Thursday, February 19, 2009


Message preached on Sunday, February 15th

While I was in school, it was quite common for people to talk about the “Golden Rule.” I haven’t heard the term for decades since then. I rather suspect that many of today’s school kids wouldn’t know what it is.

Sometimes I heard people say that the Golden Rule is that we should not do to others what we wouldn’t want them to do to us. But the author of the Golden Rule, namely Jesus, didn’t put it negatively. What He said in His “Sermon on the Mount” was,
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets (Matt.7:12, NLT).
Eugene Peterson gives us a more graphic paraphrase in The Message:
Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.
If we do good in order to get people to be good to us, are we being manipulative? At first glance it does appear that way. But look at the matter from another angle. What is your rule for your treatment of others? Either, we can wait to see what people do and react to what they do, or we can go ahead and do what we feel is right and good:
Reactive treatment                            Proactive treatment
Depends on what others do              Flows from what you want
Vengeance                                           Adventure
Act of hate                                           Act of hope
All behaviour that is manipulative is bad because there are ulterior or hidden motives. There is an intention to deceive and an intention to take advantage of the person so deceived. While manipulation is not good, we need to recognize that everyone has influence on others, and influencing someone is not all bad, when the motives are good, and there is no intention to deceive or take advantage. As Jesus put it, the influence of good conduct is that it can pre-empt evil, it can touch and transform someone who would otherwise be predisposed to do evil. You could say that it is a good sort of manipulation.

Most Christians would like to think that Jesus was the first to state the Golden Rule. We forget that the Lord Himself had said that all that He was doing was to sum up the entirety of the Law. On another occasion Jesus spelt out the summary of the Law:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the most important commandment. This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matt. 22:37-40, GNB).
The first part of the summary is indeed a quotation from Deuteronomy 6:5-6, but the commandment to love neighbour as self is not in that summary and it’s not part of the Ten Commandments. The Lord got it from a more obscure passage:
Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am the Lord (Lev.19:18, NCV)
The Old Testament clearly asserts two things about relating to neighbours:
  1. Your neighbour’s business is your business. People can’t have the attitude “it’s none of my business” about other’s concerns. You can’t stay aloof. You have to get involved (Deut.22:1-3).
  2. Your neighbour’s need is an occasion for your charity. The Lord reminds His people that they have reason to be grateful, indicating that charity is the natural overflow of a grateful heart (24:19-22).
What our Lord did was to emphasize the teaching of the Old Testament that had been lost sight of. He clarified and elaborated what was obscured by tradition and ritual. The Golden Rule was not some isolated or obscure saying of our Lord. It was central to His ethic. He placed it among the Beatitudes when He said,
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matt.5:7, NRSV)
In the prayer famously known as “the Lord’s Prayer”, He taught that to be forgiven, we must be forgiving, and He thought that it needed to be emphasized, and so that is the only line in the prayer that He comments on with an elaboration of the principle (6:12,14-15). Later Jesus told the story of the unforgiving servant (18:21-35). Even though the Lord taught that we must forgive to be forgiven, in the story the servant is forgiven first, but fails to forgive another and as a consequence loses his forgiveness. So Jesus was not teaching about forgiving others to manipulate the forgiveness of God. Rather, like the Old Testament, His teaching is about forgiving because we are forgiven, and warns that those who do not appreciate forgiveness will lose it.

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, the Lord said that we are not to react to enemies in the same way as they behave toward us. We are not to practise the rule of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Instead, we are to love our enemies and do good to them. Instead of being like them, we are to be like our Heavenly Father (Matt. 5: 28-48; Lk. 6:27-36).

Paul considered all of the Lord’s teaching, and said, “Be like Jesus” (Phil.2:5). He called for people to
  • share love and be united (v.2), 
  • be humble and honour others (v.3) and 
  • be unselfish take an interest in others (v.4)
by asking them to be like Jesus (v.5), because
  • He didn’t cling to His divine status 
  • He humbled Himself
  • He became a man
  • He was obedient
  • He died on the cross
  • He is the Risen Lord now
  • He will be acknowledged Lord of all (vv.6-11).
Paul’s logic is seen when we take his instructions in reverse order:
  • Jesus is Lord
  • Jesus humbled Himself
  • Be like Jesus
  • Love others as yourself
One last consideration: are we to practise the Golden Rule in regard to God? Our Lord put the love of neighbour second, and the love of God first. If the Golden Rule is to be practised in regard to neighbour, we ought to be practising it toward God, except that He is the one who is proactive in the relationship. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4: 19).

Are you committed to God the way He is committed to you? He sacrificed His most beloved Son. Our Lord Jesus sacrificed His life—all His time and all He possessed. Are you expecting God to bless you without you ever reciprocating His loving sacrifices.

We are human, and so we love ourselves first, but God says love your neighbour too just like you love yourself, and don’t forget God comes first. He has first claim on your love and your life.

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