September 18, 2011
The Jesus Revolution
Part 19: Be the Change You Want to See
ILL: On Mother’s Day this year, my four-year-old grandson, Zealand, kept telling his mommy, “I want to celebrate you today, Mommy!” He decided that what Amy wanted most for Mother’s Day was toys because she doesn’t have any to play with. So Zealand proceeded to give Amy most of his toys (even his favorite ones) and honestly didn’t want them back. That’s the Golden Rule practiced by a 4 year old. Do to others what you want them to do for you. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Introduction and offering:
We are going to take communion together at the end of the talk; we’ll take some time then to sing some more, pray, and reflect.
This is the Jesus Revolution. We have been working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, widely considered the greatest ethical teaching ever. But we’ve been saying that Jesus wasn’t just giving us a new ethic; He was calling us to a new relationship. “Follow me and I will change you.” And that change is described in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the new you, the new person that you become as you follow Jesus. So we’ve been saying every week, “Follow Jesus and He will change you.” Today we’ll see that Jesus will change you into a person who treats others the way you want to be treated. Here is the text:
Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (NIV)
I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase, The Message:
Matthew 7:12 Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. (The Message)
What do you want people to do for you? Grab the initiative and do it for them! Do for others what you want them to do for you. What do we call this? The Golden Rule. The Golden Rule is considered to be the simplest and highest expression of social ethics. Several scholars I read consider this to be the apex of the Sermon on the Mount; one called it “the Everest of ethics.”
Jesus says that this “sums up the Law and Prophets.” That is, everything that God said about human behavior in the Old Testament can be summarized in this one rule. Do this and you cover it all. I love that! Jesus gives us one thing to focus on. Did you know that there are over 600 commands in the Old Testament? Do you keep all of them? Do you even know all of them? I’m not good at remembering 600 things at once!
ILL: I play golf…poorly. Each time I’ve taken golf lessons, the instructor has given me several things to work on, then I’m supposed to go to the range and practice until I’ve got those things down and don’t have to think about them. The problem is that I rarely go to the range, so after a lesson, I practice on the course and find myself having dozens of “swing thoughts”: stance, grip, balance, straight left arm, head down, smooth take-away, rotation, parallel at the top, tempo on the downswing, accelerate through the ball, follow-through…a little more pressure on the pinkie! When I do that, I play lousy. And when I’m playing well, I usually have only one swing thought: “I’m gonna smack this ball!” You can only have one swing thought.
Life is like golf! When we have 600 commands to keep, we break 10 while we’re keeping one. It’s just too much. So God kindly reduced it to a more manageable package: one! This is our swing thought: Do for others what you want them to do for you. Treat people like you want to be treated. This sums up the Law and Prophets—this sums up all 600+ commands in the Old Testament.
Is there another place Jesus talked about one command summing up the Old Testament?
Matthew 22:35–40 (NLT) — 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets are based on these. Love God and love people and you do all God asks.
So loving my neighbor as myself and doing to others what I want them to do to me are the same thing. The Golden Rule is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. Treat them the way you want to be treated. This is our swing thought. This is the one thing that guides our behavior in every relationship. Let’s dig a little deeper.
1. The Golden Rule is unique.
This might seem an odd thing to say, since the Golden Rule, in various forms, can be found in the ethical teaching of cultures around the world. For example, five centuries before Christ, Confucius is credited with saying, “Do not to others what you do not wish done to yourself.” The Stoics, three centuries before Christ, had a similar saying: “What you do not wish to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.”
There is a famous story about Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai. They were the leaders of two rabbinic schools a generation before Jesus. A Gentile who was investigating the Jewish faith told Rabbi Shammai that he would convert if he could teach him the whole law while standing on one leg. Shammai drove him away in anger. The man then posed the same challenge to Rabbil Hillel, and Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is only commentary. Go and learn.”
A friend of mine was recently at a Wiccan wedding ceremony. He was told that the Wiccan ethic is simply, “do no harm.” Wicca is ancient paganism, and even they have their version of this: do no harm.
There are many other examples—this was a famous and widely known ethic. But Jesus did something unique with it. What is the difference between Jesus’ Golden Rule and the others? The others were negatives; Jesus was positive. The others said, “do not”; Jesus said, “do”. Now both versions, negative and positive, are getting at the same point: treat people the way you want to be treated. But the positive version is the better version, and here’s why.
The negative form, “do not do to others what you don’t want done to you,” is about not doing bad things; that’s good, but not good enough. A person could refrain from doing any harm to others, and still not do any good. You can satisfy the “do not” version by simply doing nothing! A goodness that consists of doing nothing can hardly be called goodness.
On the other hand, the positive form of the rule, “do what you want done to you”, goes much further. It is not enough to say, “I won’t harm others.” We must actively seek to help others, to do good. The law compels us to do no harm; for example, the law says, “do not murder.” But the law cannot compel us to do good; only love can do that. The negative form is the basis of law; the positive form is the expression of love. There is a big difference between saying, “I must do no harm to people,” and saying, “I must do my best to help people.”
ILL: A couple examples.
When you drive your car, the law compels you to drive in such a way that you do no harm to others: don’t drive drunk, don’t run red lights, don’t speed. These are all to protect others from harm. But the law cannot compel you to stop and give a ride to someone walking in the rain. Love does that. Do not—Do.
Or what about the plight of starving children around the world? Or those with no clean drinking water? If I use the “do not” standard, I could think, “I’m not doing anything to harm those children,” and do nothing. But if I use the “do” standard, I have to ask myself, “What would I want done for me if I were starving?” and then try to do that. Do not—Do.
In the Golden Rule, Jesus calls us to do what is best for others, just like we want others to do what is best for us. Jesus calls us to love, for love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. This is our swing thought: love. Do for others what I would want done for me.
I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message: “grab the initiative and do it.” Jesus’ unique version of the rule requires imagination and initiative. In every situation, we imagine, “how would I want to be treated? What would I like others to do for me in this situation?” Use your imagination…and then take the initiative and do it! Act!
Dale Bruner, in his excellent commentary, put it this way: “The Golden Rule is a ‘call to creativity’. Far from being a wooden rule to look back and “do to others what others have done to you,” which would be counsel to reciprocate proportionally, it is counsel to look forward and to anticipate what others would like done and so be initiatory.” Look forward and anticipate—use your imagination! It is a call to creativity! The Golden Rule is unique.
2. The Golden Rule is universal.
It applies to every relationship in our lives.
Jesus says, “In everything, do to others what you want them to do to you.” In everything. In marriage, in parenting, in business, in friendships, in neighborhoods, in traffic. This is our swing thought in every relationship, starting at home.
I wish I could convince every husband and wife to do this in their marriage. Most marriages that end do so because they fail to live the Golden Rule with each other. Let’s be honest: it’s easier to live it with others than it is those in your own house! The real test is at home. If you can treat your spouse and your kids with love and respect and kindness and generosity, then you’ll have a great marriage and family. If you don’t, it gets toxic in a hurry.
And because family is the crucible and we spend so much time together, we are going to fail sometimes. We are going to lose our tempers or get frustrated or discouraged and say things or do things we regret. But rather than giving up, it’s time to apply the Golden Rule. When you blow it, what you do? What do you want others to do when they blow it? Own up and ask forgiveness. So do that. And give forgiveness to the other person generously, because isn’t that what you want too?
ILL: Author and pastor Gordon McDonald has been married for many years to his wife Gail. He writes:
We can both honestly say that we are one another’s best friends. We talk constantly, go on long walks together, and eat almost every meal together. We just love being in each other’s company.
But what if you don’t have this kind of relationship with your spouse? We work with enough couple’s to know that this kind of intimacy and friendship is rare.
But, honestly, we are not special. I don’t want to be naive, but I don’t think it is that difficult—if you are willing to make the investment.
Here is what Gordon recommends:
Make a list of what you would want in a best friend. If you were going to advertise on Craig’s List for a best friend, what would the ad look like? Perhaps it might look like this:
Wanted: Best Friend
Prospective candidates will:
Make me feel good about being me.
Affirm my best qualities (especially when I am feeling insecure)
Call out the best in me, and hold me accountable to the best version of myself.
Listen without judging or trying to fix me.
Give me the benefit of the doubt.
Extend grace to me when I am grumpy or having a bad day.
Remember my birthday, favorite foods, music, and art.
Know my story and love me regardless.
Spend time with me, just because they enjoy my company.
Speak well of me when I am not present.
Serve me with a joyful spirit and without complaining.
Speak the truth to me when no one else will.
Never shame me, diminish me, or make me feel small.
Become excited about what I am excited about.
Celebrate my wins!
Now become that person for your spouse. That’s right. Turn the table. Make this a list of the kind of friend you will become. I can promise you this: anyone who does these kinds of things will have more friends than he or she knows what to do with. But what if you focused this effort on your spouse? Think of the possibilities.
Keep sowing the seeds, until the relationship blossoms. How long will it take to create this kind of relationship? It all depends on where you are starting. For some, it might be several months. For others, it might take years. Friendships are like gardens; they must be cultivated. The key is to be consistent and persistent—without expectations.
This is really nothing more than the application of the Golden Rule to marriage: “Do to others what you would want them to do to you”.
Be the change you want to see. What do you want your spouse to do for you? Do that for him or her. What do you want your spouse to be for you? Be that for him or her. Be the change you want to see. In everything—the Golden Rule applies to marriage; and to how you treat your kids too.
ILL: I remember realizing this one day when my 5 kids were much younger—they ranged from 5 to 10 years old. A fight broke out: Andy hit Sally. Amy sided with Sally, Jeff sided with Andy, and they were all hollering at each other. I was trying to finish my morning workout in the basement. Just as I got up to go referee, Michael (5) dropped a can of house paint that he had discovered in the basement corner, and you can guess what happened: house paint all over the floor.
In between the spilled paint and WW3 that was breaking out upstairs, I overreacted. I got angry. I hollered at Michael, “Get upstairs, and don’t you ever touch that paint again!” Then I walked into the middle of the battle upstairs, and sat all four of them down and began a very long and very loud lecture about not hitting your sisters and the unfairness of life. “You want fair?” I shouted. “I’ll give you fair!” Where was Laina? She was struggling not to laugh at me.
I over-reacted. Have you ever done that? When it was all over and I was taking a shower, I felt badly; and as I thought about it, I realized that I felt badly precisely because I wouldn’t want to be treated the way that I had treated them. Here I was telling them to treat each other the way they want to be treated, and I was treating them the way I didn’t want to be treated. I was learning to apply the Golden Rule with my kids!
In everything—marriage and family; and the Golden Rule applies to how you treat your neighbors.
ILL: Let me tell you about last Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, Ray Bennett and some of the adult chaperones and staff with the African Children’s Choir needed medical attention. Dr. Jeff Emery offered to see them after hours and on his day off—for free. Jeff is living the Golden Rule.
On Monday, Laina and I stopped by Dr. Steve Mills’ office. Steve and Richelle and their fine staff were providing dental care for all of the African Children’s Choir…for free. This was the first dental care these kids have ever had. Some of Steve’s regular patients kindly agreed to be rescheduled to allow the children to be treated, but others had to be seen, which meant that Steve and his staff worked through lunch and after hours so all the kids could be seen. So Laina and I stopped to say thanks—they are living the Golden Rule!
While we were there, Angelo Santos walked in. A month ago, Angelo and his wife Alyssa and their four kids were in a serious car accident. The kids walked away unharmed, but Angelo and Alyssa took a beating—she was almost killed—and they have a long slow recovery ahead of them. Angelo brought in a flyer for a car wash that friends were doing for them yesterday to raise money for their medical expenses—they raised $1550. Those friends are living the Golden Rule.
Angelo has a big cast on, so we asked him how he got there. Eric Lyons offered to drive him around. So we went out to say hi to Eric and thank him. While we talked, Eric mentioned that he had just built a wheelchair ramp at the Santos’ home so Alyssa can come and go. All gratis. Eric is living the Golden Rule.
Eric told me that he called Neil Ziegler about getting a discount from Ziggy’s on the lumber to build the ramp for the Santos. Neil told him to get what he needed, no charge—he donated the lumber. Neil is living the Golden Rule.
At one point, I said, “We’re having church!” We got in the car and I told Laina, “That stop was so worth it! I feel so inspired by all these people who are living their faith. They are doing it!”
What are they doing? The Golden Rule. Treating people the way they want to be treated. Love. In everything. In everything—the Golden Rule applies to every relationship, even the small encounters we have through the day.
ILL: Marion Ash and an elderly friend were painting a farmhouse on a hot summer day. They had just refreshed themselves with a cold drink of water and were returning to their ladders when a small boy came riding toward them on his bike. He stopped and said, “I live down the road a ways. My Mom sent me to see if you needed some drinking water. If you do, I can go back and get it for you.” Mr. Ash was about to decline the offer, but his friend said, “You sure came in the nick of time, Son. A good drink of water would do wonders for both of us.” The boy grinned and called out, “I’ll be right back. I bet you think you’re lucky that I came along!” The man replied, “You can say that again! Now our worries are over. We’ve got another man on the job.” Mr. Ash later wrote, “With a few well chosen words my friend transformed that young boy into a confident human being.”
In everything—the Golden Rule applies to every human relationship. Do to others what you want them to do to you. In everything. This is our swing thought.
3. The Golden Rule is un-easy.
By un-easy, I mean it is hard to do. I could have said it is hard, but that would have messed up my alliteration with all “u’s”! It is not easy; we need help!
Here’s the deal: We’ve all had the Golden Rule drummed into our heads from the time we were kids, right? We know this! And we can all imagine how wonderful it would be if we all did this. So why don’t we? Why is it so difficult to do?
The Golden Rule, for all its nobility and simplicity, is extremely difficult to follow, for one simple reason: we are selfish. The Golden Rule cuts across the grain of my native selfishness. It is swimming upstream against the current of my self-centeredness. Naturally, we each look out for #1, for ourselves. Given the choice, our interests, our concerns, our feelings, our desires are always given top billing.
ILL: What is your first thought when you get a little extra money? Is it, “To whom could I give this? Who needs this far more than I?” Or is it, “Alright! Now I can get that new widget I’ve been wanting!”
What is your first thought when you get a little free time? Is it, “Who could I help?” Or is it, “Finally! I’m gonna zone out for a little while.”
Getting your new widget isn’t necessarily wrong, nor is a little well-deserved relaxation. But I want you to see what our first thoughts are: of self. That is true of all of us. And that’s why the Golden Rule is so tough, and why we have such a difficult time doing it. We’re selfish, and we desperately need God’s help to do it!
God, by the way, is good at it, and so can really help you. Perhaps the greatest example of the Golden Rule is Jesus. Had he looked out for His own interests, He would have stayed in heaven. It certainly would have been easier, more comfortable, and less painful. But He did what was best for us, at great personal cost. Rather than doing what was best for Him, He did what was best for us. That’s love. That’s the Golden Rule.
Jesus calls us to follow Him and He will change us. And this is part of the change. He takes our natural self-interest and helps us turn it to good. “How do I want to be treated? That’s how I’ll treat this person before me.” He calls us and He empowers us to live more selflessly,
I need God’s help to live the Golden Rule in everything! I sure can’t do it on my own. And unless you are less human than me, I doubt that you can either. Let’s ask for God’s help as we take communion.