This sermon is number 23 in a series of 27
The Sermon On The Mount - Part 23
"Sanctified Selfishness: The Power Of Positive Living"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2002 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now we're turning again in our Bibles to Matthew's gospel and chapter 7, Matthew chapter 7. To get the context of our verse that we've been looking at for the last two weeks, we're beginning to read at verse 7. Remember again that these are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. He says with regards to prayer, and the plan and purpose of prayer: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets".
Last Sunday morning we looked at what I have called in verse 12 'sanctified selfishness', under the title of 'The Paralysis Of Legalism'. We looked at how various religions and cults in the world have this statement which is commonly called the golden rule, but they have it in the negative: 'Do not do to others as you would not want them to do to you'. We looked last week at how we, as evangelicals, can so often be known and seen to be negative people; known for what we do not believe; known for what we are against, rather than what we do believe and what we are positively for. For that reason we are looking at the second sense in this verse, and I've called it 'The Power Of Positive Living', or 'The Power Of Righteousness'.
You will remember, and David has reminded us through speaking to the children, that on one occasion our Lord was tested by the Pharisees. They asked Him: 'What is the greatest commandment in the law?'. Jesus said to them: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets'.
It's interesting when we look at Matthew 7 verse 12 that there is nothing mentioned of our relationship with God, but purely our relationship with other people. The reason why that is is simply, when the Lord stipulated to the Pharisees the greatest commandment, the first and greatest commandment - to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind - that was stipulated there: our love toward God and what our disposition and devotion toward God should be. But in the Sermon on the Mount, in the context in which we find verse 12, the Lord Jesus is speaking specifically of how we should behave and live toward other people. He is assuming that we obey the first commandment. Of course, the whole of the Sermon on the Mount so far has been telling us what we ought to do with regards to our responsibilities to God, how we ought to serve God. Specifically in this chapter it's been talking about prayer, coming before God - assuming that we have a relationship with God - and asking things from God.
Now He turns to our responsibilities toward other people. For that reason, one scholar in particular has called this verse the 'Everest of ethics'. 'With this commandment', he says, 'the Sermon on the Mount reaches its summit and its peak'. In chapter 7, and right from this verse specifically, the Lord is beginning to draw the Sermon to a close. We are now entering into the conclusion of the greatest sermon that has ever been preached. But although it's beginning the conclusion of the Sermon, it is not divorced from the preceding verses that we've read together today. In verse 11 the Lord says: 'If you as evil sinners, depraved, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?'. Then He says in verse 12: 'Do to others as you would have them to unto you'.
What He seems to be saying in the context here is: 'Since your Father is a giver of good things to you, we also should imitate our Father in heaven and show kindness to other people around us'. In other words He's saying: we cannot expect good things from God if we don't know how to do good things toward other people. The reason for Him saying this, as you will realise, is that the Pharisees were in the circumference of His listening. But He was telling His own disciples in the presence of the Pharisees: 'This is the way to keep the law and the commandments. This is the way to keep the prophets and what they have foretold. If you want to fulfil the whole of the Old Testament law and prophets and writings, you need to do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. This is a personal and a practical righteousness, not what the Pharisees say and do, not their legalism, not all their little rules and petty restrictions and regulations; but the full fulfilment of everything that the law teaches, the prophets have foretold, and the writings are taken up with is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not as the Pharisees did it.
We said last week that it is a kind of a reverse selfishness, a sanctified selfishness; that which you would selfishly want to indulge upon yourself, you should do it to others. We saw also last week that our selfishness often harms other people - that's the nature of it. We often harm our neighbour through theft and slander, lying, murder, adultery, fornication, cursing, quarrels, wars, and we could go on and on at sins that are deep rooted within our hearts and come out of our hearts, as the Lord said, because we are depraved and we are essentially selfish and proud. But now the Lord Jesus calls us to benevolence through our selfishness, to turn our selfishness on its head.
Didn't we say that the philosophy of this world is dog-eat-dog? 'Do it to others before they do it to you'. But the Lord is saying, even back in these days 2000 years ago, that the philosophy of the world is not the philosophy of the child of God. The way others treat us is not our gauge and not our way of measuring how we ought to treat them. But rather we are to treat them in the way that we think that they should have treated us.
So our Lord turns on its head the definition of what true godliness is. It is not what the Pharisees and the legalists and religionists say - a strict adherence to religious dogma and rules - rather it is a life of devotion toward God, to love Him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Also your responsibility toward your neighbour: to love him as yourself, and to do unto him as you would have him do unto you. In other words, a life that is a full fulfilment of the Holy Scriptures in the Old Testament is nothing more and nothing less than a life of love.
What did Paul say? "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity" - which is love in action - "I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal", which means an empty sound, 'I am all voice but no heart'. "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love in action, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing". We ought not, in the light of the word of God, in the light of the words of our Lord Jesus and Paul's commentary upon them I think - we ought not to count lightly the power of positive living. The power of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. If it is true that the world sees us as fully believing this verse of scripture, and sees us and judges us in the light of this scripture that they seem to know rather than any other of the scriptures within the word of God, we must conclude with Paul: 'There remains faith and hope, but the greatest of all these things is love'.
We saw last week, and I want to remind you that true Christianity should be primarily defined positively - it should primarily be defined positively. We saw how there have been many negative forms of this golden rule. Hundreds of years before Christ, Confucius said in the negative: 'Do not to others what you would not like them to do to you'. Rabbi Hillel, a hundred years before Christ, said: 'What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow creatures. That is the whole law, all else is explanation'. The Greeks said it. The Romans said it. The cults, even today, and other religions say it - but their negative renditions of the golden rule are a world, a gulf apart from the positivity of what our Lord Jesus said. It's so different! Yet still today, we as evangelicals can be more known for what we don't believe and what we don't do than what we do believe and what we do do for others. However, when you come to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and ask Him: 'Lord, please define for me what practical Christianity is', He defines it positively.
Therefore we are to practice Christianity positively. When we think of it, we were not saved by a negative adherence to laws, were we? Were you? You weren't saved by rules and regulations and legalism. You weren't saved by ritualistic dogma. Therefore your Christian life ought not to be lived like a list of legal negatives. That is not what I'm saying, but that is what Paul the apostle says to the Galatians: "Are you so foolish having begun in the spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?". You began being born from above, begotten of God unto eternal life through grace. Grace alone has brought you to Christ, not works lest any man should boast. Therefore should we continue in works? Of course not!
Let me illustrate it for you like this. A family begins a holiday in a new car. Perhaps it's your family. You fill the car with petrol before you embark on your voyage and your journey up the road. You pack all the family in, and all the gear. The car is beautiful and it's running beautifully, the engine is purring and speeding along at about 55 to 60 miles per hour down the motorway. Further down the road, you are nearly out of Belfast and the tank has nearly run done. As you turn around as you're driving, you notice around you more and more people are pushing their cars up the motorway. They wave at you as they do it, as they go by. You wave back at them and just keep on driving, thinking nothing more of it. Finally you stop about 50 miles outside of Belfast, past the fast traffic and into the countryside. As you stop to relax for a little, someone who you saw pushing their car up the motorway stops and comes into the lay-by where you are. He asks you: 'How are you doing?'. 'Fine', you reply. The car-pusher asks: 'Where are you going?'. 'Well, we're taking a trip up north - the Antrim Coast'. Then he asks: 'Why are you driving? Because we're all pushing'. You say: 'Yes, I noticed that you pushed your car. Why are you doing it? I don't understand'. He replies: 'If you push your car the air stays clean, and it makes a lot of sense to push your car. We used to rely on petrol a lot, but no longer. Now we really understand what it's all about. We're pushers and not drivers'. So you let the car run out of petrol like he did. All the family get out and you begin to push the car - this beautiful, lovely, brand new car. You push it back to your holiday home.
Listen, Paul said exactly the same thing. In other words, are you foolish that having begun in the Spirit, you think you're now made perfect in the flesh? In essence he's saying: 'You telling me that you began with a full tank? You began with the Holy Spirit? And you're now pushing your way through life? Is that a powerful message? I think not!', he says. That means that Christ, the miracle-worker - the miracle working One now stands by and sits and watches you pull off a spiritual life that you never had before. 'Who are you trying to fool?', Paul says. Cars are made to drive, not to push!
We are not accepted by God because of our scriptural viewpoints. We are not accepted by God because of what we wear, or what we eat, or what we drink, or where we go. All of those things may be important, but 'Oh to grace how great a debtor!'. Our lives therefore are not to be defined negatively by man-made rules, but positively by the life of the Spirit in us, bearing witness through His fruit - through love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Against such there is no law!
So first, true Christianity should primarily be defined positively. But the second thing, the converse of what we learned last week is this: the emphasis in verse 12 of chapter 7 is upon your contribution - the emphasis is upon your contribution.
In the school that I went to, many times in assembly we were bored to death by the same type of moralistic and, at times I wonder, agnostic speeches. God was reverenced but there was no direction through God given. The principle, I feel, was just trying to get us to work harder and to do better academically, and to apply ourselves. But one little quip and quotation that he often made was made by John F. Kennedy when he said this: 'Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country'. In a spiritual sense that is what the Lord is saying. This is your contribution: the emphasis in this verse is upon what you do, not what is done to you. What you would like done to you, you do it to others. I read a poem in the week that has gone by, by Alfred Joyce Kilmer, and it went like this:
'Whenever I walk through Asia along the harbour blue,
I go by a great big church-house with its people strong and true.
I suppose I've passed it a hundred times, but today I stopped for a minute
And looked at the church, that tragic church, the church with no love in it'.
Another paraphrase of that poem was made later on, and it goes like this:
'Whenever I walk through the southland along the Fullerton track,
I go by a big congregation, with its cars parked in the front and in the back.
I suppose I've passed one hundred times, but today I stopped for a minute
And I looked in that church with its thousands of folk, that church needing my love within it'.
Do you see the world of difference? The world of difference between looking at things negatively and looking at things positively? The world of difference, as Christ defines how we should behave towards others, and He says that the emphasis is upon your contribution. Not what people are doing to you and saying to you. Not looking at the fellowship or looking at your friends and saying: 'There's no love in him', or 'no love in that'; but saying, 'There is someone', or 'some organisation', or 'some church that would benefit from my love in it'.
Do we do to them as we would have them do unto us? The Lord says: 'Do to them. Don't wait until they do it to you'. Is that what you believe? Is that the way you behave? When I see at times how many Christians, so-called, are in a spiritual huff because of something that someone has done to them I wonder do they really believe this verse? When I see right across our province how many people will no longer get involved in the work of God in case they get hurt again - they've been hurt in the past or they haven't been appreciated, so they don't get involved any more. Or people leave a church because they've been offended or something has happened to them, and they determine when they join another church that they will stand at the sidelines in case they get hurt, in case they get damaged, in case they get offended or let down. Of course, the work of God suffers, but worse than that: the word of God is made a farce. People say: 'I'm not appreciated for what I do'. The question is this: do you appreciate others for what they do for you? That's the question! If you would like people not to pass harsh judgement on you, then don't pass harsh judgement on other people. You say: 'I'd like people to pray for me'. Well then, you pray for them!
The big question here is: how do you determine what to do toward your neighbour? The way to determine what to do is what is good for you. What do you feel is good for you? Then do it to someone else. How many people in our land, and in our churches are so able to stand up for their own rights, but they are also able to ignore the rights of others? People who happily resent being slandered but think nothing of slandering the name of another? Those who fail to sympathise with those going through problems, but when troubles come to them they wonder why people do not have compassion upon them. You could put it down to this: what you put in, you will get out!
What amazes me about the statement of our Lord here is that it far exceeds that. That isn't even what the Lord is saying here. The Lord doesn't say: 'Do what you would like others to do you, so that they will do it back to you'. That's not what He says, it's not some utilitarian 'honesty pays, and if you do the right thing, the right thing will be done to you'. But He says that the reason for doing good to others is because it is the will of God, and it fulfils all of the law and the prophets. The question is this to us today - and we've got to face it, you can't relegate this dispensationally into some old epoch (you can if you want, and maybe that's how you get around living the life that you do) - but we must as Christ's disciples face these words and see how we should have our lives defined positively in the eyes of others. We must see that the emphasis in our lives is not in what others have done to us, but our contribution to the society and environment in which we live in the church.
C.H. Spurgeon, the great preacher, once had a friend by the name of Dr Newman Hall. He was a great preacher and he was also a great author, and he wrote a little booklet called 'Come to Jesus'. Another preacher published an article against Mr Hall's publication in which he ridiculed it totally - he wrote it off. Mr Hall bore patiently with his argumentation for a while, but when the article gained popularity and was doing well Hall decided: 'Why should I take this when this is God's will to bless this little booklet?'. So he sat down and he wrote a letter of protest. He answered in full with retaliatory invectives that outdid anything that was in the previous man's article, he answered everything. We could say he wiped the floor with him. But before he mailed the letter, he took it to C.H. Spurgeon for his opinion. Spurgeon read it very carefully in detail, and then handing it back he asserted that it was excellent and certainly the writer deserved everything he got. 'But', he added, 'it just lacks one thing'. After a pause he continued: 'Underneath your signature you ought to write the words, Author of Come to Jesus'. The two godly men looked at each other for a few moments and then Hall tore the letter to shreds. How could the author who says: 'Come unto me all ye who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest' put his name under such a letter? We tend to think like that don't we? 'If they deserve it give it to them!'. We tend to think that bad behaviour is more justified on our part if we have been offended, if wrong has been done toward us, but that is not the teaching of our Lord. He says: 'Do to others as you would have liked them to do to you'. The person who is offended, the person who has had wrong done to them - the Lord is saying: 'You should be the very one. You should know better how to behave toward another - in the exact opposite of how people have behaved toward you'. The emphasis is on our contribution.
But thirdly and finally, what I want you to see that really comes out and hits us in the face out of this text is that practical Christianity is defined by our Lord Jesus Christ as 'doing'. Practical Christianity is defined as 'doing'. Our Lord goes past the passive restraint to an act of benevolence. The passive restraint of the Pharisees that says: 'Don't do this, don't do that, don't do the other and then you'll be holy'. He goes beyond that to an act of benevolence whereby we are defined by doing righteous things for others. He is telling us over and over again through this sermon that Christianity is not simply a matter of abstention from sin, but it is a positive goodness.
It's interesting that the Lord's half-brother James, in his book, and he echoes a great deal of the teaching within the Sermon on the Mount, he is the one who, in his great chapter 2 of that epistle, tells us that faith without works is dead. He tells us in verse 26: 'For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also'. You cannot say you believe in Christ, you're a child of God, and call yourself a Christian and sit right throughout your life doing nothing for Christ, and doing nothing for others!
If verse 12 - imagine this for a moment - if verse 12 was adhered to, do you not think it would just revolutionise everything? Do you not think it would turn this world upside-down, just as the disciples did at the very outset of the church? It's not for salvation. We don't do good to others to be saved, of course the Bible doesn't teach that and you know that. It is neither even the sum total of all Christian truth. But what it is is the principle that ought to govern our attitudes toward other people; to do unto them as we would have them do unto ourselves. When we are faced with accusation, when we are faced with people who would do us harm, even when we are faced with others who would do us good, we are to appeal to our own judgement as to what we would like to happen to us if we were in that situation. Put yourself on a level with the other person! Tell yourself that they have as much rights as you have! Put yourself in their circumstances and ask yourself: 'How would I react and how ought I to react in this situation? How would I like to be treated in this situation?'.
If we were to test whether an action would be beneficial to another by asking ourselves those questions, we need to ask would we do many of the things that we do? Would we say many of the things that we say? Here is an answer. You might be confused as we have been going through this sermon: 'How do I behave in judgement toward this one and that one and the other? Do I have to get this plank out of my eye and then take the little splinter out of his eye? How do I weigh it all up? There's so much for me to think of here: how I behave toward other people. When is it right to come down on a person like a ton of bricks? When is it right not to say anything and just ignore it and love the person?'. Here is the declaration that sums it all up: do to others as you would have done to you! J.C. Ryle put it well, he said: 'In all doubtful questions between man and man we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This settles a hundred difficult points. 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. It shows us the balance and measure by which everyone may see at once what is his duty'.
Are you in a situation at the moment and you are seeking guidance how to react? Here it is: do unto them as you would want them to do to you. How do we measure up? What size are we beside this Everest of ethics? How do we fare? How much are we shining beside the golden rule, the ultimate practical definition and summary of what Christianity truly is? Listen to what Matthew Henry says for a moment: 'By this rule the law of Christ is commended, but the lives of Christians are condemned by comparing them with it', he speaks in Latin, 'Aut hoc non evangelium, aut hi non evangelici'. Listen to what he says in Latin: 'Either this is not the gospel, or these are not Christians'!
How do we measure up? It is utterly vain to speak like angels on our knees before God if we act like devils in our transactions with men. I think that today, in the age in which we live, one of the greatest obstacles to men coming to Christ is the hypocrisy of so-called Christians! Christians in their business, in their domestic lives. Hypocritical fathers, mothers with double standards, siblings with sinister competitiveness. Businessmen with appalling ethics and shady practices. Tyrant bosses, and employees who fleece their employers. In a world that knows perhaps this as the only scripture in any of their Bibles: 'Love others. Love your neighbour. Love your enemy. Do to others as you would have them do unto you'. Can we blame them if they think that we're a farce and our lives are a sham?
John R. Rice quoted this poem:
'You are writing a gospel,
A chapter each day,
By deeds that you do,
By words that you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithless or true;
Say, What is the gospel
According to you?'.
We, the apostle says, are to be written epistles, known and read of all men. The Lord is saying: 'If you wish to be a walking word of God, a walking epistle, a walking law and prophets, fulfilling every jot and tittle in the word of God, do to others as you would have them do unto you'. So can I ask you: is your faith defined positively? Can I ask you: do you contribute to the cause of Christ and others selflessly, no matter what others do to you and have done to you and will do for you? Can I ask you: is your Christian faith characterised by doing? If we were to ask James: 'James, what is the Christian life?'. 'Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world'. Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you! Ask John: 'What is this Christianity? How do you define it?'. Here is his definition: 'Whoso hath this world's goods and seeth his brother hath need and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?'. Doing unto others!
Our Lord, who came not to be served but to serve and to lay his life down a ransom for many - Lord, what do we say at the end of all this things? 'Child, why call me Lord, Lord and do not the things that I say?'. I promise you, if you do and fulfil this verse you will unleash a power greater than that of the atom: the power of positive living!
Let's bow our heads together. Can I ask you the question: whose agenda are you following? What attitudes do you have toward other people in this meeting? Neighbours? Friends? Do you operate with the standards of the world, the attitudes of the world? Or do you pervade a perfume of the sweetness of the law and the prophets which has its fulfilment in Christ and His law? Do you follow the One who carried a cross and lay down your life for others?
Father, we have been told, 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus' - the one who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. We so are to clothe ourselves with humility and serve one another: 'For the greatest among you will be the one who serveth'. Father, help us, these are hard sayings and they run against the grain of our natural depravity. But we pray that through the Spirit, not through law but through the Spirit of God, that we will surrender ourselves and allow His presence to live in us that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven, to whose glory we pray. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the twenty third tape in his 'Sermon On The Mount' series, titled "Sanctified Selfishness: The Power Of Positive Living" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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