Tag Archives: Judaism

There’s Only One Golden Rule

For quite some time I’ve wanted to write a post about the Golden Rule, but it never seems to get written. The idea has been on my mind again lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve peeked ahead to Matthew 7 that we will be covering in church for the next two Sundays to finish up a sermon series on the essential Jesus. It is in this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that He shares the Golden Rule. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 (NIV).

It is often said that the Golden Rule is part of every major religion, but that really isn’t true. Every major religion or philosophy (and probably most minor religions) does have some form of a rule of reciprocity of treatment, but many times it is in the negative form, which is sometimes called the Silver Rule. Just a few of such “rules” are:

  • Judaism – “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.” —Tobit 4:15
  • Buddhism – “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” —Udanavarga 5:18
  • Bahá’í Faith – “Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe.” —`Abdu’l-Bahá
  • Confucianism – “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius
  • Ancient Greece – “Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.” – Pittacus; and “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” – Isocrates
  • Hinduism – “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.” —Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)
  • Platonism – “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” —Plato’s
    Socrates
  • Scientology – “Thus today we have two golden rules for happiness: 1. Be able to experience anything; and 2. Cause only those things which others are able to experience easily.” —Scientology: A New Slant on Life, Two Rules for Happy Living
  • Wicca – “These eight words the Rede fulfill, ‘an ye harm none do as ye will.” —The Wiccan Rede

While each of these rules are all well and good in that they call on their followers to no do any harm to others. But the Golden Rule that Jesus taught was much different. The Golden Rule calls for us to be proactive in our treatment of others. Jesus calls us to do good, not simply to refrain from doing wrong.

The Silver Rule looks like people going about their own business with little concern for others, except to make sure one’s actions don’t actively harm someone else.

The Golden Rule, on the other hand, looks like people going out of their way to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless, to encourage those in despair, to visit the lonely. The Golden Rule causes me to think, “If I was hungry and didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from, what would I want others to do for me?” And would I only want those I knew well to help, or if there were only strangers around would I want them to help so I wouldn’t starve? What I would want those strangers to do to help me is what I need to do for others, whether I know them or not.

The Golden Rule is proactive. When we follow it, we look far and wide for those in need and do what we can to help them, even if it is not convenient for us.

The Silver Rule is all well and good, but the Golden Rule is so much more. It is what Jesus did for us. He looked far and wide, and He found that we were lost and in need of a Savior. He saw that we owed a debt of sin that we could not pay, and He paid it. He saw that we were in bondage and in need of redemption, and He redeemed us. He saw that we were alone and in need of love, and He loved us.

Let us follow Jesus’ lead and do unto according to the Golden Rule.

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Grace Is Unfair

This morning in church we learned about the next – and in my opinion most important – tool in our Christian toolbox. Grace. It is the one thing that sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion in the world.

Pr. Dave told a story of a high school youth pastor who took his group of Christian teens on a field trip to discover what made Christianity unique. They first went to a mosque and spoke to an Imam about Islam. When asked to share what the core of the Islamic faith was, the Imam answered, “We believe above all else that God is just and that people will get what they deserve.”

Next, the youth pastor took the teens to a synagogue to speak to a rabbi about Judaism. When asked the share what the core of the Jewish faith was, the rabbi answered, “We believe above all else that God is just and that people will get what they deserve.” In Jesus day, the Pharisees would have said the same thing.

In many churches that profess Christ today, you will hear the same message on a Sunday morning. You will hear that God is just and that we all receive what we deserve. But that is not the Gospel and it is not what Jesus taught. Jesus taught grace.

The Gospel reading for this morning was Matthew 20:1-16, the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This has always been one of my favorite parables. It has a great practical application about being content with what we have been given and not comparing ourselves to others. But it also contains within it the lesson of grace. In this parable, each worker receives the same pay at the end of the day, whether he worked all 12 hours of the day or only the last hour. It did not matter to the landowner that the workers who came later deserved less or that those who had been there all day deserved more. Each worker was blessed in the same way because of the generosity and grace of the landowner.

In the same way, God gives the gift of grace to all who simply come to Him and accept the gift. None of us deserve this gift, but God is generous and gracious and so He gives.

In the parable, the workers who had been there all day thought it was unfair that the latecomers got the same pay. I think sometimes those who have followed the rules as best they could all their lives, who have been brought up in a Christian home and always known the Lord, can feel like it is unfair for those who come to faith late to receive the same exact gift of grace from God. And they are probably right – it’s not fair.

That is the truly wonderful thing about God’s grace – it is unfair. We do not get what we deserve. Even though we all at some point push God away and choose our own way, He is merciful and gracious, and He loves us anyway. We all deserve to be left to our own devices, eternally separated from our Holy God.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:4-9 (NIV).

I don’t know about you, but I am truly thankful that grace is unfair. I pray that the knowledge of God’s immeasurable grace will lead me to be gracious to others and to share God’s grace with them.

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Is a Little Faith Enough? – A Book Review

I love to read, but don’t always have time to read as much as I would like. I tend to be in the middle of multiple books at any given time, but don’t always finish them. When I go on vacation, though, I like to take one book along and try to finish it if I can.

On our vacation to the Redwoods last week I succeeded in that goal. I took with me “have a little faith” by Mitch Albom. I bought it several months ago because it was on the sale table at Powell’s Books and the title intrigued me. Also, I had previously read “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by the same author and thought it was pretty good.

“have a little faith” is a relatively small book at only 259 pages, and it is billed as a true story. Oprah said it was the “Best Nonfiction Book of 2009.” It was definitely well written and engaging, but I’m not sure I would use the adjective “best” to describe it. There were a lot of nonfiction books in 2009, many of which contained a better underlying message.

I do have to get out of the way one of my stylistic problems with this book. Whenever there is dialogue, what is said by the other party is in quotation marks as it should be, but whatever is said by the author is not. I suppose the author could claim literary license here, and at least he was consistent with this style, but it kind of annoyed me.

“have a little faith” is definitely a feel good book. It starts with the author’s rabbi asking if he would do his eulogy when he dies, and proceeds with his recounting the many meetings he had with the rabbi to get to know him better. Interspersed is the story of how the author came to know a drug addict criminal turned evangelical pastor with a heart for the homeless and downtrodden. Throughout there is an awesome message of loving others and of faith in action.

My biggest concern with this book comes in the Epilogue, where the author recounts “one last memory.” The author asks the rabbi what he would do if when he got to heaven he discovered he only had five minutes with God. True to what we have learned throughout the book about the rabbi, he says he would give three of his five minutes away to someone who was suffering and required God’s love. Then with his last minutes he says this:

“All right. In that final minute, I would say, ‘Look, Lord, I’ve done X amount of good stuff on earth. I have tried to follow your teachings and to pass them on. I have loved my family. I’ve been part of a community. And I have been, I think, fairly good to people.

“‘So, Heavenly Father, for all this, what is my reward?’”

And what do you think God will say?

He smiled.

“He’ll say, ‘Reward? What reward? That’s what you were supposed to do.’”

What I saw in this exchange was someone who tried to and thought he had earned his way to heaven. There was nothing in his answer to show what God had done; it was all about what he had done. He had a little faith, but it was faith more in himself, in community, and in religion than it was in God. I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine, if I had only five minutes to spend with God, using even a second of it telling Him about what I had done. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NIV).

If I had only five minutes with God, I would spend every second of it praising Him for His love, grace, and mercy. I would praise Him for His mighty creation, and I would thank Him for forgiving every transgression I had ever committed towards Him. That is, if I could even find the words to speak at all! “What is my reward?” Who could ask that of the Almighty? I deserve  no reward, and yet being in His presence (even for just five minutes) would be all the reward I could ever hope for.

As I pondered the title of the book – “have a little faith” – I wondered if a little faith in one’s religion is enough. As I read scripture, I don’t believe it is. I think it is necessary to have a great deal of faith in God Himself as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And if one has only a little faith, it still needs to be faith in what God has done through the cross to atone for sin. I don’t want to have just a little faith. I want faith as big as Mt. Everest, as vast as the Pacific Ocean, as all-encompassing as the entire Universe. If faith is in people, perhaps it can only be a little faith. But when faith is in God alone, in Christ alone, then God will grant faith bigger than we can imagine.

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