The Sermon on the Mount
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

25 – The Golden Rule

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.

I want to deal with only one verse today.  Matthew 7:12 is called the Golden Rule text.  But first let me give you a little illustration.  My first time to be in the United States was in 1964.  I was at Andrews University and, in one of my first classes, we were required to visit a funeral home.  A funeral home in America is something to behold.  There is nothing like it anywhere in the world.

I was amazed at the caskets.  I’ve never seen anything like them. In Africa, they wrap you up in a cloth; in Europe, it is just a plain wooden box.  I saw this beautiful casket with nice silk lining and I said, “The dead know how to sleep here.”  There was one casket that caught my eye.  It was a very simple one with cloth covering over wood; it was better than anything I had seen in the Third World, though.  It had a big placard which said, “The Golden Rule Casket.”  I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked the funeral director what this casket symbolized.  He said it was for those who couldn’t afford to buy a better one.  I asked if he meant that this one cost nothing.  (The cheapest one was about $400 and the most expensive around $3,000).  I asked if the funeral home paid for the person who was too poor to buy the casket and he told me they would.

I asked him how often he had done it and he said, “in the last 20 years, only three times.”  So I remarked that there must not be very many poor people there.  He said, “That is not quite true.  People are ashamed to take something free.  Because when people come to the funeral, the friends would know this was a Golden Rule Casket and the family would rather borrow money.”  Then he whispered to me, “This helps my business, gives the impression to the people that I am willing to sacrifice for them.”  Psychologically, he knew that this gesture would not cost him money.  Is this what Jesus was talking about in verse 12?  That casket was not the Golden Rule; it was the Monkey Rule:  “I scratch your back so you will scratch my back.”  That is based on human love:  “I do you a favor so you will do me a favor.”  But that is not what Christ is talking about.  By the way, this appears in the New Testament several times.  This is not the only place, but, basically, they all say the same thing.  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.

First of all let us be clear on what this text is not saying.  Christ is not saying that we should do something good for our neighbor so that they, in turn, will do something good for us.  There are two statements in this text that help us — give us a clue — what Christ is saying.  The first word, ’so’ (’therefore,’ in some translations) implies that this verse 12 is not a detached statement.  It is linked with what He has said previously.  It implies that it is based on what He has said already in verses 1-6 regarding judging others and verses 7-11 dealing with God’s goodness toward us.  The word “so” tells us that this is what He meant:  Treat others just as you would treat yourself.  Look at verse 2; this is the context:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

In other words, put yourself in other people’s shoes and treat them as you would treat yourself.  Then the last part of verse 12 also gives us a clue:

...for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

When you read that, it immediately reminds us of an incident that took place in the life of Jesus.  Turn to Matthew 22:36. It will help us to understand what Christ meant when He said “the Law and the Prophets.”  What He means is that this is the teaching of the Old Testament, the teaching of Scripture.  In this verse 36, a young lawyer comes up to Jesus and asks which is the great commandment in the Law.  By the way, this word “master” means that this person did not believe that Christ was the Messiah.  If he believed in him as the Messiah, he would have called him “Lord.”  The word “master” means “teacher” or “rabbi.”  So, obviously this man did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.  In fact, verse 35 says he was tempting Jesus.  Matthew 22:34-36:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

By “law” he meant the Book of Moses.  The Book of Moses is full of laws and the young man was asking, “Which is number one?”  Jesus said to him, in verses 37-40:

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.”

He is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

Therefore, when Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “for this sums up the Law and the Prophets,” He was simply saying that you should treat your neighbor as you treat yourself.  Love your neighbor in the same way as you love yourself.  And, if you look at verse 11 of Matthew 7, you will notice that Christ is also saying that we should treat others as God treats us:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

In other words, God’s concern for us is always goodness.  He wants to give everything to us that is good for us.  He is saying here that the golden rule is not some rule that you and I have made but is simply that you must love your neighbor as yourself; this is the Golden Rule.  Loving your neighbor as yourself is identified as the Golden Rule by Christ:  doing to others what we would want them do to us.

When we realize this, we face a problem.  Is it possible in our natural strength for us to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourself?  No.  Let me give you an illustration of this.  Turn to Matthew 19:16.  A young man comes to Jesus, also an unbeliever because he calls Him “Teacher” or “Good Master”:

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

You see that he is addressing Jesus as a human teacher and not as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  The first things Jesus says is (verse 17):

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied.  “There is only One who is good....”

Remember that the Old Testament is teaching this and Christ is simply quoting from the Old Testament.  And, by the way, Paul quotes this also in Romans 3 that there is none good, none righteous, only God.  Continuing verse 17:

“...If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

When the young man asked which commandment, then Jesus quoted the ones that deal with our relationships to each other (verses 18 and 19a):

“Which ones?” the man inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’...”

Notice how Jesus ends in verse 19:

“...and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Verse 20 is the man’s reply:

“All these I have kept,” the young man said.  “What do I still lack?”

He told Jesus that since he was a child he was loving his neighbor as himself.  But Jesus said, “Can I put you to the test?”  Verse 21:

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect [if you really love as much as you claim to], go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven [I will give you My treasure in heaven].  Then come, follow me.”

Did the man do it?  Look at verse 22:

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

What did this test reveal?  This revealed that the natural man cannot do it.  Jesus did not say “try” and love your neighbor as yourself.  When you analyze self-love, you will discover several things about it.  Number one, it is spontaneous.  Have you ever tried to love yourself?  If you ever have, you need to see a doctor.  It is spontaneous.  Number two, it is always constant.  Even those who commit suicide do so because they love themselves and they can’t handle a problem and so they find that way of escape.  Self-love, according to the Bible is inborn in every human being.  All seek their own, says Paul in Philippians 2:21, not the things of Christ:

For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

That is why when God comes to you — the man in the world — with the gospel, He doesn’t say that you must become good and love your neighbor as yourself and then He will save you.  He comes to man and says, “I come to where you are.  I am offering you heaven in exchange for debt.”

Every one of the disciples, without exception, accepted Christ for a selfish reason.  That is why they were always fighting about who would be the greatest.  When one of the mother’s came and asked Jesus if her sons could sit on either side of Him when He established His kingdom, then the other ten disciples got very angry about it.  Remember that man is born with a natural love for self.  Is it possible for Christians to love their neighbors as themselves?  Yes.  The New Testament teaches that is the fruit of salvation, is the evidence of justification by faith.

Let me give you two examples.  Turn to Romans 13 where Paul is giving the Christian ethics.  He is describing the fruits of salvation.  Look at verse 8 and 9 because this is how Christians who have been born of the Holy Spirit should live:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love [the word Paul uses is agape, it comes from God] one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.  [What is the law?  Love your neighbor as yourself.]  The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” [the same commandments Christ gave the young man] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here is Paul admonishing Christians to fulfill this.  Why?  Because Christians have something that the unbeliever does not have which makes it possible.  We’ll come to that in a moment.

The other text I want to give you that says the same thing is Galatians 5:13-14, because this brings out clearly that this love is the fruit of the gospel:

You, my brothers, were called to be free.

By the way, if you read verse 1, you will notice that the liberty comes through the gospel of Christ:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

He has delivered us from the yoke of bondage which is legalism.  So He is saying in verse 13, “Now you are free, my brothers.”  Continuing with verse 13:

But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature;...

Don’t use salvation by grace as a license to sin.  That is not what the work of grace is.  It sets you free from condemnation, free from anxiety, from guilt, from insecurity, but it doesn’t set you free to enjoy sin.  Instead, what do you do?  End of verse 13 and verse 14:

...rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

So we have seen that what Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:12 is the great commandment, which belongs to the last six of the Ten Commandments, which is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Can we keep the commandments in and of ourselves? The answer is “no” and Romans 7 brings this out.  The law is holy and spiritual but I am carnal, a slave to sin.

But please remember that Matthew 7 is part of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Mount is addressed not to unbelievers but to believers.  So Christ is also making this statement in the context of the fruits of salvation.

The next thing we saw is that Christians can love their neighbor as themselves.  It is possible.  The natural man cannot, but the Christian can.  Why?  Turn to 1 Corinthians 12:31.  Do you know that it is not sin to covet some things? Chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians are dealing with spiritual gifts.  1 Corinthians 12:31:

But eagerly desire the greater gifts.  And now I will show you the most excellent way [gift].

And what is that gift?  Love.  How does he describe that love in Chapter 13:4-7?  By the way, the word “charity,” used in some translations, is not the right word.  Paul did not use the word “charity”; he used the word agape.  The word “charity” comes from the Latin word caritas, which was coined by Augustine and it is a mixture of human love and God’s love.  And it is caritas that created in the Christian Church that we are saved partly by our works and partly by grace:  I plus Christ.  Paul used the word agape which is God’s self-emptying love.  When we receive this love, what will it do?  1 Corinthians 13:4-8a:

Love [agape] is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

When God comes and dwells in you He takes that love that you have for yourself and He transfers it to your neighbor.  That is the power of the Spirit in you.

Can you imagine a church that is controlled by agape?  Let me, in a nutshell, remind you how this takes place.  You will notice that when Christ spoke to the young man about the law being fulfilled that no mention is made of the first four commandments.  Because, as we saw in Matthew 22, in order for you to keep all the commandments you have to have an ingredient called agape.  Love for God and love for man are the two commandments on which the whole law and the prophets rest.  We do not have that love by nature because we lost it at the Fall.

When Adam sinned, love disappeared and selfishness took its place.  That is a layman’s way of putting this truth.  What technically took place is that agape, which was always outward, took a u-turn and bent toward self.  The Hebrew word for that u-turn bend is “iniquity.”  In Hebrew, “iniquity” means “bent.”  And when Adam sinned, that love which was toward God and toward Eve now bent toward self.  So when God came and saw him, Adam did not say that he ate the fruit because he wanted to die with Eve, he blamed both God and Eve.  “This woman that you gave....  This is not my fault.”  Genesis 3:12:

The man said, “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

And ever since then, we have been trying to find scapegoats out of self-love.

If I do not have agape then I cannot love God or my fellowman by myself.  Here is the problem:  we saw in 1 Corinthians 13 that “agape is not self-seeking.”  If God gives me agape as a gift so that I may return this agape back to Him, then we have a problem because God Himself is no longer is agape.  We make God selfish if we say He gave us the gift so we may return it back to Him.  Look at 1 John 3:23, because the first four commandments are kept only in the context of faith:

And this is his command [notice there are two of them here]:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

That is the first commandment:  belief in Jesus Christ.  Faith is keeping the first four commandments and, if you look at them, you know you can only keep them by faith.  Exodus 20:3-8:

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

If you believe in God, you will have no other gods.  If you believe in God, you will rest on His day and not on yours.  Please remember that faith fulfills the first four commandments.  That is why, when we preach the Sabbath, we must preach it in the context of faith.  Why am I keeping the Sabbath?  Because I am resting in Christ.  If you are asked for a text, give Hebrews 4.  We who believe the gospel have entered into Christ’s rest.

So we keep the first four commandments by faith.  What does God do in return?  The moment we believe, the moment we turn to God as our only hope, as our only Lord, the moment we rest in Christ as our only Savior, He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and the Holy Spirit brings with Him the gifts of agape.  And this gift is given to us so it may go in the horizontal direction towards our neighbors.  And that is the second commandment of 1 John 3:23; the first one is that we believe on the name of Christ and the second one is:

And this is his command:  to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us [the other six commandments].

So this is how it works in practical terms.  God comes to me with the gospel and says, “You can’t save yourself.  There is only One who can save you:  the One who created you is the One who will redeem you.”  By the way, this is in the context of the Three Angels’ Message:  “Give glory to God.”  The first angel comes with the everlasting gospel and says, “Please give glory to God who created the heavens, the earth, and seas.”  Revelation 14:7:

He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.  Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Another example is Paul and Barnabas in Lystra.  Do you remember the people thought they were gods.  And they worshipped him and Paul was horrified.  He said, “Stop. We are men like you.  There is only One God and it is Him that we worship:  the God who created the heaven, earth, and sea.”  Acts 14:8-15:

In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked.  He listened to Paul as he was speaking.  Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!”  At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”  Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker.  The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting:  “Men, why are you doing this?  We too are only men, human like you.  We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.”

When you come to God in faith, He says to you, “I took you and I put you in my Son and I redeemed you.  I gave you a new history, a new identity, and there you stand perfect.  I have adopted you, I have forgiven you, I have reconciled you to myself.”  You then say, “Thank you God, I believe You.”  Then He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in you and He says, “Now I want you to love your neighbor as yourself.  I want you to forgive them as you were forgiven by me.”

Christian living is the fruits of the agape that is given you.  And Jesus said in John 13:35:

“By this [this agape] all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The greatest desire that God has for this Church and for every believer is to lighten the earth with His glory.  He did lighten the earth once with His glory when Christ came to this earth.  The Word was made flesh and we beheld His glory.  Now Christ is in heaven and God wants to reveal this glory once again through His body which is the Church.  In other words, the first four books of the New Testament, called the Gospel, is a historical account of God manifested through one Man, Jesus Christ.  The next book, the book of Acts, is the revelation of God being manifested in the body of Christ, the Church.

The problem is that revelation was very short-lived.  Why?  Because there was a falling away from the gospel.  There was a perversion; human ideologies came in.  Paganism was creeping in.  Now, God says, “Before the end comes, I will restore the gospel and I will demonstrate the power of the gospel through my people.  I will lighten the earth with the glory of God.”  So God wants to produce His love through His Church and this is the Golden Rule that He gives us.

But, please, don’t ever take the Golden Rule and say, “From now on, I promise to keep it.”  You cannot.  Our prayer is, “Live out Thy life within me.”  What the world needs to see is Christ.  They need to see God manifest in the flesh, our flesh.  Then they will have no excuse because they will now have seen the gospel in action.  That is what Jesus meant when He said (Matthew 24:14):

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Testimony is a legal term.  What the witnesses testify to in a courtroom is taken into account for judgment.  The world will witness the gospel when they see Christ manifested in the body.

Don’t hang up the Golden Rule and say, “I am going to follow it.”  The Golden Rule is only for born-again Christians who allow the Holy Spirit to control them; they walk in the Spirit.  That is why I wanted to spend a whole study on this verse.  God’s greatest desire is that we manifest this love.  Then God will say to the world, “Here are my people who are keeping the commandments.”  We must never get the idea that keeping the commandments of God is something mechanical.  The Jews were experts at keeping the law mechanically.  That is why Jesus explained to this young man that the greatest law toward God and toward man was love.  On this basis the whole commandment is kept.

It is my prayer that this love will transform us.  That we will realize that the Golden Rule is something that must be lived out in and through us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our part is a total surrender to God:  “Not I, but Christ.”

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