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All That Glitters: The context of the Golden Rule…

July 27, 2012

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“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

There are some verses in scripture that seem to transcend the bounds of the body of Christ. Matthew 7:12 is one of these texts that could most likely be quoted by anyone the street regardless of their religious affiliation. Known as the “Golden Rule” it serves to guide discussions from the playground to the boardroom; but what does this verse, which claims to be the sum of Biblical teaching, really mean in its context?

Charles Quarles, in his book The Sermon on the Mount: Restoring Christ’s Message to the Modern Church gives some invaluable insight into the power of this text within its context.

“Strong evidence suggests that the “therefore” [in verse 12] looks both to and beyond the immediate preceding verses. The mention of “the law and the prophets” in both 7:11 and 5:17 intentionally form an inclusio that brackets this major section of the sermon. Consequently 7:12 summarizes and concludes Jesus’ interpretation and application of the law (5:17-48), His instruction related to deeds of righteousness (6:1-18), and His instruction for life in this world including both one’s relationship to possessions (6:19-34) and to people (7:1-6), as well as 7:7-11

[“This principle is known to many as the ‘Golden Rule’ a name for the principle that dates to at least as early as the end of the middle ages. Contrary to popular opinion, this name was not inspired by the preciousness of this important moral principle. This name relates to accounts claiming that the Emperor Alexander Severus had Matt 7:12 inscribed in gold on the wall of his throne room.”]

“Jesus described this principle as “the law and the prophets.” The point is that verse 12 is the summation of the essence of the character God required of His people in the OT. THis statement is similar to Matt 22:34-40 in which Jesus answered the question, ‘Which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ Jesus pointed to Deut 6:5 and Lev. 19:18, which called for love for God and love for others respectively. Jesus then concluded, “all the law and the prophets depend on these two commands.”(Matt 22:40)”

The Christian life is not easy, and we as Christians are not called to do easy things. The admonition to do unto others as we would have them do unto us is a mission that embodies the whole of the Bible’s teaching on the way we should live. And this mission is surrounded by verses that testify to its difficulty. Verses 7:11 teach the necessity of our persistent reliance on God for the good things necessary to accomplish what He has called us to. Absent His aid, and absent His good gifts we are incapable of fulfilling Matthew 7:12. This is the beauty of the life that God has called us to, in that He has not called us to a life that He will not equip us to carry out. John Broadus noted, “the real novelty of Christian ethics lies in the fact that Christianity offers not only instruction in moral duty, but spiritual help in acting accordingly.” “Jesus not only commanded His disciples [and by extension us] to live in accord with the Golden Rule; He also empowered them to do so through the new exodus, the new creation, and the new covenant.” Verses 13-14 testify to the difficulty of the Golden Rule in that so few actually carry it out. It is much easier to ignore others and live an inconsistent life, pointing out specks in others despite the logs in your own life, but God has called His disciples to the narrow road, a “way that is hard” but leads to life. Few choose His road, few find it. And as we look around we can see ample evidence that few have chosen the narrow Golden road of obedience, most are comfortable on the freeway of selfish desires that leads to destruction

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