The Code of Others: The Golden Rule

Upon first reading, vss. 7-12 might seem to consist of “random” teachings which find no cohesion with what Jesus said earlier in the sermon. However, upon close examination we can pick up the thread of Jesus’ argument. In vss. 1-5 Jesus dealt with what many would classify as a Pharisaical mindset. That is certainly a problem and a temptation that many in the Kingdom experience. However, there are others in the Kingdom who are tempted in a completely different way. Their problem isn’t pride, it’s despair; they do not boast of moral superiority, rather they cringe at the thought of God’s displeasure with them. What they need to know is that God is on their side, that He wants to grant them true riches.

Ask and you will receive (vss. 7-8)

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7.7-8)

We must first note that Jesus is not suggesting that His disciples “ask… seek… knock.” These are all commands denoting things we must keep doing: keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking. But who is it that should keep asking of God? Certainly the “everyone” of vs. 8 does not mean “everyone in the world” for Jesus has already stated that many are not going to receive anything from God (see 6.1,7). “Everyone” is understood by the context of the sermon: these are the ones who “hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5.6), “the pure in heart for they shall see God” (5.8). As God promised through the prophet Jeremiah, “‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12–13).

But what are we to ask for, what are we seeking? It would certainly be true that we are asking for the spiritual blessings of God, the truly “good” things only He can provide (vs. 11). But given the emphasis on the high standards of righteousness in the sermon (5.20), it would seem that what we should be asking for and seeking is His aid in meeting His goal for us. “The kingdom of heaven requires poverty of spirit, purity of heart, truth, compassion, a non-retaliatory spirit, a life of integrity; and we lack all of these things. Then let us ask for them!” (D.A. Carson). Our God wants us to receive His blessings, He wants us attain true righteousness, but we’re never going to receive these unless we ask. “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” (James 4:2–3).

Because your Father knows how to give good gifts (vss. 9-11).

9 “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 “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 what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7.9-11)

With two examples, Jesus emphasizes why we should ask, seek and knock: our Father wants to give us good things. A good father will provide what his children needs; he will not trick them or willingly cause them harm. If we do that, certainly our Father will give us the truly good things. “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15). However, a good father doesn’t give his children everything they desire, because he knows those wants would cause harm. For example, children may ask to have candy for supper, but a good father wouldn’t grant the request. Likewise, some of our prayers go unanswered because they are not for the truly “good gifts”. Asking for a better income might lead us to put our treasure on earth; asking for better health might cause us to forget our dependance on God. But asking for and seeking after the Kingdom and its righteousness will surely to be granted!

Therefore… (vs. 12)

12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7.12)

By the use of “therefore” Jesus connects “the golden rule” of vs. 12 with the preceeding. Why should we treat others as we desire to be treated? Because of how our Father treats us (vss. 7-11)!  “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Our Father does not give us what we deserve. If He did, we would all be lost. Rather, He looks on us in love and gives us truly good gifts. If my God does that for me, I should certainly do the same for my fellow man.

Furthermore, “the golden rule” calls for positive action, not simply that we refrain from doing harm. “The negative form of this rule is known to many religions—that is, it often appears elsewhere in the form, “Do not do anything to anyone that you would not want him to do to you.” For example, Rabbi Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow creatures. That is the whole law. All else is explanation.” But Jesus gives the positive form of this rule, and the difference between the two forms is profound.” (Carson) We want God to love us, not simply refrain from hating us; we want God to grant us good things, not simply refrain from cursing us. So, if our aim is to not harm others, we have missed the point. We should actively seek to do good for them, the same good we believe God will do for us.

I have included this entire section (vss. 7-12) under the theme of “The Code of Others”, for only when we appreciate how our God responds to us (vss. 7-11) will we formulate the right attitude toward others (vs. 12).

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