Read Luke 6:31
Every culture in the world has some form of what we often call the Golden Rule. Some cultures or religions might consider it a law of reciprocity. In the positive form, the way that we treat others is the way that we hope they treat us. The negative is that if we don’t want to be treated in a certain way, then neither do our neighbors.
This can also apply to the condition of our hearts and minds. What we do or do not desire for ourselves, we should also desire or not desire for the rest of humankind.
The golden rule is a good universal maxim for good living. If everyone actually lived that way, national defense budgets would drop by 90%. Taxes would drop by 90%. Crime would drop by 90%.
Facebook posts would mostly be about birthdays and grandkids. There wouldn’t be any real divisive issues to provoke the vitriol lurking within us.
Sounds like a good rule. Let’s adopt it.
The problem is that somehow, we become exclusive. I would love for you to invite me over for a feast—burgers and dogs will suffice—so I invite you over spaghetti and meatballs. Why yes, with olive oil peppers. Sure, I will throw in some bruschetta.
It’s a pretty good gig. You cook this week. I cook the next. Sounds like God’s love in action to me. Count me in!
I’ve got a friend that loans me a hundred bucks every now and then. I’ve done it for him. We’re good.
Sometimes, I stop by a friend’s house and pull the blue dumpsters up from the road before they blow to Kansas. Sure enough, they return the favor in a couple weeks.
This is a pretty good system. This tit-for-tat stuff works well.
My boss treats me with respect, so I do the same. I’ve worked in other places where that wasn’t the case and I sure did whatever I wanted when the boss was away.
This golden rule is just simple reciprocity. I give so that I will receive. In many religions past and perhaps some present, this was man’s relationship with their gods.
I give in expectation that the gods will return the favor: do ut des.
But this is not the model by which we relate to our God. Our God gives us grace. Our God pours out his favor upon us and we didn’t really do anything to deserve it. Jesus did everything for us, so why does Jesus use this golden rule that seems to be universal and quite secular?
Perhaps we need to understand society, especially society in the time when Jesus came in the flesh. Imagine concentric circles. In the center are the very self-righteous. These are Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, and others who believed themselves to be in good standing with the one true God. There were probably some rich people in that circle as well. A healthy offering covers many sins, at least as far as society goes.
Then there were your law-abiding Jews. They followed the Law of Moses and the administrative regulations tacked on by the Pharisees, paid their taxes and made their sacrifices and offerings. They were good people but not quite inner circle material. They bought general admission tickets to the Thunder Game. They could only look at the skyboxes from the outside.
Then we get into the all others category. Surely there are subcategories within this outer taxonomy. I’m sure at the weekly Pharisee meeting during happy hour at the Phylactery Club, these nuances were discussed ad nauseum. Nitpicking nuances was surely a favorite pastime of those in the inner circle.
What is it to nitpick nuances? Read any Facebook post with a dozen or more comments that don’t involve grandchildren.
Would you rather be called before the Roman governor and have to enter his pagan palace or would you rather have to pass by the leper colony on your way to teaching Leviticus 19:18 at the Sadducee Seminar? Which would be worse?
If you were part of the inner circle, life was generally good. If you were on the outside, well, it was not so good. Those in the middle, well every dog has his day, right?
I’m being purposely glib here to make the point that there were societal distinctions even among God’s Chosen People. Elsewhere in the world, we see a caste system. The ethnography of our own country is more complicated, but there are divisions and distinctions among people.
Money, celebrity, urban, rural, right and left seem to dissect us into groups that may or may not have much association with each other.
What did Jesus say? Do to others as you would have them do to you.
What did he not say? There is nothing about the other person’s ability to reciprocate in his imperative statement to us.
There is nothing in this directive concerning the other person’s ability to pay us back or love us back or respond in any way. The instruction is wisdom for our hearts.
We come once again to a couple dichotomies.
Inclusion or exclusion.
Transformational or transactional.
When we apply the Golden Rule in the context of the full biblical witness that we know, especially the teachings of Jesus, we find that he calls us to cross all societal boundaries with our love for others. What we do for others is to have nothing to do with their ability to repay us. It has nothing to do with whether they return love for love or not.
The first and foremost thing that we must do is include our neighbors in this family that we know and love so much. We live as brothers and sisters in Christ and we call others to come into the fellowship. Inclusion in the family of faith is how we know abundant life in this modern age.
There are plenty of people who have all the money they could ever spend and yet they have missed the boat on joy and peace and abundance. There are plenty of people in poverty who have missed out on abundance.
Whether or not you have money and stuff does not dictate abundant living. Abundance comes with inclusion. Knowing the fullness of God’s love in this time comes in family.
We are also people of transformation. When we do unto others, we are not doing it in expectation of what they can do for us. We do for others with the expectation that the One who commanded us to love them is ready to transform them.
We are sent into the world. We meet people where they are, but we don’t want to leave them there. We want them to come to know love.
We want them to come and know the God who is Love.
We want them to know what it is to live in love.
We want them to know how to face the troubles of the world knowing that Love has overcome the world.
We want them to know the abundant life that is here for us in this present time.
We want them to know the eternal life that is in store for us, and it comes with quite the benefit package.
These things are transformational. They change who we once were into who we are now as brothers and sisters in Christ. We want this for others. We desire abundance and transformation for all. Our hearts are being shaped—modeled after—the divine heart and we want this abundant and eternal life for others.
Transactional is that I will do for you, so you can do for me. That’s not the Golden Rule that Jesus gave us. Jesus tells us to image how we would like to be treated by our neighbors and do the same for them without expectation of getting anything in return.
Transformational is responding to that urging of the Spirit that lives within us and leading people into the family of faith. Let’s put this leading of the Spirit into Golden Rule context. If I was lost, I would want to be found. If I was dying, I would want to be healed and live. If I was at the end of my rope without any hope, I would want a miracle.
We are blessed—so blessed—to lead people to the Author of miracles.
Doing unto others doesn’t always involve food or money or rides or material things. It always must include love. The Golden Rule that we have been taught crosses boundaries. It breaks stigmas and stereotypes. It must not be confined to those in our circle of comfort. We must not be exclusionary.
The Golden Rule does not tell us what to do. We know what to do—love one another. We must ask God for wisdom and he gives it generously. The Golden Rule is a dose of wisdom.
What specifically or how should we do what we are called to do as God’s love in action? We do the very thing that we would hope others would do for us. We do it without expectation of return.
Last week we looked at love in action. We looked at words and deeds being in harmony. We said that we are people who take action.
We understand that God is Love. We understand that we are God’s love in action.
The carnal man asks, “Should I help?”
The disciple asks, “How should I help?” Wisdom and discernment follow—God grants wisdom generously—but action is automatic. It is natural for us as a Christian. We will do something to help with the real needs of people.
This is how we left things last week. Welcome to God’s wisdom delivered in advance.
“How should I help?”
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Sometimes this is giving a ride.
Sometimes it is food.
Sometimes it is speaking the truth in love. Wake up!
Sometimes it is prayer for a person or with a person.
Sometimes it is companionship through a time of hardship.
Sometimes it is just being a friend.
Sometimes it is showing someone how to make a grocery list, or a budget, or a daily schedule.
Sometimes it is reading the Bible with them.
Sometimes it is just being someone who will listen.
But all the time it is drawing them closer to the One who can transform them. All the time it is bringing people into the family of faith. All of the time it is making sure that no one is left as an outsider, for we would not want to be left alone when joy, peace, and hope abounded within this family that we know as the body of Christ.
“How should I help?”
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
It’s not tit-for-tat. It’s not reciprocity. It is wisdom from God on how to be his love.
It’s a model that we can apply in every circumstance. How would I want to be treated?
We know the what. It is to love one another. Here is the how. Do to others as you would have them do to you.