Monday, July 24, 2017

The Golden Rule

‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

There is one word that is almost entirely absent from the Sermon on the Mount and that word is “love.” There are only two references to love in the Sermon on the Mount—one is in Matthew 5: 43 when He tells us to love our enemies, and the other is in 6: 24 when we are told we can’t serve two masters.  The other Gospels, especially John’s gospel, the word is used over and over again—love each other, love your neighbors, love God with all your heart. Yet love is hardly mentioned in Jesus’ most important sermon.

Love is all through this sermon, but it is just not called love. Love can be thought of as an emotion. Jesus wants us to know that it is not only an emotion. Love is something we do.

Feel love for others, but that is not enough. We must actually act on love. It isn’t theoretical or emotional. We can feel towards a person or thing, but if we aren’t actively involved in serving him, her, or it, then it really isn’t love. Consider these examples.

--A man loves his mother, but never visits her.  Does he really love her?

--A woman loves a church, but never attends even though she could. Does she love the church?

--A passerby is moved by the sight of a homeless person, but is too busy to help. Is this love?

--A patriot says he loves his country, but won’t fight for it. Is he really a patriot?

We can’t claim to love and not help. The so-called, “Golden rule” is all about what we do, not how we feel. 

One mistake people make about the Golden Rule is that everyone believes it. You may have heard that all religions teach the Golden rule.  However, this is not true. The “Golden Rule” is pretty much unique to Jesus. Other faiths have versions of it, as do people with no faith. But there are very few who actually say what Jesus says. 

There are at least four versions of the so-called “Golden rule.”   

One is “Treat others the way others treat you.” This is basically “an eye for an eye.” Even the church of Satan has this in their statement of faith
Many who profess to follow Christ go no further than this. They say, “I don’t hate anyone who doesn’t hate me.” But that’s not the Golden rule.

There’s also a negative version of the Golden rule. “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” This is common to all religions.

One story about this comes from ancient Jewish writings. A rabbi was challenged to recite the entire Law while standing on one foot. He stood on one foot and said, “Do not do to others what they would not do to you.” Another version of the same goes like this “Live and let live.”

But this isn’t what Jesus says. He says, “Do to other what you want them to do to you.” It means that we should go out of our way to do things for people, not just hang back until someone does for us. 

A third version is, “Do to others, so that they will do for you.”  Be nice and you will get nice in return. This isn’t what Jesus says either! This isn’t love—it’s commerce. Every successful politician and salesman practices this, but it isn’t the Golden Rule. The motivations are wrong.

But Jesus says, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  Do it, without expectation of reward or without judgment as to whether or not he or she deserves it. Don’t do it just in your head, but with your whole heart. Do it, and keep doing it to all people.

Jesus’ Golden rule implies three things.

1.  Don’t wait for someone to love us before we love them.
2.  Don’t wait for someone to come to us for help, but go seek them.
3. Don’t just help the deserving, but the undeserving. 

Whether they are good people has nothing to do with the Golden Rule. It doesn’t say ‘Do to others unless they have done badly to someone.” Do good anyway, whether they’re bad or not.

We call this verse “The Golden Rule,” but we really shouldn’t call it a rule. God has freed us from legalism, yet we Christians always seem to be trying to rebuild the law by turning every statement in the Sermon on the Mount into a law.

God isn’t saying you have to do this. He is saying that when you’re seeking to live and act like Jesus, this is what will be natural for you. The Sermon on the Mount, isn’t a new law, but it is describing the behavior we will exhibit when our hearts are transformed by Jesus.  We will normally behave this way when he or she is living in a love relationship with God. We don’t have to force it, because it will just naturally happen. If we find ourselves struggling to love, we are making it into a law. If we seek first the Kingdom, and live in His presence, then the Golden Rule will be a naturally occurring character trait among us. 

John 3:16 says God loved us so much that He gave His only son. We naturally want to give back, but we can’t give directly to God. So we express our love for Him by giving to others. We keep the Golden rule not because we must, but because we want to.   

So how do we keep the Golden rule? It is something between us and God, of course, so I must never presume to have the mind of God about how you individually should keep the Golden Rule, but here are three practical suggestions to keep in mind that may help you keep it better.

1. Respect people’s boundaries. Don’t force your help on people, either by giving advice, correcting their errors, or organizing their lives. No one likes a meddler or a busybody. How much do you like it when someone else is in your face, telling you what you ought to be doing, or how you should do it?  Keeping the Golden Rule means that we respect other people’s ability to run their own lives.  Do not cross the boundary in to someone else’s affairs unless they give you permission. 

People resent it when you do for them what they can do for themselves. If you see something that someone else is doing, and you think you can do it better, so you jump in and do it yourself, you may have rendered some short-term assistance, but in doing so you have created a long-term problem. You have broken that boundary wall. They will either resent you for it, or grow lazy and expect you to solve the next problem that comes along. Either way, it is bad for you and them. 
Do not do for others what they could or should do for themselves. Be careful about giving advice to those who don’t ask, assistance to those who need the exercise, food to those who refuse it, support to those who won’t work, or emotional support to those who need to work though their own problems. Helping others can hurt them when we do not respect boundaries.

 2. Start at home. There’s an ancient principle in the church that I’ve only recently discovered. It’s called subsidiarity. A rather simplistic way of saying it is “charity begins at.”  A better way of saying it is that we all must first manage the places that God has given us to live. When our personal life is a mess, and the relationships that God put us in are not in order, one way we escape is going out to save the world. We think that people will overlook our personality flaw if we just be good people on the outside. Subsidiarity that real love and obedience starts on a very small scale and grows out from there like rings on a tree. If you don’t love yourself, then it’s hard to love your family. If you don’t love your family, then don’t try to love your neighbor. If you don’t love your neighbor, then you won’t really love the stranger.  First, start by loving yourself, with the same grace God gives you. Then, treat your wife and children well. Then look to your neighbors first, and the people you worship with at church.They are the ones who know you best.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible, a pastor with three daughters decides to take them all to Africa as missionaries. While he is preaching the Gospel, his relationship with his wife and the people around him are so dismissive and belittling that he eventually destroys his family and the converts he has made. I wish this only happens in novels, but there is so much truth in it. If we are doing the Lord’s work and neglect our family, then we will accomplish nothing.
3.  Make the most of your spare time. We can love ourselves, our family, our neighbors and strangers. We just have to learn how to use our spare time wisely. Our families can be demanding, our friends too, but none of us are as rushed as we think.  We all have twenty-four hours in the day. We are not so pressed for time that we can’t make a phone call or pray a prayer. We just need to learn to use our time wisely.

Instead of sitting on the couch each night, can’t we find something to do for others?  It isn’t that we don’t have time, it’s that we don’t pay attention. Look at others and find little ways to help them—a word of encouragement, a hug, a little gift. Make a habit of leaving something good behind every place you go.

Parents: raise your children in the golden rule!  Do this by practicing the golden rule with them and in front of them. Let them see you spending your time unselfishly, and take them with you as you do acts of charity. Volunteer with them to help others. That could be the greatest gift you can give your children.  

God has been speaking to me about my own treatment of others. I don’t hate them, I am just easily distracted by my own thoughts. My mind is elsewhere, instead of on my wife, my family, my neighbor and my church. As a result, I am seeking to do three things

First, to pray for others. Whenever I hear a prayer need, I will pray for it right then. I Pray for others daily in my private devotion—not to pray against people, but for them. I don’t seek to judge or change them.

 Second, to listen to others. I talk too much. I am praying for God to grant me the gift of being a good listener, not just a good talker. 

Third, to pray for greater compassion. Love isn’t just what we do, but it’s also what we feel. If we feel empathy, it is so much easier to love. Empathy doesn’t come easy for many or us—especially for those who are unlike ourselves in background and temperament. Some people can’t seem to feel it at all.  It’s not intentional, so they should not be blamed for it. But we should all be praying that God will give us a greater empathy for other people.

Doing for others is not something we can work at doing. It’s something that comes out of a heart filled with the love of God.  Instead of praying, “God make me a better person,” we should be praying, “God help me to see you better.” Seeing God’s love for what it really is will give us the desire to be better ourselves.  

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