Message: A Final Look at the Radical Life | Scripture: Matthew 7:12 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: My Redeemer | Oh the Deep, Deep Love | All Sufficient Merit | I Surrender All
I’d like to begin today in a somewhat unorthodox fashion by starting the sermon out not with an illustration but with a question, and that question is, for those of you who have your Bibles, what does Matthew mean in his concluding remarks on the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 7:28-29 when he says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”? I ask this question because I believe these verses will help us focus the sermon this morning. They’ll help us unpack what the verse we’re studying today in Matthew 7:12 reveals to us about Jesus.
More specifically, I want to hone in on what Matthew means with the word, “authority.” What is the difference between the authority of Christ in contrast to the authority that the Pharisees and scribes had? You see, it’s irrefutable that the Pharisees and scribes had authority. In fact, the Pharisees and scribes were listened to so attentively by Israel that Jesus condemned not only the false teaching of these leaders but Israel herself for the amount of deference that she gave to these men.
They had created a cult-like following where you were known and respected based upon which Rabbi’s teaching you followed. If you followed this Rabbi, perhaps, you focused more on your tithes and offerings—and if you followed this other Rabbi, perhaps, you were seen for the way you helped the poor and needy. But what was commonplace for nearly every Jew, especially the men, was that you were expected to do as one of these Rabbis did. You were expected, in a sense, to worship your Rabbi, to see his works, and to follow suit. That is how one gained respect in their community.
But then Christ came as one, Matthew tells us, whose authority was different and distinguished from these Rabbis. How? Here’s my answer: it’s that when he taught, he didn’t bring people in by pointing merely to himself, as the other Rabbis did. He doesn’t merely refer to himself as the fulfillment of all things—as the pinnacle of all Scripture, but that in pointing them to himself, he also brought them into the very presence—into the very mind of God himself. He showed them God and his wisdom in Scripture, and this was not something that any other teacher or leader could do for them.
And in so doing, he, alone, was able to call them—and us—to respond in a specific way: do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you. Up until this point, the Jews believed God had finished doing things for them or revealing himself to them, so they felt entitled to do to others what they were doing to them. But Jesus flips that thinking on its head.
This is what I want to unpack for us this morning—not only the implication of the proposition to do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you, but why Jesus can, alone, command it of us—why he possess an authority to command it in a way that none of the other scribes and Pharisees could. So, I invite you now to look with me at our first point. The command is do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you, and our first point is to consider what the command implies.
1) What the Command Implies
If able, please stand as I read to you from Matthew 7:12. TWoL: So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve spent an extended time on this concept of the Law and Prophets, and specifically that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and prophets (the OT). This is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:17. I’ve brought it up intentionally every week since preaching on that verse not only because it is the foundation of all of Christ’s sermon, but also because it has every implication for this text here in Matthew 7:12.
You see, Matthew 7:12 begins with a therefore, and what it’s there for is to give us the implication of everything that’s come before. Christ is summarizing in verse 12 everything he means to tell us since the start of his sermon—what can all the laws of the Old Testament—do not be angry, do not lust, do not store up earthly treasures, do not be anxious, do not judge in pride and unbelief, etc.—what can all of these commands be distilled into if you had to do it in one sentence? Jesus says it’s to be other-centred over being self-centred. Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
Now, if Christ left it at that, there would be little to debate or discuss because one could say that his command applies only in the context of his own teaching—a teaching that stands on its own and can be taken similar to the words of other, wise teachers of the ancient world. The problem, however, isn’t that he’s making an inference based upon his own isolated thoughts and words. Rather, the inference to do unto others as you would have them do to you is based upon the next portion of verse 12, which reads, “for [or because] this is the Law and the Prophets.”
In other words, the “this” is referring to the summary statement, “do unto others as you’d have them do to you.” And that statement is summarizing all of the words that Jesus has said since Matthew 5:21. In other, other words, “this is the Law and Prophets,” can either be stated succinctly as, “do unto others as you’d have them do to you,” OR it can be stated at length by reading from Matthew 5:21-7:11. In other, other, other words, Jesus is telling us that his words are the Law and the Prophets. They’re Scripture. They’re the words of life.
So, a test must be conducted where the words of Jesus are weighed—we can’t take what he’s saying as mere opinion. He’s saying that the Bible must be interpreted as he has interpreted it, but if no one else reads the Bible and sees this to be its interpretation, then Jesus is in trouble, because if this isn’t what you see in the Bible—if others can’t discern and distill this same principle—then how do we know he’s not employing some way of reading Scripture that others cannot employ? How do we know the other things he says about the Bible to be believable? How do we know that we can trust him?
So, we have to look into history to see how others have translated the Bible, and in the 1 century b.c. leading into the 1 century a.d., there was a Jewish religious leader, sage, and scholar named Hillel the Elder. He’s a very famous man credited with some of the most important exegetical insights from the Old Testament and other Jewish literature. In fact, he’s often understood to be one of the central figures to develop the Jewish Mishnah—the written oral laws of their tradition. At that time—as Jesus was walking the earth, he was regarded as the foremost Jewish authority.
And one day, Rabbi Hillel was challenged by a Gentile to teach him the whole law while he stood on one leg—before the other leg fell to the ground,” and Hillel responded simply: “do not do to your neighbour what is hateful to you. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.”
And not only has Rabbi Hillel been credited with summarizing the Torah this way, but Jews and scholarly atheists even before him are recorded as stating something similar, for example, the book of Tobit, which is a book in the Roman Catholic and Jewish apocryphal writings—writings that were made before Jesus came, uses almost the same words as Rabbi Hillel, which tells us that this summarizing idea of the Bible—not to do to others what is hateful to you, or not to do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you—was prevalent throughout Jewish and scholarly tradition, even though they didn’t yet have the New Testament. This is how the contemporaries of Jesus understood the Bible—they saw this as its authoritative interpretation.
You may ask, why am I telling you this? It’s because Jesus, we’re told, was distinguished in his authority, yet his summarizing interpretation of the Law and Prophets is eerily similar. Like I said, this verse in Matthew 7:12 is linked with Matthew 5:17. What is the authoritative interpretation of the Law and the Prophets when you use the proper exegetical and hermeneutical tools—when you consider the entire trajectory of Scripture? It’s do not do to those what you would not want them to do to you, or to state the other side of that coin, do unto others as you would have them do to you. Jesus’ conclusion is very, very similar to theirs, which tells us that his interpretative methods are sound.
And if his interpretive methods are sound—if they have not deviated in their regard for the Old Testament, then as he leads us into Matthew 5:17 and his reinterpretation of the law, thereafter, saying that he is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, what he is saying is not only trustworthy in his interpretation, but he’s also showing his people what none of the other teachers and scribes of the law could do. Why? Because the only being who could do this was God himself—the only being who could show how all of Scripture was leading to a specific person who fills all of its missing pieces together was the one who wrote them—who created these holy words. Everyone could see in the Jewish world that these words were leading up to something, but no one could claim what that something was. No one, that is, until Jesus.
See, Jesus isn’t only a great teacher. He isn’t only trying to give us a greater sense of morality and ethical behaviour that he finds commendable for those who follow him. Nor is he just some other law maker or prophet that is adding something to the revelations of God. No, Jesus, by saying what he says here in Matthew 7:12 and tying it back, intentionally, with what he says about himself in Matthew 5:17, is telling us that he is the revelation of God—that whatever interpretation or summary you can discern from Scripture—from the Old Testament—the one who fulfills it—the one who completes it and gives it its sense is Jesus.
We tend to think that this rule is about us. The world takes this rule and says, “we can accept it as the principle guiding force for our lives. We like what Jesus says here, but we’ll throw out the rest of the Bible. This rule is good, but the rest of it is nonsense.” And Jesus says, “No.” If that’s how you understand his words—as being separate from the rest of the Bible, then you’re not understanding him at all!
Everything he is saying is a result of taking in and evaluating the entirety of Scripture. And his conclusion not only falls in line with all those who preceded him, but he tells us that they point to him, and instead of being meant for us to support us or give us something good to follow, he also shows us that these words actually condemn us. He doesn’t just say that this is the principle—the guiding force for your lives. He doesn’t tell us that we fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Rather, he tells us he fulfills the Law and the Prophets. This rule is not about us, nor is it, in our first reading of it, meant to merely guide us or make us better people, like the world thinks. The rule is about him and what he has done when all we’ve done is what we shouldn’t do.
The Law and the Prophets say this: do unto others as you would have them do for you, and it is Christ, alone, who stands upon the mountaintop and is able to say to us, sinners, that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them—to do unto others what others should have done for him.
This is why Christ is set apart in his authority because he is not only able to distill the same principles from Scripture that others are able to distill, using the same interpretive tools as them, but he actually shows us, with those same tools, where all of it is leading. He opens the mind of God to us. He displays to us not only that we are sinful and selfish, but that he, alone, gives himself up to save us—that throughout the ages, he has always been the cornerstone of God’s plan as he does what we could not do by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, as he dies a death upon a cross that we should have died in our disobedience, and as he rises as our triumphant conqueror over our sin and our death.
His authority is unparalleled and is worthy of our awe. But I hope you see that more than his authority is his incredible mercy and grace to save us from ourselves, which makes him worthy not only of our awe but of our worship—that everything he’s done not only to interpret the fullness of Scripture and bring us, personally, into the presence of God but by doing so in perfect righteousness and in his suffering our punishment—all of it is meant to give us pause, to consider the redefined purpose of our lives in light of his sacrifice, and to respond in a way that honours him. And in our consideration, the command no longer reads to us simply as do unto others as you would have them do to you, but rather, do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you because our Saviour is trustworthy, he is authoritative, and he is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.
This is what the command implies: it’s not merely to make us think of ourselves but to think of ourselves in the context of Christ, which leads us into our second point: as we see the implications of the command, we are also meant to consider what it requires of us.
2) What the Command Requires
What I have not yet brought up with you in greater detail is the fact that, while similar, Jesus’ articulation of this so-called Golden Rule stands distinctively from his predecessors and his contemporaries. Most recorded instances of other authors who have articulated this principle have done so negatively, like Rabbi Hillel’s articulation: do not do to your neighbour what is hateful or harmful to you. For them and for much of the world, the specific focus is to call moral actors and followers of any religious understanding to avoid hurting/harming others.
I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve been in with lawyers who believe laws restricting people from doing certain things should only be permissible to the extent that you’re preventing harm to others. If the law restricts anything besides harming others, many are of the opinion that those laws should not exist. Many of these lawyers are Christian brothers and sister. For them, to obligate anyone against their broad freedoms is a violation of their basic human right to do as they please—to pursue happiness however they desire.
I remember one particular conversation I had with a lawyer friend about whether or not as lawyers we had the obligation to try and create precedents and lobby our politicians for the implementation of laws that agree with the ethics of Scripture. And I remember his response to me being an unequivocal no. Marriage laws restricting such vows between a man and a woman? No. Laws that prevent children from deciding if they can identify and go through hormonal procedures to reassign their gender? No. Laws that ban the leisurely use of opioids? As long as it’s not harming anyone. No.
Now, you and I don’t necessarily have to see eye-to-eye on these things in the public and political realm. We are not a church that espouses or demands that you have a particular political view. However, as a Christian who belongs to this church, what we do require is that you hold yourself responsible in your heart towards the people sitting next to you and all around you to something more than don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
Christ’s call goes beyond the passive and selfish attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes—beyond the self-involved passivity of the world that says you can do whatever you want, and I can do whatever I want as long as we aren’t bringing harm to each other. No, what Christ requires in his distinguished authority—as the one who fulfills the Law and the Prophets, redeems us from our heart’s corruption by dying upon that cross, who brings us face-to-face with the living God, and who fills our life with purpose, belief, and everlasting joy—what he requires of us is to be, like him, different, transformed in the renewal of our minds by the incredible mercies of God in the gospel.
He calls us to be radically set apart—no longer passive observers of Scripture, no longer passive to how we approach people in the world, in our lives, in our churches, in our families. It’s no longer don’t do what you wouldn’t want others to do to you. It’s now fundamentally shifted—do unto others as you would have them do to you. No longer passive but active. No longer reactionary but proactive. No longer seeking merely to refrain from harming others but desiring their ultimate pleasure and good.
In other words, for those who have been brought into the happiness of God, you have an obligation—you are constrained—you are restricted in your actions to do that which is more demanding, more difficult, and more comprehensive than anything the world can understand when it reads the Bible. Why? Because they don’t have Jesus! And with Jesus, he constrains you. How? To love as fervently and as relentlessly as God, through Christ, has loved you.
Prior to Christ, and in the public world of politics, you can have the simple obligation not to do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. But in Christ—as you see the depths of his sacrifice for you, as you believe upon him that his sacrifice has saved you not only from great death but from far greater wrath, and as you turn to him with a heart ready and willing to worship because this is the prize and treasure that God has intended to give us since before the creation of the world—in Christ, you can no longer have a simple, passivity to the world. You can no longer have a simple, passivity to your brothers and sisters. You can no longer have a simple, passivity to your God, King, and his Church.
Christ has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets for you so that your understanding of them now might exceed what the world thinks the Law and the Prophets are, and so that your acts of love towards others might follow suit. Under Christ, this is the new Law, and he is your perfect, mediating prophet come not only to tell you how you are supposed to be but to show you what it cost in order for you to be it—in order for you to be righteous as he is righteous.
In Jesus, we have been constrained—joyfully so—to do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for us. This is what he requires. This is the inference of his Sermon that he now demands, and in these final moments, let us consider the ways in which we might apply it.
3) How the command applies
Three ways in which we might apply this command specifically to our lives.
The first is to notice how the command is not conditional. It does not read, do unto others as you would have them do to you—or do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you, IF they do likewise to you. There is no “if.” As those who have been shown all that we do not do, and as those who have been shown in greater measure all that Christ has done, there is no option but to act in the way that he commands, even if others are not following those commands themselves—even if you disagree with them—even if they have sinned against you.
And I hope you know why this is the case—why there is no conditional attached to the command, it’s because Christ gave no conditions for his own sacrificial love. He gave no conditions for your election—that’s why I believe in the doctrine of unconditional election. God gives no conditions for his relentless pursuit of you not only because he is infinitely gracious but also because he knows as soon as he attaches conditions to our reception of his love, we will fall short.
Thus, in your love for others—in your doing for others what Christ has done for you, you’re not to attach reasons or excuses to do otherwise. It is supposed to be difficult. It is supposed to make you die to self. It is supposed to conform you to the Son of God.
Second, is that the command is given with a sanctified posture. What do I mean by that? Well, some of you may read the command and think, I wouldn’t want someone to confront me about my sin, or I wouldn’t want someone to love me in such a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, or I wouldn’t want someone to force me to fellowship with them when all I want to be is left alone, and thus, I’m not going to do those things for them. But When Christ says, “whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” he’s not talking about what you wish for in your sinfulness—in your carnal flesh. He’s talking about what you desire now that Christ has come as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, redeemed you to himself, and called you to greater righteousness.
Perhaps, you might phrase his words this way: whatever you wish that others would do to you to save you from the pit of hell, do also to them, or whatever you wish that others would do to you to conform you to the likeness and holiness of the Lord Jesus Christ, do also to them. Whatever you wish that others would do to you to bring you into the fullness of the riches of God’s holy presence, do also to them.
You’re to read this command as one who has eyes and a soul filled with life-giving grace and mercy and not with the inclinations of a dead heart. This command is no excuse to act like a petulant child but as one who has seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ—and as one who desires to behold that glory without interruption forever. So, too, shall you desire these things for those whom God has placed in your life.
Lastly, this command is meant to be applied broadly. The word “others” is intentionally ambiguous. Are you to love those who are easy to love? Yes. Are you to love those who get on your nerves? Yes. Are you to love those who argue against you constantly and give you perpetual headaches? Yes. Are you to love those who hate you? Like Jesus did, yes, you are.
More than this, are you meant to love those who are close to you—not only in ways that are convenient to you but in difficult ways as well—in ways that seek to communicate the searching influence of the gospel? Absolutely. But are you meant to love and sacrificially give yourself to those who are distant from you, if possible—like in the case of giving to humanitarian efforts, supporting missionaries who proclaim the gospel, or even, going into the mission field yourself?
Let me answer like this: the gospel is the greatest embarkation of missionary work that the world has ever known, and the person who came to bring it to us—the person who it’s all about—he didn’t just go into a foreign, hostile place, but he came forsaking the riches and the glories that were already his. And why is it that he came? Not to find riches here amongst us but to be stripped, beaten, and killed for us. He needed nothing, yet he gave up everything, so that in our nothingness, we might gain everything. Is this not a gospel worth giving ourselves over to mind, body, heart, and soul so that others might rejoice as we do now?
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. This is the treasure that we have—a treasure so great and so wonderful that it cannot and should not be contained to ourselves. Therefore, do unto others as God, through Jesus, has done for you, for this is the abiding, eternal Law of Christ.