“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get” (Matthew 7:12 The Message).
I was having a fun lunch with a friend when somehow we started sharing stories of what “presses the button” for our wives. I volunteered that it was leaving some used clothing on the bedroom floor (when it would have taken another second to put it in the clothes hamper). Or … when Pat is having (trying to have) a serious conversation with me and I make (attempt to make) a joke about something. You’d think I’d learn after 34 years of marriage! There are so many things that I could write here … but I digress.
The conversation took an interesting twist when we began to wonder about “What ticks God off?” “What makes Him cringe?” “What presses His buttons?” It didn’t take too long before we came to at least one, very clear conclusion: Get careless with another individual or a community of believers. Go out and damage a relationship. Do something that really damages your spouse, children, co-worker, or somebody—or a group—in the church. Create a division somewhere. Put someone down. Exclude someone because of their skin color, age, or their beliefs. Just barricade somebody out of the circle you enjoy. That will truly upset God.
Examples from Scripture
In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel tells of the time some religious leaders were treating God’s people insensitively. Ezekiel 34:1-16 records how restless and riled up God got about that. (Please get out your Bible and read this passage now.) God basically says, “How dare you handle what is so precious to Me—people—with such carelessness, in such a cavalier manner. How dare you! How dare you speak so severely and lead my people so dominantly. What is the matter with you?” Then God continues by spelling out the consequences for their actions; and they’re not pretty.
When Jesus comes after the Pharisees in the New Testament for some of their unloving, “don’t care about relationships” patterns (Matthew 23:1-36), it is often called the “Seven Woes.” It is also called the “Eight Woes” if you include verse 14, which is omitted in many manuscripts. If you know anything about Jesus you know how hard He had to be pushed to pronounce a “woe” on somebody. “Woe” almost means “cursed.” Jesus is really upset!
Why the “Woes?” Because the Pharisees had been so careless with relationships and, at times, had little regard for the gathering of God’s people, for the “community” that God desired. They had been arrogant and divisive and judgmental. They had diminished and excluded so many people that Jesus had had it. So, He gave them this string of seven (eight) woes. This is the only time in Scripture He did this.
It’s interesting—and appropriate—to take a brief moment and read at least the first three verses of Luke 15 (NASB): “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ So He told them this parable, saying …” Jesus goes on to share not one parable but three [the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons]—all having one very important, essential theme He clearly wanted to emphasize: God loves ALL PEOPLE and ALL SINNERS; He seeks them out and goes to amazing lengths to find them and bring them into fellowship with Him.
Community is Precious to God
Getting back to the “Seven Woes,” Jesus wants to make one truth abundantly clear: don’t get careless with community. Don’t ever contribute to its demise. It’s too precious to the heart of God the Father; and it’s a fragile thing. In fact, Jesus would teach: do the opposite. Commit your whole self to inviting people into relationship and fellowship, to building community, deepening it, protecting it and preserving it no matter what it takes. This relationship and community building is, in itself, a great witness to the world.
Fellowship, relationships, the Church, and “community” were so important to Jesus that in His final public prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus comes before the Father with a few last requests before His crucifixion: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (NIV).
Interesting then, isn’t it, that early on in Jesus ministry, right in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He taught one principle for His followers—one overarching, community-building principle—that was to govern relationships within and without the church and which would also be an attractor to those outside the church. It eventually became known as the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
Jesus would say that, if His children would do just that—if you would just treat people the way you wish to be treated—”community” would start happening in amazing ways. The lonely would be enfolded and embraced. Relationships would grow and deepen. Love would increase; hate and division would decrease. The kingdom of God would advance. There would be transformation all over the place if people would trust God, rely on His strength, and obey one simple, golden, relational rule: treat other people the way you wish they’d treat you.
The Scriptures convey this teaching of Jesus in a number of other, convincing ways. Read through these passages and determine what the Holy Spirit is endeavoring to teach you:
We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1, 2).
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).
[Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us (Luke 11:4).]
Golden Rule Glasses
What would it be like to live with “Golden Rule glasses” on for a week or so? We too often live by the tyranny of (and use as an excuse) … the business of our schedules. In God’s heart and mind there is still NOTHING more precious than PEOPLE! “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
ALL PEOPLE are the pinnacle of God’s creative and redemptive history.
What I’d like to share now are some of the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned when attempting to put on the “Golden Rule glasses” and apply this word of Jesus.
I can well remember the day I received a phone call from a friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer. Only minutes earlier I had said to myself, “Get intense, David! That’s the only way you’re going to ‘knock out’ your work today. You can’t afford to waste a single second.” (Have you ever had those days?) So, I plowed into my work with the intent that I wouldn’t come up for air or food until a good part of load had been dealt with or accomplished!
Then my phone rang. I mumbled, “Oh no, not now,” answered it, and heard a man, my friend from a former congregation, tell me he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Looking at a fifteen-inch stack of work on my desk, I believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to think, “It’s Golden Rule time, David,” and I thought, “Yeah, but not now.” I also remembered that I had recently shared a message about the Golden Rule and had made a commitment to truly try it. Here’s what also came to mind: the Golden Rule question, “How would you want to be treated if the situation were reversed?”
Well, that question made it really obvious, don’t you know? So I said to him, “Listen, I have all the time in the world for you. Take your time and tell me everything. How did you find out? What treatments are they talking about? How has your family reacted? How do you feel?”
About forty-five minutes later he told me he felt much better. Then, he said before he hung up, “You know, this was just like old times. Thank you.” I thought, “Thank you God. Thank you for the Golden Rule. Thank you for allowing me to think about what you wanted me to do.”
People Above Achievements
Isn’t it easy to get caught up in our own “little world,” in our “to-do” list? Isn’t it easy to put our own daily agenda ahead of that which God treasures most: people, relationships? I don’t believe that I’m the only one who does this from time to time. Isn’t it easy to forget that, in the final analysis, God is far more concerned about people, about community, than He is about our achievements of one kind or another?
I can also vividly remember an individual who truly messed up our family finances (investments). Badly! When I knew that there was going to be an occasion where I was going to see him, a part of me wanted to lambast him like never before.
But then the Holy Spirit “got involved” as I was having a morning devotion. I really thought hard and long about how I wanted to react, how God wanted me to react, and how I prayed I would react. I put myself in the shoes of this other person, and contemplated, “Now, if I had really screwed up and someone were going to take me to task for it, how would I want that to happen?”
When I pondered that, I was convicted: “You’ve got to go to him just like you wish he’d come to you if the situation were reversed.” I think if I hadn’t had the Golden Rule glasses on, I might have badly—or irreparably—damaged a relationship. Later, I also learned that other people were observing our interaction.
I hope you’re catching on to what I’m talking about. Friends, the Golden Rule is huge. The more you plug it into your daily life—at work, at home, at school—the easier it becomes to say, let’s put the “Golden Rule glasses” on and ask the question, “How would I wish to be treated if I were in their shoes?”
There’s one other incident I’d like to tell you about before I close. This goes back to a time when my son Joel had surgery for a brain tumor, which was to be followed by weeks of intense radiation and more than a year of chemo … and I was again reminded about how precious life is! There was a little 6-year-old girl that died of leukemia in a room down from Joel’s. I learned a little of her story. On the previous Friday, she had been taken to the doctor with some nagging physical difficulties. She was diagnosed that day with leukemia and sent to the U of M Hospital. She had surgery on Monday … and with some family gathered around her, she died early on Wednesday.
I distinctly recollect how much my heart hurt when I heard what had happened. When I understood what had happened, I remember purposefully putting the “Golden Rule glasses” on.” I didn’t know the family and they were already gone from the room. Even then, I think it was the Spirit that prompted me, “Ask the ‘Golden Rule question’: “How would I want to be treated if I were in their place?” OK, I agree, that was a bit weird. I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be thinking about. Then it hit me.
If I was someone living unaware of the love and power of God, if I was that family and didn’t know Jesus had paid the price for my sin, if I was an individual who didn’t understand the realities of heaven and hell, I’ll tell you what I’d want.
I’d want some kind of meaningful relationship. I’d want a sensitive, intelligent Christian to sit down with me in an unrushed setting and simply say, “Here’s what I know about life and God. This is Who I know God to be from the Bible; here’s what He’s like. Here’s who Jesus, God’s Son, was and here’s what He did … and why. Here’s how sinners get forgiven. Here’s how people wind up in heaven. Here’s how there can be hope.” If I was that father, or mother, or family, I’d want somebody to tell me that.
What’s at Stake
Here’s what I do know for sure: there’s an eternity at stake.
As I drove back to Lansing that night, I found myself praying for the occupants of cars that passed me, or that I passed. I was praying for people that were in lighted houses as I drove by. I was thinking about the members in our congregation and about all the many neighbors they had where they lived. I was praying that they would make the extra effort, that they would find a way, to tell them about Jesus.
Those of you who know Jesus by grace through faith, after reading this article, will be driving somewhere in the next hour or two, or tomorrow. You’re going to pass the houses of people you know who are outside the family of God. You’re going to be out with friends or go to work and you’re going to walk past the desks of people, and I’ll bet you the Spirit’s going to prompt you and say, “If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you about the hope you have?” (ref: 1 Peter3:15).
Do you see how far-reaching the Golden Rule is? Do you understand how it contributes to deepening community … and building it … and protecting it … and enhancing it? Do you understand how, if you practice the Golden Rule, God might bless your family, your friendships, your fellowships, your congregation, our communities?
Here’s the question and challenge: Are we willing to live one week with “Golden Rule glasses” on? Are we willing to get up and say, “Every time the Spirit of God prompts me in a relating pattern, I’m going to try to put ‘Golden Rule glasses’ on and ask the Golden Rule question, ‘How would I want to be treated if I were in their place?’”
Would you be willing to go on that adventure for seven days? Having been so greatly loved by God—not only forgiven of your sin, but having God’s power for your life, having God’s promise to be with you in every circumstance of life, every situation, even in every sin, every temptation, every disease … are you willing to treat others as you have been treated God? Are you willing to share the love of God in Christ Jesus? Are you willing to share Jesus?
As I finish this article, I’m anticipating embarking on this adventure with you, for I am confident that God will do a marvelous work in our hearts, and in the lives of those we prayerfully, deliberately touch!
I’m also greatly looking forward to hearing about your adventures!
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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