Love serves our neighbor, sin uses them

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” -Matthew 7:12

This text contains an imperative regarding how we are to view and treat all other people. It is a command not limited to our family members or to our immediate neighbors or to our coworkers, but to all people. It is a command so important that the entirety of the law and prophets are summed up in this one imperative.

It is an imperative that demands the hard work of placing ourselves in the shoes of others and acting for their good.  It requires us to imagine ourselves in other peoples situations and from that position to think through how we would desire people to be toward us and what we would desire people to do on our behalf. Once this has been done we are to do the very thing we believe we would desire be done to us.

This is a command and expectation of the believer that requires energy and intentionality. It is a call to kill the apathy that so often characterizes our interaction with our fellow man. It is a call to live outside of ourselves for the sake of our neighbor. It is a command to other-centeredness.

The fact that in this command is the law and the prophets helps us understand that sin does the very opposite. Sin manifests itself on a horizontal level in the singular devotion to the self and the utter lack of concern for others. Often an apparent concern for another is in actuality the pursuit of benefit received by another for the self. Sin does not serve other people it uses them as a means to another end. All sin of a horizontal nature can be understood within this light.

For example, stealing is taking advantage of another person by taking their goods with no concern for the owner. Adultery is of a similar nature. Stealing a person and enslaving them, hurting a person or murdering them; these are direct assaults on another person. This is a direct disregard for the person. This type of offense manifests a gross elevation of the self over the very life of another human being.

Jesus was the revelation of God as He is and the revelation of man as he was intended to be. In the person of Jesus we thus see a God who empties himself for the sake of serving his neighbor and a man who perfectly obeys the golden rule. The cross is the greatest manifestation of self-abasing service for the good of one’s neighbor. God does not command what He himself does not do. By the aid of the Spirit and in obedience to this command we seek to imitate the love of Jesus for all people.

What then will obedience to this imperative look like at different times and in different circumstances with the people in our lives. What will it look like to love…

  • Parents…
  • Spouse…
  • Children…
  • Friends….
  • Co-workers…
  • Church body…
  • Homeless…
  • Slaves…
  • Poor…
  • Prisoners…
  • Widows…
  • Orphans…
  • Elderly…

The Depth of the Golden Rule

A close friend and co-worker of ours recently lost her mother after a long battle with dementia. I was amazed by the way she handled the difficult journey with such grace, patience and transparency. This past week she described the heart-wrenching decisions that had to be made along the way as well as the twists and turns of grief, pain and even joy.

She shared something so simple, yet so profound about the lens through which she viewed the whole journey. “I put myself in her shoes and asked, ‘how would I want someone to treat me.'” The golden rule drove her decisions big and small. She explained what this looked like in her conversations with her mother, the time they spent together, her choices regarding living situation and those who would be her care-takers. Each of these areas and more were informed by a genuine desire to treat her mother as she would want to be treated.

Our discussion triggered a realization. First, I recognized a depth in that command I had never felt before. Such a simple yet profound truth, sufficient for caring for a loved one with dementia. Second, I realized that I have not thought deeply about applying the command of Christ we call the golden rule. I think I have hovered around the surface of that imperative, but have rarely explored its significant implications. Let’s look at the text together briefly. In Matthew’s account we are given the following

“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).

On this command hang the law and the prophets, this is no small thing. The moral concerns of the entire law and prophets can be summarized under this banner. Jesus uses this same language when discussing the overlapping concept of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matt 22:39-40). In other words, this critical command is intended for pervasive application. Every corner of our lives should have the light of this imperative shine on it. Every relationship should be viewed through this lens.

First step in application is to think through the way you want to be treated in different situations. When fearful I wish others to be reassuring. When in pain I want others to be compassionate. When angry I want others to be patient. When excited I want others to share my joy. When I fail I want others to show grace.

The second step in application is to think through our relational contexts. What would it look like to apply this command in these different relationships?

  • In our homes
    • Spouses
    • Children
    • Parents
    • Extended Family
  • At our jobs
    • Bosses
    • Co-workers
    • Employees
  • With our neighbors
    • Friends
    • Acquaintances
  • In our churches
    • Pastors/Elders
    • Members
    • Visitors

A great variety of relational scenarios arise in these different contexts. Taking the golden rule and pressing it into each unique situation would change the we way we relate and the way people feel with us. What would happen if this truth guided how we engaged in all our relationships? How would things be different? How would people feel? How would we feel? The command requires intentionality and sacrifice. It requires Christ-likeness…for “Christ did not please himself” (Rom 15:3). He put the interest of others before himself. He embodied the command to love neighbor and fleshed out the golden imperative.

The Golden Imperative

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12, see also Lk 6:31). These words of Jesus are not just a maxim, a wise suggestion, or a helpful way of life. Jesus is telling his followers that this relational posture is not optional. At its heart, this command is concerned with getting outside of ourselves into another. It calls upon us to transfer self-concern to other people. With the same amount of passion that we care for ourselves we are to engage and serve our neighbor. Jesus is the prime example of love for neighbor void of self-service. Paul calls on believers to accept one another and serve one another on the basis of Christ’s interaction with them. “For even Christ did not please himself but as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me'” (Rom 15:3). Jesus lived to serve and please his neighbor. He died to do the same. He rose securing his saving service. He continues to live and render ongoing service before the Father. Jesus is first our gift and substitute before he is our example. He alone obeyed the greatest commandments and the golden imperative. He alone served his neighbor as a neighbor should. He is our Savior. He is our righteousness. By virtue of our union with Jesus we are viewed by the Father as perfectly obeying the golden imperative. By virtue of our new nature and the Holy Spirit residing within us we are now given the capacity to grow into Christ’s obedience as we engage our neighbor. Thank God for a gospel that justifies us, frees us, and changes us.