Last week I said that in the first 12 verse of chapter 7 Jesus gives the best guidance about how to live in good relationship with other human beings that you will ever get. The first 5 verses gave the negative part: Stop criticising. You are not God, you are limited, you are not all seeing and therefore in a poor position to judge other people (the plank). Your heart is deceitfully self-righteous.
The last 7 verse of our passage gives the positive part. Stop criticising; start loving.
Read Matt 7:7-12
“Start loving” is based on verse 12, what most people know as the golden rule. The passage feels a bit disconnected – criticism, prayer, and the golden rule. Verse 12 is connected to the rest of the passage by the word “So” – he is drawing a conclusion. And we will look at how verses 7-11 link in just now, but well start with verse 12.
Someone else’s shoes
A revolutionary statement
If you look at the backdrop against which Jesus speaks, he was making a new and revolutionary statement
- Confucius, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others”
- The stoics, “What you do not which to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.”
- Epictetus, “What you avoid suffering yourself, seek not to inflict on others.”
- OT Apocrypha, “And what you hate, do not do to anyone.”
- Rabbi Hillel, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole law and the rest is commentary”
Jesus does not make a minor change in emphasis. His statement completely turns these other statements on their head. In ancient literature, all the statements of this principle are negative. Jesus was the first to make this positive. The negative statements allow inactivity, passivity – it does not necessarily require anything of us. Jesus’ statement compels us to search our hearts deeply.
“Do to others what you would have them do for you”. The longer you think about it the more you realise how much it requires of you (WOULD). This principle recognises the powerful human force of self-preservation, self-advantage, self-concern, and self-care and reflects it onto others.
The Great Commandment
Jesus is going to says the same thing in the Great Commandment:
Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
How much do you love yourself? Christian = I don’t love myself, I love others. No, you do. If love means to ‘serve the needs of’ – then you really love yourself well. Whose teeth did you brush this morning? Whose body did you feed and clothe? NOW here is the thing: loving yourself is not commanded. Did you notice that? There is a (even Christian) rhetoric that has been doing the rounds for the last 30 years about loving yourself: “what you really need is to love yourself better”. That, I am afraid, is not biblical or helpful. The Bible says: (a) love God, (b) love others are you already love yourself. And please do not accuse me of saying that you should not care for your body and soul. The point is that self-love is natural AND to prevent this self-love from becoming selfishness (dominating our lives) Jesus tells us to do to other what we would have them do to us.
Empathy: feeling with
JC Ryle wrote, “This truth settles a hundred different points. It prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases.” We want a rule book by which we must conduct ourselves in any and every situation. But Jesus gives us a principle self-inspection that determines our actions. It helps us to get really practical about how to live in relationship with others – to prevent friction, to solve issues, to encourage and support:
- What would I need to want in that situation?
- How would I feel in their situation?
- It is the highest form of empathy: watch video clip
- Brene Brown – feeling with people; sympathy is feeling (sorry) for someone:
- (1) the ability to take the perspective of another person;
- (2) Staying out of judgement (not easy when we enjoy it as much as most of us do);
- (3) Recognising emotion (need) in other people;
- (4) communicating that recognition of emotion;
- I don’t know if Brene Brown realises it, but she is saying what Jesus saying: get out of yourself and get into the other person’s shoes and let that determine your response. “Rarely can a response make something better, what makes it better is connection”. You connect with the other person by feeling their pain, hurt, frustration, need, desire, and struggle.
Think about how it would / should affect:
- Our response to sexism, racism, slavery, abuse, the legacy of apartheid, other justice issues.
- Lying, cheating and stealing
We always think that we have been mistreated more than the other; we think our problems are bigger than others; we know exactly how we have been hurt, offended and crossed. However, we need to stop focussing on ourselves and start looking to the needs of others.
- Think about the MOST DIFFICULT relationship you are in at the moment (spouse, child, friend, boss). What would it mean for you to “do to them as you would have done to you”?
But the truth is that we fail and fall in this regard all the time. We are overcome by our self-love and it turns into selfishness and comes out as criticism, callousness, coldness, or…
Illustration of prayer
How does the “ask, seek, knock” reference to prayer fit in? I believe that Matthew included it here in his account to remind us, from verse 2 – the way in which it has been measured to us. Do you use a ¼ teaspoon or a bucket? So the teaching on prayer serves to illustrate the “do to others” of God’s heart. Look at how good and generous and willing and providential he is.
Prayer demonstrates the Father’s heart of God. As flawed as we are as humans we are still good to our children. How much more will God never give us something that is deceitful or dangerous to us. Will he not give us what is only for our good and His glory? We can have confidence in the all-knowing goodness of our Father. If you want the measure of “do to others” look to the goodness of God’s Father heart.
Conclusion: Fulfilling the golden rule
But Jesus did not just teach and illustrate the golden rule – He fulfilled it. And we are enabled to live the golden rule ourselves by looking to Jesus as the one who completely fulfilled the golden rule in his incarnation – in a physical and spiritual way. The incarnation is a demonstration of God’s empathy – do to others as you would have them do to you requires being familiar. He didn’t just put himself in our shoes, he put himself in our flesh. He came to connect (Brene Brown) or “a man of sorrows, acquainted with our suffering” (Isaiah) with us, to feel our pain, to live our suffering, to fathom human life – that is why Jesus came in the flesh. He didn’t just feel sorry for us from a distance, he came to feel WITH us.
But far more than it just been a physical act of empathy, it was a spiritual act of empathy: service and grace. He did for us – once he had put himself in our place – he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He experienced our need and he offered us rescue from our own sin. Infinitely more than you will ever be asked to live out the golden rule, Jesus became the golden rule for us.
And so we are empowered to live the golden rule when we see Christ Jesus doing for us what we most desperately needed. He lived the life that you should have lived and he died the death that you should have died so that you can be made acceptable to God not on the basis of what you have or have not done, but on the basis of Christ’s perfect life.
Please use / augment / discard these questions so that your group has a fruitful discussion
- How does Jesus statement in verse 12 differ from the kinds of statements that had been made by other philosophers and religious leaders?
- What does Jesus’ statement require of us?
- How does verse 12 relate to Mat 22:36-40?
- [I would suggest spending a fair amount of time teasing this principle out practically] If you put the statement, “do to others as you would have them do to you” into practice, how would it change your response to:
- the legacy of apartheid
- other justice issues
- telling lies (even white ones) and cheating
- gossip and slander
- treating employees / boss/ colleagues
- How does Jesus fulfil the golden rule?
- How does it empower us to live by this principle?