Sunday, December 29, 2013



Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.
Grapes are not gathered from thorns nor figs from thistles, are they?So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.So then, you will know them by their fruits.Matthew 7.15-20

When I was a child we lived out in the country.  We had horses, pigs, chickens, etc.  Just before we left, a 4-H club was begun in our area, and I was lucky to be a part of it for a little while.  Each year there was a “project,” in which we each usually got an animal and then would raise this critter from infancy to maturity, then take it to the “Antelope Valley Fair and Alfalfa Festival” to be judged and sold – usually for a handsome profit.  Several of my friends chose sheep for their first year project, and it was pretty great.  Sheep take a lot of work (especially grooming) but the result is great looking.  And they are safe and easy for a smaller child to handle.  Pigs may turn on you, they can bite, and are tough to handle.  Cows are big, and chickens are lame.  But sheep are soft and furry and fun.  There’s nothing scary about a lamb … it’s just completely cute.  And, if you win the top prize (as one girl in our group did), you get over $100/pound for it at auction!   

Guests at the fair love to come out and see the animals, and there’s always some people from the city with their little kids coming to see the sheep.  Once a couple of little kids were petting an especially fluffy little lamb, when all of a sudden the belly of the lamb split open, and like a scene from Alien, a horrible monstrous, hungry wolf emerged from within the lamb and ripped the child to pieces!  It was a bloody, awful mess; and a horrible day for the traumatized parents of those children. 

No one saw it coming, but they should have.  If they knew about sheep like we did, they’d have seen that this wasn't a lamb at all, but it was a wolf the whole time.  He was wearing a disguise, and he knew the best way to catch a child was to look harmless - so he chose a lamb costume. 

Jesus’ lesson is simple.  It’s as simple as a warning sign. 

Watch out! 
Be on the alert! 
Danger, danger, DANGER!!! 
And then … Jesus explained that what they were watching out for: treachery. 

Jesus was cautioning his followers to watch out for hidden danger.  Emphasize each of those words to get the whole picture: it’s very dangerous – it doesn't look dangerous, and therefore you’d better be on guard … you’d better watch out! 

Q:  What would be worse than a wolf ripping apart a child at the AV Fair? 
A:   A person who looks like a fine Christian who then kills people spiritually 

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  - Jesus (from Matthew 10:28)
One who is very cleverly disguised as the man who seems nice, or the woman who is the kind church-lady.  Think of the sweetest image of a Christian person you can conjure – then imagine he or she is really a wolf in disguise and you didn't see it coming.  And in fact, this wolf may even not be aware himself of the fact that he is a wolf! 

Rest assured: These violent killers are not Muslims.  They are not terrorists, nor communists nor convicted murderous rapists.  These wolves go to church – your church – every Sunday.  That’s their “sheep costume.”  If they were scary, Jesus wouldn't need to warn us or tell us that these satanic angels are disguised as sheep.  We are all automatically afraid of a wolf that looks like a wolf.  It’s the one in the lamb-suit that will get you and those you care about. It may be your preacher, your friend, or your family member. 

Remember that Jesus was talking to his disciples, a set of Jews among a larger community of God’s chosen people, and he was warning them to watch out for those they had been trusting.  It was, after all, the leadership of the religious folks who would later murder their own savior!  Less than a week after hundreds of thousands of people were shouting Hosanna and praising him and welcoming him into God’s holy city … they would ask the Romans to execute him. 

Now that you know there is someone in your life who is dangerous to you and those you care about, the question is … what do we do, now?  Many Christians become paranoid and see danger everywhere.  Everything that doesn’t conform to their belief system becomes an object of concern, maybe fear, often hatred, and at the very least earns the label: “slippery slope.” 

This is not what Jesus said to do! 

False Positives

Jesus’ command was simple: watch out, be careful.  And then he told us the “trick” to recognizing the fake sheep: it’s by their “fruit.”  This is different than most Christians today.  Most who consider themselves to be Christian have one of three tests:
  • doctrine
  • goodness 
  • power

I’m guilty of the first of these: I habitually test doctrine.  I was raised to test everything against the bible.  If you teach something that’s not 100% compatible with the bible, then I’m likely to ignore you.  I’m trying to change, but it’s very hard, because it’s become a habit after decades of being trained to watch out for any mistake in what you say, teach, or believe.  I’m wrong to be this way, it’s not helpful, and I’m working to change.  If you are like me, then you also need to repent (change).  Not only are we judgmental, and correcting those who we should not … but we also completely miss the real danger!  We are exposed! 

Remember what Jesus is teaching us here: wolves are disguised.  Surely they are smart enough to cover themselves in the blanket of what we believe is the truth!  After all, Satan didn't really lie (technically) to Eve when he told her the fruit of the tree would give her wisdom (Genesis 3.5).  He didn't lie to Jesus when he tempted our Lord with scripture (Matthew 4.6).  Even the dark lord knows how to look like a ‘good’ bible believer.  Rest assured Satan is in the “right” church this morning. 

Others trust their scale of goodness or morality.  If you’re nice, kind, forgiving, sympathetic and sweet, then people will call you a great Christian and think how good you are.  To those people, the devil’s “sheep costume” is a smile and a hug – a costume of kindness.  His costume looks humble and sweet.  He looks like a nun – like Mother Theresa, or a kindly old priest or elder or preacher.  He is a “prayer warrior,” she’s active with the children’s programs at church, and a kindly person in the church choir.  She sure does look like a lamb!  Nice costume. 

Still others trust in what they imagine is the “Spirit.”  They think signs and miracles and wonders are the true indicators of Christianity.  They are also wrong, and like these other two categories above, they are not only following someone who isn’t true, but they are also exposing themselves to the soul-shredding fangs of Satan himself.  Despite the fact that the scriptures are full of false prophets who do miracles and claim to be from/of God … many still become prey for the wolf in this costume. 

Satan’s “Tell”

Poker players use the term: “tell;” it’s an indicator that the person may be bluffing – pretending to have a better hand than they do.  Maybe someone bites her fingernails or another one flicks his hair or takes a drink or whatever.  Fake sheep also have a tell, and it’s not their doctrine or their kindness or their ability to do miracles or speak in tongues.  Jesus taught us that their tell is “fruit.” 

Fruit is offspring.  A wolf can dress himself up to look precisely like a lamb.  He can make the same sounds as sheep and he can smile and be kind, soft and fuzzy like a lamb.  He can quote the bible better than you.  But what a wolf cannot do – ever – is make baby sheep.  The only one able to parent a sheep is another sheep.  As Jesus said, “a bad tree CANNOT produce good fruit.” 

That’s it.  It’s not complicated.  Look for people who love the lost and give themselves to rescuing them from evil. 

These aren't people who are after “church growth,” where growth has to do with how big their church is.  These aren't people who are focused on nice music, or kind deeds or correct doctrine.  These are not people who seem to be in love with everyone all the time, nor is it the guy who is a doctrinally-correct jerk. 

You will NEVER get a delicious strawberry from a rose bush, beautiful as a rose may be.  There are lots of pretty gardens in the world, but God’s business is farming – it’s about producing fruits and vegetables.  There are many amazing aquariums with colorful fish, but God’s business is catching fish – not admiring their beauty. 

Jesus offers to make us “fishers of men” and people who will do whatever it takes to “save the more,” as Paul wrote (1 Corinthians 9.19-27). 

It’s the guy who hurts when he sees a friend being suckered into a fake world that looks like a sheep pen, but is really a wolves’ den.  It’s the woman who is kind – not because she wants people to see her as kind, but as a way to show people what Jesus looks like - because she wants people to see her good works and glorify God! (Matthew 5.16) It’s the person who wants (more than anything else in the world) to save souls, and whose life and work and rest and friends and everything else is merely a means to achieve that end. 

Jesus’ best friend (John) wrote:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. …. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him.He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God - to those who believe in His name, who were born … of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.For the Torah was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (Excerpts from  John 1)

This time of year people follow those who speak of Jesus’ birth.  These are like those John wrote about when he wrote the darkness did not comprehend,” and “the world did not know himand his own did not receive him.”  But true disciples of Jesus receive him,” and are given the right to become God’s children by believing and being born again

We who are children by his grace realize that Jesus’ birth wasn’t the miracle – rather it was his incarnation!  It was because he was with God in heaven, left, and became one of us … just to save us!  This is why we rush to tell the good news – that people can be free of their empty, meaningless lives, and live to serve.  We can be better than “nice,” and we can be wiser than those who are “right,” and we can produce miracles that are far greater than some phony blathering in “tongues.”  We can bear fruit – we can make baby sheep – and when we do, we will be just like Jesus, who came into this world for one reason: to make baby sheep! 

Even blind squirrels find nuts, and broken clocks are right twice a day.  Everyone is right sometimes, everyone is nice sometimes, and everyone can do amazing things sometimes … but only a true follower of Jesus can make more followers of Jesus.  And only a true follower of Jesus knows that making baby sheep is the only permanently valuable thing a human being can do in this world.  Everything else is temporary.  Only a saved soul is eternal!

So … will you take caution?  I hope so.  I fear for you, and pray for you. 

I don’t fear that you will sin – you will.  And God’s grace will save you by the blood of the Lamb. 
I don’t fear that you’ll be hurt, or lonely or hungry or have bad days – you will. 

But - I am terrified that you will take the wide path that leads to destruction, because you followed a wolf dressed like a lamb.  Right now, friends of mine are getting dressed-up to go to “church” filled with these vicious animals … and my friends don’t see it.  They think they’re doing the right thing, and they’re walking right into the trap. 

Despite this warning, millions of Christians will go to “church” today.  They’ll see that grandma has an unusually big nose and teeth … and crawl into her bed, anyway.  

May God grant us the wisdom and grace to keep ourselves from such a thing - and maybe rescue a few others. 

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” 
(Excerpts from Acts 20:28-35)

These men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, (like unreasoning animals) by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch … prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own desires; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage
(Excerpts from Jude 10-16)

Beware of the dogs,
beware of the evil workers,
beware of the false circumcision;
…for …  
WE are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh
…for many walk … (I now tell you even weeping) are actually enemies of the cross of Christ!  Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and whose glory is their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
BUT OUR citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

Therefore, my beloved brothers … my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 

(Excerpts from Philippians 3:2-4:1) 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

the hard way: loving the ducks

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Matthew 7.13-14

Now we enter the next-to-last section of the SOM (7.13-23).  These last bits are really challenging and very, very serious.  Failure to understand these lessons and apply them is a grave mistake with eternal consequences.  Again: eternal consequences.  

Consider the idea of a challenge 

For a task to be a challenge it has to be hard.  It’s the difficulty that makes it both challenging and rewarding.  Lots of things are easy, but they are almost always less rewarding.  People climb mountains and run marathons and master musical instruments and do all sorts of difficult things, while others watch.  Watching is easy – playing is hard.  And even though spectators are happy and applaud at the victory of their favorite person or team … they never know the joy and sense of accomplishment of the player. 

Christianity is a spectator sport for many.  They cheer for Christians and/or their churches or religious groups, and they ‘boo’ the opposition.  Depending on the situation, the opposition may be another church or another preacher or denomination, or it might be another religion or even another culture. 

When Jesus told his audience (Jewish disciples) to choose the road less traveled, to enter the narrow gate instead of the wide one, he was offering a challenge: get in the game, and play to win.  Spectators are those going through the wide gate.  While the Pharisees were good Jews, and among the most observant followers of God on earth at the time, Jesus was challenging his disciples to take it a step further, so that their righteousness would exceed that of the Pharisees (Remember earlier in the SOM? Matthew 5.20)
But how does this play out in the real world for us?  I’ll offer an example here of something that’s being featured in the news these days for your consideration.

Phil Robertson – Duck Dynasty – A&E

As I write this, Duck Dynasty is in the news and people are revealing themselves exactly as one would expect.  The patriarch of the group (Phil Robertson) made some statements about: 1) his personal feelings and his personal observations – and 2) he also quoted some things from the bible. 

The remarks were seen as bigoted by some people, and the network has cut him from a show based on his own family.  And now, people choose sides.  Christians, rednecks and tea-partiers are upset that Phil’s words were taken out of context and that they’re under attack.  Meanwhile gay people and African American groups are upset, and form the other side.  And so the media begins to poll people to find out what they should do (remember: it’s the media’s business to get viewers – not choose the “right” side, or even necessarily to accurately report the news).  The battle lines are drawn.

What’s missing?  Love

Let me remind you what our Lord taught us earlier in the SOM:
In all things, therefore, as you wish others would do to you, do this to them; for this is the Law & the Prophets.  Matthew 7.12 (KV)
Remember that?  It was our last lesson, and it applies here perfectly.  While “spectator Christians” yell about the unfairness of what was done to the multi-millionaire Christian family, Jesus’ true disciples are doing something different: they are considering the other person’s point of view.  Or to put it more simply: we listen. 

We listen most closely to the “sinners,” because we love them. Why did God send His son to earth?  Because He loved us so.  (John 3.16) Why did our Savior come to earth and to the humble go?  Why on the cross be lifted up?  Because he loved us so! And when did he do this?  While we were yet sinners! (Romans 5.8) 

Have you ever listened to a sinner?  They are the people we’re supposed to be rescuing, you know.  When Jesus said, “Go, make disciples…” did you think he was sending us to other Christians?  What do you suppose we are rescuing them from?  Is it our job merely to condemn sinners' sex/love life, and ruin their Sunday mornings?  Is THAT what it means to make a disciple?  

Sinners always act like sinners.  They are part of the kingdom of darkness (whether they know it or not) and we will never get anywhere with them by quoting scripture to them before we even bother considering how it might make them feel! 

Two of Phil’s things the media has trumpeted (so far) come from 1 Corinthians and Romans.  If you know the word, you recognize them as quotes immediately.  But do you think the average person in the world knows that?  So when they play a YouTube clip of Phil preaching they are filled with every kind of wickedness … full of envy, murder, strife, deceit … slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless…”  How would you feel if you heard those words and understood them to be describing you?  We (Christians) think to ourselves that these words are true, and perhaps even recognize them as being from the bible, but we rarely ever think about how it might make the other person feel

Those quotes were from letters by Paul to particular churches - groups of Christians.  He did not write or say those things to outsiders.  And he was writing about specific situations in each case.  But when speaking to outsiders, here’s what Paul did:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews;
To those who are under the Law, as under the Law … so that I might win those who are under the Law;To those who are without law, as without law … so that I might win those who are without law.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak;
I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Do you see that Paul doesn't speak the same way to all people? 
Do you suppose he might add: “To the gay man, I became as a gay man…"? 
(I can hear some of you gasping right now, all the way over here - and so can God) 

The Duck Dynasty Division is typical, and we've seen it many times and will see it many more.  What’s interesting is that this controversy wouldn't even happen if not for the fact that Phil Robertson developed an unusually great duck call.  Or to put it another way: Phil’s love of duck hunting drove him to learn how to “speak duck.”   And yet, as a hunter for the lost, he has not learned how to speak “lost.” 

None of us will learn how to “speak lost” until we love them as much as Phil loves ducks.  And then we won’t learn it until we learn how to listen – really listen – to people who are lost and without the Lord. 

To be clear: it’s not my intention to criticize the Robertsons.  They are in the game (unlike many of their fans).  They are players, and their efforts have born fruit.  All disciple-makers will make mistakes, though most of us will never have as big an audience as they do.  Rather, I’m hoping to help you - to be a player (not a spectator) and a good one.  Be a wise player, not merely a spectator on the “right” side.

Ask yourself: have I been a spectator, choosing the right side, or am I, like Jesus, Paul, Peter and Phil … actually playing the game?  Am I on the hunt?  And … am I listening to the lost, or merely cheering for them to keep losing?

Our Lord told us plainly: “do it the hard way.”  That means we have to be different.  And not just different from the world, but also different from other Christians (as we will see when we get in a future lesson - Matt. 7.21). 

The broad path is the easy one.  It’s the one where we all go with the majority, we believe “prophets” that are not true, and we wander along like spectators, following the rump of the sheep in front of us. 

But our Lord offers us a challenge: to go the hard way!  He challenges us not to live in the lowlands, but to climb Everest.  His challenge is for us to see how much we can do, how far we can go, how high we can climb in the “adventure-sport” of love.

This “love the hard way” challenge is all around us.  We need to learn how to listen to the very people who hate us, just as Jesus did, remembering that our Lord died for the very people that assassinated him. 

Jesus wasn't martyred for a cause – he was martyred for people
Specifically, he was martyred for sinful people! 
Jesus was murdered for murderers and liars and gossips.  He was killed for so-called Christians who hide behind “truth” and make it an excuse to be stupid and hurtful. He died for gay people, adulterers, murderers and he died for those who condemn and hate sinners.  Jesus died so that even a sinner like me could be forgiven.  How can I look at a gay person with condemnation? 

The point is that knowing right and wrong isn't hard for a disciple of Jesus.  We know that sex is a great gift from God for married people – just as He made food taste good, flowers smell good and music sound so sweet.  And we know that these things are SO good that some people will devote their lives to indulging their senses in gluttony or fornication or other fleshly indulgences. 

But for some reason whereas we usually have enough tact not to call a fat person fat – we bash others for their particular sin, and pretend we’re superior in our gluttony to the poor guy who is attracted to another guy.  Or we who gossip and are unmerciful to sinners … are superior to those we look down upon with righteous indignation. 

We are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story:
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself:    ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying,    ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14

Now if you want the full impact of that parable – if you really want to change your life, replace the word “Pharisee” with the word “Christian,” and the words “Tax Collector” with the word “homo.”  Now look at that parable again, and see if Jesus’ words can help YOU be a better person.

Being a disciple, and making disciples the hard way – by entering through the narrow gate – is a wonderful challenge.  But it means learning to love the unlovely, and even learning to speak their language well enough so that they will come to us and ask us.  In this case, ask yourself: do you speak “gay”?  Would a gay person know you’re a follower of Jesus and feel comfortable asking you about this Duck Dynasty mess?  Would you know how to respond?  
Enter the narrow gate.  Bashing sinners is easy.  Loving the lost is hard.  

I quoted Paul from his letter to the Corinth church of Christ above.  Here is the rest of the quote – it’s his version of “entering the narrow gate,” or doing it “the hard way.”  This is how we should accept Jesus’ challenge as participants and not spectators:

I do all things for the sake of the gospel [good news], so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?
Run in such a way that you may win!  
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  
They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;
I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but…
…I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 
1 Corinthians 9:23-27

Monday, December 16, 2013

Jesus’ Great Challenge – will you master it?

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7.12 (NASB)

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. 
Matthew 7:12 (KJV)

In all things, therefore, as you wish others would do to you, do this to them; for this is the Law & the Prophets.
Matthew 7.12 (KV)

Most of us know the so-called “Golden Rule,” but do we, really know it? 
Or more importantly – do you actually try your best to live it?  

Many claim that Jesus is their “lord,” which means “boss” or “master.”  If that were true and not just an idle claim, then all who claim Jesus as Lord would be doing their very best to obey everything Jesus said.  Of course, we cannot obey instructions we don’t understand. 

Religious people spend enormous amounts of time and energy studying passages on grace vs. works, or baptism or divorce or sexual orientation … but they seem to take the Golden Rule (GR) for granted, as if it didn't need more study.  But the truth is: this is one of the most important commands of all.  As Jesus said, this is a summary statement for the whole bible!  So let’s make some time to think about this statement in great detail and see if we can really understand it. 

I will highlight a three points for your consideration, and encourage you to think on these things, spend time in prayer on them, and then see how completely you can make this command really guide your every step through life – all decisions – and every action.  This is the disciple’s prime directive, and we should be living like it. 

1. get it right

We can’t do what we’re told if we don’t understand what we’re told.  In many parts of the world, an employer is expected to be bilingual, because his boss often speaks a different language than his employees.  It’s the same with us and Jesus.  We cannot obey until we understand.  In the case of the SOM, Jesus was speaking Aramaic, which Matthew translated into Greek, and that’s the version we have.  Most of you don’t know Greek, so you choose an English translation.  I put two of those at the top of this article, but because I think they are not quite right, I've also included my own translation.  Here it is again:

In all things, therefore, as you wish others would do to you, do this to them; for this is the Law & the Prophets.
Matthew 7.12 (KV)

To understand it, let’s begin at the end:
“…this is the Law & the Prophets”
For the Jews of Jesus’ time, these words were their way of saying “the bible.”  The Law (Torah) are the first five books of the bible.  And the Prophets (Nevi’im) are all those books in the second half of your Old Testament – from Isaiah to Malachi. 

So what Jesus said was that to obey this one command is to obey the whole bible.  Think about that for a moment!  All the questions we answer using the bible are found in this one statement.  Or to put it the other way, answers in the bible were all discovered by the writer simply by obeying this.  Remember earlier in the SOM when we learned how to pray or fast or whether or not divorce is okay?  Well, they are interpretations of this one command.  We don’t condemn others because we wouldn't want to be condemned.  We also don’t overlook their faults because we wouldn't want ours overlooked – we want to be helped to grow! 

This one principle is the answer to everything in human relationships.  All the letters in the New Testament, from Romans – Revelation, are actually just expansions of this one statement applied to different problems.  It’s all here. 

In all things…
Now the way Matthew wrote this, he started with the word: “all.”  That means “in everything” or “in all things” or even perhaps “at all times.”  Matthew quotes Jesus as beginning with the idea that this rule ALWAYS applies to EVERYTHING.  So, no matter what you will do later today, or how you’ll finish this article or in every single human relationship …
…always follow this guide
…all the time
all with people 

The next word is “therefore.”  That word connects us to the section that preceded this statement.  Remember this whole section (Matthew 7.1-12) is about “Family Business.”  It’s about the way disciples (brothers and sisters) treat each other.  We have just read how our Father (God) treats us … and His behavior now becomes the model for how we should treat other people.  Just as God gives good gifts to those who ask, so we do the same.  Go back and read Matthew 7.1-12 again and understand how that connects to this command.

…as you wish others would do you
Then Jesus starts by challenging us to think about what we (disciples) want (or wish) others to do to us.  I believe it’s better to stick to the order as found in the Greek here, because before we get to the command, our Lord wants us to think for a moment about what we would want.  Think first about what you would want people to do to you – before you make a snap decision about what you should do.  This will become more clear in the third section below. 

And it’s awkward wording in English, but I use the term “do” you instead of “treat” you because it’s important that you know this is an active thing, not passive.  One way to “treat” people is to “live and let live.”  In that case we’re not really “doing” anything to them or for them.  But this isn't passive; it’s active – so think for a moment about what you want people to do to you or for you.

Now before you read on take a break and do as I've suggested above, looking up the earlier verses, and just stop and think about this command.  Think and pray on this, and really drink this in deeply.  Even memorize it … and learn the Kirk Version (KV), which will help you most accurately understand and live this command (even if it’s a bit awkward English). 

2.  don’t just sit there, DO something (ours is active)

People say all religions have a form of the GR.  But actually the GR given by Jesus is different from all others.  Ours is active, while the others are passive.  Here’s an example from Buddhism:
“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”
Udana-Varga 5,1
In other religions the command is not to hurt others.  That’s what I mean when I say it’s passive.  In the active version Jesus commands his followers to go and DO something to others, not merely withhold harm. 

You may remember earlier in the SOM when Jesus said that if someone asks you to go with him a mile, you should go two; or if he asks for your shirt, give also your coat.  Our GR requires us to go out of our way, to give extra … even more than the person deserves! 

This is a very important! 

This is important because it defines Christian love as the kind of love in which we go out of our way to love people we don’t normally consider (or may even despise).  Most people love their family … but Jesus would have us love strangers – even people who are “different” or dirty (Luke 10.30-37). Everyone loves their friends, but our Lord commands us to also love our enemies (Matthew 5.44-48)!  In fact, this is exactly what God did when He sent His Son, Jesus, to live on earth and die on a cross (John 3.16).  God went out of His way to be merciful to us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5.8-11). 

This is important because it is grace!  We are all part of God’s eternal kingdom because He went out of His way to love us and forgive us for spitting in His face.  How can we be His children, and part of His household if we don’t go out of our way to love and forgive others?  That’s what our ministry is all about: reconciliation. 
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
And this is why obedient disciples “evangelize” (make disciples).  When Jesus said to “go, make disciples, baptize them, teach them to obey;” that was the GR in action.  Go – look for the lost coin or sheep, and when the misbehaving brother comes home, forgive him, wash him and welcome him with a feast (Luke 15). 

And by the way …
Because our GR is different, it’s also why we are seen by other groups as obnoxious.  For example, most Jewish people do not like (or trust) proselytizing Christians.  Jews make no effort to try to get others to believe in Judaism, because it’s not part of their system of beliefs.  So when we knock on their doors, or tell people in our community what God thinks of their ethics or morals, we are sticking our nose into their business.  And that’s why, to truly follow the GR, we must – MUST – understand this third principle below.

3.  remember who you are

Would you give a drunk a drink?  If you were a bartender, would you serve alcohol to a pregnant woman?  To paraphrase the SOM: “If a man asks for a drink, give him two” – right? 

This takes us back to our key to understanding this section of the SOM: context.  Remember who Jesus was talking to.  He was talking to Jewish followers of God who were also Jesus’ disciples.  Remember our last lesson when we observed that God gives when His children ask?  But we also saw that because we are His children and disciples of Jesus we don’t ask for stuff to please ourselves.  We don’t ask from selfish motives. 

So … the GR also plays out differently because we are disciples.  Read this carefully: 
Don’t merely give others what they want …
… give them what we would want, if we were them

Some people are like little kids with animals.  If a child loves s'mores, she may believe the tiger at the zoo would love them, too.  Give to people what you would want IF YOU WERE THEM, and in your right mind.

A drunk may want another drink, but because we first thought about what we want others to do to us, and because we are disciples … we know that a drunk really doesn't want another drink, he wants an intervention! 

Let’s put it in story form, and apply the GR:

You are out with your friends (who are not committed disciples of Jesus) and one of whom has a drinking problem.  You know this person needs to control her drinking problem, but more than that she needs to become a disciple. 

So first, you remember that the GR ALWAYS applies in ALL circumstances – even now. 
Then you ask yourself “If I were in her situation, what would I truly want done to me”?  You know that harping on her drinking will be annoying.  If you badger her about that, how will you have a chance to talk to her about her commitment to God?  Realizing this, you tolerate her drinking to a point, so that you can sustain your friendship for a time when it’s right to talk to her about God. 

But now she’s getting a bit out of control.  You cannot give her keys to her car and endanger her life, and now she’s considering going home with a strange man who is also loaded.  Is she safe?  Is this wise?  You need to keep your head and take care of your friend. 

The bartender may stop serving her.  That’s his passive response to her problem.  Your ACTIVE response is to begin to think about intervening in her life and confronting her with her drinking problem.  Why?  Because now that you’re a disciple, you realize that if you had slipped back and were a drunken fool, you’d really want God to send someone to step in and slap you back into reality.  And so, you make each moment count so that you’ll have the best opportunity later to reach her when the time is right and when she will listen to the truth. 

I hope this makes sense.  This “rule” isn't about necessarily doing to people what they want.  Nor is it about following rules. 
It’s about helping people. 
It’s about loving them enough to listen to them, loving them enough to be tough sometimes and gentle at others, and it’s about learning to develop the wisdom to know the difference.  And it’s a rule for disciples of Jesus.  It’s not a rule for Jews or Buddhists or Muslims – they won’t even understand it.  And even though most Christians would claim this rule, very few actually make it their constant guide – their prime directive. 

Obeying the GR requires thought & practice, because to do it well requires wisdom, and wisdom comes from work and practice.  Sometimes well-meaning disciples are impatient with their fellow disciples and so we get angry.  Sometimes we’re impatient with ourselves.  Other times we overlook sins when we should be intervening.  Knowing the difference isn't a matter of how you feel, or what your opinions are, but rather it’s about being effective

It’s not about “being right” - it’s about “doing good.”

That’s why the father in the Prodigal Son story didn't go searching for his son.  And he didn't lock the kid in his room until he got his mind right.  The father in that story knew that he needed to let the kid go and act like a fool before he would be fully a part of the household. 

In the same way, our fellow Christians try to make laws to force our ideas of morality on others.  This is a violation of the GR.  It’s always been this way.  Religious people make rules to try to force others to do things – they deny people things they should ignore.  Soon along comes “liberals” who overlook things when they should be intervening.  The Apostles of Jesus were the same.  They wanted to call fire from heaven to destroy a village, and pulled a sword on the soldier; but then they were concerned about offending the Pharisees. 

Perhaps the best way to learn how to implement the GR is to pay close attention to the way God treats people, for He is the perfect example.  He causes the rain to fall on the evil and the good (Matthew 5.44-48), but He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12).  In other words, sometimes He gives bad people what they want, and doesn't give to His own children!  Get to know God, and you’ll understand the GR.

One “trick” to mastering the GR is developing your observational skills.  Learn how to listen.  It may seem strange, but most people are terrible listeners (this means, probably, YOU are a terrible listener).  Love listens.  When you care about someone, you learn how to listen to them.  You learn how to read between the lines, and see things that are very subtle.  When you don’t care about someone, you pay little attention.  So learning to practice the GR is about getting really good at listening to people and trying to understand their situation.  Work at this, because it’s much harder than it seems. 

Take time with the GR 
Study it, memorize it, pray it, and live it. 
Sit with others and try applying it in various situations and see if you can get good at it. 

See how many places you can find it in scripture  
  • Wasn't Abraham obeying the GR when he asked God to spare Sodom if he could find only 10 faithful people? 
  • Or Joseph when he forgave his brothers? 
  • Or Moses when he begged God to spare the people?
  • When Paul said to disfellowship the unrepentant disciple in 1 Corinthians 5, wasn't that the GR
  • Or when Paul wrote to be patient with the weaker brothers (1 Corinthians 8), or when he wrote that it’s OK to celebrate holidays (or not) or be a vegetarian (or not) in Romans 14?

In fact, every letter in the NT is really the inspired response to a problem – it was the writer’s way of obeying the GR to/for that church or individual.  Peruse the letters and stories of scripture, and if you’re looking for it, you can find the GR everywhere. 

 Be patient! 
Much of this can be mastered pretty quickly, but to get really great at it will surely take the rest of your life.  Be patient with yourself and with others.  The GR is not about tolerating evil, but it is also not about judging those who struggle.  The GR is about finding just the right response of love in just the right moment.  With wisdom we’ll learn when to be swift and harsh and when to be gentle and patient. 

I know of no command of Jesus that more modern Christians ignore than this one.  It is easily the most ignored passage in all of the bible.  The way “Christians” treat people – even one another - is beyond appalling.  We cannot change “Christians” or churches (trust me on this one) – but we can change ourselves.  You can accept personal challenge to become a master of the GR.  While some work to shoot par and others aim to be fast or make lots of money or have a perfect family … you can accept the challenge from Jesus (your Lord):

Think about what you’d want done to you,
Then do that to the other person 

Now go and practice this.  Try – try hard.  Give your GR response to every incident and every person in your life at all times, and see if you can become a master practitioner!

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews;
To those who are under the Law, as under the Law … so that I might win those who are under the Law;
To those who are without law, as without law … so that I might win those who are without law.  
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak;

I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” 

1 Corinthians 9:19-25