Almost everyone knows the “Golden Rule.” Its best form, of course, comes from the lips of the Lord Jesus, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In fact, we think that we know it so well that it almost has no effect on our thinking or our actions. I wonder if we know the Golden Rule as well as we might imagine.
As I have pondered this in my own life, I have discovered a fatal flaw in my thinking. I want to share it with you so that you too might avoid the flaw. Here it is:
When I think of doing unto others, I think of “doing” only in terms of my world. I make no attempt to enter into the world of my neighbor.
I think that this is a deep flaw. Here’s why—If I am incapable of entering into the world of my neighbor, I will not know what I would want others to do to me if I were in that position. So, I have no idea what to do. I am sad to realize this. I often have done nothing to others and have been quite satisfied that I have fulfilled Jesus’ command, because I myself would not expect something done for me. All of this is because I have spent no time trying to enter my neighbor’s world. I simply think about my world and what I would want in my world. But Jesus wants us to think about our neighbor’s world and what I would want if I were in my neighbor’s world.
There is one very, very touchy and important place where this hits home. Consider the recent episodes of racial fragmentation in America. It seems to me that everyone wants to look at the situation from their own point of view and then act only from that point of view. So, white Christians look at the situation and are baffled. The laws prohibit discrimination. The social pressure is all in favor of racial equality. Where could the racism be?
The confusion is increased when one considers the general support that white Christians have toward law enforcement. How could it be that one could not trust a police officer? When some people murder police officers in cold blood, does that not prove that the allegations of racial bias are illegitimate?
It is just here that I would like to urge you to enter the world of your neighbor, your African-American neighbor. The only way that you can do to your neighbor what you wish would be done for you is to enter the world of your neighbor. Now, this is a LOT harder than you think. It is tempting to think that if only you talk to one or two African-Americans in vague terms about racial issues, things will be clear. The problem is that we are so accustomed to our own worlds that it is very difficult even to hear our neighbor. Our culture teaches us to avoid clarity on this subject, and the vagueness can be a means to avoid hearing clearly.
My own capacity for entering the world of my African-American neighbor enlarged after I became the grandfather of an African-American child. I see things that I did not see before. My antennae are tuned to inequities that I did not see before. I am ashamed that I did not see things more clearly earlier. This probably means that when I have a personal stake in something, I am more aware of how to do good. Jesus desires that I have a more personal stake in all of my neighbor’s worlds. I simply must make every effort to enter my neighbor’s world. (By the way, this same principle applies, if we are to love law enforcement officers too. We must make the effort to enter the world of that neighbor too.)
This is living the Gospel, for that is precisely what Jesus Himself did. The Christian does not have an option of living the Golden Rule. He has received a command from his Master Who lived this rule to the greatest degree possible. Jesus did not content Himself with knowing humanity only from the point of view of being our Creator. He entered our world. He became one of us so that He could do something very, very good to us. He died for our sins. The whole of the law and prophets is summed up by the Golden Rule, and the whole of the Golden Rule is summed up in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and intercession of the Son of God. He joyfully became one of us in order to give us eternal life.
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:17
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14