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, NAS)
Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NKJV)
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
Jesus brings this section on God’s righteousness to a close. We think we are righteous, but God’s law evaluates our heart. We think we have obeyed God’s law, but our human relationships show the real condition of our heart.
Relationships…you can’t live without them…but often can’t live with them either. Our biggest joys and heartaches are associated with our relationships.
It is interesting that Jesus started off chapter 7 by talking about our tendency to condemn, criticize, and judge others. It’s in our blood. We watch the news and criticize politicians and the media. We go to a sporting event and criticize the players, coaches, and referees. We get on the road and criticize the drivers in front of us, the road department, and the city of Baton Rouge. We go to the store and criticize the management, the cashiers, and the person in front of us with too many items and an inability to operate the credit card machine. Then we go to church and everything is better! No, we often find ourselves criticizing the music, the preaching, the kids sitting in the pew in front of us, and the person singing off key behind us.
Of course, evaluating things is not wrong. The problem is that we usually go one step further. We set ourselves up as the paragons of normality and expect everyone else to bend to our preferences and perspective. We set ourselves up as the judges and everyone else is on trial before us. That’s when we cross the line.
Jesus turns all that on its head in this one verse. Here is how I understand this verse in its immediate context…
Whatever you criticize others for not doing, you do those things perfectly and consistently for them.
Whatever you get upset about that others do not do for you, you do for them unconditionally with love and joy.
In other words, we focus on the failings of others in the realm of relationships. Instead, we are to focus on our own inability to love others the way that we want to be loved. We don’t even meet our own standard. We fail to listen to others the way we want to be listened to. We fail to meet the emotional needs of others, the way we want our emotional needs met. We frustrate other people as much as they frustrate us. When our eyes are honestly turned inward, we see the weakness, sin, and selfishness of our own hearts.
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)
The “Golden Rule” is not only a call to love others but also a stinging rebuke of our own hearts. We fall short of perfect love, thus we fall short of God’s righteousness. That’s why we are to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking on the door of heaven, crying out for God to change our hearts, to melt our cynicism and criticism, to fill us with His Spirit, and to give us the power to love others as He has loved us. We can’t love unless God takes out our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh, unless He removes our spirit of condemnation and gives us His Spirit of grace.
Lord, I am about to go out and interact with my family, with my wife, with others in this community. Fill me now with Your Spirit! Help me to crucify my flesh, my selfish desires! May Your love shine through me today.