The Golden Rule

A Study of Matthew 7:7-12

If you could live anywhere you wanted, where would it be? Reader’s Digest used social media and crowd sourcing to find the best places to live in America, and high on the list is a neighborhood in the Bronx — Harding Park. It’s a neighborhood of 236 tidy homes of people from over 22 nations. The homeowners association has been waging a campaign for everyone to practice the Golden Rule. In this neighborhood, they talk about committing what they call crimes of compassion.

One lady moved in, and the next day she found a big smiley-face balloon tied to her front gate. When a snowstorm blew in, someone cleared her sidewalk, all the way to the front door. In this neighborhood, garbage cans mysteriously get hauled back up the driveway on garbage day. And you never know when you’ll come home to find a sack of homegrown produce on your porch.

It’s like crime in reverse. Everyone tries to do good deeds without being caught in the act. Well, the Lord Jesus Christ envisioned a world in which everyone would treat others the way they wanted to themselves be treated—and His statement about that has been called the Golden Rule. Some Anglican clergymen gave it that title in 1604.

This passage in Matthew 7 brings to a climax the central portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus gives us the great single sentence the world has ever heard as it relates to interpersonal relationships—treat others as you want them to treat you.

1. Why The Golden Rule?

That’s What Our Heavenly Father Does (verses 7-8)

Why should we keep the Golden Rule? Jesus provides four reasons. First, because that’s what our Heavenly Father does. He is good to us and provides our needs. He answers our prayers. Matthew 7:7-8 say: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

The verbs imply continuous action. The New Living Translation says: Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.

There’s a fascinating piece of colossal art and sculpture going up in the United Kingdom, near Birmingham. It’s called the Wall of Answered Prayer. It’s like a giant infinity ribbon that can be seen far and wide by passing motorists. It’s being made of a million bricks, each engraved with answer to prayer. People are sending stories of answered prayer, and they’re being recorded. Visitors will be able to put their phone up to each brick and it will take them to a specific story of answered prayer behind the brick. The designers hope it will call the UK back to God and back to prayer. They want to remind England of her Christian heritage and celebrate the way God answers prayer, encouraging others to pray.

I watched a video about this project, and I thought to myself, “I wonder how tall my own wall of answered prayer is?” I’ve been praying about things since I was a child, and I can’t remember all the things I’ve prayed for. I can’t count all the answers. I can’t innumerate all the blessings I’ve been given. But every one of us who has an ongoing relationship with God knows about answered prayer.

But there are some things that have required persistence, and some requests I’m still praying about. They haven’t been answered yet. That’s why Jesus said, “Keep on asking; keep on seeking; keep on knocking.”

On another occasion, in Luke 11, we read: One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught His disciples.”

When the disciples saw Jesus praying, they knew He knew how to do it. He knew how to look up to heaven, envision God the Father on the Throne, and talk to Him in a way that brought down results. And the disciples said, “Lord, show us how to do that! Show us how to pray!”

Verse 2: He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed by Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And let us not into temptation.”

Where have we seen that before? Jesus reminded the disciples of His Lord’s Prayer given earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus often taught by repetition.

Starting in verse 5, He told them a story. He said a certain man needed some provisions to feed a friend who dropped in unexpectedly while traveling. There was no food in the house, and the man needed to feed his wayfaring friend. He went next door and pounded on the door. The man inside whispered back, “Go away. I’ve finally gotten all my children to sleep, and if I get up I’ll awaken all of them.”

But the man kept knocking louder and louder until the neighbor got up and gave him what he needed. Notice what Jesus said when He made the application in verse 9: So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus repeated verbatim what He had earlier said in the Sermon on the Mount. He let us know that when He told us to ask and seek and knock, He was talking about persistence in our prayers. He clearly intended for us to understand the importance of tenacity in the patterns and practices of prayer.

In Luke 18, the Lord reaffirmed this point. Verse 1 says: Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He told a similar story about someone whose persistent requests paid off. This verse—Luke 18:1—is one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible on the subject of prayer. When I feel like everything is lost in some area of life or another, I remember this verse—we ought always to pray and not give up.

I don’t know why God values persistence in our prayers, but it’s not surprising when you see how He values the quality of perseverance in every other part of life. The ability to keep going, to shrug off discouragement, and to press ahead with guts and determination is a mark of faith and maturity.

Here in Matthew 7, Jesus said, Be persistent in praying over stubborn issues. Don’t give up. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. God is in the habit of answering prayer and giving us everything we need. He treats us wonderfully. He is open-hearted. He is generous. Everyone would love to be treated as God treats His children. He has given us so many answers to prayer that everyone of us could build our own wall of answered prayer. God treats us the way we want to be treated. Why do we treat others the way we want to be treated? Because that’s the way God treats us.

2. Why The Golden Rule?

That’s What a Good Father Does (verses 9-11)

The second reason we live by the Golden Rule is this: It’s not only what our Heavenly Father does; it’s what a good parent does. Verse 9 says: Which of you, if your sons asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?

This is self-explanatory. God is fundamentally, essentially good, holy, pure, and perfect. Apart from Jesus Christ, we are sinful, corrupt, and evil. Our hearts are deceitful above all thing and desperately wicked; who can know them? Yet, though we are sinners by nature and choice, we know how to do good things, especially for our children.

People Magazine told about a couple who had six children—the Rodriguez family of Orlando. The oldest child was 20 years old, and the youngest was 9. When their mother, Lisa, was only 35, she developed cervical cancer and died. The father, Alexander, took over as both father and mother, but he too developed cancer—a lymphoma—and died. The six children were orphaned and  in danger of being split up. But the 20-year-old, Samantha, said, “Let me become head of the family. I’ll raise my younger siblings. I’ll become their sister, father, and mother.” That’s what she’s doing, while also working nights as a waitress. She says that every night she gathers the family and they pray, and they all realize they have a lot to be thankful for.

Jesus understood that fathers and mothers and those in close families know how to keep the Golden Rule. If we can do it with those we love, we should live that way toward everyone else. We keep the Golden Rule because that’s the way our Heavenly Father treats us, and that the way good parents treat their children.

3. Why The Golden Rule?

That’s What We Should All Do (verse 12a)

The third reason for keeping the Golden Rule? It’s only what a good heavenly Father does; it’s not only what a good earthly father does; it’s what we should all do all the time. Look at verse 12: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

  • Treat others the way you wish everyone would treat you.
  • Speak to others the way you wish everyone would speak to you.
  • Be patient with others the way you wish everyone would be patient with you.
  • Be generous toward others the way you want people to be generous toward you.

This is the only way the world will operate without coming apart at the seams. This is the only way our families will stay together. This is the only way our churches will stay together. Our society can only be held together by the glue of the Golden Rule—by the words of Jesus.

This is actually the Lord’s paraphrase of the second most important verse in the Old Testament, as far as the commands are concerned. Someone asked Jesus—what are the most important commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures? First, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6, that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength. The second is similar. It is Leviticus 19:18 – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus took at verse—Leviticus 19:18—and paraphrased it and it became the most famous rule in the world.

This verse helped turn the tide of the Civil Rights Movement in America. When the first African-American enrolled at the University of Alabama, as you may know, it led to riots and violence. Governor George Wallace tried to block the student from entering. President John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard and he gave a 13-minute address to the nation. He made a passing reference to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But then he went to the Scripture. He based the weight of his argument on the integration of our institutions of higher learning on the Golden Rule, which, he said, came from Scripture. He mentioned it over and over again. He asked White Americans how they would feel if they could not vote, could not eat in restaurants, could not go to the best schools. He said all Americans must treat others the way we want to be treated.

It’s not just matters of public policy; it’s a matter of our personal quality of friendliness and kindness.

This week I had a team of three landscapers putting out some shrubs. I couldn’t believe how hard they worked. I thought of something my father said. He told that whenever you have people working for you, treat them very well. Bring them snacks and water and coca colas, and compliment them. If you do that, he said, they’ll do a good job. So I did all that. I kept taking out snacks and cold drinks to them until I thought I was bothering them a little bit. It was very hot, and I almost felt guilty having anyone working out in the heat. But at the end of the day, one of them, a hard-working woman, said, “You’re the best client we’ve ever had. Most people treat us as though we’re not even here. They come and go as if we’re a nuisance. You’ve really taken care of us.” And I was thankful that my dad had once taught me that simple little life-lesson. It was really just the Golden Rule.

That’s the Golden Rule in action. We want to live that way because that’s what the Heavenly Father does toward us; it’s what all good parents do; it’s what we should do.

4. Why the Golden Rule?

That’s What Love Does (Verse 12b)

But there’s one other reason we keep the Golden Rule—because that’s what love is. Jesus ends on this note: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus spoke those words at the beginning of His ministry in His first recorded sermon, but at the end of His ministry He circled back to it. In Matthew 22:36, a scribe in Jerusalem asked Jesus: “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus relied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands.”

If you put these two statements together you come up with biblical definition of love. True love is simply treating others the way we want to be treated.

If we aren’t careful the pressure of life can make us irritable and impatient and demanding. The British Red Cross did a survey on kindness in the UK the other day, and 75% of everyone surveyed said they could be a little friendlier and kinder each day if they wanted to, and 97% said it would make a huge difference in the climate of their culture. If everyone just committed a little crime of compassion every day, a random act of kindness, it would make an outsized difference.

Every time we turn on the television or check the news online, we’re hearing bad news. But if you look around long enough you can find a lot of goodness in this world. There’s a lot of kindness out there.

And wherever you find kindness, you’ll find the Golden Rule.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.