13. "Whatever You Do, Do This"

Matthew 7:12

Realizing in a previous study that God has called us to live as salt and light in this world, it shouldn't be difficult to see in v. 12 that Jesus gives us a very simple, very directed instruction that we should all take to heart. If we're unkind, unloving, and un-Christlike in our dealings with people, we're not living as a true witness to the love of God who is infinitely loving and patient with us. Plus, we can expect that same kind of treatment from others.

"Whatever You Do, Do This"

It's the Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12 [Click to open, re-click to close, this and all other links.]
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has been giving his listeners a greater vision of the wonderful character and purposes of their heavenly Father. God the Father is the One who sees in secret, who is ready to give them the treasure of heaven, who will satisfy their longings for righteousness and mercy. This God intends to provide his people with true righteousness, one that exceeds mere morality. Jesus has wanted to feed their trust in the purposes and activity of the One who created them.

In our two sessions covering the end of chapter 6 that Tom and Chuck introduced to us, Jesus tells his readers to put God and his kingdom first in their priorities and everything else will follow from that. Similarly, as Lee highlighted last week, this is the context for the section on judging. Jesus began that section of teaching by commanding his listeners, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." He warns them that when they attempt to speak a word of judgment, when they attempt to announce a word against another, they'll receive judgment in the same measure.

During Lee's session, we noted that Jesus is warning against judging others while encouraging his listeners to be discerning at the same time. We're not to judge in the sense of giving “the last word” on someone else. Instead, we're to participate in Jesus’ work in our lives and in the lives of others by accepting and trusting that he alone has the “last word.”

Bookends: The Law and the Prophets

Remember that little phrase: the Law and the Prophets that Brother Wil M. introduced to you in our third session titled "Vital Signs"? Pastor John likens this phrase to bookends of this whole section from 5:17 to 7:12.

The first bookend, has Jesus saying, “Don’t think I've come to abolish the Law and the Prophets” (v. 5:17). Then he goes on to talk about what’s at the heart of the Law and the Prophets — the Torah — which has to do with treating people right; honoring community. Jesus warns that if you don’t do that, you'll face very serious consequences with God: (a) He says that if you judge other people, you'll be judged by whom? By God; (b) he says that if you refuse to forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins; (c) he says that if you’re filled with contempt for people and it shows when you carelessly say, “You fool,” then you're in danger of the fire of hell; and (d) he says that anybody who chooses to sexually exploit other people, objectifying human beings, might as well start gouging eyes and lopping off hands because it’s better to lose one part of your body than to have your whole body go to hell.

Jesus says all of the teachings of the Law and the Prophets are pointing in this direction. God loves all people. Therefore, when anybody gets careless with how they treat people, it makes God mad.

Jesus comes to the end of this section with his second Law and the Prophets bookmark when he sums up all of his teaching on the Law and the Prophets within a single sentence; perhaps the most famous and influential sentence in the history of the human race. We call it The Golden Rule. “Do unto others what you would have others do unto to you.” Derived from Jesus' own words in Matthew 7:12: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

The Golden Rule is central to what Jesus said. It’s not just a nice little saying. It sums up the entire deal. Jesus was very concerned because people had turned the Law and the Prophets — the Torah — into legalisms. The consequence amounted to people thinking they were pleasing God when, sadly, they weren't even loving others. They had missed the whole point.

The Principle of Reciprocity

In the context of Jesus' complete Sermon, it's clear that Jesus is encouraging his listeners to ask (and to seek and to knock) for God’s good rule to be done, for his reign to be active in their lives. He's already taught them to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” He's helped them to see how good and life-giving this kingly rule of his Father is.

In v. 12, Jesus commands, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." This verse, known popularly as “The Golden Rule,” is most often quoted as if it stands alone, as if it had no context. But here we see that the context is crucial to Jesus — the command is a conclusion to his teaching on "the giving character of God" and to his command that they seek and ask from this God, since he'll surely give to them his kingdom. This is true for us as well! Practice of this principle demonstrates our love for others. The onus lies on us, believers, to examine how we'd like to be treated by others and then apply to others what we find.

Free at Last — Thank You, Lord

Is it possible for each of us to become free enough to treat others as we'd want to be treated? Yes it is, because of who God is and because we can depend on him to be the heavenly Father who Jesus reveals him to be. Only with dependency on him can we be freed to treat others the way we hope to be treated.

There 's no need for us to have the last word or condemn others. Why not? It's because we're not dependent upon them for the good things we need. We don't need to fear their judgment of us either, since they don't have the final word about us as our Father does.

We can keep The Golden Rule when we live as if we have a good and giving God who lords over us and over our neighbors. And we can treat others in ways that we'd want them to treat us (whether they do or not).

Because our God knows and teaches the truth, and is gracious and giving, when we entrust ourselves to God, we're freed from (a) giving a last word to, and (b) receiving a last word (especially a condemning one) from others. When all our strings are attached to God, we can love each other with no strings attached.

Pastor John's "Golden-Rule Challenge" for You

John challenges you to live this week with Golden Rule eyes. It’s this simple. Think right now about people you will see this week. People you live with, family. People in your neighborhood, people that you’re going to run into at a restaurant or the post office. People who are older, people who are younger. People who are richer, people who are poorer. People who are well educated, people who aren't. People in our church, people a million miles away from God. . . .

Now take a Golden Rule pause. You can do this. God will help. Put yourself in that person’s shoes. Take your mind off yourself. Pause a moment and think, "Now if I were that person…with their hopes, their dreams, their life, their fears, their challenges…how would I want to be treated?"

Then, allow the Holy Spirit to give you a little nudge to have a Golden Rule moment — a moment that takes the focus is off you an onto another person. Realize this, please, "It’s not about how other people are treating me. No. It's about how I'm treating other people. . . ."

So think right now about the people you’re going to see this week. Don't wait until Tuesday's meeting. Make the decision right now. Pray, "God, I want to open myself up to you as best I can. Keep reminding me. Spirit, keep nudging me. Keep reminding me to have Golden Rule moments continually. Give me Golden Rule eyes and a Golden Rule heart. Help me to have and show Jesus' kind of love. I ask and pray this in Jesus’ name, amen."

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