Do you ever thank God for your toilet? Typically, most of us go about our business, never thinking about our toilet, unless of course it leaks, or makes some awful noise when you flush it. But imagine if you had the perfect toilet that never had those issues. Would you pay much attention to it? Would you thank God for it every time it was used? I’d dare to assume that most of us would not. At this point you might be asking, “What could this have to do with Matthew 7:12?” Much like a toilet that always works, or a spouse who is always there, or a light switch that always works, we often take for granted that with which we are familiar.
Not too long ago, I found myself preparing for a Sunday sermon, as pastors usually do, and read over this verse and thought to myself: “There is no reason to go over this,” or “everyone must of heard of this by now” and even, “this is too basic to review.” Sometimes, the most important things in our lives are the ones that would ruin us if we forgot. We often take our breathing for granted because quite often we never realize the gifts God has given to us until it is often too late. Our passage from Matthew is referred to by Jesus as, “[a summary of] the Law and the Prophets.” If Jesus is so bold as to declare that this single principle is so crucial that in practice it is at the very heart of the Old Testament then perhaps we must slow down, take a breath, and see precisely what it is that He wants us to learn.
We must understand that our passage is not rooted merely in what we have to offer to God. As if our basic abilities founded and originated in our “can-do” spirit are sufficient to honor God. What God is giving to us in the words of Christ are indeed nothing other than the basis for justice. We must do to others, precisely what we would desire for them to do unto us. God is first off commanding us to work this action out through the principle of love; not selfish gain. As we see in Christ’s summary of the Law in Matthew 22:39, the second great command of the Old Testament is as follows, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (ESV) We must see this “love” for our neighbor as the lens through which we understand the golden rule. But to simply go and attempt to love our neighbor is not possible for us unless we first have experienced the love of God in Christ. But why is that? Love apart from God, is never truly love at all, for it is not focused on reflecting and emulating the one who is love in himself, the triune God.
God has manifested his most perfect love unto us in his work of redemption, in his act of saving his people by his decree or command of unconditional election (Romans 9), in the work of the son (Hebrews 4 and 10) and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (John 3). God’s love for his people is self-sacrificial, selfless and even painful. But God in his love for his people reveals how we ought to love in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV) God has already done something for his people and it is that one-sided work of God upon His chosen people, the church, which fuels us to love our neighbor in a godly manner. We love because God first loved us. We forgive because God first forgave us. We love as a reflex of God’s love for us. In light of that, where must you begin to act like God in loving those who are unworthy? Whom precisely must you forgive? Where must the Golden Rule guide you?
The Rev. Angelo Valle is the pastor at Christ Reformed Church, Alexandria.