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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART TWENTY-FOUR

PRESENTED ON 02-14-09

 

       In the last sermon we discussed Christ’s teachings about asking, seeking and knocking. Jesus follows this up by saying the following:

       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.

       Back when we use to have “Spokesmen Club” in the church we were taught to begin our speeches with an SPS, a Specific Purpose Statement.  An SPS would provide listeners with an overview of what we were about to present.  It would provide the audience with the direction we were going with our presentation.  It would provide focus and throw a spotlight on the essence of what we were about to say. We were also taught to have a summery statement wherein we provided a conclusion relative to what we had discussed in our speech.

       When Jesus said “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” He provided an SPS and summery statement all rolled into one relative to what He was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  This is a pivotal statement in the Sermon on the Mount.  It virtually is a pivotal statement of His entire ministry relative to His teaching us how we are to live.  This statement summarizes the law and the prophets.   For Jesus to make a statement that summarizes the law and the prophets is to make a statement of extraordinary significance.  We are talking here about the Torah, the revered law given to Moses at Mount Sinai.  We are talking here about the great amount of rhetoric delivered by dozens of prophets throughout Israel’s history.    

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is dealing with the moral law.  He is dealing with how we are to relate to one another.  Jesus makes a single statement as to how we are to relate to others and says this is what the law and the prophets are all about.  This is the bottom line.  This is what I have been teaching you on this mountain side.  This is what Moses taught you.  This is what the prophets taught you.  All those laws, all those rules in the Torah, all those warnings and instructions from the prophets are summed up in one regulation.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you,”

       Jesus is saying, look at yourself.  How do you want to be treated?  How do you want people to relate to you?  You want respect?  Then respect others.  You want help in time of need?  Then help others in their time of need.  You want people to have compassion for you when you’re hurting?  Then show compassion for others who are hurting.  You want people to be honest with you?  Then don’t lie to them.  You want your children to honor you?  Then you better show honor to your parents.  You want others to value your life?  Well you better value theirs.  You see how the law is summed up in this single regulation? 

       Thousands of books have been written dealing with how we humans need to relate to each other.  Thousands of speeches are given every year around the world dealing with the moral and ethical issues of human interrelations. Yet it all boils down to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  It all boils down to identifying how we want to be treated and then doing the same to others. 

       Granted, there are some individuals who have become aberrant as to how they want to be treated.  There are masochists, for example, individuals who invite and enjoy inflicted pain and get some physical, psychological or emotional satisfaction from such behavior.  Such individuals could twist this teaching of Christ and conclude that because they like pain inflicted upon them, it is alright to inflict on others.  There is the phenomenon of wife swapping where apparently the participants are doing unto others as they wish to have done to themselves. Such individuals could conceivably apply this teaching of Christ to themselves and conclude that since they don’t mind someone committing adultery with them it is perfectly alright to commit adultery with someone else. 

       Jesus, however, is not teaching with the aberrant individual in view. Moral law is established in order to set a standard of conduct. Jesus is directing His teachings toward the normal person who wants to be loved, avoid pain and suffering and be treated with respect and as having value.  And that is what the law is all about.  When the law says, Do not commit adultery, it is assumed that hurt will take place on the part of a married spouse when their partner cheats on them.  Wife swapping is an aberrant behavior.  It goes against God ordained standards of conduct.  It makes a virtual mockery of the dynamics that pertain to marriage. 

       When Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” He is saying this with the understanding that we want others to do to us those things that are within the parameters of the righteous behavior established by the moral law, not aberrant behavior outside the law.    

       The moral law of the Torah established a standard of behavior.  In many ways it simply reiterated what had been taught since creation as to approved human relations.  We see prohibition against murder in the incident with Cain and Able.  The Torah law has many regulations dealing with compensation.  The understanding is that things in life are going to happen that will cause injury or loss to someone and that someone must be made whole by the person who inflicted the damage.  There were many regulations that defined how one who broke the moral law would have to compensate the violated party

       Exodus 22:1-8: "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed.   "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.” If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession--whether ox or donkey or sheep--he must pay back double. "If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard.” If a fire breaks out and spreads into thornbushes so that it burns shocks of grain or standing grain or the whole field, the one who started the fire must make restitution.  "If a man gives his neighbor silver or goods for safekeeping and they are stolen from the neighbor's house, the thief, if he is caught, must pay back double. But if the thief is not found, the owner of the house must appear before the judges to determine whether he has laid his hands on the other man's property.

       The Torah law provided for appropriate compensation for accidents, mistakes, oversights and lawlessness.  These laws are seen by Jesus as summed up in doing to others as we would have them do unto us.  These laws were implemented in order to compensate for the hurt, loss or inconvenience that the actions of one party bestowed upon another.  If you were hurt, suffered a loss or experienced a significant inconvenience because of the behavior of someone else, you were expected to be treated by the person who caused the problem as that person would expect to be treated if it was they who experienced the problem. The Torah law was in essence teaching the same thing Jesus was teaching.  Treat others as you expect to be treated in any given situation. 

       There are many parallels in twenty-first century society to those regulations we see under the Old Covenant.  We may do things different but the principles involved are the same.  We carry auto insurance to cover the costs of injury and damage in case of an auto accident.  Unless one is very wealthy and can cover the costs associated with an accident, it is a practice of the Golden Rule to carry auto insurance so a victim of an accident can be properly compensated.  Failure to carry auto is failure to practice the Golden Rule.

       Helping someone in need is an ever present opportunity to practice the Golden Rule.  Last week my wife somehow managed to drive into a snow drift with our mini van.  The snow was soft due to our February thaw and so the car was really jammed into the snow drift.  I shoveled and shoveled but the wheels just kept spinning.  A resident of our subdivision drove by, stopped his truck and started to shovel with me.  He twice went back to his house to get pieces of 2x4’s  and paneling to place under the tires to get traction.  It didn’t work.  Then he hooked a cable to our car and his truck and tried to pull us out.  The cable snapped so that didn’t work.  Then the wife of a neighbor who lives about a block away from us drove by and seeing our predicament, must have told her husband and He drives over and has a stronger cable which he hooks up to the other gentlemen’s truck and finally we got pulled out.   Here were two men who were practicing the Golden Rule

       Now I don’t know whether either one of these men were Christians.  It doesn’t really matter. The Golden rule isn’t tied to a particular theological system.  Jesus showed the Golden Rule summed up the Law and the prophets.  The law and the prophets were around way before Christianity.  God intended for mankind to live by the Golden rule from the beginning.  But because of human nature being what it is, written law had to be introduced as a reference point against which to measure human behavior and administer justice.  As time developed, the written law became the focal point.  As long as you kept the letter of the law you were OK.  Except, as it turns out, you weren’t OK.  You can keep the letter of the law and still fall far short of pleasing God.

       God is not interested in mechanical human behavior.  God isn’t interested in a robotic performance and response to behavioral law.  God is interesting in a heart felt desire to facilitate the Golden rule which is the same as loving your neighbor.  The Golden rule is another way of saying love your neighbor as yourself.  What did Jesus say when asked about what is the greatest commandment?

       Matthew 22:36-40: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

        Here we find Jesus saying that the law and the prophets hang on these two commands.  Since the Golden Rule and the command to love your neighbor as yourself both hang on or sum up the law and the prophets, it is obvious that In these two teachings, Jesus is proclaiming the same thing.  To “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is the same as loving your neighbor. 

       In teaching this ethic, Jesus was teaching a behavior that rose above a strictly mechanical approach to moral and ethical behavior.  Jesus was teaching the spirit of the law as far superior to just its literal application.   Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was showing how we must have moral and ethical law become part of our very consciousness so that we automatically practice the Golden rule.

        To the point of stating the Golden Rule, Jesus had been teaching an approach to relational behavior that was far superior to the letter of the law.  Jesus was teaching an ethic that said we not only are not to murder our neighbor but we are not to hate our neighbor.  We are not to have malice toward him.  We are not to murder him in our hearts.  Jesus taught we are not only to refrain from adultery but we are not to lust after another person and commit adultery in our heart. Jesus taught the intent of the law. He said all the law boils down to one thing.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”   If you did that, you didn’t need all these separate regulations.   

       We all know that human nature is self centered. We routinely look out for ourselves first and foremost. While looking out for oneself is not sin, it can lead to sin if it is done at the expense of others. The goal is to become other centered as well.  The goal is to put the needs of others on equal footing with our own.  Both the Golden Rule and the law of love toward neighbor speak in terms of treating our neighbor on an equal basis with ourselves.  Both of these rules of behavior speak of treating others at the same level as we treat ourselves.  These rules of conduct are not asking us to treat others better than ourselves, although we can do so if we choose. 

       Philippians 2:3-4: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

       Paul is reiterating the teachings of Jesus.  We should not just look to our own interests but also the interests of others.  By considering others better than ourselves we shift the focus from ourselves to others and see their interests on an equal level with our own.  The whole focus of the law is the placing of ourselves in the shoes of our neighbor and feeling what it is like to be our neighbor and then behave toward our neighbor accordingly.  This is the focus of the Golden Rule.  The Golden Rule is the law of love in action.  Look what Paul said.

       Romans 13:8-10: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

       In reality, there is only one commandment, one rule of behavior relative to human relations. "Love your neighbor as yourself."  This has always been the rule.  This rule is not some new rule that was introduced under the New Covenant.  This rule underlies the Old Covenant and that’s why Christ and Paul could teach that love fulfills the law. 

       Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

       It is sometimes taught that under the Old Covenant we have the letter of the law and under the New Covenant we have the Spirit of the Law.  It is further taught that Jesus came to expand the letter of the law by introducing its spiritual intent.  Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.'  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Christ also taught, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.'  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."

       It is concluded from this teaching that under the Old Covenant human relations were governed by external prohibitions against such behavior as murder, adultery, stealing etc. with little attention given to what goes on in the heart.  It is further concluded that Jesus came to teach a new dimension of human conduct.  A new standard of behavior that involved what goes on in the heart. This simple is not the case!

       Jesus was not teaching a new behavioral standard.  He was not introducing a new and higher moral ethic.  He was not teaching a new and higher dimension of human conduct.  He was teaching what had always been taught. In the very Ten Commandments, we have laws that deal with what goes in the heart. The law against coveting pertains to the heart.  Christ is thought to have expanded the law when He said anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Jesus was not expanding the law.  To look lustfully at someone is no different than to covet which is covered by the tenth commandment which states: You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."   

       Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to love our enemies.  Loving your enemy is certainly a matter of the heart. It is certainly an expression of the Golden Rule.  Was Jesus introducing a new ethic by teaching we should love our enemies?  Not at all. What did Moses and Solomon write?

       Exodus 23:4-5: If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

       Proverbs 25:21: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

       I would say that feeding and giving water to your enemy is an expression of love for your enemy.  It is “Doing to others as you would have them do to you.”

       Matthew 23:23: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness.

       Justice, mercy and faithfulness.  Aren’t these all matters of the heart?  Jesus plainly associates these attributes with the law.

       When it comes to how we humans are to relate to each other, we are not looking at New Covenant concepts versus Old Covenant concepts.  It was God’s intention from the beginning for humanity to live the law of love and express the Golden rule in our behavior.  It was God’s intention from the beginning to live by the Spirit of the law and not only the letter.  The letter of the law provides a multitude of rules and regulations.  It is a rather cold and impersonal set of do’s and don’ts which can be mechanically adhered to with a little bit of self discipline.  People do this all the time, some better than others.

       The letter of the law is there to give definition to how we should conduct ourselves in a variety of circumstances.  These laws, however, cannot begin to cover all the possible circumstances of human interaction. The Spirit of the law, however, does cover every possible human circumstance.  It does this by providing one regulation.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  This one regulation is all encompassing. It applies to any and every conceivable event that can happen in life.  It truly is the sum of the law and the prophets.

       The goal of the Christian should be to have the Golden Rule become a part of our very nature, our very consciousness.  The goal of the Christian should be to have the Golden Rule become an automatic way of behaving.  The goal of the Christian should be to practice the Golden Rule instinctively, to live the Good Samaritan parable all the time.

       But how do we implement this law?  Consistent Golden Rule behavior is not germane to human nature. Can this law be implemented through self discipline?  Well, some people do a pretty good job of exercising this law through self discipline.  But for many people, this law is easily overridden by our self centered nature. “Doing to others as you would have them do to you” gets re-translated as "do to others when it’s convenient and only after you have done everything for yourself."  In many cases it gets re-translated as "do to others as they do to you."   Self centeredness often overrides other centeredness.  It overrides concern for the welfare of others.

       God has made His Spirit available to us to provide the power to practice the Golden Rule on a consistent basis.  We must, however, choose to implement God’s Spirit.  God’s Spirit never takes away our freedom of choice. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us do anything.  Paul showed that we can quench God’s Spirit or we can stir it up.  It’s our choice. Let’s make every effort to stir up God’s Spirit because if we do the result will be consistent, instinctive practice of the Golden rule “Doing to others as you would have them do to you.”

SERMON TWENTY-FIVE