The Golden Rule (Luke 6:31)Pastor Jon Truax, January 14, 2018
Part of the Top Ten Sayings of Jesus series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
The Golden Rule
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
This morning’s message is the first entry in our new sermon series, “The Top Ten Sayings of Jesus.” We seem to have a cultural fascination with Top Ten Lists. Even before David Letterman began such a feature as a staple of his late night show, people have been accumulating lists of top ten items. Maybe it’s because we have ten fingers. Maybe it’s because Moses got the original top ten list from God. Here’s one I came across on the Internet. “Top ten signs you’ve joined the wrong church:”
10. The Bible they use is the DSV - the "Dr. Seuss Version."
9. There's an ATM in the narthex.
8. The church staff consists of the Senior Pastor, the Associate Pastor and the Socio-pastor.
7. The preacher refers to God only as "Jehovah" and constantly tells the congregation to "witness"
6. New members are required to submit W-2's for the last 10 years.
5. The media refers to the church facilities as a "compound".
4. The Women's Quartet are all married - to the pastor.
3. The large cross in the front of the sanctuary has been replaced with a bronze pyramid.
2. The pastor preaches an eloquent sermon on ancient heresies and the elders want to make them part of the church’s statement of faith.
1. Worship services are B.Y.O.S. -- "Bring Your Own Snake."
Our series on “The Top Ten Sayings of Jesus” isn’t meant to elevate any one particular verse in importance over the others; it’s just a recognition that some of the things that Christ said have become more well-known, familiar, or culturally significant than others. In this series, we’re going to look at ten of the most famous expressions of Jesus that almost every Christian knows by heart, but dig a little deeper to get at the truth and grace at the heart of His saying.
For instance, today’s entry is so entrenched in the popular imagination that it has even developed its own shorthand expression: The Golden Rule. Many people who went to Sunday School as children but haven’t darkened the door of a church since, could still quote the Golden Rule back to you, in the King James Version of eleven words: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Jesus uttered these words, but neither He nor the Bible ever referred to them as the Golden Rule. That expression came later when followers of Christ realized how majestically that simple formula sums up the command to love others. The Golden Rule has captivated our cultural attention ever since. As I knew I was going to preach this sermon early in 2018, imagine my surprise when I saw advertising on the New Year’s Eve telecasts for #GoldenRule. There is actually a modern American business using as their slogan: “We live by the Golden Rule. Treating others like we’d like to be treated. It has always been our guiding principle.” Anyone know the name of the corporation, or the business that it’s in? It’s the hotel, or hospitality, business. Marriott.
You’ll hear a lot of variations on the Golden Rule, some humorous. As has often been said, and was even quoted in the Disney movie Aladdin, one version goes, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That’s one way to look at it, but vastly different than what Jesus said.
There is even a variation of the Golden Rule called the Silver Rule. “Don’t do to anyone else what you would not want done to you.” Up until the time of Jesus, this was the highest ethical teaching of the Pharisees. Jesus, as He so often did, shattered the ceiling of righteousness that was expected and called his followers to practice a yet higher standard.
Often, people will get the Golden Rule incorrect by putting a spin on it that Jesus did not: “Do unto others as they do unto you.” Words to live by, right? That is not the Golden Rule. There’s nothing really all that special about such a practice; Jesus even point out that it is standard operating procedure for human nature: We usually treat others in return as they treat us. It comes very naturally. He said in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” “Do unto others as they do unto you” doesn’t qualify as living the Golden Rule.
Jesus points out that this doesn’t really need to be stated as a rule; this is basic human nature. Sure, there are people who treat even those who treat them well poorly. That’s where we get the expression: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” But humans are much more prone to live below our nature than above it. Jesus is charging us to go the other way and treat others well even when they treat us poorly. That’s what “as you would have them do unto you” means. Such a thing doesn’t come naturally.
Why did God give us this command? Does God care? Does it really matter that much how we treat one another? Yes, absolutely. This is a huge issue in the Bible. If American Christians are guilty of anything, it is a fiercely independent streak when it comes to our faith, that we believe it is all about us and Jesus. Love God, that’s the most important commandment, right? Yes, sure, let’s get that straight before we worry about anything else. But so much of the Bible also has to do with how we treat others. The majority of the Ten Commandments are about our treatment of others. Tell the prophets that it only matters how we act toward God!
The key question that ought to concern us is: How do we employ the Golden Rule in our daily life? How do we keep this from just being a nice thought, a pleasant philosophy, one that really never manifests itself?
Basically, following Jesus’ Golden Rule means you have to be the bigger person in life, in your relationships with others. You have to be the one to act first, and to act faithfully. This is a concept that was dramatized in the film from the year 2000 called Pay It Forward. It’s a Kevin Spacey movie, so unfortunately that means it probably won’t be seen much any more. It may even disappear and never be heard of again! That’s too bad, because it did have a powerful message to teach about living the Golden Rule and being proactive about our kindness to others, freely dispensing it before it is given to us.
“Pay It Forward” is the story of young boy who is given an assignment by his teacher – to create an original idea that will make the world a better place, one that will make a real difference. The boy comes up with the idea of paying it forward – that instead of paying someone BACK for something good that they’ve already done for you, that you go out on a limb and help someone in a major way first – paying it forward – and then asking them to pay it forward to someone else as well. If everybody started acting that way, the boy reasoned, the world would be a better place. I agree with the idea, but I don’t know how original it was. I think Jesus articulated it 2000 years ago in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
In this way, we are even called to share in God’s nature a bit. The call of the Golden Rule reminds me of what Paul had to say about God’s grace in Romans 5: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I believe the only thing that can turn our perspective around and make us interested in being proactive rather than reactive in our relationships is to realize that this is the way we received God’s love. Jesus practiced the Golden Rule in coming to earth long before He issued it as a moral imperative to us as His followers. He just asking us to do as He has already done.
GOD acted first in His relationship with you. I mean, even apart from creating us in the first place, it was God Who gave Jesus to this world in order to establish a relationship with us. God wasn’t “paying us back” in any sense of the word – He was “paying it forward.”
All of us have been touched with the pre-emptive grace of Jesus Christ. That fact should sink into our brains and marinate our minds. Knowing that God first loved us, or, as the Book of Romans put it, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” can make a world of difference. This understanding gives life to scriptures like I John 4:19 which tells us: “We love - because he first loved us.” This knowledge should give us the motivation to make some major changes in our attitudes so that we, too, can become like Jesus and be the initiator of love, mercy, and forgiveness in our relationships with others. The divine love that Jesus has freely shared with us should give us the ability to freely share it with others, to pass it on.
When you look back, you will probably see examples of when the Golden Rule became operative in your life.
I remember when, as a young, struggling pastor, couples in my church donated extra gifts to Debbie and me specifically. That sure helped out a lot. I remember times of car accidents and breakdowns, when perfect strangers driving by would stop and offer their assistance or check to make sure I was all right. I also remember some times when I got to be the one to put the Golden Rule into action and show someone else a little kindness and treat them the way that I would want to be treated.
Some Christians recoil from Matthew 7:12 because it presents such a stark contrast to the way we actually live. “Surely Jesus can’t mean that. This must be some kind of perfect ideal we cannot reach.” I’m not so sure. Does God ask for the unattainable and command something impossible? He may indeed ask for something which we are capable of only with Him, but that’s a different story. Following the principle of the Golden Rule may be difficult, but it is not impossible.
I confess I am still learning. I struggle with following the Golden Rule most often when my natural shyness gets in the way, or I talk myself out of it, or I don’t know what might be best in a given situation. But I still feel that if this world is ever going to get better, it’s going to require Christians who risk being the first ones to act, the first ones to forgive, the first ones to show love. Are you up for that kind of challenge?
Let me close with an illustration:
A man named Joe was a drunk who was miraculously converted at a Bowery mission. Prior to his conversion, he had gained the reputation of being a dirty wino for whom their was no hope, only a miserable existence in the ghetto. But following his conversion to a new life in Christ, everything dramatically changed.
Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission, doing whatever needed to be done. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit left by some violently sick alcoholic or scrubbing toilets after careless men left the men's room filthy, Joe did what was asked with a smile on his face and seeming gratitude for the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed feeble men who wandered off the street and into the mission, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too out of it to take care of themselves.
One evening, when the director of the mission was delivering his evening evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads, there was one man who looked up, came down the aisle to the alter and knelt to pray, crying out to God to help him change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, "Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe!"
The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man "Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, 'Make me like Jesus.'"
The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, "Is he like Joe?"
The Golden Rule is something that is always right and true in every situation. It should be your fallback position, the default setting of every Christian – treat others as you would wish to be treated.
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31And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. (KJV)