There is one sentence that Jesus uttered that summed up what is the Law and the Prophets: “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). This is what’s known as the Golden Rule.
It really is Golden and if people really understood this and lived it the world would be a very peaceful place. Almost everyone desires compassion, nurturing, kindness, and mercy. We all have essential needs in order to survive too–water, food, clothing, and shelter. But so many people lack those basic needs and desires. Imagine a world where any of these were stripped away from us. Remove compassion for a moment and pretend that everyone who you ever came into contact with was ruthless and cruel. We would be in a mental state of fatigue and misery after only a few hours.
The same can be true of any one of these. Take away food and we starve. Take away water and we dehydrate and die. Remove shelter and we freeze or burn up. Yet people are living without these things every day all over the world. If we grasp the Golden Rule–to treat others the way we want to be treated–we become driven to help them. It’s literally as simple as that. Jesus didn’t give a sermon on this. He gave a sentence.
Our family has a hard and fast rule when we visit anywhere, whether it’s a restaurant, hotel, or are a guest somewhere. Our rule is to always leave a place better than you found it. This is a rule that we never break. As parents, it’s great to watch our kids pick up trash, tidy things up, and wipe things down. We taught them not to refuse to clean up other people’s messes. Even if the mess is not ours, we still clean up and leave the place better than we found it.
But a more important principle that we need to teach is to always leave a person better than what we found them. There may be some things in their life that is out of sorts. They may be struggling with something or are just having a terrible day. We may not be able to fix their problems, but are we leaving them in better shape than when we found them?
Romans 12:10 (ESV) says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In other words, leave people in better shape than you found them. Doing this takes a tremendous amount of self-control. We have to be intentional about it. We have to stay positive. When we build others up, we are built up too.
The book of Leviticus talks a lot about the holiness of God. God is holy (set apart), therefore we are holy. Holiness means that God’s people are distinguished from the world. Where the world perpetuates violence, injustices, and hatred, God’s people are to show compassion, justice, and love. God does not permit his people to take vengeance.
There are very specific commandments for how to treat one’s neighbor. “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV). This commandment is what Jesus referred to as “the second greatest commandment,” behind loving the Lord your God. In fact, these two commandments were so strong that Jesus said all of the law and the prophets hinge on these two commandments.
Over the next few weeks we will specifically talk about what it means to love ourselves. There are plenty of references in the Bible yet Christians don’t seem to take this charge to love ourselves as seriously as they should. Love is not perfect if we don’t love ourselves.
Paul wrote to the church in Colosse, “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love” (Colossians 2:1, 2 ESV). There is something special about being together with people, face to face. Paul recognized this multiple times to multiple Christians. He often longed to be with people in person, and that was a two way street. When the Ephesian elders met Paul at Miletus, “there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again” (Acts 20:37, 38).
These encounters went well beyond just a surface-level friendship. To be sure, Paul wanted the church at Colosse to know how great a struggle he had for them and those at Laodicea. Paul labored for the people he knew. He struggled for them. Paul made it clear that he did not want to “rob” the Christians he served. He was a tent maker. He did not ask for money, because he felt that would hinder his ministry. Consumerism was not of any interest to Paul struggled, and gladly so, for the sake of his fellow man.
It does Christians well to work hard–even to struggle–for the sake of others. It communicates that our relationship is not shallow and that the other person is worth struggling for. But most importantly, Paul emphasized that, “though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5). We struggle for others to ensure the firmness of their faith. This is (and should always) be motivated by our love of God and love for others.
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Jesus, in one sentence, summed up the Law and the Prophets: “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). That’s it. This is known as the “golden rule” of the Bible. But what exactly does this mean?
Were it not for the Law and the Prophets, it would be very easy to misconstrue this rule, which is what many people do. “This is the Law and the Prophets.” It’s not like the Law and the Prophets. It’s not based on the Law and the Prophets. It’s not abstractly linked to the Law and the Prophets. It is the Law and the Prophets!
The Old Testament tells us how to care for our neighbors. It’s not some profound mystery. Truth is not something we need to go on a treasure hunt for. We don’t have to go searching for ways to be compassionate to others. The Law and the Prophets are the plumb line that keep our souls in check. If people are threatening the safety of our neighbors, put yourself in the shoes of that neighbor. If people are hungry and begging in the street, put yourself in the shoes of the hungry person. If someone is experiencing abuse, put yourselves into the shoes of the abused. Ask, what would I need from my neighbor in this time of desperation?
If we can answer that question truthfully, we are close to the heart of God. The world can use people who adhere to the Golden Rule, and we have the freedom to be those people!
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The past week was a great reminder of just how many people in our congregation really get Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV).
In the past week I’ve witnessed people selflessly give of themselves–both their time and their money–to help others who are in need. I was teaching the Bible class when literally half of the class abruptly got up and walked out. At first, I wondered what I said to offend them. In my ten years of teaching and preaching here, I’ve never had a group just up and walk out. Then I saw the reason–a recent widow walked in the door and they ran to embrace her, cry with her, and pray over her. My heart smiled at the disruption and it reminded me of how well our congregation loves others.
Several people personally handed me money to help various people in need. Others quietly gave and did not let their left hand know what their right hand was doing. We received a beautiful card in the mail from a church member who lives in another state. I’ve heard of so, so many stories of people who have received phone calls, visits, emails, and even money from church members.
This congregation is heeding the words of Jesus to deny yourself, pick up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.
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The message is clear that there is a great cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are promised persecution and there is so much we need to sacrifice. One of the costs (and great blessings!) is taking care of the poor. With the cost comes reward. Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:32-34 ESV).
The Bible is pregnant with references to caring for the poor–to those in desperate need. Those who are sojourners, poor, oppressed, and destitute, are described in the Bible as our neighbors. We are commanded to love and care for our neighbors, to lend to them and not expect anything in return.
Caring for the poor comes with a cost, but is not meant to be burdensome. In fact, over and over we are told to give joyfully and to lend with an open hand. When we store up treasure in heaven, we do so by helping those in need. Jesus took it so seriously that, in a scathing dialogue, he specifically mentioned the sorting of the sheep and goats by whether they cared for the poor and sick or not. These are not suggestions in the Bible.
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