3-Week Series: Double Blessing

Sermons

Summary: Christianity, in many ways, is not all that different than other religions and faith traditions. In fact, there is really only one thing about Christianity that is unique.

I’m going to begin this morning with a familiar text:

"What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."

Sound good? That, of course is . . . a well-known saying of Confucius, a Chinese wise man who lived in the 5th and 6th century B.C.

"What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others."

-- Analects 15:24

OK, I can tell that some of you missed that. Let’s try another one.

"Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you."

Which is a saying by . . . the ancient Greek philosopher Isocrates:

"Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you."

-- Isoc. 3:61

All right. Some of you did not study for the quiz. One more.

“Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.”

And this comes from a Hindu text, the Taittiriya Upanishad.

Now, the Biblical passage that these remind us of is, of course, 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

That’s what Jesus taught us. That is Holy Scripture. That is God’s revealed word. But as the other quotes demonstrate, the idea it expresses is not entirely unique. Many religions in many human societies down through the ages have taught something similar, that our conduct toward others should be guided by what we would want done, or not done, to ourselves. That may be a bit unsettling. And if so, then what I have to say next will be even more unsettling, even more shocking. But it’s key to understanding what Jesus is telling us in the passage from John’s gospel that we will be studying this morning. Here it is: Christianity is not all that different, in many ways, from other world religions and philosophies. In other words, the people who say that all religions are basically the same are not entirely wrong.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Christianity has a moral code, a set of precepts to guide our conduct. Things that we are commanded to do, and things that we are commanded not to do. We are to give to the poor. We are not to lie, or steal, or murder. We are to care for widows and orphans, and to visit those who are in prison. We are not to commit adultery. We are to show mercy. We are persuaded that these precepts were given to us by God. That’s what we believe.

But don’t other religions, and even non-religious people, have a set of do’s and don’ts?

Of course they do. There is nothing uniquely Christian about having a moral code. Other religious forbid murder. Other religions forbid adultery. Other religions commend giving to the poor. This isn’t a unique feature of Christianity. And in fact, there is a great deal of similarity even in the content of the various moral codes. For example, one who followed the “five precepts” of Buddhism would avoid killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and drunkenness. Similarly, the five “Yamas”, or negative precepts of Hinduism, include prohibitions against violence, falsehood, theft, marital infidelity, and greed.

Are you uncomfortable yet? I hope so. Because I want to strip away any misconceptions you may have about what it is that makes Christianity unique. And it’s not the fact that we have a moral code. Stay with me. I’m going somewhere with this. It’ll be OK. I promise.

Now, to be sure, there are aspects of New Testament morality that are unique. You can point to specific commands in the New Testament, such as the command to love one’s enemies, that are not found in other religious traditions. Jesus himself contrasted his own teachings with the traditional teachings of his own culture,

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22

“You have heard” on the one hand / “But I tell you” on the other. However, the point still stands, that having a moral code is something that the Christian religion shares in common with many other religions.

Let’s take another example of something which does not make Christianity unique. How about the hope of an afterlife, of life after death? Are Christians the only ones who have this hope? Not at all.

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