The sermon on the mount may be the most famous teaching in all of the Bible, second maybe only to the 10 commandments. Ghandi carried the sermon on the mount with him wherever he went, believing that it was the sketch of what the perfect society would look like. Whenever a non-Christian speaks of admiring some of Jesus’ teachings, they are typically referring to the sermon on the mount. It is truly a remarkable text, and if you could pull one piece out of it that would sum the whole teaching up in one bullet point, it would most likely be the Golden Rule. That is what we will be looking at tonight, and I want to cover three points: What does a life committed to the Golden Rule look like, Why is it so hard to follow, and How do we get the power to do it.
I am hoping to address two different groups of people today: the religious person who sees this teaching of community and love as less important than other parts of Christ’s teaching, and the irreligious person who disregards the rest of Christ’s teaching but likes this. I am hoping to show you today that you cannot divorce Christ’s saving work on the cross and his teaching of love on the sermon of the mount. You cannot say that you live by this teaching, unless you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior as described in the gospels. And, you cannot believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and not put this teaching into practice. The two are inseparable.
So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12
What Does That Look Like?
If you were to walk into any kindergarten or daycare, you would most likely see some form of the Golden Rule pinned up on the wall. This is one of the most fundamental truths that a large majority of people, regardless of what they believe about the Bible or Jesus, would affirm. It helps teach us to be nice, polite and friendly. But I think upon meditating on the teaching, we see that it is actually calling for much more than that
WHATEVER you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…
Jesus is teaching us something very radical. Jesus is not teaching us to merely be nice to our neighbor– He is asking much more than that. Now think, how do you want to be treated by other people? And, as a side note, I do not think that Jesus is talking about mirroring everything that you would like, for everybody else. Maybe you feel loved when a friend comes up and gives you a hug – that doesn’t mean that you should hug everyone else. Rather, you want others to feel the same love you feel when you are hugged, in whatever way makes them feel most loved.
Here is how I want to be treated:
– I want to be respected.
– I want to feel loved.
– I want to feel like I matter.
– I want to feel significant.
And in all of that, I want other people to act that way towards me because they actually want to – not because they are being forced to, or will feel guilty if they don’t. Imagine, a boyfriend is out with his girlfriend, and he plans to take her out on this mega-romantic date. He finds a secluded park, lights some candles and sets up a picnic. He makes her favorite food, gets her favorite flowers and writes her a poem. He is crushing it. At the end of the date, she is completely smitten, and looks up at him and says, “Golly, why are you so darn good too me?” Now, how do you think she would react if he flatly replied, “Well its my job. I would really like to go hang out with my buddies right now, but that’s not what a boyfriend is supposed to do, so, I’m here.” You think he is getting a goodnight kiss? Not a chance. Why? Girlfriends, or boyfriends for that matter, want their significant others to serve out of desire, not duty. No one wants someone to be interacting with him or her in a fake, obligatory way. So, in our attempt to rightly understand the Golden Rule, we must see that it is not merely a set of conduct for us to conform to, but our hearts must desire to treat people the way we wish they would desire to treat us. And that is not easy.
Jesus explains this well elsewhere in the book of Matthew 22, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” That is a radical command. Think of how deeply you love yourself. You love yourself, tremendously. When you are hungry, you go get something to eat. When you are cold, you put warmer clothes on. When you are lonely, you go spend time with friends. You don’t want to just exist; you want your life to count for something that matters. Don’t over psychologize this – you do love yourself. And underneath all of your self-love, you have a deep, deep yearning to be happy. Pascal says that, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
Imagine, if you can, that your desire for your own happiness were a raging fire. And imagine you could measure the temperature of that fire; Jesus is saying whatever the temperature is, use that as your measuring stick for how seriously you should pursue other people’s happiness. Think about that – the size, the intensity and heat of the flame for your own fulfillment, should be rivaled by the size, intensity and heat of the flame for other’s fulfillment. Let your desire to have something to eat, inform your desire to ensure your neighbor has something to eat. Let your longing for companionship and friendship inform your desire to ensure your neighbor has friends. Let your passion for having a life that counts and isn’t wasted, compel you into making sure that your neighbor’s life matters and isn’t wasted. John Piper describes this command as “ripping the skin off of your body and putting it on your neighbor.” That is graphic, but accurate.
So, if the average person who admires the Golden Rule were to hear that, they would not disagree. It does not take a regenerated heart to admire that. In fact, I would guess that many people would desire to have a community filled with people like that. In fact, a great question to ask yourself whether or not you are abiding by the Golden Rule is: If everyone else in the world were to mirror my morals and behavior, would it flourish? But here is the problem: nobody lives like that.
Why is it so hard to follow?
Some of the greatest influencers in our world today are remembered because of their selfless acts of service for the betterment of the world. Haven’t they personified the essence of the Golden Rule? Well – sort of. In part, but again, we must look deeper to grasp the gravity of how difficult it is to abide by this rule.
If my life is to be an outward life, living for the good of the world, that means that I must look down to the depths of my heart and silence any prerogative of self-fulfillment, self-promotion or self-indulgence in anyway, to anyone.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus gives several examples of what this looks like:
Judging: “Judge not, that you be not judged. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” – Matt 7:3, This means that if you are to be following the Golden Rule, you can never think yourself better than anyone else. This doesn’t mean just “you don’t say that you are better than others,” it doesn’t even say, “don’t act like you are better than others,” it is teaching, “don’t believe that you are better than others.” Do you think you don’t struggle with that? Tell me then, how do you view people who disagree with you? Tell me how you view other people who do think they are better than others, and look down on other people? Tell me how you view racists, whores, terrorists, bigots and rapists? To be obedient to the Golden Rule is to see us all as equally needy for the grace of God, all image bearers of God, all equal in dignity and worth.
Enemies: “You have heard it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one would borrow from you. You have hear that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”– Matt. 6:38-44. This means to be obedient to the Golden Rule, you must drain yourself of all ill will, all hatred, all bitterness, and all enmity for your enemies and desire their good. You must pray for them and long for them to flourish just as much as you long for yourself to flourish.
There is a scene in Les Mis, where the main character, Jean Valjean, has just been released on parole, and he is looking for somewhere warm to sleep and no one will offer him a room to sleep because he has been branded a dangerous man. Then, finally, he finds a church, and the monk in the church invites him in and provides him with food and a warm bed. In the middle of the night Jean decides to steal as much of the golden church relics as he can and takes off for the nearest town to cash in his stolen goods. A police officer catches him and drags him back up to the church and tells the monk that Jean was saying that the monk just gave him all of the gold as a gift, and asks the monk if this is true. Much to Jean’s surprise, the monk says, “Of course they were a gift! But friend, you have forgotten the best pieces!” And the monk quickly goes over to grab large, silver candelabra and hands it to Jean, and looks at the police officer and tells him that no crime has been committed. Would you be able to react that way?
Lust: “You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matt. 5:27-28, This requires a little more thought work to see how it relates to the Golden Rule, but not much. It is quite simple: I do not want other men to look at my wife lustfully, objectifying her and trying to invade the privacy of our intimacy with their thoughts. So, why would it be okay for me to do to someone else’s wife? To be obedient to the Golden Rule, there must not be speck of lustful desire for any woman who is not my wife.
This is a very small sample of the moral rectitude that is required to abide by this unbending law. Even the most moral, shining examples of selfless heroes in time still fall short of this command. It requires perfection; Jesus rightly summarizes his SOM with this line, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt 5:48
How on earth do we live like that?
…for this is the Law and the Prophets.
When I began studying this, I was puzzled by this statement, “This is the Law and the Prophets.” I wonder if it puzzles you as well. It is puzzling to me in two ways: (1) Jesus is saying that if you could boil down the entire Old Testament, the main point of it all would be the Golden Rule – that seems strange because of all the other stuff in the Old Testament. And (2) when Jesus was asked what the most important command, in the Old Testament, was he did not say “do unto others.”
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the Prophets.” – Matt 22:37-40
“Love the lord” is the first greatest commandment, “love your neighbor” is the second. These are two nails in the wall, upon which the universe hangs. So, why did Jesus say what he said about the Golden Rule being the law and the prophets? That doesn’t make any sense. Here is another astounding verse,
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10
To love my brother, is the fulfillment of the law. Any commandment is summed up by “love your neighbor as yourself.” Strange – what about the first commandment? It almost seems like Jesus is saying that loving God and loving people are so similar, that they are connected together, and to have one means to have the other. So, if I truly, really love my neighbor, I love God. And if I love God, I love my neighbor. They are inseparable, and 1 John will show us why.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. – 1 John 4:7-8
If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I love God; that kind of love only comes from God. It is like John is talking about loving other people is a natural consequence of loving God. So, the religious man cannot say that He loves God, but has no love in his heart for other people. And the irreligious man cannot say that He does not believe in God, but just loves other people. You cannot love others unless you know God’s love. And you cannot know God’s love and not love others. But how do I know what that love looks like? 1 John anticipates this question and explains,
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son as a propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. – 1 John 4:9-11
The Gospel is the teacher of love. Two points of application for all:
(1) For the irreligious. The Gospel teaches you what love is by not only displaying the greatest act of love in history, but directs the greatest act of love in history – at you! In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son…
- Jesus loved you while you were unlovely. God did not wait for you to earn his attention or approval before He gave you His love. His love is very different than the world’s love. He didn’t even wait for you to love Him! He loved you, while you were unlovely and did not want Him – who else loves like that? So, God is looking at you, from eternity past, and sees you puttering around in your sin and rebellion, and says “I want Him! I love Her!” And if someone were to ask God why, He would simply say, “Because I love them.”
- Jesus doesn’t accept you based on your own performance. The Golden Rule, as simple as it is, is impossible to keep. If our hopes of God’s love for us rests on our goodness, we are all screwed. So on what basis does God accept us?
- Jesus is our righteousness. On the Cross, Jesus took in all of your shame, all of your guilt, and paid for it. Wiped your slate clean, and gave you the perfection of Himself. Well may the accuser roar of sins that I have done. I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none.
- Now God is the goodness you point others to. Once you see this, the goodness of God becomes overwhelming to you. God is no longer this far away deity that may or may not exist. He is the covenant Lord, and He is more in love and committed to you than you ever have been to anything else in your life. You see, this is why an irreligious person cannot fully love someone outside of loving God. Love is pointing someone or doing to someone the greatest good. And once the weight and reality of the Gospel becomes a reality to you, you realize that real love is doing whatever is necessary to help someone else see this goodness.
(2) For the religious. Because Jesus Christ has pledged Himself to you, and revealed Himself to you, you now have both a model and an energy source to accomplish the Golden Rule. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- The model of love. Jesus gave us the perfect model of the Golden Rule. He always did to others as He would have them do unto Him. Jesus poured himself out endlessly, in service of blessing and loving people who mostly did not appreciate or love Him back. Whenever we need to ask ourselves how we should love someone else, however difficult it is, we just need to ask ourselves how did Jesus love us?
- The energy of love. And, I am guessing, you have to be asking yourself, how does anyone live like that? It seems impossible to just constantly be pouring yourself out. Well first off, it is impossible to do it perfectly, no one but Jesus can do that. But, because the Gospel has secured our communion with God, we now have the source of all joy. So, when we serve and love others, helping point them to God, we can empty ourselves of everything. “Marc, if I empty myself of everything, what will I have left?” You will have God, the very fountainhead of all joy and satisfaction, and He is enough.