Matthew 7:12 (NIV) “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
The “so” at the beginning of this sentence is a signpost pointing to Jesus’ completion of the section of this message that began clear back in Matthew 5:20 (NIV) with Him saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” After this point, Jesus will be turning the message toward His conclusion.
He completes this section by giving what is usually called The Golden Rule. And it is an entirely appropriate completion of His current theme. Jesus has been contrasting the current external standards of holiness practiced by the Pharisees and teachers of the law with the actual internal standards of the kingdom of God. And the final contrast that Jesus draws is about the key virtue of love.
The Old Testament law included the mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18), but in most people’s minds this had gradually degraded to more of an idea of ”be nice to people,” or “just do your best to get along;” something that, as Jesus points out (Matthew 5:46-48), even the pagans were doing.
Jesus was recapturing God’s original intent for this command. From the beginning it was designed to be more than the pagan societies observed, which was typically the negative expression of the command, “Don’t do to somebody else what you don’t want them to do to you.” Instead Jesus’ command, and even the original command is much more positive and active in its tone: Love your neighbor as Yourself; do to others what you would have them do for you.
As Jesus points out here, love is not only an action verb, it is a verb that takes the initiative. In addition to doing no harm, real love looks for opportunities to actively do good – to do on purpose for someone else what you would want someone to do for you – and to do it out of love itself, with no thought or expectation that the recipient of your love returning the favor. Just as God causes His sun to rise and set on the evil and the good, just as He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, God’s people, the followers of Jesus, are to show love to everyone around them, even to those who don’t deserve it, and to those who can’t or won’t return the loving actions.
This “Golden Rule” is much more than a rule or an expectation. It is a worldview, a mindset, an orientation of one’s life that actively looks for the opportunity to do the same loving actions for another that you would want someone to do for you. That is a key way to show a true inner righteousness that far surpassed anything that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law had.
Father, there is no way that I can consistently keep this standard of living in my own strength. I need Your love working in and through me – Your agape love that will naturally show that kind of selfless love to others. Without Your love, I will always fall short in this area. Thank You for the promise of Your love working in my heart, and for its fulfillment that I get to experience every day. Amen.