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Do Unto Others

Lesson: Luke 6:27-36

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”[1] You probably recognize this verse. It’s known as the Golden Rule. You may not have known it’s in the Bible, or that it was Jesus who said it.

The Golden Rule might be the most famous thing Jesus ever said, although we know that it’s not original with Jesus. It appears in many ancient cultures and religions – in Babylon, Egypt, Persia, and China. The label “Golden Rule” comes from Confucius, in the sixth century B.C.: “Here certainly is the golden maxim: Do not do to the other that which we do not want them to do to us.” The rule appears in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and in Greek philosophy. It’s as old as the Code of Hammurabi, and it is in the Hebrew Bible.

Most versions, like Confucius’, are expressed negatively: “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.” Jesus is credited with the innovation of stating it in a positive way. “Do to your neighbor what you want done to you.” It makes a difference. It’s easier and even expected for us to avoid doing something hurtful to another person. Don’t attack someone if you don’t want to be attacked. Don’t cheat someone if you don’t want to be cheated. Don’t lie to someone if you don’t want to be lied to. In each of these examples, doing nothing is how you follow the rule. The emphasis in this approach is basically self-protection. I don’t want something bad to happen to me, so I won’t do something bad to someone else. Which isn’t bad, but “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is more difficult. It requires us to act.

That’s complicated, because just what is it we’re supposed to do to follow the rule? “Do … as you would have others do to you.” Do we assume the other person wants done what we would want done? That may not be the case, right? The way I want to be treated may not be the way someone else wants to be treated. Think of those well-intentioned gifts you’ve received that really missed the mark. The person who gave you that three-foot tall statue of Yoda really loved it. Or think of the time someone tried to fix a problem for you and you didn’t want it fixed that way, or maybe at all. Even more complicated is that sometimes what people would have us do unto them, what some people think they need or think will make them happy, is rooted in brokenness, greed, addiction, or hatred.

Jesus follows his Golden Rule by explaining that we are to love even those who don’t love us, and love even our enemies.[2] Bringing together love for God and love for neighbor was the heart of his teaching. In Jesus’ thinking, the two mandates – to love God with heart, mind, and strength and the neighbor as you love yourself – become one powerful, overarching, moral principal: love of God and love of neighbor; love of God by loving neighbor.

This tells us love is at the root of the Golden Rule. So what if Jesus isn’t so much setting up one more rule we have to figure out how to follow correctly, and get just right? What if each of the verses I read this morning, including the Golden Rule, is not a command or a rule, but a promise? The promise, essentially, that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is? That there is another option, an option grounded in active love – in love that does for others?

My dear friend and mentor Laird Stuart died in December. Laird served as the pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco when I was an associate pastor there. I was asked to preach at his memorial service at Calvary a couple of weeks ago, and while I was preparing for it, I recalled a sermon that Laird preached some twenty years ago. I remembered it partly because my daughters remember it. They were young teens when they heard it. Believe me: When a teenager remembers a sermon, that alone is no small accomplishment. The title of the sermon, “The Planet of Me,” actually became one of our family adages. To this day, if we see someone behaving as though he’s the only person that matters, whether it’s on the road, standing in line, wherever, my kids will say, “That guy is living on the Planet of Me.” Even our son, Pete, who never knew Laird Stuart.

“The Planet of Me” began with a couple of Dr. Seuss-style lines: “Where w