Friday, July 23, 2021

The Vision (7.23.21): Five Observations on the Golden Rule


Image: Saturday morning hike at 2021 Youth Conference, Louisa, Virginia

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 7:12 (audio not yet available).

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).

This verse contains one of the best-known teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, popularly known as the “Golden Rule.” One commentator traced the first usage of this term to an English philosopher named Charles Gibbon at the beginning of the seventeenth century (see Alfeyev, The Sermon on the Mount, 359, n. 1). This same scholar describes the Golden Rule as “one of the fundamental moral reference points in Christian ethics” (Alfeyev, 362).

Notice at least five things about this teaching:

First, notice the context. The Golden Rule comes just after Christ’s teaching on petitionary prayer (vv. 7-11). 7:12 begins with the word “therefore”, which means, in light of what has just been said.

How is it connected to the previous teaching on prayer? Perhaps Christ especially wanted his disciples to keep this principle in mind when they were praying for others, even for their enemies (Matt 5:44).

Second, consider the scope of Christ’s command: “Therefore all things…”

What are the kinds of things we should do for others, as we would have them to do to us? All things.

Third, consider the object of Christ’s command: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you….”

The word “men” here in Greek is anthropoi, the basic term for a fellow human being, someone made in the image of God, whether he be friend or foe, Jew or Gentile, male or female, believer or pagan. It’s not a narrow, particular, or exclusive term. It is an expansive, universal, and inclusive term.

The Golden Rule is thus parallel to Christ’s teaching in the Great Commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt 22:39).

Fourth, notice the reciprocal nature of this teaching.

Just as the heart of the horizontal teaching in the Great Commandment is love your neighbor as yourself, so the positive reciprocal nature of the Golden Rule is that disciples should treat others, as they themselves would wish or want to be treated.

Fifth, consider the uniqueness of Christ’s teaching.

Some might tell you that some form of the Golden Rule is taught in the ethics of other world religions or philosophical traditions. That is not, in fact, the case. In a few places (from The Analects of Confucius to the apocryphal Jewish book of Tobit one finds a crude “negative” form of the Golden Rule that says something like, “Don’t do to others, what you do not want them to do to you.”), but in no other teacher do you find the positive version of the rule being given: As you would have other do to you, do to them.

It is that positive element that is crucial. Christ taught not merely that we avoid doing what is wrong, but that we do what is right.

As followers of Christ, we should strive not only for orthodoxy but also for orthopraxy. This includes adhering to Christ’s “Golden Rule.”

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

No comments: