Harried, exhausted, and trying to keep up. As I talk with people, this seems to be the pervasive feeling among so many in America today. With the increasing pressures of work, family, and life, who has time for contemplation and the spiritual life?
Fortunately, Jesus summarized things for us. Every masterful teacher knows how to crystallize complex topics into simple and memorable nuggets. These pithy statements simplify things so we can focus our attention on what is most important for living the abundant life that Jesus promises. And there is one thing that Jesus says is the “sum of all the Law and Prophets.” Get this one principle down, and you’ll have clear direction on how to live as a follower of Christ. Internalize this one maxim and apply it consistently, and you will experience powerful spiritual growth.
What did Jesus say was the “sum of all the Law and Prophets?”
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
The Golden Rule. It’s not just kid’s stuff. It’s not just a little platitude that we emblazon on cheap trinkets. It’s the distillation of everything that is most important about following Christ. Everything else is commentary.
I ask myself “How deeply have I internalized this principle?” “How much does it really guide my actions and the attitudes of my heart?”
The first implication of the rule is that I have to stop reacting to people’s bad behavior or to unfortunate events. Rather than lashing out in frustration, anger, or emotion, I have to pause and seek to understand “what would motivate a person to do this?” “why is this situation like this?” “what’s the bigger picture that caused these conditions?” I have to stop demanding that I be understood, and seek to understand others better.
The second implication of the rule is that all of life is the arena for spiritual practice. It’s easy to skip the “in everything” part of the rule. Everything is a comprehensive word. It applies to those offhand conversations we have at a social event, and it applies to the life goals we choose. It applies to our daily decisions about where we spend our time and our life decisions about what is most meaningful. Every interaction, every request, every demand for our time, every conversation, every email, every phone call, every social media post, every committee meeting, every social event – every thing is an opportunity for us to grow in our application of the Golden Rule.
What would it look like if we stopped looking at obstacles, delays, irritations, frustrations, slights, inconveniences, and all the other problems as bothers that hinder us in the pursuit of our goals? What if we looked at them instead as exercises in which we grow by practicing the Golden Rule?
There’s a final implication of the Golden Rule. It comes from the broader context of the Sermon on the Mount. The Golden Rule, which “sums up the Law and the Prophets” is nestled at the end of the sermon on the mount, but near the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus says something else about “all the Law and Prophets.” “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17).
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. All the hopes and expectations and demands of righteousness are met in him. That transforms everything. Because of His perfect fulfillment, we can have hope that our halting, stumbling efforts will have effect. Because of Christ and the grace He extends to us, we have hope that He will lead us and guide us and empower us as we seek to live the Golden Rule. In Christ’s mercy, the Golden Rule is also a Golden Promise – a promise that this is the kind of people we will become through His grace.
Soli Deo Gloria
This article originally ran in the February 2018 Edition of the Covenant Courier, church newsletter of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church
About the Cover Image: This painting of St Jerome hangs in the Cincinnati Art Museum. It continues to fascinate me. In the upper left of the painting (cropped out of this picture) is a barely discernible trumpet. The picture depicts St Jerome at his study hearing the call of the Lord. I keep coming back to this painting again and again, transfixed by the rapture on Jerome’s face – his astonishment at hearing from the Lord.