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Monday, February 19, 2024

Living the Golden Rule: A Deep Dive into Matthew 7:12

This is the 19th sermon I have preached from Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  Leave it to a preacher to turn Jesus' one sermon over 19 sermons!  Actually, this is not unlike what the Twelve Disciples would have done.  Jesus preached this Sermon on the Mount as an overview of His core teachings.  Then, the Twelve would have gone town to town to share His lessons, explandning upon them much ass I have in this series.

The sermon today is based on just one verse.  And I bet it is one most of you have memorized.  Can you guess it?

Matthew 7:12
“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.

It’s So Simple
Can you think of a time when someone treated you kindly and it left a lasting impression upon you?  I remember many.  One time when I was about 12 years old, my karate instructor started coming to pick me up for classes a few times each week.  My mom was a single mom with 4 kids and couldn't always get me to class.  So Jeff Carmichael picked me up every week.  I felt bad because I knew it was extra time and gas for him to come get me.  I offered to pay for his gas and Jeff said, "No.  Don't pay me.  One day you will have a chance to help someone else.  Whenever you do, you'll be paying me back."  I've always remembered that and tried to live it out.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It’s so simple, many are taught the golden rule in Kindergarten.  It’s so simple, almost every world religion teaches some form of “The Golden Rule”. 
Judaism 16th century BC: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow-man. This is the entire Law, all the rest is commentary.” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id)
Hinduism 15th century BC: “This is the sum of duty. Do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you.” (Mahabharata 5, 1517)
Buddhism 6th century BC: “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others.”  (The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18)
Islam 7th Century AD: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”  (Hadith 13, The Forty Hadith of Imam Nawawi)

It would seem the concept of treating other people with the respect, dignity, and kindness you would want for yourself is a universal law for all humans everywhere.  But if that’s true, it raises some questions.

But Why?
First of all:  Why should we treat people the way we want to be treated?  For what reason?  There have been many people throughout history who have rejected the Golden Rule in favor of something we could call The Law of the Jungle where only the strong survive and the weak are culled from the heard.  Why should we value and treat weak, less talented, less beautiful, less intelligent people with the same dignity and respect we want?  And what about people who act like animals and do despicable things?  Why shouldn’t we treat them like animals since they act like animals?

There may be some self-serving reasons to treat others well.  It could earn you a better reputation or open opportunities or encourage others to treat you well.  If you scratch someone else's back they may scratch yours.  So, it might benefit you to do good unto others.  The only problem with these motivations is sometimes it will not benefit you.  What then?  Does that give you an excuse to break the Golden Rule?  Not according to Jesus and the Holy Scripture.

All Humans are Sacred Works of Art
The Bible gives a reason to follow the Golden Rule that’s outside humanity all together and firmly grounded in the divine nature of God.  Genesis 1:27 says “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  We are created in God’s image.  Every human being is a sacred, image of God.  And therefore, every person should be treated with dignity and respect—the way you would treat a priceless work of art.

Suppose several priceless works of art like Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh or the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper by Leonardo de Vinci were were inside a burning building.  Wouldn't you want people to do everything they could to rescue the masterpieces from being destroyed?  And it wouldn't matter if the building that housed them were a beautiful museum or a shack in a swamp.  The value of the art inside the building is not diminished by the type of building they're in.  We would want to save them either way.  The same is true of every human being.  Each one has sacred worth because they bear the priceless image of God--a divine image that should be treated with dignity and honor regardless of the shell that holds it.

When we treat people poorly, it's a denial of the divine image within them.  This kind of behavior doesn't just harm the person on the receiving end; it also impacts our relationship with God. It's a form of disrespect to what God has created and valued.  It reduces our interactions to something less than human.  We become less than human.  When we treat others like animals, we become animals ourselves.  When we treat any part of creation without respect for the Creator who made it, we degrade ourselves.

Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  They bear the sacred image of God just like you do.  God loves people.  He loves everyone.  And if we love God, we should love what He loves.  We can’t see God, but we can see people.  How can we say we love God (when we can’t even see Him) if we don’t love the people God made (that we can clearly see)?  One of the ways we express our love to God is by loving the people He made in His image. (And also by take good care of all His creation.)

That’s not just something Jesus said.  It’s something Jesus did.  He treated everyone with dignity.
He valued and included children in his ministry—welcoming them in his presence when adults tried to push them away.  He spent time talking with the Samaritan woman at the well and revealed his true identity as the Messiah to her.  He was even kind to the thief on the cross who was dying in agony next to him at the crucifixion—welcoming him into Paradise.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Follow the Golden Rule?
The Golden Rule is so simple and universal.  It’s been known by cultures all over the world for over 3000 years.  And if people would just follow this simple rule, the world would be a much better place.  So why doesn’t everyone just do it?

The answer is summed up in one simple, 3 letter word: SIN.

God created us to love Him and to love each other.  But our SIN is we love ourselves more. We are selfish.  We want to be in control and do things our way.  And when we want something, we are willing to go against God's laws and moral principles and His purposes in order to get what we want.

This SIN is captured in the creation story in Genesis when the Serpent tempted Eve to breaks God’s command and eat the forbidden fruit.  The Serpent promised the fruit would make Eve like God.  And that’s often still the temptation--that if we  bend God's rules a little, we will receive some benefit, some reward, that is better than what what we have when we obey God.  God's way is always the best way, but we think we can do better by cheating the system.

Lenten Challenge
Today is the first Sunday in Lent.  Lent is a season of 40 days leading up to Easter.  It is a time when Christians refocus their spiritual lives.  Some may give up something as a form of self-denial to draw them closer to Christ.  Others commit to do something positive to live out their faith more authentically. 

Perhaps, for Lent this year, you could simply make an intentional effort to follow Jesus’ Golden Rule to treat others the way you would like them to treat you (in every circumstance).  I challenge you to do it as a spiritual practice.  Maybe you could even keep a journal every day.  Prayerfully keep track of the different interactions you had and how you did or didn’t follow the Golden Rule in different situations.

Closing Invitation
In closing, I must say you will always struggle with the Golden Rule until you surrender completely to God and become a Christian.  There will always be a reason to bend or break it until you finally surrender control of your life to God.  Jesus is Lord.  Surrender and let Him be your Lord.  Perhaps you would like to do that right now.

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