This last Sunday I preached live at the West congregation of The Austin Stone. We had a great morning together in our continued study in the gospel of Matthew. You can find audio of the sermon here. I hope you enjoy the notes.
The text today is one verse long, and contains a principle known as “The Golden Rule.” It is so familiar that it almost feels mythical and mystical. Indeed, it is so ingrained (in some form) into so many worldviews that we can forget that it is actually a unique and distinct command of Jesus. We can also forget that it lives in a context, and as we remove it from that context I believe that we can lose a lot of its power to transform us today.
Don’t worry. I am not going to do that thing that I see preachers do and that I am sure I have done myself, where we take something that is obvious and clear from the Scripture and then make it unclear because of context. Context is so massive in biblical understanding, so massive, but I have seen it used as an excuse to not obey obvious and powerful instructions from the Scripture.
The context of this might actually give it some more transformative power and more urgency for us. And this principle does have power to transform us. I have obviously had it in my mind for a few weeks leading to this preach and I am almost ashamed to say that it is revolutionary in relationships when actually applied. I find that almost shameful because it has revealed how little I had it in mind previously, and yet, according to Jesus, it sits right in the middle of what it means to follow God in this life.
So, let’s look at it. We will make three very obvious observations this morning, and then we are going to spend some time actually reflecting on it and asking God how we might be changed as a result.
“Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (CSB)
The cheesy (but helpful nonetheless) hermeneutic principle that preachers often tell us is that when you see a “therefore” in the text you must ask what it is there for. In other words, when I say “therefore” in ordinary speech, you would rightly assume that I have made a previous argument. I mean think about it. If you and I started a conversation, and I simply jumped in with “therefore,” you are going to think that you have missed something, right? Or that I am having sort of episode that requires emergency assistance.
Yet, we do this with verses all the time…
The ESV uses the synonym “so” which comes with the same presumption that there is a previous argument. Technically, it is a called a “logical inferential.” There has been an argument or position that has been argued and what comes after this conjunction is the inferred logical response to that position.
So, (see what I did there?) what is the “there” before the therefore in this case?
- Some argue that it is linked to the teachings on the certainties of the goodness of God the Father in verses 7-11. That makes sense. In other words, Jesus is saying that because you can be certain that God does what is good for you, go and do what is good for others.
- Some argue that it is linked to the slightly earlier argument in verses 1-6 of chapter 7, where Jesus teaches us to not judge others. Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do the same for them. You want people to treat you without judgment, go and do likewise. I like this linkage less as it leaves verses 7-11 as a slightly peculiar diversion and it also changes between the active and the passive a little bit. Don’t judge, therefore, do unto others by not judging.
- Some argue (and I like this one the most in my very limited opinion on such things) that Jesus is summarizing an entire section of the Sermon on the Mount. You guys remember when we taught through Matthew 5:17-20? In case you don’t recall, we taught that on December 16thlast year. Here is what that section said…
17“Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-20 (CSB)
Here is the significance. It appears that Jesus is using a teaching device known as an “inclusio” from his earlier treatment on the law by repeating the phrase. Therefore, what he says here in the Golden Rule is a bookend to this section and functions in summary of all that He has said since 5:17. Unlike most preachers, Jesus is using a coherent, memorable, concise and helpful summary in conclusion.
He taught that we needed a righteousness that surpassed that of the Pharisees, and for two chapters, he has taught us what that looked like.
- It isn’t just don’t murder – it is hold your brothers and sisters in high esteem and refuse to treat them with derision or dismissiveness, killing them with word or thought.
- It isn’t just don’t commit adultery – it is view others as image bearers of the Divine and so refuse to use them as objects for your own lust.
- It isn’t just don’t get divorced without due process – it is highly esteem and value marriage as sacred.
- It isn’t just keep your oaths and vows – it is value truth and cherish it in the big and small things so that your word will be trusted.
- It isn’t just restrain your vengeance to an acceptable level – it is go the extra mile even for your enemy.
- It isn’t just love your neighbor and hate your enemy – it is love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
- It isn’t just be generous – it is do it not as a way to gain power or acclaim. In fact, live your life in light of the rewards of eternity and not in terms of what people or stuff can get you in this life. Resting easy that God sees, He knows what you need and He will reward you in due time.
- Same for praying. Don’t do it as a power play of public piety. Do it as a private declaration of total and utter weakness and dependency.
- Ditto for fasting.
- And while you do this, be sure that you are aren’t becoming pharisaical in your view of others, judging them as you go. Keep a humble and alert focus on your own weakness and failing.
- And then be confident going to God, because He is a good dad and He will hear you and give you His best. Always.
…whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus is summarizing what it means to live a life that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees. “This is the Law and the Prophets” is a summary statement on the meaning of all that the Scriptures up until Jesus have taught.
So, three observations on this Golden Rule. None of them will really try to expand its meaning. It means what it obviously means. It isn’t hard to understand. Let’s go.
The Golden Rule is Right at the Center of God’s Way to Live
This isn’t the only place where Jesus summarizes the Law and the Prophets. He also does it in Matthew 22, when He is asked what the greatest part of the Law is. Look at what He says…
37He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and most important command. 39The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (CSB)
When you break it all down to the simplest form of what does God desire from His people, it is this … Love God and love neighbor.
We really have overcomplicated so many things, haven’t we? What are we to do?
- Love God.
- Love people.
Now, before we sing “kumbaya” and “we are the world” and “akuna matata” as our dismissal anthems today, we do have to address that we probably mean a variety of things when we say love. But here again the bible helps us out…It describes what that looks like.
- When it comes to loving God, do it with everything you have.
- Total submission and surrender of every part of you and every facet of your life. Heart, soul, mind…all of it.
- When it comes to loving your neighbor, love them as you love yourself.
- If that is still too obscure … do for them what you would want them to do for you.
So, friends, let’s just start at the simplest point today. We use so many metrics and measurements to understand spiritual health, but at the root of all of them ought to be love.
How are you doing in your love for God? One of the ways you know how you are doing in your love for God is how you are doing in your love for others. Because this is right at the center of what it means to love God.
Faithfulness leaks into relationships. The way we love God has to spill into the way we treat people that He has made. We have compartmentalized faith so much to our shame, to the point where we have made it an acceptable dichotomy that someone could claim to love God and yet be tyrant of a boss, or a terrible spouse, or a terrifying parent, or constantly rude, or an owner of other people for crying out loud.
Maybe one of the best ways to know how you are doing in your love for the Lord is how you are doing in your love for others. One leaks to the other. From love of God to love of neighbor.
The Golden Rule Changes Everything in Relationships
Just look at it again. It is phenomenal.
“Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 (CSB)
It may or not surprise you to know that Jesus wasn’t the first teacher to say something like this. I say this, because some of you get your faith totally wrecked when you discover this on like a Tom Hanks movie or something and it ruins your life.
But look at what some other teachers said before Jesus.
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” – Udanavarga 5:18
“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius
“What is hateful to you, do not do to you neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn.” – Hilel
Here is what is remarkable about that. There is wisdom in what those other cats said. I can get behind it. It is all in negative form though. In summary it is like saying…Don’t be a jerk…SELAH.
Now that is good input for many. I need to hear that some days. But Jesus takes that and gospelizes and shows it in a way that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees. It is not just, “don’t do what you wouldn’t want”. It is “do what you would want”. It isn’t just don’t be jerk, it is be empathetic and kind.
And when you stop to think about this…this could change the world.
- The dignity and respect I want others to treat me with, I will treat them with.
- The compassion and longsuffering and grace that I hope others will extend to me, I will extend to them.
- The pursuit and thoughtfulness and kindness I want from those around me, I will extend to them.
It is revolutionary. Let’s just apply it to a few scenarios quickly…
- What do you want from co-workers, those above and below you in authority structures? Work hard, carry their weight, be honest, be respectful, be a team player, be fair.
- Be that kind of co-worker.
- What do you want from friends? Pursuit, contact, care, encouragement, truth. Right?
- Be that kind of friend. Eg Sue and I after moving and having to navigate friends who we left. Decided to be the most encouraging people they know. They don’t contact us, okay, we’ll contact them.
- What do you want from your family? Safety, care, help, enjoyment.
- Yet many of us expect our families to live off of the fumes of what the world leaves us as. Families are safe spaces for us to be the worst versions of ourselves because what they gonna do?
- Do we want our family to love us like that?
- How do you want someone to receive communication from you, whether they are close or a stranger online (stop communicating with strangers online)? You want fairness right? You want them to assume the best of your motives? I want to be taken at face value and listened to fully.
- Well then how are we doing that for each other?
You see how revolutionary this could be? If we actually stopped and asked at the end of the day, “did I do for them what I would have wanted them to do for me?”
A little disclaimer here. What if the right thing to do for someone is something that they wouldn’t want?
- What if you have to fire someone?
- What if your kid needs discipline?
Do we have to not do that because they don’t want to do that? No.
- But…even the tough things need to be done in a way that we would want others to do for us if we knew what they knew.
- When I have to discipline my kids. I should stop and ask, what would 4-year old me want from my parent in this shaping moment?
- Some of the best things in my life have happened in rebuke, but done in a way that I now see was done with my bigger wants in mind, even though they had to usurp my momentary wants to be sure. Those friends knew that my desire to be Godly was more important than my desire to be comfortable.
The Golden Rule Was Lived by Jesus for Us
Jesus didn’t teach what He didn’t live. Otherwise we would have no hope. Look at how John anchors this for us.
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. – 1 John 4:7-11 (CSB)
We love because we are loved. We can give others what they need because Christ gave us what we need.
So today, we are going to finish by remembering that love with communion. Bit we aren’t going to rush. I don’t think we stop often enough to actually just sit with some stuff and let the Spirit speak. Here are some questions for you to think through, make some notes on, talk to people around you about if you like. We are going to take a break to process this through first. (Put questions on the screen)
- Who is someone that you feel like God is calling you to love as you would want to be loved this week? How are you going to do that?
- Who is someone that you feel convicted about in terms of not loving them well in the recent past? What are you going to do about that?
Come back up to pray.
- Before you take communion, consider the following questions: (put up on screen)
- Do you believe that God loves you, and that He has shown that love by sending Jesus to die for you?
- Is there anything you need to confess to God about the ways that you have failed to love him?
- Do you have faith that the finished work of Jesus on your behalf makes you righteous and therefore able to take part in remembering Him in communion?