Monday, March 5, 2012

Why the Golden Rule is Hard to Obey

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."  "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
~Luke 6:27b, 28, 31 

 God's Words to Read:  Luke 6:27-38
I remember first learning about "The Golden Rule" as a very little girl.  And throughout my childhood, it was a common thing to hear parents and teachers reminding children of the importance of treating others as one would want to be treated.  It is a very helpful parenting tool that I use often with my own children as I continuously seek to train them in the right way to deal with others.  But the golden rule is not just good for children to obey; it's just as vital for "grown-ups" to follow, too! 

This moral "rule" originates from a command Jesus gave, found in two of the four gospels, one of which is today's Scripture to read and also in Matthew 7:12.  If you read this passage in its entire context, you'll see that Jesus explains exactly what He means by commanding this and why we should obey it.

Something very important I've learned about God through years of studying His Word is that He never makes a requirement of us that is not in our best interest and for our own good.  Each of His commands is for our own personal well-being, health and safety.  But this command is very special in how it is designed to bless more than just those who obey it.  If we do our best to follow this "rule" in our lives, we will bless everyone we have contact with!

Just think about it for a minute...  If everyone in the history of the world always treated others as they would want to be treated, our world history would sure be a whole lot different!  There would be no wars, no divided nations.  No hatred, theft, or murder.  There would be no family dysfunction, abuse, divorce, or sibling rivalry.  No broken friendships, no bullies.  No jealousy, hurt or bitter feelings.  And there would be no need to forgive others, for we'd have nothing to forgive in the first place!  It just blows my mind to think of how different the world could be if every single person made more of an effort to follow the golden rule.

Ironically, this very simple command is the recipe for peace and love in the world, yet is something so very difficult for most people to obey.  Why?  Because it is a two-fold command; not only are we to treat others as we would want to be treated, but we are also to treat others in a kind, loving, and respectful way even if we don't feel like it and regardless of how others treat us! 

I mean, we are all human and our selfishness, self-centeredness, pride and other less-attractive human traits always seems to get in the way, don't they?  I don't know about you, but I find it extremely challenging to "be nice" to someone who has "not been nice" to me.  Or to be respectful and thoughtful to someone who has treated me in the opposite way.  Or, for goodness's sake, when I'm supposed to show care and love for a person that is often (putting it very frankly) UNLOVABLE!

But Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless (which means to invoke divine care for; to speak well of; to confer prosperity or happiness upon) those who curse us, and even pray for those who mistreat us.  He wants us to give and lend to everyone freely, without ever expecting to get what we gave back or to receive anything in return.  He also commanded us to forgive others and be merciful to them, even if they don't "deserve it", just as He forgives and is merciful to those who don't deserve it.  It struck me like never before when I read verses 35 and 36 of Luke 6 - that God treats the ungrateful and wicked with kindness and mercy (also see Matthew 5:43-45).  Jesus said that as God's children, we must do as our Heavenly Father does by treating everyone with unconditional love, goodness, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness...whether we think they are deserving of such treatment or not.

Wow, that's a tall order.  How can we even begin to obey it, when there are all kinds of mean, rude, selfish, greedy, evil, and downright unlovable people in the world?!  Well, the bad news is that we will often be treated badly by others. That's just life in this sinful, fallen world.  This is especially true if we are believers.  Jesus warned us we would be persecuted by unbelievers because of Him (John 15:18-25).  And yet, once again, He wants us to bless and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44 and Romans 12:14).

But the good news is that we have a Helper who will fill us with His power and love so that we are capable of treating others as He wants us to treat them, no matter how they treat us.  One of my favorite Scripture passages tells just how this all works:  Galatians 5:22-25- "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."  So if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, which all true believers are, we have His supernatural power always in us, at our disposal, to act in a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled way.  Wow again!!  God enables us through His Spirit in us to treat others in a right way- even our enemies and those people that drive us crazy!

If you are looking for a perfect example of Someone who treated others in a loving, kind way, look no further than Jesus Himself.  He was treated horribly by so many His whole 33 years on earth, yet never, not even once, did He lash back at anyone in a sinful way.  Yes, He stood up for what was right and wouldn't mince words in telling people what they were doing wrong and how and why they needed to change their lives.  But in standing up for the truth of God and His Word, He never, ever sinned.  Not once.  Read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to see exactly how He treated others, no matter how they treated Him.

Are you struggling with loving someone who is "unlovable"?  How about your children?  Are there mean bullies at school or in the neighborhood who make them miserable?  Or maybe they bicker and fight at home with their siblings?  As hard as it may be, you can be an effective role model to your children to show them how God wants us to treat others, especially those who might be considered "enemies".  Teach them by your own example how to be loving, kind, merciful, forgiving and freely giving to others.  As you deal with people in your daily life, talk openly with your children of how you often struggle with showing Christ's love to some people, but that you are able to do so with His power working in and through you.

What are some other ways to teach your children about "the Golden Rule"? 
  • Talk to and remind them often about how Jesus commanded us to treat others.
  • Read together Bible passages in which Jesus commands us to love others and treat them the right way and the Bible stories of when He and His people showed love to others.  Read true stories about believers who lived after the Bible times whose lives God worked through to show His love to a hurting, lost world.  There are plenty of true stories like this in our modern time, too!
  • Find godly character development books and resources to go through with your children.  Many have application lessons and activities in which you and your children can discuss and "practice" showing godly, loving behavior in tough, real-life situations.  A wonderful book I'm using in our homeschool right now is Daily Character Education Activities by Becky Daniel-White.  There are 2 books available for different age levels:  one is designed for 2nd and 3rd grades and the other for 4th and 5th grades.
  • If there is a bully in their life, pray with them specifically for that difficult child - and not just for God to help that child change and find salvation and healing, but also that God would help your child to show love and forgiveness to him/her.  There is just something amazing about the power of prayer in how God uses it to change and soften our hearts to please Him.  Let me tell you, I have much experience in forcing myself (yes, for me it's definitely a forced thing!) to pray for my "enemies".  I have learned that it's pretty hard to hold onto resentment, anger and an unforgiving heart when you pray consistently and specifically for someone who's been unloving to you.
  • Remind your children (and yourself, for that matter!) that most often a bully is a bully for a reason.  Maybe he/she is abused at home or comes from an unloving or dysfunctional family.  Maybe he/she has very low self-esteem or a problem they secretly struggle with and are trying to hide it with their mean exterior.  Seeing the bully in this light will help your child (and you) have more compassion and understanding for him/her.
  • Tell them about times in your own life that you have had to deal with hard-to-love people, including instances of when you acted the right way and the wrong way towards such people.  My children's ears really perk up when I talk about a true story that happened to me!  I think having an adult they love and trust tell them about a life lesson they learned is a very effective way to make things really hit home for them.
  • Teach them (and once again remind yourself) that obeying the golden rule is a powerful way to share the good news of Christ with those who are lost.  Is there a more effective way to show others the transforming change Christ has made in our hearts than by loving and treating them the way we want to be treated-no matter how unkind, disrespectful, unloving, and just plain rude others might be to us?!  And maybe it's not having an impact on the bully, but I bet other kids in class (and the teachers!) are watching how your child treats that bully.  People know we are Christians by how we act - what we do and what we say.  Countless people through the ages have come to believe in the truth and saving power of Christ, simply through a believer in their life treating them or another with love, especially if that love was undeserved!
I pray for each of you, and myself, and our children to depend on God's power and love at work in our hearts to enable us to show Christ's unconditional love to a hurting, mean, evil, lost world-that many may be drawn to Him and His salvation through how we treat them.

In Christ,