“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
I’m a History teacher, but since I am also a Christian, I have also found myself teaching some RE. Whilst teaching RE, it is always very interesting to hear what twelve and thirteen year old children think Christianity is about. Some children nail it straight away, stating that Christianity is a personal belief that a just but loving God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, and that all those who believe in him have eternal life. Others take a completely opposite viewpoint, arguing that it is a made up story and that Jesus Christ never even existed. Most, though, will take a middle road, saying something along the lines of how Jesus was a good man who taught that if we are all nice to each other then we go to heaven. I suspect that these viewpoints are similar to those held by most people.
Many people who take a middle-of-the-road viewpoint of the Christian faith would point to today’s verse as solid reasoning for their understanding of Christianity. After all, here we see Jesus delivering the classic ‘do as you would be done by’ commandment.
Those who say that this is the central message of the Christian faith have a point. After all, Jesus said that one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbour as ourself. If we want to live according to Jesus’ teaching then we need to ensure that we are loving to all those whom we encounter, friends and enemies alike, and treat them in a way that we would like them to treat us. If everyone lived according to this teaching, we would live in a peaceful world. Each person would treat everyone else, and their property, with respect, fully expecting that they, in return would be treated the same way. There would be no murder, no theft, no fighting, and no wars.
So why, then, do we live in a world in which all of these things exist? Why do we live in a world afflicted by the horrors of ISIS, global terrorism, violence and death? Why do we live in a country which still requires law courts to deal with those who fight, or wound, or kill, or steal from their neighbours?
This is the key point. Whilst Jesus commands us to do to others what we would have them do to us, we fail on a daily, indeed, hourly, basis to live according to this seemingly simple commandment. We cannot help ourselves. That’s why we still need laws and courts, to outline how we are expected to live and to bring justice when we fall short of the standards expected of society.
This is why Christianity is not simply about doing to others as we would have them do to us.
Jesus continues in today’s verse by telling us that this simple commandment sums up the Law and the Prophets – that is, all the teaching that we find in the Old Testament.
The ultimate culmination of the teaching of the Old Testament is, of course, Jesus Christ. It is to him that the whole of scripture points. He was sent into the world as the one and only dearly beloved son of God, free from all blame and all guilt. He is the only person who on his own has managed to live according to God’s teaching. And he is the one who took our punishment for failing to follow this oft-quoted commandment.
Jesus, in this verse, gives us a truly wonderful commandment, a rule which is recognised by most of the world as a fundamental guide for living. Yet it is also a rule that we break on a daily basis. A faith based solely on this rule, without recognition that we cannot possibly live up to the standards it requires, would be a hollow and empty faith. For without Christ, we are truly lost.
The next time someone suggests to you that Christianity is simply about doing to others as you would have them do to you, ask them if they manage to follow this rule, every day, without fail. And ask them what happens when they break this fundamental commandment. Remind them that it is only through Christ that we can find forgiveness, and only by placing our trust in him that we can find eternal peace with God.