are spoken in the negative. Jesus, however, takes it to the next level by couching it in the positive. And in doing so, Jesus makes the law more demanding. For in the Golden Rule we find not what we cannot do, but what we must do.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:18 following, “. . . our message to you is not ‘yes’ and ‘no’. . . but in Him it has always been ‘yes’.” The Christian life is not all about what we cannot do, but rather what we can do!
An example. Imagine a hot, thirsty day at the beach. You amble over to the cola machine, fish through your purse for some change, deposit it in the coin slot, then push the button for a cold drink. The machine whirrs and buzzes, but no drink emerges. It is out of order. Though the coke machine does not hurt you, neither does it help you!
The same with the Christian life. I have sins of commission– things I do wrong. But I am also guilty of sins of omission. That is, things that are right that I refused to do.
I can satisfy the negative form of the Golden Rule by inaction. “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” I can be a hermit or a miser and by doing nothing fulfill that law. But the positive restatement of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” this prods me to action.
I must serve. I must be kind. I must bristle with helpfulness. I must do my best for others.
Let’s say I own a car. To follow the Golden Rule I must seek to drive so as to harm no one. But, equally, I must drive so as to be helpful– giving you a lift. Thus the Golden Rule means I must treat you not just as the law allows but as love demands. This means I must forgive as I would hope to be myself forgiven. It means I strive to serve as I wish to be served. It means I speak of others as I wish to be spoken of myself.
The Golden Rule is very much a principle to dominate one’s life at home, at church, at work and play.
Radio’s “Prairie Home Companion” host, Mr. Garrison Keillor, spoke of having a new book released, and he went on a book tour across the nation. At first he flew into airports, rented a car, and drove himself to author parties. But as the book climbed the charts of the bestseller lists, he was met at the airport by a limousine, the hotels got nicer and nicer, the restaurants more swank, and he never saw a bill.
After some months on the celebrity travel circuit he stopped in the Colorado Rockies for a few days rest. A close friend gave him the use of his half million dollar chalet on the side of a ski slope. Mr. Keillor went out the door one afternoon to luxuriate in a hot tub, the door shut behind him, locking him out. After thirty minutes in the bubbly heat, Keillor realized he couldn’t stay in the hot water any longer. He couldn’t get back in the house. Nor could he tolerate the freezing temperatures in a soaking wet bathing suit.
So he yanked down the plastic tarp used to cover the hot tub, wrapped himself in it and began to walk barefoot for help. A group of elite lady’s passed him on the road in their Mercedes. He tried to flag them down but they averted their eyes and kept going. He soon found out no one was willing to open their doors to a shivering stranger wrapped in a blue tarp standing on their steps. It was thirty minutes before a reluctant woman, who wouldn’t unlock her door to him, agreed to call the owner of his chalet so he could come with the keys.
Garrison Keillor said he learned that day a great lesson. Always be kind to strangers. For you never know when you’re going to go yourself from being a best-selling author riding in limos to a stranger wrapped in a tarp and shivering barefooted in the snow.
I have heard people say, “The Gold Rule is my religion.” But it cannot be. For this rule is not a religion, but an expression of a relationship that causes us to act graciously toward others. Notice that the text begins with the word “so” or “therefore.” Notice the text is preceded by a section on prayer. It is “therefore” because of our relationship (or conversation) with God that we share a loving relationship with others.
One finds this in the Great Commandment of Mark 12:28-34. We first love God. Then we love our neighbor as our self.
I’m forever explaining to people that the Christian life is not just difficult. It is impossible. Unless you accept by faith God’s love expressed by Jesus on the cross, unless you repent of your sinful selfishness, unless you receive the Holy Spirit and are transformed by His love, one can’t hope to duplicate the Golden Rule in His lifestyle.
See that light bulb nearby that is not on? It looks like a light bulb. But on its own it cannot act like one. The switch must be on. The electricity must flow. Then it can do what it was meant to be– a light.
Likewise I look like a man. But I cannot act like one until I make the connection to Christ and His power lives the life of Christ in me. Then, and only then do I become a man in full, able to live the Golden Rule.
Lord, fill me. Live your love in and through me. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.