The Golden Rule
Just mention the “Sermon on the Mount” and many of us know that we are talking about the words of Jesus. The beatitudes are the introduction to that Sermon. Some have said that the teachings of Jesus were radical and new. However, this is not so. The teachings of Jesus are consistent with what God had said through Moses and the Prophets. The teachings of Jesus are an application of the Ten Commandments, the law and the prophets to everyday life. The Sermon on the Mount is amazing because it is so clear, concise and relevant. These teachings of Jesus can be compared to a condensed version of what God had been saying all along.
I am going to spend some time going over just a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. The title of this series is “On Relationships.” Let me be clear. I do not consider myself an expert on relationships. However, Jesus is an expert on relationships. I hope to present His teachings. I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth as is His role. We all fall short in the area of relationships, and need to be humble enough to learn and grow.
Luke covers the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 6 of His account of the life of Jesus. In verses 27 through 49, Jesus presents timeless principles for relationships. Most of us are familiar with the idea that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart soul and strength, and to love our neighbor as our selves. In the passage that we are considering, Jesus teaches the practical application of the second commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.
The first principle we are going to look at is found in verses 27 through 31 of Luke chapter 6 and is known worldwide as “The Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule is simply this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Luke 6:32 says:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. (Luke 6:31 ESV)
Pretty simple, right?
What about people that hate us?
What about people that strike us?
What about people that take from us?
These three types of people are precisely the ones Jesus was talking about when He said, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
We want to treat someone who is kind to us with kindness, but the one who hates us, strikes us or takes from us is different. We want to strike back. We want to preserve what is ours.
The difference in attitude that Jesus is teaching is the difference in attitude between a child of the kingdom of God and a child of the kingdom of this world. This difference in attitude is reflected in the statement of Jesus when He taught us:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
The children of this world’s kingdom are caught up in preserving their lives, protecting what is theirs and building their own kingdom. But the children of the kingdom of God are caught up in pleasing God, glorifying His name and building His kingdom. These different pursuits make for completely different attitudes. Can you imagine the difference this shift in attitude can make?
Before we consider the application of the golden rule, we first must consider two cautions.
First, many who would be children of the kingdom of God try to keep their feet in the kingdom of this world. Jesus warned of this in several ways. He warned that we are not to put our hand to the plow and look back. He warned that no one can serve two masters and specifically that one cannot serve both God and money. He warned that before building a tower we need to calculate the cost and make sure we are able to pay the price. The kingdom of God is not a part-time pursuit. If we are not serious about it, we are not in it at all. One cannot be in the kingdom of God and be in the kingdom of this world at the same time.
The second caution is best understood by considering the Pharisees. Having the standards of the law of Moses and setting their minds on keeping those standards, they developed the attitude that they were better than everybody else. The common name for this is “self-righteousness.” Self-righteousness looks at and condemns the faults of others and of the world around, and blinds one’s self to one’s own faults and shortcomings. Self-righteous people refuse to look at how they fall short and they avoid humbling themselves in order to address the problems. This results in what is known as hypocrisy. The dictionary definition of hypocrisy is:
the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense.
For those of us whose desire is to be a part of the kingdom of God and to be pleasing to the King, these two cautions are helpful, but now we must turn and consider what it means for us to “do to others as we would have them do to us.” We will do this by considering the biggest challenges presented by others. We have no trouble responding with kindness to those who treat us kindly. We have no trouble being loving to those who treat us with love. However, there are those who challenge our character. Jesus names three sets of people that test our commitment to the kingdom of God. These three sets are:
- Those who hate us.
- Those who strike us.
- Those how take from us.
He names those who hate us in verse 27 and 28.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28 ESV)
I wish I did not have to say this, but those who hate us can be the members of our own household. Domestic abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse and sexual abuse are not limited to those outside the church. These things happen within the church. It is a shame to us that we have to address these issues within our own church bodies, but it should not surprise us. These things happen for two reasons. Some who claim to be children of the kingdom of God are not, and some who are children of the kingdom of God still live with the flesh in control. I would go as far as to say that all of us live with the flesh in control to some degree, and are in the process of being made like Christ.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. These are the people who hate us. They do not necessarily hate us with words. They may, but they may hate us by ignoring us, discounting us and belittling us. Jesus tells us to love them, do good to them and to pray for them. However, just to be clear, He does not call us to live with them, trust them or sleep with them.
In the Corinthian church, there was a case of incest. What follows are the Apostle Paul’s explicit instructions concerning this person:
When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 ESV)
Delivering a person to Satan for the destruction of the flesh does not seem to be the loving thing to do, but notice the purpose stated for such an action. It says, “so that his spirit may be saved.” Setting boundaries, limits and expecting someone to behave morally and responsibly are not unloving actions. In the case of the man in Corinth, he actually repented and Paul later instructed them to accept him back into the fellowship.
In the case of anyone who hates us, we should apply the principle of doing to them what we would have them to do to us. This does not mean giving them what they want. What they want may land them in hell, and none of us wants to end up there. We would rather be warned, awakened to our peril and saved.
In addition to those who hate us, Jesus names those who strike us. He says:
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. (Luke 6:29 ESV)
The one who strikes us is the one who does us harm. Of course, this person probably also falls under the category of those who hate us. However, at this point Jesus is talking about those who do us harm.
In treating this person as we would be treated, there are several things we can consider.
First, Jesus taught us to overcome evil with good. In our flesh, our first impulse is to retaliate. We want to protect and preserve our lives and our honor. However, when our interest is the kingdom of God, we will desire to see this person saved from their sin. Jesus said by doing good to the one who wrongs us we heap burning coals on his head, the idea being that in so doing, our enemy might come to repentance.
In treating this person in the way we would like to be treated, the second thing to consider is that we are instructed not to seek revenge but to leave vengeance to God because God will repay. Just as we can trust God to fix our wrongs and bring good from the damage we have done, we can trust God to fix the wrongs of others and bring good from the damage they have done.
The third thing we need to consider in our treatment of those who strike us is forgiveness. We want others to forgive us, and so it follows that we should forgive them. We do this for the kingdom of God, but in the case of forgiveness, it benefits us more than the one we forgive. Forgiveness frees us to enjoy the peace that God gives and it restores fellowship with Him.
In the case of the one who hates us and regarding the one who strikes us, we are confronted with those who act with malice. But in the case of the one who takes from us, the malice is not obvious. Jesus describes this person as “the one who begs from you” and “the one who takes away your goods.” This person borrows and never returns your stuff. He borrows money and never repays it. Psalms 37:21 says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” This person is described as wicked. And yet, Jesus tells to treat him as we would like to be treated, to not demand our stuff back.
This person is needy and is always taking. They are always in crisis, but the crisis is usually their own fault. They make poor choices. They may be lazy. They are self-indulgent. Paul warned Timothy not to put young widows on the church welfare role so that they would not become this type of person. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul gives the famous statement, “If anyone will not work, neither should he eat.” As part of the same instructions Paul says, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16) In order to shame this person into taking responsibility Paul instructs us to not have anything to do with them, and at the same time tells us not to grow weary in doing good. The complete instructions are found in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. These are long instructions because this person is hard to deal with. They seem humble but are unrepentant. One cannot take responsibility for such a person. They must take responsibility for themselves. By insisting that they take responsibility for themselves, we seem to this person to be cruel, and certainly not treating them as we would like to be treated. But here again, enabling us to destroy ourselves is not what Jesus is teaching.
Jesus is not talking about easy relationships, but then all of us have difficult relationships that we must face. Jesus gives us instructions to help us live as children of the kingdom of God in the middle of a world that is focused on the kingdom of self.
The Apostle Paul gave similar instructions when he said:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:3-7 ESV)
Looking at this standard of living that calls us to love our enemies and to consider others as more important than ourselves makes us realize that no one can do this on his own. This is only done in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you are a child of God, you will want to live as a child of His kingdom. If you are not a child of God, this will be utter nonsense. Why would anyone want to love their enemies and do good to those who persecute them? If this is your thought, then you must get to know the love that God has shown for you. He loved us while we were His enemies. He gave His only Son for us while we were His enemies. He did this to save us from death and judgment. This is why we can show the same consideration to those around us.