Friday, September 14, 2007

The Golden Rule - Matthew 7:12-29

In the Kingdom of Id the Golden Rule states, "He who has the Gold Makes the rules!". In the Gospel Kingdom things are a little different.

Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (New King James Version)

With this oft-quoted phrase we reach the end of the "Kingdom Midrash", the Sermon on the Mount. We know it is the beginning of Jesus summation by the presence of one simple word - therefore. In the tradition of this rabbinic teaching style, we can take this one word to mean "keeping everything I have just said in mind, consider this... do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

For the last three chapters Jesus has been seeking to turn the world on its head. Time after time he has taken the basic truths of past teachers of the Torah and revolutionized their meaning by taking things up to the next level. Should we assume he is doing any less here? What then does it mean, this simple, seemingly obvious phrase that so many take for granted.

If we are to treat others as we would expect to be treated, then maybe the question we first need to ask is how do we expect to be treated? Jesus has been telling us that we are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom. That the restoration of earth as God had intended it to be is not in some far off distant future but is happening right here where we are, right now. If then we are members of that kingdom and the Kingdom is at hand, then it would follow that we are being called to treat those around us as if they too are part of the kingdom and the full restoration of the earth is a reality, for on the spiritual plane - it is!

Little wonder then that Jesus follows this call with the following advice...

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

For to truly treat everyone around us in such a manner will prove hard work indeed - straight forward, but hard. Hardest of all it means that we can no longer just write off those we don't agree with as being beyond hope because the spirit of God does not reside within them, for we are called to treat them as ourselves! To treat them as we would those who are anointed of God for a higher calling. Jesus has taught us that no one in the kingdom is to be written off, that even the least of us is to be held in high regard because of the price that has been paid for their redemption. Such treatment leaves no room for judgment, no room for abandonment, only room for love and understanding as we ourselves would desire to be loved and understood.

And if this is the case, then the Golden Rule also calls for us to be extremely careful in the choosing of our leaders...

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

A number of years ago a good friend of mine invited a pair of young Mormon gentlemen into his home when they arrived at his door. I fully expected him to set about fully dissecting their theology and leaving them in a heap. He didn't. Instead he listened to what they had to say, answered their questions truthfully, asked a few of his own and warmly invited them back to enjoy his hospitality any time they chose. After they left I asked him why he didn't show them the error of their ways. His reply was, "Because that wouldn't be very loving." That was not what he would want them to do to him.

I have come to understand that this more than anything else defines Christian leadership. It is not about who can one-up the opponents of the kingdom, racking up points on the debating scoreboard. It's not about name calling, and branding as 'evil' any who disagree with God's moral code. It is about who can best follow Christ's example, winning over the enemies of the kingdom with love and compassion; giving this simple phrase more than just lip service.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Those who honour Christ with their mouths only will discover all too soon the true meaning of these words. And even in this we cannot allow ourselves to depart from the narrow path. If we were less than genuine in our walk what would we want the response of others to be? Ponder this for more than a moment and it becomes apparent why Jesus said judgment is God's purview and God's alone. We are not equipped to properly handle the task. Only those without sin can cast the first stone.

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.

The word appears again... "bearing all this in mind", consider these two men. The solid foundation of the Christian life is found in one place and one place only - obedience. The love of Christ, that is, grace alone has bought for us our citizenship in the Gospel Kingdom, but life in the kingdom finds fulfillment in obedience; "he who hears these sayings of mine, and does them."

The Kingdom Midrash is complete. Jesus walks down the mount leaving behind him a people stunned not so much by the content of his words, but by their impact. They are astonished by the authenticity of his voice and manner, the authority with which he speaks. His wonders and miracles do not factor into their response, because there have not yet been any signs and wonders. But that is about to change.

Exploring the Kingdom Gospel - episode 14

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