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

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