Summary: The "Golden Rule" summarizes Jesus' teaching on how citizens of the kingdom of heaven are to live.
Nearly every adherent of every religion throughout history as well as those who claim to have no religion at all, hold to some form of what has come to be known as the “Golden Rule.” But as we’ll see this morning, the words of Jesus which form the basis for that belief are actually much more revolutionary and far-reaching than they appear on the surface.
As we continue our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, we’re only going to cover one verse this morning. Let’s all read that verse out loud together.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:12 (ESV)
I know that many of you are hoping that the length of the message this morning is going to be directly proportional to the amount of Scripture we’re covering. Unfortunately for you, that won’t be the case since there is more than enough in this one verse to occupy us for quite some time. In fact, in our Monday morning study this week, we had a hard time cutting things off after an hour of discussing this passage. We won’t go that long this morning, but we do want to take the time to mine the riches of what Jesus says here so that we can apply this principle in our day-to-day lives in the way that Jesus intends for us to do so.
Before we get into some of the details, let’s take a moment to put these words of Jesus into context.
Back near the beginning of His sermon, Jesus spoke these words:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Matthew 5:17 (ESV)
And then for the rest of chapter 5, all of chapter 6 and the first 11 versed of chapter 7, Jesus goes on to explain how He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and how that is to impact the way that we live our lives as His followers.
In a sense, the verse that we’re looking at this morning is a one sentence summary of everything that Jesus has been teaching up to that point – thus the second reference in the Sermon on the Mount to “the Law and the Prophets”. Jesus is actually using a common Rabbinical teaching method here in employing what is technically referred to as an “inclusio”. The two references to “the Law and the Prophets” serve as “bookends” which envelope everything else between. And as we’ll discover this morning that technique is an important factor in helping us determine how to take and apply this passage as we follow Jesus.
As we’ll see next week, the verse that we’re looking at this morning really ends Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and beginning in the very next verse He is going to end the sermon with an invitation to respond to that teaching.
Even though the “Golden Rule” is very well known, even by those who know very little else of the Scriptures, I’m convinced that much of that knowledge is so superficial that many people miss the significance of what Jesus is teaching here. So I thought that the best approach to this passage this morning would be to take a look at what the “Golden Rule” is not as well as what it is.
THE “GOLDEN RULE”…
IS NOT – A prerequisite for salvation
Although Jesus certainly intended for the crowds to hear His teaching, we need to keep in mind that this entire sermon is primarily directed toward His followers – to those who were already citizens of the kingdom of heaven. So He is not saying here that in order to get into that kingdom one has to behave in this manner.
In fact, Jesus’ entire sermon has focused on the idea that we can never be made right with God through our external behavior because God is more concerned with our heart.
That was the lesson that Paul learned when He met Jesus on the road to Damascus. Up until that point, Paul had been zealous for God, doing all the things that He thought would earn him favor with God. But near the end of his ministry, Paul looked back on all the things that he had once done in order to earn favor with God – his heritage, his religious training, his zeal for God and his outward behavior – and described them like this:
… For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…