I was preaching at a friend's wedding a few weeks ago. As part of the sermon I was encouraging them to read over and put into practice an article written by my own minister, Ted Donnelly. It had some really good advice, not just for newly weds, but for all people, for all relationships. So I thought I'd share it with all of you, for there is wisdom here for all of us.
"Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" - Matthew 7:12
"Personal relationships seem to cause more trouble than anything else. Friendships are broken, families destroyed, drugs taken, and murders committed because of them. Efforts are made to provide guidance - clinics, books, and counselling. But nothing seems to do much good. People are so different, circumstances change so rapidly, situations prove so complicated. We almost despair.
Here, in one luminous sentence, aptly called 'the golden rule', is the Lord Jesus' recipe for personal relationships. Easily understood and applied, it has the touch of a teacher of genius. In the words of JC Ryle: 'It prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases. It sweeps the whole debatable ground with one mighty principle.'
The golden rule is positive. It tells us not merely that we are to refrain from harming our neighbour, but that we are to do him good - not merely that we are not to rob, but that we are to give - not merely that we are not to murder, but that we are to save life. It is concerned and compassionate. And this is because God, who gave his only begotten Son, has been supremely positive in his dealings with us.
The golden rule is liberating. The common ethic 'do to others what they do to you' is enslaving, because it means that our behaviour is dictated by others. They act - whether kindly or otherwise - and we merely respond in kind. We become their mirrors, their echoes. But Christ offers a pattern of behaviour which is truly free. We choose to behave as God wants us to, irrespective of what others may do. And this freedom has its roots in the sovereignty of our Heavenly Father, who chooses to love us, not as a response to who or what we are, but out of his own free grace.
The golden rule is substitutionary. It demands an effort of the imagination. Whatever you wish that others would do to you - if you were in their place - do also to them. The employer, the husband, the wife, the parent, the pastor - all must ask: 'How would I want to he treated if I were in the position of my employee, wife, husband, child, church member?' - and then act on that basis. It is a fruitful approach to personal relations. And that is because it echoes the mighty reality at the heart of salvation. For Someone took our place, not just in imagination but in fact, on the central cross at Calvary. The golden rule is based on the self-giving of Jesus and to obey it is to walk in the steps of the Saviour."