Matthew 7:12, commonly known to as “The Golden Rule,” is one of the most famous verses in all of Scripture, and is often used by Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s easily found on coffee mugs and posters, plastered across the American landscape. But what does it actually mean? What was Jesus getting at when He said it?
In case you’ve forgotten the Golden Rule and so shamed your parents and elementary school teachers, here it is:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
When was the last time you actually treated someone as you would want to be treated? This morning, in traffic, did you treat the guy who cut you off like you’d want to be treated? When your kids didn’t listen to you, and refused to obey you, did you treat them the way you’d like to be treated? When your coworker didn’t exactly keep their promise to help out with that project that was due a week ago, did you treat them like you’d want to be treated?
We all fail to treat others as we want to be treated, because there’s a fundamental disconnect in what we think we deserve, and what we think others deserve. Our pride would have us believe we are worthy of grace, while others are only worthy of law. Our pride clouds our eyes from seeing our sin, but amazingly, we can see the sin of people we don’t even know! We have good excuses, but “they” have a problem.
None of us want to be treated with the law, that is, with true justice. We all wish for grace. But when it comes for us to give grace, we don’t treat others the way we want to be treated.
Let’s say, for example, you cut someone off in traffic because you’re in a hurry. We can all relate to this, and if you can’t, I’m going to assume you’re either under the age of 16, or you’re just abnormally nice behind the wheel of a car. But, if you’re like 99% of us, you can relate to this.
When you cut someone off, and they honk their horn, is your first thought, “Oh man, that was sort of mean…I probably shouldn’t have done that. I’ll be sure to slow down and apologize to them?” Probably not. Our first reaction is more along the lines of, “How dare they! I’m late to work! I’ve got to get to (wherever you happen to be going). They ought to drive faster!” We want them to identify with us, to treat us with grace, or unmerited favor, when we offend them.
But if they cut us off, all you-know-what breaks loose. “That psycho cut me off!” “They ought to be arrested!” When we see them pulled over half a mile later, we smile and whisper, “Justice,” even though, were we the ones to get pulled over, we’d be full of excuses, hoping, wishing, desiring that the police officer would let us off the hook, “just this once.”
Do you see the hypocrisy here? We desire to be treated with grace. But we don’t at all desire to treat others with grace. Again, children are a perfect example here. Anyone who’s ever worked with kids knows they want grace, not law. “Please, I won’t do it again!” “I’ll be better, I promise!” But when their older brother twists their arm, or their sister steals their toy: “Mom/Dad…make them stop! Ground them/put them in timeout/spank them!” While children may grow up in a lot of ways, they’ll never grow out of their innate, sinful tendency to want to receive grace while desiring to dispense law. At least not by their own strength. And neither will we.
Jesus commands that we treat people with grace if that’s how we want to be treated. We’ve established that grace is how we want to be treated, but we find it impossible to treat others with grace. So how do we obey what Jesus says? We have to look at what Jesus has done. We have to see the gospel. We have to believe the gospel. And we have to be changed by it.
While we treat others with law, Jesus treats us with grace. When we had sinned against Him and earned nothing but eternal hell, He left His heavenly throne to come rescue us. When we despised Him and went after false gods, He drew us back to Himself and gave us the eyes to see and despise our sin. When we lived for ourselves, He lived for us. When we went after death, He died for us. When we ran away from Him, He gave us the repentance and faith needed to come back to Him. When we were condemned by the law, He freed us from that condemnation with His grace, at the cost of His life.
So, when we see we have no shot at saving ourselves, and we trust in Christ to be our Lord and lead us, and trust in Him as our Savior, and we receive His righteousness, and we trust and rest in His forgiveness, we are empowered, by the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, to show this same grace to others.
When we’re tempted to treat others the way we don’t want to be treated (law), we remember that it is by grace God has drawn us to trust in Him as our God. We remember that God has declared us righteous, not by our law-keeping, but by Christ’s law-keeping. We remember that it is by the blood of Christ that we are declared forgiven, and are, through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, adopted as children of God. We remember the grace we’ve received, and we show it to others to be more like Christ and to glorify Him.
So if you’re struggling to show grace, you need more grace. You need more of what Jesus has done for you. You need to rest in that, and trust in Him to help you be who you are. And in those moments when you’re tempted to respond with law in your relationships with others, you can remember grace. And you can be like Jesus.
Lord, may we remember that we are saved by grace. May we treat others with that same grace. May the gospel change us from the inside out.
Note: Treating others with grace does not mean that you have to endure abuse, or that you don’t have the obligation to report a crime. Grace destroys sin, it never enables sin. It is not ungracious for you to separate from someone who is hurting you. It is ungracious to not pray for that person or to desire their eternal condemnation. It is not ungracious for you to report a crime, such as sexual assault. It is ungracious for you to not care about innocent people who are being hurt when you can do something to stop it. I didn’t include this in the main text, as it would take away from the main thrust of the message, but we must not think that showing grace means enabling sin. Grace means doing what needs to be done to restore that person, and sometimes that means separating from them, or calling the police, or a private conversation that gets to the heart of the issue. Pray to God for the eyes to see how we can show grace to everyone, even to those who hurt us.