Pastor David B. Curtis


The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12

Delivered 03/30/2003

Several years ago there was a movie out called "Pay It Forward." In the movie, a boy, played by Haley Joel Osment, has a social studies assignment to find a way to change the world. His idea was to do something good for someone that they can't do for themselves, then that person pays it forward. As it catches on, we see people engaging in acts of kindness to others only to say, "Don't pay me back - I'm looking for nothing in return ­ pay it forward. Find three other people and do something for them."

Essentially, the heart of "Pay It Forward" is the "Golden Rule". It's something Jesus taught 2000 years ago, and if acted upon, it can still change the world today. Jesus doesn't suggest we limit our actions to just to three people - but to adopt it as a way of treating everyone we meet.

Matthew 7:12 (NKJV) "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

A Jewish commentary states, "This time Yeshua is directly quoting Hillel, the grandfather of Gamliel, who taught Paul: Babylonian Talmud, Shabat 31a - 'What is hateful to you, do it not unto others -- this is the entire Torah, and the rest is commentary'. Yes, we can actually thank the Pharisees for the 'Golden Rule' that we all teach our children!"

Is Jesus quoting Hillel? Do you see any difference in what Jesus said and what Hillel said? What Jesus said is positive, but what Hillel said is negative. You can find this rule stated negatively in almost every religion.

The HINDU religion taught: "This is the sum of duty: do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain." - The Mahabharata. The BUDDHIST religion taught: "Hurt not others with that which pains yourself." - Udana-Varga. The MUSLIM religion taught: "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." - Hadith 5. The BAHA'I faith teaches: "He should not wish for others that which he doth not wish for himself, nor promise that which he doth not fulfill." - The Book of Certitude. Some other sources: "Do not that to thy neighbor that thou wouldst not suffer from him." - Pittacus of Lesbos(650-570 BC) "What you do not want others to do to you, do not do to others." - Confucius (551-479 BC) "Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others." - Isocrates (436-338 BC).

In Judaism there is a notable story of an event that took place in 20 B.C. That is, around 50 years prior to Jesus giving the "Sermon on the Mount". The tale was told of a heathen who approached Rabbi Hillel and his rival teacher Shammai. The heathen came to Shammai and said, "I am prepared to be received as a proselyte on the condition that you teach me the whole Law while I am standing on one leg." Shammai drove him away. He went to Hillel who received him as a proselyte, He said to him, "What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole Law, and the rest is commentary. Go and learn."

That incident would have been legendary by the time of Jesus, just 50 years later. Every Jew would have heard about that and probably even repeated it a few times.

So Jesus takes a very familiar statement and turns it around so that it is no longer stated negatively, but positively.

Something said in our culture about 50 years ago that has become legendary is what John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address of 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

What if someone today said, "Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can do for you?" Is that different from what Kennedy said? Yes, there's a big difference. You would easily see the impact of what the person is saying because of the familiarity of the statement he is changing.

Think of what Jesus is saying to his crowd on the mountain. There is a big difference between, "Do not do to others what you don't want done to you" and "Do to others what you would have them do to you." And his hearers could not have possibly missed it.

Just in case you don't see the difference yet, let me give you an example: Let's say someone has been in a coma their entire life - born comatose and lived their whole life in that condition. I don't know if that's possible, but for the moment let's pretend it is. At that person's funeral, we could say, "What a great man. He never stole, he never lied, he never lusted, he never once lashed out in anger." All of that would be very true.

Another person might say, "Sure, but on the other hand, he never gave sacrificially, never once complimented anyone, never offered a shoulder to cry on and never ever said, 'Thank you.'" All of that would be true as well.

A person in a coma has a pretty good excuse for inactivity. So does the person who lives by "Do not do to others what you don't want done." This can be observed by anyone ­ no initiative is needed whatsoever. That kind of rule can be obeyed by simply sitting around and watching TV.

But stated positively, "Do to others what you would have them do to you" ­ This requires a pulse ­ this requires conscious and concentrated effort.

Margaret E. Sangster captures the difference between the positive and negative treatments of the "Golden Rule" in her poem called "The Sin of Omission":

It isn't the thing you do, dear,
It's the thing you leave undone
That gives you a bit of heartache
At the setting of the sun.
The tender word forgotten,
The letter you did not write,
The flowers you did not send, dear,
Are your haunting ghosts at night.
The stone you might have lifted
Out of a brother's way;
The bit of heartsome counsel
You were hurried too much to say;
The loving touch of the hand, dear,
The gentle, winning tone
Which you had no time nor thought for
With troubles enough of your own.

(Found in William J. Bennett's, book, The Book of Virtures, p. 138-139)

You may remember the story of David Cash from early in 1998. He is a tragic example of Hillel's rule "What is hateful to yourself, do to no other." David and his friend, Jeremy Strohmeyer, were in a Las Vegas casino late one evening, and Jeremy molested and murdered a seven year old girl. David didn't participate in the murder, but he was aware of what was happening, and he did nothing to protect the child. Refusing to help the girl was not a crime - David faced no legal consequences - but he become the object of public outrage. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, David said, "I'm not going to get upset over someone else's life. I just worry about myself first." David fulfilled Hillels's rule, but he certainly did not fulfill Jesus'.

If our rule is, "Don't do to others what we hate", we neglect doing for them what we love. So Jesus says, "Look beyond the negative form of the rule. Be positive in your approach to godliness. Do to others what you'd want done".

Matthew 7:12 (NKJV) "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

The connecting word Therefore is Jesus' admonition to hold this golden rule in context with the other verses of this section of His "Sermon on the Mount". We must see the meaning in the context with what lays before it.

"Therefore" carries us back to the beginning of Chapter 7, considering that we judge others as we would want them to judge us. That is where judgment must begin, putting ourselves in the other man's position. How do I want to be judged?

Matthew 7:1-2 (NKJV) "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Jesus says that if we pass judgment, it must be on the basis of how we would want to be judged if we were in his place, and he was in ours.

This same idea is taught by Paul in:

Galatians 6:1 (NKJV) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

All of us are overtaken in a fault occasionally. What would we want our brothers to do to restore us? We wouldn't want them to speak to us in a condemning spirit, a self-righteous spirit that passes judgment on us as though we were something less than they are. We would want them to restore us. The spirit of this verse teaches us to do to them as though we were the ones taken in a fault.

He is teaching us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Watch what the next verse says:

Galatians 6:2 (NKJV) Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

We fulfill the law of Christ when we bear each other's burdens, when we help them in their infirmities and weaknesses. We are to help by giving them the hand of fellowship; we are to help them out of their problem; we restore them. We do not heap condemnation upon them with a judgmental spirit.

The "therefore" not only goes back to the idea of judgement, it also is a tie to the goodness of God:

Matthew 7:11-12 (NKJV) "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12 "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Consider the connotation in this context, since your Father in heaven gives good things to you when you ask Him, make it your practice to do good unto those to whom you are able. I think that Jesus is again saying, "Be like your Father!"

We have already seen this theme previously in the "Sermon on the Mount". Jesus said in:

Matthew 5:44-45 (NKJV) "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

We are to manifest God's character in our dealings with others. The chapter concludes by saying:

Matthew 5:48 (NKJV) "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

We are partakers of His character, and we are to manifest that character. That is the same idea Paul expresses in:

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

The Greek word used here for "imitators" is mimetes. This is where we get our word mimic. We are to mimic God. Notice what it is about God that we are to mimic - "And walk in love, as Christ has loved us and gave Himself for us...." We are to sacrifice ourselves for our fellow man; the Scriptures specifically command us to imitate God and to walk in love, imitating God. We are to walk in love as Christ has loved us. If that isn't what we would want others to do towards us or think about us, we should not do so to them.

Do unto others as you would like to have them do unto you. You would like to have them be imitators of God in their attitude toward you, so do unto them as God does unto you.

We are to be manifesting God's character in our dealings with one another, doing what is good for the other person. That leaves no room for things like gossip, pettiness, unkindness, jealousy and envy. All of these things are ruled out by the simple statement, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We are to manifest God's character in our relationships with one another.

If I come to God and ask of Him the things I need, He gives me what is good. How does that affect my relationship with others? I am to be giving to them what is good also, because that is what I desire for myself. And I want others to do to me what is good. So I manifest God's character by doing what is good for them.

Every person naturally has a high regard for himself and quickly feels the slightest wrong done to him. Have you ever met a person who didn't feel the slightest injustice or disrespect accorded him? Now, the Lord says that we must judge by our own heart or our own response under that situation. How would we want to be treated? How would we want that person to treat our name, or our feelings, under that identical set of circumstances? The "Golden Rule" says that is how we deal with him.

This "Golden Rule" also applies to forgiving. As long as we are in this world, we will cause offenses. You and I offend in many ways, and we must realize the infirmities of others. We should not be so easily offended. So often the offense is minor. Would we want them to be offended that easily if we had done something that minor to them? The "Golden Rule" applies to that too.

Colossians 3:12 (NKJV) Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;

We must do this, because we are dealing with people who are fallen creatures. Remember the "Lord's Prayer" says, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." If a fellow man is somewhat unforgiving, are you able to forgive him for his unforgiveness? We want God to forgive us for being unforgiving. Are we able to go to that person and seek their favor even when we can tell they are not forgiving us? Even when others fall short of living the "Golden Rule" and do not treat us as they would want to be treated, we must be forgiving:

Colossians 3:13-15 (NKJV) bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

We usually resent it when others demand perfection from us; therefore, we should not expect perfection in others. We want people to realize that we are fallen creatures, and we need forgiveness.

James 3:2 (NKJV) For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

That means we also need forgiveness from others. We don't require flawless perfection in another person in order to be their friend, because they are human. There are a couple of verses in Ecclesiastes that have been a big help to me in overcoming hurt caused by what others say:

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 (NKJV) Also do not take to heart everything people say, Lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For many times, also, your own heart has known That even you have cursed others.

We shouldn't get hurt when we hear that others have said things about us, because we all have said things about others. We should not be so quickly offended by words, because our own tongue has often run when it should have been stopped.

When you have suffered wrong, you know how it hurts. You know the grief and sorrow and shame. You know the consequences of suffering wrong. Now look how much more responsible you become under the "Golden Rule" so you do not bring that kind of suffering upon the next person, because you have a feel of what it would do to them.

It isn't that you do unto others as they do to you, but that you do what you would want them to do to you. The more you have suffered by others violating the "Golden Rule", the more accountable you become before God if you do the same thing. Look how far that removes revenge. The very thought of revenge is horribly wicked, because we know the consequences. This is often quite a struggle when we suffer wrongfully.

Self love is our greatest obstacle to loving others, therefore, it becomes the standard by which God commands us to treat others. How do you want to be treated? Think about that! That is the standard by which we are to treat others.

Proverbs 19:22 (NKJV) What is desired in a man is kindness, And a poor man is better than a liar.

I think you would agree that all of us desire people to be kind to us, therefore, according to the "Golden Rule", we are to be kind to others.

Proverbs 31:26 (NKJV) She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness.

One of the characteristics of a virtuous woman is that she speaks with kindness.

Romans 12:10 (NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NKJV) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;

One of the marks of love is that it is kind. This is the Greek word chresteuomai, it means: "to show oneself useful, to act benevolently, to be kind or good." Kindness and goodness are so closely related that they are often used interchangeably. The verb itself speaks of activity; active good will, being useful for somebody else's good, always trying to do what is helpful to the other person even if it involves sacrifice. In the New Testament, the verb appears only in 1 Corinthians 13:4, but the noun and the adjective for kindness occur repeatedly in Paul's epistles:

Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Colossians 3:12 (NKJV) Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;

Clement of Rome wrote an epistle to the Corinthian church in which he quotes a saying of Jesus that has the same Greek verb: "As you are kind, so will you be shown kindness." Just as unkindness sets off a chain reaction of unkindness, so an act of kindness sets off a chain reaction of kind events. Would you describe yourself as kind? As Christians, we are called to be kind. As we are kind, we are manifesting the character of Christ.

Herbert V. Prochnow said, "You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry you thought the worst, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you'll find - you're never sorry you were kind."

Do you enjoy it when people treat you with kindness? I do, and I'm sure that you do, also. Well, if you want to be treated with kindness, then that obligates you to treat others with kindness:

Luke 6:31 (NKJV) "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

Now, remember what I said about the word "kind", it means: "to show oneself useful, to act benevolently, to be kind or good." The verb speaks of being useful for somebody else's good. With that in mind, let me share with you a couple of sentences from an e-mail I received from Carl this week. Carl writes, "I received an e-mail from Colleen the other day, and that made my day a little brighter to know that some one else was thinking about me and praying for me as well."

The e-mail that Colleen send to Carl was an act of kindness, it was useful for somebody else's good. For the last couple of weeks, I have been exhorting you to write to our service men who are involved in the war - this is why. They are away from their homes, away from their family and friends, away from what they consider a normal life. If you were in that situation, would you like to receive a letter letting you know that you were missed and being prayed for? Would you? If you would, then according to Jesus, you are obligated to do it for others.

Now, let me ask you a question, "Why are we to do unto others as we would have them do unto us?" Jesus does not say that we are to do to others what we would like them to so to us in order that they will do it to us. The reason that Jesus gives is - "For this is the law and the prophets." In Matthew 22:40 he said, "On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets." Jesus is saying that this command summarizes the Law and the prophets. Another way to state this "Golden Rule" would be, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 19:19). Remember that all of the Law is summarized in that you love God and love your neighbor. This emphasis on loving your neighbor means doing what is best or good for him.

Jesus says that treating others as you want to be treated, "Is the law and the prophets." I think what he means is that when you see people love like that (fulfill the "Golden Rule"), what your are seeing is the visible expression of the Law and the Prophets. This behavior among people manifests openly and publicly and practically what the Old Testament is about. It fulfills the Law and the Prophets. Loving God is invisible. It is an internal passion of the soul. But it comes to expression when you love others. So loving others is the outward manifestation, the visible expression, the practical demonstration, and therefore, the fulfillment of what the Old Testament is about. So there is a sense in which the second commandment (to love your neighbor) is the visible goal of the whole Word of God. It's not as though loving God is not here, or that loving God is less important; rather, loving God is made visible and manifest and full in our visibly, practically, sacrificially loving others. I think that is why the second commandment stands by itself when the New Testament says that love fulfills the law.

The Old Testament taught the imperative duty of seeking the good of our neighbor as emphatically and clearly as does the New. It plainly and repeatedly forbid s the doing of anything which would injure our fellow man.

Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) 'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Exodus 23:4 (NKJV) "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.

This is enunciating the principle, do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (NKJV) "If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, 8 "but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.
Proverbs 24:17 (NKJV) Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles;
Proverbs 25:21 (NKJV) If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;

God is love; He created man to reflect His image. The image and character of God is love. We see this purpose of God in:

1 Timothy 1:5 (NKJV) Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith,
Galatians 5:14 (NKJV) For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

"Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them..." is a gathering up into one brief maxim all that the Old Testament teaches concerning our relationships with men. That "Golden Rule" is the sum of what the Law and the prophets taught about the law of equity and justice between man and man.

"Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them..." Sometimes we overlook how vital our attitude towards our fellow man is; it determines our relationship with God. There is a powerful passage of Scripture in:

Zechariah 7:9-13 (NKJV) "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother.' 11 "But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. 12 "Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. 13 "Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen," says the LORD of hosts.

The Lord has been crying unto His people through His prophets to observe that law of love toward their neighbor, and they refuse to hear. Therefore, "I would not hear, saith the LORD of hosts." Do you see how important this law of love, i.e., this "Golden Rule", is to our spiritual success?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation, faced with the need to make a decision on the spur of the moment - wondering what is the right way to act, unable to recall whether the Bible specifically addresses the moral dilemma in which you find yourself? Jesus provided a helpful tool in such a situation, a quick and easy way to know what to do - something that is easy to remember - "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them..."

Jesus knows we can change the world. Do to others what you would have them to do you. Don't wait for them to do something for you. Take the initiative. You want to be forgiven? Forgive! You need affirmation? Affirm! You feel hurt, wounded, broken and could stand a gentle touch? Be gentle with others! You appreciate tact? Be tactful! You enjoy a nice compliment? Compliment others! You enjoy an encouraging letter, write others!

The "Golden Rule" will transform our actions. If we truly apply it, we'd never be mean, always generous, never harsh, always understanding, never cruel, always kind. I'd love to be like that, wouldn't you? Sound impossible? It is, without the grace of God.

The "Golden Rule" depends on what went before - therefore - on our relationship to God as our Father, who loves us and answers our prayers and gives us good things when we ask him (Matthew 7:9-11). In fact, this is a very profound key to how we are able to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So God is here upholding the "Golden Rule" by his fatherly provision. His love for us and our trusting, prayerful love back to him is the source of power for living the "Golden Rule".

A Christian music group called, "Caedmon's Call", has a song out called, "This World". It is a reminder to us of the opportunities God is giving us before taking us home. The first stanza says:

There's tarnish on the golden rule
And I want to jump from this ship of fools
Show me a place where hope is young
And a people who are not afraid to love.

Will this church be known as a place where people are not afraid to love? Will we be known as a people who rub the tarnish off the "Golden Rule"?

Our text says:

Matthew 7:12 (NKJV) "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

We should have the same desire for our neighbor's good as for our own. If you enjoy being loved, love others. If you like to receive things, give to others. If you like being appreciated, appreciate others. What would you like done to you? What would you really like? Then, do that to others. If Jesus is truly our Lord, then His "Golden Rule" will govern our life!

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