Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
Here is a famous phrase from the Bible. Yet it’s not in the Bible. Not in as many words anyway. Here’s how the King James Bible renders it:
“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)
As a phrase, “the law and the prophets” is short-hand for the whole of the Hebrew Bible. And “the law and the prophets” book-end this middle section of the sermon on the mount. More than 70% of the sermon lies in this explication of the heart of the law.
Jesus begins by telling us He is the Fulfiller of the law.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17)
Whatever we read concerning Christ’s way, first we reckon with the fact that Christ accomplishes it in His own Person and work. To hear this law in all its blazing purity is to read of the character of Christ Himself. He is the peace-loving, pure-hearted, devoted, forgiving, perfect Man of Matthew 5. He is the guileless, giving, praying, fasting, self-denying, generous, worry-free Believer of Matthew 6. Without hypocrisy and without superiority, He is the single-minded, asking, seeking, knocking Pray-er of Matthew 7. And if you want a more pithy summary, verse 12 sums it all up: Jesus does not wait for others to treat Him well, He takes the initiative in treating them well. He does to others what He would have them do to Him. Instead of saying, “Your life for mine.” Jesus says to the world, “My life for yours.”
It is often noted that this ethical principle – generally called the Golden Rule – exists in countless religions and philosophies. Everyone seems to have this sense of reciprocity. It’s the kind of morality founded on that universal parental lecture: “You wouldn’t like it if Billy did that to you would you?”
And so it would be easy to think that Christ’s way is just one more expression of a more basic ethical principle. But that would be to forget two things.
Firstly, Jesus repeatedly preaches within the sermon that those to whom this teaching applies includes our enemies. He is not advocating a simple reciprocal arrangement between citizens who more or less want to get on in the same kingdom. His way includes counter-conditional love that is initiated by the wronged party. The command comes into sharp focus when you remember Christ’s teaching on turning the other cheek, etc. When every inclination within us is to do to unto others just what they have done unto us (retaliation), Jesus commands us to break the cycle of violence and do to them what we wish they had done to us (reconciliation).
The second factor to remember is that Jesus does not simply lay down this law – He is its Fulfiller. Jesus is the Lord of heaven who comes into His world to treat His enemies with the love that He should have received. And that is astonishing!
Muhammed may have been recorded as saying “That which you want for yourself, seek for mankind.” Yet he would never have dreamt of putting those words in Allah’s mouth. Allah does not seek for mankind the very glory he desires for himself. Still less does he seek such glory for his enemies. Yet this is the wonder of Jesus. He is not simply one more man espousing love and respect for humanity. He is the God who, at His own divine initiative and in expression of His own divine nature, loves the world when the world hates and rejects Him.
Jesus does not come to bring us some generic moral principles. He comes out of sheer grace, to do to the world what the world should have done to Him. If we’re in on this astonishing love, perhaps we can begin to pass it on:
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
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