DUNCAN/The justice of the kingdom, Part 4: The golden rule
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 7:12. Here Jesus begins to speak to us about His general rule for how we are to relate to all men. We come to the passage which is known as the Golden Rule. And again, like so many other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, it is a very misunderstood passage. We will see four things from this text. First, Christians are to be deliberately and conscientiously concerned for our neighbors’ best interests. Second, Christians are to deal with their neighbors according to God’s standard of righteousness. Third, the Golden Rule is not the gospel. And fourth, how we are to respond to the Golden Rule.
I. Christians are to be deliberately and conscientiously concerned for our neighbors’ best interests.
The first thing that we learn in this passage is that Christians are to be deliberately and conscientiously concerned for our neighbors’ best interests. Jesus says in Matthew 7:12, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The ‘therefore’ is very interesting. What does the ‘therefore’ refer to? Jesus has just been speaking about prayer. What does prayer have to do with the way we treat one another? As we go to the Lord for wisdom about judgment, and correction and anything else that we take to the Lord, the Lord gives us wisdom and guidance. He walks us along the way, according to the principles of His Word, and gives us the moral resolution to do what we know to be right in accordance with His will. But another benefit that we get in prayer is that it puts us in a humble posture. For when we go to the Lord in prayer, we remember that we ourselves are beggars to His grace. We have not earned our position of inheritance in the kingdom. We have received it by a donation of His free grace and mercy. And therefore, we too, ought to have a charitable spirit towards all men, even those who have hurt us, and even those that we do not know.
II. Christians are to deal with their neighbors according to God’s standard of righteousness.
We learn also in this great passage that Christians are to deal with their neighbors according to God’s standard of righteousness. That is, with equity, with fairness, and kindness. The Golden Rule is based on the law’s principle of neighbor love, which is found in the last six commandments of the Ten Commandments, and is expounded in all the writings of Moses and the prophets. The Lord Jesus is calling us to treat others as we would wish to be treated on the basis of the law of neighbor love. And so Christ can say that this is the law and the prophets, to treat one another as you would wish to be treated. That command to treat others as we wish to be treated involves at least three things. First of all, if we are to obey this commandment, we must reflect on how our neighbors ought to be treated. And Jesus says that what he would like us spend our meditation time upon is on how we might treat others in such a way that we would like to be treated in that way. And so, He turns our meditation away from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. Secondly, this commandment requires that we remind ourselves that we have a duty of justice towards other people—that they have the privilege, the right of the benefits of justice. And so, the Lord Jesus, instead of allowing us to continue to focus on our own selves, calls us to focus on the needs and the rights of others. And finally, He calls on us in this command to deal with others according to their circumstances, in the same way we would wish to be treated. We should put ourselves in their shoes and consider what they would like.
III. The Golden Rule is not the gospel.
Christians must remember that the Golden Rule is not the gospel, but rather, it is God’s standard for neighbor love. Very often, the Golden Rule is presented as if it were the Gospel. But it is not the way to be saved. It is not an alternative way to salvation. The Golden Rule is not the gospel. True obedience to this rule only results from the saving grace of God in a person’s life. No one can keep it perfectly. But no one can even begin to keep it without the grace of God in their life. That leads us to a second mistake that people make about the Golden Rule. There will be some people who think that the Golden Rule can be kept in this life. They again, forget one tiny little problem: sin. We are sinners, we are fallen, we live in a fallen world. We are not naturally inclined to love one another. Another mistake people make about the Golden Rule is they believe that it is a requirement that they can fulfill in their own strength. But again, the Golden Rule is not a requirement which we have the capacity to fulfill in our own strength. Only the grace of God can give us the strength to bear the cost in this kind of love. Love for God is necessary before we are capable of loving our neighbor, and God’s love for us, by grace and salvation is necessary before we have the love of God in us in order to share with our neighbor.
IV. How are we to respond to the Golden Rule?
Finally, how do we respond to this Golden Rule as believers? The mature Christian, first of all, will love this commandment. We agree with it. We say, “Yes, this is right Lord, this is the right way. This is the way You want me to love people, and I want to love people this way.” And then secondly, the mature believer immediately is humbled before the Lord. The mature believer is not lulled into the self-deception that we are actually keeping this all the time. And finally, while down on our knees confessing our humility before the Lord, we beg God by His grace, and by the Spirit, to work obedience to this commandment in us. We long to see ourselves growing in our ability to love one another. We know we won’t obey it perfectly, but we know that God’s church is a hospital where sick sinners get well. And we want to get well in the keeping of this commandment. May God help you to walk this way, if you are a Christian. And if you are not a Christian, don’t try and make your way to heaven through this rule. But instead, trust in the only man who ever kept the rule. Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.