This may sound like a dumb question to ask of a bunch of church people, but trust me, there are “Christians” who really aren’t fond of people. I’ve run into some, and you may have too.
It is tempting to think that the essence of the gospel is right information about God. It’s tempting to think that when Jesus told his disciples to go to the ends of the earth to teach and baptize in his name, he was calling them to an info-centric mission that was primarily focused on putting the right information into people’s heads and hearts.
Is Knowing God Enough?
There is no question that knowing what God is like is vitally important. But if we think that is the essence of the gospel, we’re mistaken. The Devil knows a lot about God and has a pretty good grasp of truth. He knows that God is merciful, gracious and long suffering (which makes him mad). He also knows what the Sabbath is for, and what happens when we die. Also he knows about the signs that will foreshadow Christ’s return. In fact, if we asked him to, the Devil could probably give an outstanding Bible study on any one of Scripture’s doctrinal beliefs. The only thing is, you’d have to watch him, because he might try to twist things a little. But my point is this, he knows the truth!
It is not enough to know the truth and be able to recite Bible texts from memory. Nor is it enough to have all the right answers. The essence of the gospel is more relational than informational. Having the right information helps people to make better decisions and brings reality into sharper focus. But something more is still needed.
The Golden Rule
Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NLT). This is the Golden Rule. The essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets is not what we know, but how we live. Of course what we know can influence how we live, but then again, it may not.
When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus directed his attention to the last six commandments, which have to do with how we treat others.
Jesus said, “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery; you must not steal; you must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘I’ve obeyed all these commandments,’ the young man replied. ‘What else must I do?’ Jesus told him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'” (Matthew 19:18-21, NLT).
The young ruler said, “I know all that stuff.” And he did. He undoubtedly attended synagogue every Sabbath, and could recite the Law by memory. But he knew something was still missing.
It’s interesting that Jesus directed the ruler’s attention to his treatment of other people. This was his problem. He thought he could be made whole without it affecting the way he lived. Could it be that this story was included in the gospel narratives because it is the underlying problem of religious people? We become so focused on finding the truth and acquiring the right knowledge that we sometimes fail to pay attention to the kind of person we are. We think we are being attentive and compassionate, but maybe we aren’t.
Biblical Examples of the Golden Rule
If we look for it, the principles of the Golden Rule are woven throughout the New Testament. Here are a few examples:
1. The Good Samaritan – The only one who did right was the Samaritan who treated the unfortunate victim with compassion (Luke 10:25-3).
2. The Test of Discipleship – Many people claim to be followers of Jesus and identify with the Christian label. But Jesus established the true test for discipleship when he said, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35, NLT). Hmm. It’s not enough to just be right!
3. The Final Judgement – The ones whom God considers “safe” to populate heaven with are those who have shown compassion to him vicariously through other people. Everyone will be separated into two groups, and it’s interesting that neither group is defined by their knowledge of biblical doctrine, denominational affiliation, or religious status. Rather, those who are saved are defined by their generosity and kindness. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing; I was sick, and you cared for me; I was in prison, and you visited me” (Matthew 25:34-36, NLT).
4. The Greatest of These is Love – Paul makes it clear that biblical knowledge is not enough. “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2, NLT).
5. The Evidence of Faith – “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, NLT).
How to Treat Our Enemies
Could it be that the doctrinal wisdom we sometimes think is the end-all of our religious quest is really just a means-to-an-end? The end is to be like Jesus—to make people a priority and to treat them with the utmost care. This is especially true with people we disagree with or dislike! The real test in life is not how we treat those who are most like us and that we love, but how we treat those whom we dislike and try to avoid. How do we treat our enemies?
Jesus said we are to love our enemies.
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew:43-48, NLT).
When a woman of questionable reputation chose to wash Jesus’ feet during an RSVP dinner, a Pharisee named Simon was troubled. He wondered how Jesus could let such a woman touch him, especially when he claimed to be the Messiah. Knowing what he was thinking, Jesus addressed Simon and said,
“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (Luke 7:44-47, NLT).
Living with Compassion
If I want to be righteous (perfect) in God’s eyes, I need to live by the Golden Rule, which means I need God’s Spirit to help me be compassionate toward others, including those cantankerous, ornery people who live disgusting lives. For me, this might include people on welfare, homosexuals, Republicans, Democrats, Catholics, Protestants, abortionists, conservatives, liberals, Asians, blacks, whites, Native Americans, radio talk-show hosts—there is no shortage of people to hate. But when I realize how much I am forgiven, and how kind God is to me, how can I not be gracious to even the most offensive soul?
Rich DuBose writes from Northern California.
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