Sermons

Summary: God demonstrated the ultimate love, and now God asks us to “pay it forward.” Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Amen.

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Golden Rule

01/02/05

Matthew 7:12

I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, and follow along as I read verse 12, which is one of the most important verses in scripture: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.

In the film "Pay It Forward" (2000), Young Trevor McKinney is troubled by his mother’s alcoholism and by fears of his abusive but absent father. Trevor is intrigued by an assignment from his new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet. The assignment is to come up with an idea to change the world. Trevor’s responds that we ought to change the way we do favors. Whenever someone does something good to us or for us, we do not repay them; instead, we do good deeds for three other people. We do not pay it back, we pay it forward. Trevor’s efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher, but in the lives of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.

“Pay It Forward” is an expression of Matthew 7:12, which verse is commonly called the Golden Rule. “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Scholars call it the Ethic of Reciprocity, the concept that we should treat others the way we want to be treated.

Sometimes the Golden Rule is stated negatively. Hillel and Shammai were two famous rabbis who lived in the Holy Land a generation before Jesus. According to the Talmud, A certain heathen came to Shammai and said to him, "I will convert to Judaism if you can you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." But Shammai pushed him away with his staff. Thereupon the heathen went to Hillel, and made the same offer. Hillel said to him, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn." [Shabbat 31a]

Hillel’s teaching would have been known in Jesus’ time. It was the kind of thing that every Jew had heard and probably even repeated. So Jesus takes a familiar saying and turns it around, and states it positively. At first glance, you might think that Hillel and Jesus said much the same thing, but in fact there is a big psychological difference between “Do not do to others what you do not want done to you” and “Do to others what you do want done to you.”

Let us say that a person was desperately ill and lapsed into a coma. This person was in a coma for six months and finally she died. At the funeral, if the preacher followed Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule, he could say, “For the last six months of her life, she was a great woman. She never stole, she never lied, she never once lashed out in anger. She did not do unto others what she did not want done unto herself.”

Of course, she did not do anything at all, but that is beside the question. You see then that if we use only negative ethical propositions, if we dwell on only what we should not do, a person in a coma becomes a great figure of righteousness. If we have only negative ethics, we can be passive; we can pretend to be a vegetable, and still be good.


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