THE GOLDEN RULE OF THE KINGDOM
Matthew 7:1-12 (K. V.: 7:12)
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Last week, we learned where to store our treasures and what to do with our worries. Jesus says wherever we store our treasures is where our heart is. He then asks us to store our treasures in heaven where our heavenly Father has established a heavenly trust fund with interests for us. Jesus also says that worries do not do any good to us. So, he asks us to have faith in God who takes care of even the birds and the lilies. Jesus lastly gives us a formula (or a prescription) for true happiness. That is, to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness believing that God would provide everything we need. In today’s passage, Jesus teaches us about how to build a kingdom people community. For that, he teaches us about judging others, proactive prayer and again gives another formula, that is, the golden rule. Jesus is like a chief physician who helps his attending interns to acquire various specialties (like internal medicine and surgery) so as for them to well-rounded doctors. May God bless us to be his kingdom people in all aspects!
1. Judging Others (7:1-6)
Verse 1 reads. “‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’” For building a kingdom people community, Jesus first asks us to avoid judging others. Why is it so? It is because when we judge, we will be judged as well. Then, what is judging? There may be many definitions on judging such as finding fault with or separating, but we all can be agreed upon this one concept: that we decide what is right and what is wrong regarding others. So we ourselves become the ultimate standard for others. It is like the case of Greek mythology figure, Procrustes, who stretched or cut the limbs of travelers to make them conform to the length of his bed. Jesus says that in the same way we judge others, we will be judged. Imagine everyone is Procrustes, stretching or cutting everyone else’s limbs to conform to his own bed (for everyone’s bed is different in size.) That is what happens when we judge others. Apostle Paul says that it is like biting and devouring each other, resulting in total destruction.
To make us better understand how we judge others and what we should do, Jesus brings out an illustration. Look at verses 3 and 4. “‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?’” Note the contrast here between a speck of sawdust and a plank. A speck is very small while a plank is very obvious and big. Somehow, we are more concerned about a speck. To look at a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, you must have a perfect eyesight and a keen insight. This shows how we are meticulously thorough in terms of pointing out others’ flaws and shortcomings while being blind to our own. Note also that ones’ eye is a very sensitive human organ and a speck of sawdust must be really bothering and be taken out before it would cause any further damage to the eye. So addressing one’s flaws or shortcomings is not too bad. The problem is that we pay no attention to the plank in our own eye. Maybe paying attention to a speck is a deliberate way of avoiding looking at our own plank. Or it is because we cannot see the plank due to lack of good mirrors. In those days, mirrors were made out of bronze and had poor reflections. That means we cannot know who really we are without hard reflections on us. Nevertheless, we still want to say to our brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye.” Perhaps, this can be either a gesture of good will or a superior attitude toward our brother. But in either case, before helping out our brother, we should be able to look at our own issues and be humble enough to acknowledge such issues before God before helping others.
That is what Jesus says. Verse 5 reads. “‘You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’”
So, when we do not acknowledge own problems, we become hypocrites and may not be able to see things clearly. And helping others may not be possible. Pharisees are one example of such hypocrites. Jesus once denounced their hypocritical lifestyle with focusing on specks but their planks still in their eyes, saying in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” What happens when we take out the plank from our own eyes? We can be good shepherds or surgeons to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. Mt 18:15 shows what we can achieve when we take out the speck from our brother’s eye. “‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.’” We will win them over! We will have a healing! We will build a genuine kingdom people community!
Look at verse 6. “‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.’” Here, Jesus teaches us that even though we are not to judge others, that is, not being judgmental or condemning, we need some discernment to protect what is sacred and valuable. Protect from whom? From dogs or pigs that do not (or cannot) recognize (or appreciate) what is sacred and valuable while we do. What is sacred and what is valuable? This community of love that tries to emulate the kingdom of God is sacred. The gospel truth and the word of God are valuable. Without discernment, our efforts can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
The connotation of dogs and that of pigs in the New Testament are not that great. We have cute dogs like poodles. But it is more like African wild dog that hunt down their prey until it exhausts to death. Jesus once alluded that the Gentiles are dogs to help a Canaanite woman to learn humility and have faith. Apostle Paul mentions that those who do not accept the gospel but claim the superiority of human credentials (like Judaizers) are dogs. Pigs are greedy and unclean and only are concerned about their food. So, unless it is food, either dogs or pigs do not recognize or appreciate what is given to them. That is why they trample the gospel truth and the word of God under their feet. In some cases, they turn and tear us to pieces. That is what happened to Stephen when he tried to help his own people through the history of God. So we need God’s wisdom and balance to be open to others but be protected.
2. Ask, Seek, Knock (7:7-12)
After explaining about judging others and protecting what is sacred, Jesus suddenly teaches us about being proactive in our prayer life through three action verbs: ask, seek, knock. Why? Perhaps, this paragraph may be better understood in the context of the part 1. When we ask God of not judging others but removing our own planks, we know it is a hard task. Taking out a speck from our brother’s eye is a very delicate task, like an eye surgery. Making a balance between reaching out to the public and protecting what is sacred and valuable is not an easy job. How can we all do that? That is why we need God’s help through prayer. According to the footnote in our questionnaire, in Greek, “ask” means “keep asking,” “seek” means “keep seeking,” and “knock” means “keep knocking.” This form of the verbs implies persistence, which means “a never-give up spirt.”
Each of the action verbs means our being proactive in prayer. Asking – this is the broadest sense of being proactive. The reason we ask is that we know there is a need but we do not have it met yet. In the Lord’s Prayer (6:8), Jesus teaches us that our Father knows what we need before we ask him. Still our Father wants us to ask to learn how to pray. In this context, what we ask and what we need is wisdom. James tells us that if we need wisdom, we should ask God (Jas 1:5), but later says we don’t have because we don’t ask God for it (Ja 4:2b). Jesus says: “Ask and it will be given to you.”
Seeking – this is a little narrower sense of being proactive and it is more than asking. In terms of finding a way, asking is like a finding the destination on your GPS, while seeking is like a searching the best route to reach your destination. It involves more specifics and more direct involvement. Sometimes, it involves all your heart as the prophet Jeremiah once mentioned about seeking: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13). So when we seek to find a way to take out a speck from our brother’s eye, or when we seek reconciliation with others, or when seek to settle matters quickly, we need God’s help in terms of specifics and direct involvement. And God will give us such specifics to reach our destination.
Knocking – this is the most direct and most specific in our proactive prayer. Knocking involves physical movement and actions. If a person needs something from someone behind a door, the most natural thing to do is knock. And we keep knocking until the door is opened and the desire is met. God wants us to doers so as to experience the power of prayer ourselves in the first hand. Sometimes, this requires courage and initiative on our part.
Jesus’ commands are followed by a promise: “Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” We learned a formula for true happiness in Mt 6:33 (a command followed by a promise) and this is very similar. It also shows God is so much delighted in our proactive prayer.
Now, on what basis does Jesus make this promise? Look at verses 9-11. “Which of you, if your son 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!” Jesus makes this promise on the basis of our relationship with our Father in Heaven, who knows how to give good gifts. Fathers in general are more than willing to provide their children with whatever they need. And our heavenly Father is very much like them. He is eager to give the good gifts to us. The only thing He is concerned about us is that we be persistent, diligent and trained. Otherwise, we will be spoiled. That is why Jesus wants us to ask, seek and knock before we receive the good gifts.
Look at verse 12. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” This is so called the Golden Rule. And this rule applies (according to Jesus) to “everything.” Most teachings in the whole world have their application in an area or generation. Just like Solomon said in his book: there is a time for everything (Ecc 3:1a). However, it seems this Golden Rule has no limit and no boundary and there is nothing that hinders it to be practiced. And also, it sums up (or fulfills) the Old Testament.
What does it mean to follow this Golden Rule? One thing that is remarkable is that when judging others we use ourselves as the standard and are told not to do because we will be judged, here in the golden rule, ourselves are again used as the golden standard but in a different fashion. Whatever we want we think of others and whenever we are in a certain situation, we put ourselves in others’ shoes. In doing so, we focus on others in the reflection of ourselves. In other words, through the mirror of ourselves we see others and not just seeing alone but put our actions and endeavors on doing good to others. Doesn’t this sound great? And this is the exact thing God wants us to do to our neighbors and that is what fulfills the requirement of the law. Again this is originated from sincere love. This is just like Apostle Paul saying, walking in the way of love (Eph 5:2). And when we diligently serve others this way we will have a rich reward when Jesus comes to judge all people (Mt 25:34-36).
In conclusion, we learned how and why not to judge others. Our own shortcomings are big like planks while others’ small like specks. We first remove our planks and help others take out their specks from their eyes. And we need to protect what is sacred. Also we learned about asking, seeking and knocking. That is the proactive prayer in terms of making progress in relationships. And the golden rule is the one that fulfills the law and establishes a community of love inside and out. May God bless us to build a kingdom people community through these words.