The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
February 24, 2019
The True Gold in The Golden Rule!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (NIV1984)
“Eureka! There’s gold in them there hills!” If you were led to make such a statement as you were digging in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, CA in 1848, you probably would have become a very rich person. As you probably know, that was where and when the California Gold Rush began. And if you had been willing to brave the wilderness of the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory in about 1896 you may have once again found yourself exclaiming, “Eureka!” After all, that is where the Alaskan Gold Rush began. But, if you had been digging around in the Black Hills of South Dakota and came across something that made you cry out, “Eureka! There’s gold in them there hills!” the locals may have started to snicker. “Black Hills Gold” or “Fool’s Gold” is (pardon the pun) not worth its weight in gold!
Gold is a world-wide standard. It is a standard for money, for wealth and for prestige. Whether it’s used to make jewelry or coins or bathroom fixtures if you possess gold then you are considered to be rich. Even the credit card companies try to lure people into using their particular card by issuing “Gold cards.”
Now why all this talk about gold this morning? Is this perhaps a surprise stewardship sermon to remind us of our congregation’s budget? Not at all. The reason I wanted to get you thinking about gold today is because our sermon text for this morning contains what is universally referred to as The Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Verse 31). But since these words are often misunderstood and misapplied in our world today, this morning I’d like us to see how the dear Lord Jesus Himself reveals to us: The True Gold in The Golden Rule!
Now if we were to look at just the opening four verses of our text it would be very difficult for us to understand what Jesus is talking about! Look at what He says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Those are some very tough words to live by! How can we do this? Better yet— why should we do this? My goal this morning, my friends, is to help you see and understand how the Lord is using these words to reveal to us the true gold in the Golden Rule. And to do just that, to achieve that goal we first need to turn to the very last sentence in this text. There Jesus tells us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
As the holy, just and perfect God, as the almighty Creator of heaven and earth our God has both the authority as well as the ability to do whatever He wants. Examples? When God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) — there was light! When God said, “Let the water cover the entire face of the earth so that not even the highest mountain peak is visible” (See Genesis 6-9) — there was the world-wide Flood! When God said, “Lazarus, come out!”(John 11:43) a man who had been dead and buried for four days walked out of his burial cave alive and well! As the one and only true God the Lord our God does indeed have the authority as well as the ability to do whatever He deems best!
This also holds true when the Lord God deals with us human beings. When our first parents— Adam and Eve— rebelled against their loving Creator thereby bringing sin into God’s once perfect creation, the Lord had the authority as well as the ability to either annihilate them or instantly condemn them to an eternity in hell. When the Israelites rebelled against the Lord who had brought them out of slavery in the land of Egypt, God had the authority as well as the ability to simply wipe them off the face of the earth. When the people of Nazareth tried to murder Him, when the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Teachers of the Law tried to trap Him with trick questions, when the Roman soldiers drove nails through His hands and feet and hung Him up to die on a cross (Pointing to the cross) like a common criminal, the Lord God of heaven and earth could have simply said, “Enough is enough!” and brought them all to their knees! When you and I brazenly say to the God of heaven, “Yes, I know what your Word says, but this is what I believe and this is what I want to do!” God could very easily just step in and stop our foolishness. But that’s not the way our God operates!
The Lord graciously gave to Adam and Eve the very first promise of a Savior, a Savior that He would send into this world. The Lord graciously gave to the Israelites the Promised Land of Canaan. Jesus wept over the unrepentant city of Jerusalem. At His crucifixion Jesus pleaded, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:43). When we are angrily kicking and screaming like a rebellious child because we don’t want to follow what God says in His Word, Jesus loving shows us His hands and His side and His feet and says to us, “This is what I was willing to do for you because of my love for you. If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Our God is compassionate. Our God is forgiving. Our God is love. Our God is merciful. And our God wants us, His children, to be a reflection of Him!
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” That, my friends, is the true nugget of gold in the Golden Rule. “Do to other as as you would have them do to you” simply cannot be understood correctly nor can it be applied in a God-pleasing way unless it is coupled with Jesus’ words, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” The Golden Rule then actually has much more to do with motivation than anything else, doesn’t it. Not so sure about that statement? Look at verses 32-34 of our text. Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.”
When you buy a car or take out a mortgage from a bank or a credit union, is the person who approves that loan doing you a big favor? Of course not! They’re simply providing you with a “service.” That’s why we always have to pay back more money than we borrowed! If you’re nice to your neighbor because you want them to keep an eye on your house while you’re at work or on vacation is that what being “neighborly” is all about? If you know that your classmate at school or your acquaintance at work or that neighbor one block over always throws the best parties so you invite them to your party in hopes that they’ll return the favor are you really their “friend”? Now someone might say that all three of these examples could very easily fall under the Golden Rule— “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But such an understanding of the Golden Rule completely overlooks the true gold of the Golden Rule! Applying the Golden Rule from that kind of perspective— which in reality is a very selfish perspective— has us mining for gold in the Back Hills instead of the Sierra Nevada Mountains! A fool’s gold understanding of the Golden Rule looks at a situation and asks, “What’s in it for me?” A true gold understanding of the Golden Rule looks at the very same situation and asks, “What would my Savior God have me do?”
With that proper understanding of the Golden Rule, with the heartfelt realization that the true gold in the Golden Rule centers on our Lord’s statement, “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful,” now we can go back to those opening four verses of our text and understand exactly what Jesus means! Look at just the first two verses once again, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” What is Jesus describing here? He is describing our attitude isn’t He! As the children of God, as people who daily experience the grace— the undeserved love— of our God, as people who literally depend on the mercy of God for our eternal salvation, our attitude toward other people is very different from the attitude of the unbelieving world around us! The world says, “Hate your enemies! Hurt those who hate you! Curse those who curse you! Take vengeance on those who mistreat you!” The world takes the gold completely out of the Golden Rule so that our attitude ends up being, “Do unto others before they do unto you!”
Can you imagine what would have happened to us and what would be waiting for us if that were the attitude God has toward us! Just the thought makes our soul shudder! Here is where we need to remember the true gold in the Golden Rule when it comes to the attitude that we have toward other people. Just as God’s attitude toward us is summarized by the cross on Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross) so also we need to reflect the cross of Jesus Christ in our attitude towards other people— especially those who dislike us— by taking to heart our Savior’s words, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
As we turn then to the next two verses of our text we see that the true gold in the Golden Rule covers much more than just our attitude! It covers our actions as well! Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Here is where the rubber hits the road in our life of Christian sanctification, that is, openly living our life as a redeemed child of God. Our sinful nature tells us, “If someone hits you, hit them back harder!” Our greedy nature tells us, “If someone takes something that belongs to you then do whatever is necessary to get it back and if they ever want to ‘borrow’ something again tell ‘em to take a hike down to K-Mark and buy their own.” Once again, when we understand the true gold in the Golden Rule then we also understand both how our God wants us to act as well as the priorities our God wants us to have during the relatively short amount of time that we live here on this earth.
Now someone might ask, “But if we just let people do to us whatever they want or take from us whatever they want, what’s to stop them from completely taking advantage of us and leaving us poor and destitute?” Very good question! Want a very good answer? Remember Romans 12:17-21. There the Lord says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We need to remember that the Lord God of heaven and earth Himself is both our Protector as well as our Provider. Alright, but if we find ourselves in a situation where someone wants to hurt us do we have the right to defend ourselves? Of course we do! If we have locks on our doors and alarms on our cars should we use them? Of course we should! But if in His eternal wisdom God allows someone to do something thing “bad” to us, instead of plotting our revenge we first need to trust that somehow our Savior God will fulfill His promise to make everything work together for our eternal spiritual good. (See Romans 8:28) Then, instead of plotting our revenge we entrust the matter to the absolute perfect justice of the One who judges the living and the dead. (Pointing to the cross)
The Golden Rule. Everybody knows the Golden Rule. Many people even strive to live by the Golden rule. But I fear that few people actually understand the true gold in the Golden Rule. And since my goal this morning was to help you see and understand the true gold in the Golden Rule permit me to close by saying this: Whenever you hear those words, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” lift up your eyes to the cross and remember what those words emphasize: “Do unto others as your Savior God has done unto you.” Or as Jesus says in our text, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
To God be the glory!