The Golden Rule
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Scripture: Matthew 7:12-14
Many who are reading this grew up in Sunday School and memorized at least part of the passage that is in front of us today. We have always heard that we are to treat others the same way that we would want to be treated. This is far deeper than it may seem on the surface, as it describes what justice toward our neighbor looks like.
Each of us has an understanding of right and wrong embedded deep within us. Many of us fail to act like we understand this when we are dealing with other people. Yet when it comes to people treating us in a wrong manner, we are quick to point out their fault. This inward understanding of justice was part of the reason why C.S. Lewis left atheism to become a Christian. He wrote,
"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?.....Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist - in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless - I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality - namely my idea of justice - was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never have known it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."
This inward understanding of justice is closely related to how we treat one another. In other words, there is a just way to treat others, and there is an unjust way to treat others. We all understand how we want to be treated and that there is a just way in which we should be treated. We sometimes stray from this when dealing with others. In this passage, Jesus captures this in a single short paragraph. Let's dive into what Jesus was getting at.
Jesus opens this section by the connecting word "so." This verse is tied to the previous passage, particularly the portion concerning God giving good gifts to his children. This connecting word holds this up as the standard to which we are to look. We are not to look at how others have treated us to understand how we should treat them. This would lead to endless vengeance. Rather, by looking to God as the standard, we are choosing to model the way we treat others after the One who is perfectly good. In the same way that God always does good to his children, so we are to do good to others. God, revealed in Jesus, is the model after which we are to be molded.
Jesus points out that this fulfills the Law and the Prophets. That is, it fulfills the commands given by God in the Old Testament. Since we are made in the image of God, God expects us to reflect his character. When we do not, we stray into sin. God expects us to love our neighbor perfectly and show our neighbor perfect justice, because this is what we would want from them.
After making one of his most well-known statements in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his disciples to enter by the narrow gate. This must also be understood in the context of the perfect love and perfect justice that is a reflection of God's character. The fact that this is connected to the way that we treat others tells us that how we treat others is a reflection of whether or not we are on the straight and narrow path. Jesus speaks in vv. 15-20 of the fruit that people bear. This is connected to this passage in that others can tell whether or not we are bearing godly fruit by the way we treat others. Indeed, the way we treat others is one of the fruits that we bear. It is a reflection of our heart. If our hearts are not right, we will not bear good fruit, and will also miss the narrow path.
In summary, we all realize that there is such a thing as objective justice. There is a way that we are called to treat people, and it is not something that is based on our own standards or even on the way that we have been treated in the past. It is based on God's character and the way that God treats others. Those who are on the straight and narrow path will reflect God's character by treating their neighbor with justice and love. The question is: How are you treating your neighbor?