TREAT EACH OTHER
If everyone followed Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:12, it would solve many of the worlds problems. It would solve many family problems, church problems, political problems, and personal problems. Jesus' teaching shows just how wise and insightful God is. It gives us the answer as to how we are to treat other people. It sums up the Law and the prophets and much of the gospel itself.
But unfortunately, it is teaching that many of us fail to follow so often in our lives. It is teaching that we fail to receive the benefits of - the great blessings that come to those who do follow it. It is teaching that when rejected results in the most dire consequences.
This verse must be understood in light of its the context. The word "therefore" which begins the verse points back to Jesus' teaching in verses 7 through 11 where Jesus taught, "Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" "Therefore" means "in light of what has just been said..." Therefore, in light of the fact that God blesses us with good things when we ask Him, in light of the fact that we are His children, then we must treat others like we want to be treated.
TREAT OTHERS LIKE YOU WANT TO BE TREATED
The connection between these things shows that in obeying the teaching of Matthew 7:12, Christians are not only to consider how they will be dealt with by other people, but by God Himself, thereby elevating the motivation to follow this teaching high above the way people of the world treat each other.
Whatever treatment we expect to receive at the hand of God, is the same measure we must dispense to others. Why should we expect God to be merciful to us if we are not merciful to others? Why should we expect God to forgive us, if we are not willing to forgive others? Why should we expect God to deal liberally with us, if we are eaten up with selfishness and greed and thus fail to be liberal with others?
Notice that Jesus doesn't say to treat others like they treat us. This is often the standard we use in how we treat others. Someone wrongs us so we set out to find a way to get back at them. Someone ignores us (or so we think) so we say, "well if that's how they're going to treat me then that's how I'm going to treat them," so we go about ignoring them. Someone threatens to hurt us in some way, so we threaten them in the same way.
All of this comes from a failure to grow spiritually as we should which comes from a lack of knowledge of God's word and thus a lack of love for God and our fellow man. How many of us have grown spiritually mature to the point that we do not treat others in the same way they treat us? It is something that most of us must confess we have to work on. We have to continually fight to keep control of our emotions and to try to keep ever before us our responsibility and obligation to obey Jesus' will that is revealed to us in this passage.
THE GOLDEN RULE
Matthew 7:12 is often called "The Golden Rule," and indeed it is the golden rule. It doesn't just forbid malice, revenge, and cheating, it settles a hundred difficult points which in a world like we live in today is continually arising between people. It prevents the necessity of laying down endless rules of conduct to meet each specific problem. It shows us a balance and a measure by which everyone may see his duty and know how to handle any given situation. Is there a thing we don't want our neighbor to do to us? Then let us always remember that we ought not do that to him. Is there a thing that we would like our neighbor to do for us? Then this is what we must do for him.
Of course none of us are perfect in this, but we must always be striving for perfection. There will be failures on our part. There will be times when we will give in to the temptation to retaliate. But we must seek forgiveness both from God and those we have wronged (even if they are our enemies) when we fail to follow this great rule, and then set about to try and do better.
THE BIBLE ILLUSTRATES THE GOLDEN RULE
Perhaps one of the greatest illustrations of the golden rule (apart from what Christ did for us) is the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 . Here is an account of a man who was on a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. The Bible says that he fell among thieves who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and left him half dead. A certain priest came down the road by chance, and saw him and passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, came where he was, had compassion on him; bandaged his wounds pouring on oil and wine; put him on his own animal; and brought him to an inn and took care of him. But not only did he do this, on the next day before he left to continue on his journey, he gave money to the inn-keeper and told him to take care of him and that if it took more money than he had given him, he would repay him. Jesus ask the lawyer who had asked him the question, "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves? And he said, 'He who showed mercy on him.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"
This parable certainly illustrates the golden rule. I don't think we would do any harm to the text by saying that Jesus could just as well have asked, "which of these three do you think followed the golden rule in reference to him who fell among thieves?", because that's what the Samaritan did. If the priest and the Levite had been the ones stripped, robbed, beaten and left half dead, wouldn't they have wanted someone like the Samaritan to come along? Someone who would treat others like he wanted to be treated? Someone who had compassion? Certainly they would, and everyone of us would, wouldn't we? But they certainly did not follow the golden rule, did they, because they did not do for the man who was robbed what they would want someone to do for them if they were in that situation.
But the Samaritan did exactly what he would want someone to do for him if he had been in that terrible situation. And that's what Jesus wants us to do. He wants us to practice the golden rule in every area and situation of life. It's perhaps one of the ultimate challenges to follow this rule as we live in this world, because we want revenge -- we want to retaliate -- we want to question motives and speculate negatively about situations and about how people treat us.
How many times have we faced a situation where someone didn't speak to us or greet us like we thought they ought to? We begin to wonder, "why didn't so-and-so speak to me today?" Then we conclude, "they must be mad at me." And then we dwell on it and think about it and come up with all kinds of bad thoughts and speculations about that person until we blow everything all out of proportion and then start plotting how we can get back at that person because we're now angry at them. Now, don't people do that sometimes? We've got to do better than that, don't we?
The fact of the matter is, that people sometimes fail to greet us for various reasons, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with us. Maybe they're having a bad day. Maybe they have their minds on something that's important to them -- a family or health problem, for example. Too many times we take things far too personally when they should not be taken that way at all, and imagine all kinds of bad things about people, and our conclusions are completely wrong. We need to learn to give people the benefit of the doubt, and try to put the best construction on people's actions rather than the worst. Because, after all, isn't that what we want them to do for us? If that's what we want them to do for us, then we must do the same thing toward them.
HOW WE ARE TO TREAT OUR ENEMIES
The Bible speaks of what our attitude must be toward our enemies. Jesus taught, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43-45). What must we do in reference to our enemies? We must love them, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. Think about your worst enemy (I'm talking about a human enemy, not Satan who is our worst enemy), how did you treat them this past week? Did you pray for them? Did you do good to them? How could you do better so that you will be like your Father in Heaven?
Paul wrote, "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21). How did you treat your worst enemy this past week? Did you strive to be at peace with him, or did you give in to the temptation to retaliate? Were you overcome by evil or did you overcome evil with good?
HOW WE ARE TO TREAT OUR BRETHREN
The Bible teaches us how to treat our brethren. In regard to erring brethren Paul wrote, "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:1-2). How many of us have the right attitude when we seek to restore our erring brethren? Do we do so with an attitude of gentleness, understanding that we ourselves are subject to temptation? Have we sought to help others bear their burdens?
The Bible teaches us how to treat all of our fellow Christians. "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32). Kindness is graciousness - showing favor. To be tenderhearted is to be compassionate, sympathetic. Have we been kind? Have we been sympathetic and forgiving to our fellow Christians?
Paul further wrote, "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma" (Ephesians 5:1-2). We are to be imitators of God. We are to strive to be like him who blesses both the just and the unjust. We are to "walk in love" which means more than just saying we love others -- it means we show that love for others by our actions -- by the way we live. And of course, we have the supreme example of Christ who loved us and showed His love by action in offering Himself for our sins.
John writes, "For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (1 John 3:11). How are we to treat our fellow Christians? We are to love them. And this love is not just affection we have for people, it is a decision that we make to do what is best for the person we love! This is the kind of love that sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. It is the kind of love that is self-sacrificing and unselfish. In verse 14 of this chapter John further writes, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death." Then in verse 16 he says, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." How do we know that God loves us apart from the physical blessings that we receive from Him in this life? We know it because He laid down His life for us. God put His love into action and by that action we know He loves us. If we truly love our brethren, we will put our love into action. That's why he says in verse 18, "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth."
Thus, whether it be our enemies or our brethren we must learn to have the right attitude and action toward them. Our life should be one of love, kindness, giving people the benefit of the doubt, compassion, sympathy and gentleness. Will we be perfect in these? I think we can say without fear of contradiction that no one is perfect in these things. There may be some who are close, but I for one know I'm not. But I hope this study will help all of us to see the need to strive to be perfect in these things, while at the same time understanding that no one is and thus helping each other to grow in these things; and being tolerant with each other as we grow.
Nothing that we have studied
today releases us from any obligation the Bible places on us in reference to
false teachers and erring brethren. In fact, Church discipline must be done
because we love the souls of men and because we desire
to forgive. It must be done with the attitude of gentleness. It must be done
because we love God above all and because
we love our brethren. The marking of false teachers is done because
of love for God, of love for the false teacher, and for those who
may be influenced and led astray by the false teaching.
As we close this study, it is with the hope that each of us will examine ourselves in light of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:12, and that we will all determine that we will do better, and that we will all strive to the best of our ability to please God in all these things.