Adventures in Faith

The Greatest Commandment is Not the Golden Rule

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend among family. As we bantered around the issues of the day, the Golden Rule was brought up as a lens through which we should examine them. 

And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.
— Spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22

One hears this verse more these days, I thought; so to make sure it wasn't just me I did a Google news search and found that, yes, it's a hot topic. From maxims on how to run a business to the handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, the Golden Rule is getting a lot of air these days.

What strikes me most is that this "Golden Rule verse" is the tail end of Jesus' response to the the lawyers gathered around to trap him. Here's what Jesus said just before the Golden Rule:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
— Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38

Why does this so frequently get left out? This is in the Bible's "red writing" meaning Jesus himself spoke it. Not to mention that He says point blank that this first part is "the greatest commandment." 

Why am I emphasizing this point? Here's why, because my life experience is that I cannot love myself, let alone my neighbor, apart from loving God. 

If you knew how I treated myself before I submitted to God, before I decided to seek Him out fully, you would shudder. It was a path that by the world's standards was upstanding, I volunteered, held down a great job with increasing responsibility, took care of myself, didn't harm anyone too much, so far as anyone could tell. The deeper truth is much different!

I know for a fact I would be a lousy husband without God's commands because when I abandon them at times to "go it my own way" it goes south quickly. Left to my own devices I would not love Whitney well, I would be short with her, I wouldn't consider her fully, I wouldn't cherish her the way she deserves. I would miss out on the greatest expressions of love I have ever shown her, which are always born out of my time in prayer and in Scripture with God.

As a father, I would just be hanging on. I'd lack the energy to really engage, and I wouldn't spot the characteristics God has given my children for their own unique calling for this short stint on Earth. Even more, I wouldn't even have a sense about their calling because I only got that through my time with God. I'd punish them and squash their spirit instead of acting out of an abundance of love and grace mixed with discipline. 

Not to mention the rest of the world, I would hardly care about them! Sure, I'd volunteer now and again, but would I LOVE others? Hardly! Love is such a strong word, especially when defined according to Biblical terms. I cared about other people in a shallow way before, but it was after I went after God and actually prayed that He would open up my heart to others that He began to love them. Now God puts people, my family, friends, neighbors, even strangers to mind for prayer and for me to minister in a way that brings me to tears.  There is no comparison to the love I have for my neighbors compared to before I sought God.

Jesus, as He often did, is answering with a profoundly meaningful response missed by the casual reader of Scripture. The "greatest commandment" covers the first five of the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament, the so-called spiritual commands. The "golden rule" covers the last five commandments, or the civil commands. Jesus is bringing the Old Testament Ten Commandments to life in a new way here.

This one statement also brings together all of the commandments that all of the prophets of the Old Testament taught. Basically, Jesus is saying, if you love God you will keep the spiritual laws and in so doing you will keep the civil laws. He literally covered all of law from beginning to end in this one statement. It's such a crazy response to this bunch of lawyers that after this dismantling they decided not to ask him any more questions. Scripture literally says, "no one could say a word in reply."

So there it is--a love of God first in the fullest sense, with heart, soul, and mind--that is the lens through which we should look at the world.