It’s interesting, if not ironic, that the world has picked up on certain statements or principles contained in the Sermon on the Mount, and yet in considering them out of the context of the rest of the sermon they fail to understand what Jesus was really teaching. We come to another such statement today, which is commonly known as the Golden Rule. It used to be a stand alone principle that was taught in secular as well as religious settings with a certain amount of frequency. I can faintly remember one of my teachers from public elementary school talking about the Golden Rule. I suppose that would not be politically correct today.
However, various forms of the Golden Rule have been around since before the birth of Christ. In fact, a famous Rabbi by the name of Hillel who was asked for a summary of the law in 20AD said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” That statement of course is in the negative. Jesus was the only one to phrase it in the positive. But it is a statement that is found in other philosophies and religions as well, so it is not a strictly Christian principle, though, in the positive it is only found in Christianity.
So I should stress that the majority of religions and philosophies do not teach this principle as Jesus taught it. Their emphasis is only focused on a social dictum or a social gospel. But Jesus wasn’t just giving a moral precept that we should all try to keep as a means of earning good standing with God and man and thus creating a social utopia here on earth. Furthermore, if you approach this principle in a merely legalistic way, then you are guilty of what the Pharisees were guilty of, which was to keep the letter of the law as a way of earning righteousness and as a means of being seen of men to be righteous.
Jesus, however, in HIs sermon has always gone beyond the letter of the law to indicate that the attitude of the heart is what God is after. And only as one has been regenerated through faith in Him can you then have the new heart that desires what God desires, that loves that which God loves. So this statement is a continuation of what Jesus has been saying all along. He has been establishing and delineating the character and nature of those who have been made a new creation, have been given new life, who are now a child of God and a part of the Kingdom of God.
However, we should also recognize that there is no getting around the fact that this is a commandment. Those that think there are no commandments in the new covenant show their ignorance of scripture. In fact, this is very similar to another commandment which Jesus gave in response to the question “what is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answered in Matt. 22:37-40 “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Notice the similarity after the second commandment to love your neighbor, in the phrase “the whole law and the prophets,” to the phrase found after the Golden Rule, “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus says that both are a summation of the law. And in conjunction they help to explain one another. So, if you love your neighbor as yourself, if you treat your neighbor like you would like to be treated, then you will not steal from him, you would not commit adultery with his wife, you would not lie to him, and so forth. All of the law found in what is called the second table of the law dealing with man’s relationship to man, would not be an issue.
But it’s important to understand that the Bible does not teach the law is a means of salvation. That’s what the Pharisees were thinking, and it’s the thinking of much of the modern church. The natural tendency of man is to be legalistic. And so many have looked at the Sermon on the Mount and have seen a series of injunctions which they thought were some new form of the old law, and though we couldn’t keep the old law we can somehow keep the new law, and thus we will be saved by keeping the law, or at least, keeping it as best we can. That is the gist of a lot of people’s theology.
But Paul said the law was intended to be a schoolteacher to lead us to Christ. The law shows us our sinfulness in light of the standard of God and in that light it shows us our need to be saved, to be forgiven, to be made a new creation. Only when we are regenerated, given the righteousness of Christ and made in the likeness of Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can we then strive to keep the law with any hope of success. So then we keep the law because we are Christians, not in order to become a Christian.
1John 2:3-5 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.” So keeping the law is only possible if we are Christians, not as a means to become a Christian. And keeping the law is evidence that we are a Christian.
Let me also try to clarify it this way. Not only is the law a schoolteacher to lead us to Christ, but after we are saved, the law is a schoolteacher to raise us up in Christ, to mature us in Christ. In the first creation, we were made in the image of God, in His likeness. The Bible says that repeatedly. We were made spiritual beings so that we could have spiritual intimacy with God. But the spirit of man died in the fall. So for man to be reconciled to God we must not only be forgiven, but we must be regenerated, to have a new spirit that can have fellowship with God.
So then in the second creation, that which is called being born again, we are once again made in the likeness of God, which is to be like Christ. And though we have been given a new nature, a new spirit, new desires, there is still a process of training that is necessary if we are going to be conformed to the image of Christ. So through the law of God, we come to know what is expected of us, how we are to act as the children of God, that we might in obedience to the law grow up into Him and be completed in the process of sanctification.
Now that is the point of Jesus’s teaching here. We are to love one another, love our neighbor, do good to them that persecute you, give good gifts to others, and do unto others what you would have them do unto you, all because that is the way God treats us. And we are to be like Christ. So the law, this law, informs us of what we are to do, if we are to be like Christ.
And the synergy of the law is that the priority of the foremost commandment makes it possible to keep the second commandment. What I mean by that is, only if we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, are we then able to love our neighbor as God loves us. Being reborn in His likeness gives us the capacity to love like God. The difficulty is that in order to love God like that, wholly, completely, then we have to get someone else off the throne. And that someone is ourselves. Self wants to be on the throne. Self wants to govern our lives. Self wants to preserve and guard and protect what’s his. And so self has to be dethroned in order to love God first and foremost.
There is a very deceitful theology that is propagated by certain preachers which looks at the second commandment, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and then extrapolate from that that it’s necessary and even a good thing, to love ourselves. I have read some Christian books to that effect, saying that even before you love God you must first love yourself. Folks, that is a lie out of hell. The answer to our problem is not to love ourselves, but rather the problem is that we love ourselves. That’s what is wrong. But if you love the Lord with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, then that doesn’t leave room anymore for “self” to be on the throne. God must be first.
And then notice, you are still not next in line. The order is you love God first and then your neighbor is next. You are in last place. So we need to start with God. And that means that in order to even begin to love our neighbor correctly we must first have a right relationship with God. We were made by God and for God, and we can function truly only in relationship to God.
So you can’t love your wife, or your husband, or your neighbor, or your enemy like you’re supposed to, unless you first love God preeminently. And as we believe in Him, are obedient to Him, follow Him, love Him and trust Him, then we can see others as God sees us, and we can do unto others what is good, the kind of things that we would like for them to do for us. Not doing good so that we might be repaid for our kindness. But as God who loved us when we could not do anything to repay Him, so we do for others that which is good.
God gives us good things in spite of our being who we are. God doesn’t give us what we deserve. But God showers upon us His grace and mercy. So we should love others as God loves us and show good to them as God has shown to us. And the ultimate good that we should do for them is to show them the love of God so that they might believe in Him and be saved. That they might be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God. That is the good that we might do that is greater than all other good things.
The fact is, if we truly loved others as we say we should, then we would be very concerned about their soul’s final destination. Yet though as Christians we claim to be concerned about lost souls, yet in practice we show little concern about it. I know, I am speaking from personal experience. It seems awfully hard to speak to an acquaintance about the nature of their soul, doesn’t it? It’s a subject we find very hard to broach even with loved ones, much less with our friends and acquaintances.
And yet it’s the most important topic in the world. And so we see this subject of our soul’s destination dealt with here by our Lord in the last section of this sermon, and He deals with it in a way that shows it’s of paramount importance. It’s a logical progression in His sermon from speaking of doing good unto others to speaking of the way of salvation. Jesus does not ignore what is of ultimate importance. But He goes straight to the heart of the matter.
Jesus has shown in HIs sermon repeatedly that there are two natures, two types of people, two perspectives, two types of hearts, two types of attitudes. Sometimes the differences seemed on the surface to be slight, but Jesus showed that there was indeed great differences which found their origin deep in the heart of man. Throughout the whole sermon Jesus shows that there is a distinct difference between the natural man and the spiritual man.
Now Jesus takes that to the next level, and shows that there is a distinct difference in outcomes as well. There are two gates, two paths and two destinations for all men. Jesus says in vs 13, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Now what Jesus is actually doing here is showing that there is a choice that is given to all men, there are two paths and that we are going to choose one or the other. The Sermon on the Mount is not just a philosophical teaching that can be considered and talked about and pondered upon and admired for it’s exalted themes and then put back on the shelf and you continue as you were. It is a choice that has to be made. And the way to make the wrong choice is to simply do nothing, to continue going on as you are. If you consider all that Jesus has said concerning the kingdom of heaven, and you do nothing but think about it, and then set it aside, then you have effectively said no. You have made a choice without doing anything. Because the Bible tells us that all men are already on the road to destruction. You were born that way.
Romans 3:10-12, 16 says, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” and so as a consequence, “DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS.”
But believing in Christ is something that requires a change of direction, a change of heart. It requires following. It is a new way of life. It’s a decision and a commitment to believe Christ and follow Him. Notice first of all that Jesus says the way is narrow that leads to life. I believe that the gate indicated here is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the narrow gate. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” That’s pretty narrow. That’s pretty exclusionary. Acts 4;12 says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” There is no other way of gaining the righteousness needed to be accepted by God than through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Him, and what He did on the cross, our sins are transferred to Him and His righteousness is transferred to us.
Jesus says in John 10:9 “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” He goes on to say in that passage that “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” So no one can come to the Father, no one can be saved, except through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in what He has done for me as my Savior, as my Substitute. He took my place on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins, so that by His death I am given life, spiritual life, abundant life.
That is the only way to God. That is the way to life. But there is another way, what Jesus calls the broad way. Many are going through that gate. It’s the popular path. It’s the way the world is going. But Jesus says this way leads to destruction. Listen, it’s a terrible tragedy that the world is headed for destruction. There is no calamity on earth, no famine, no flood, no earthquake, nothing that comes close to the world wide calamity precipitated by the fall. The entire world is destined to die, to stand before the judgment of God, and receive the wages of sin, which is death. That’s a terrible thing of unimaginable proportion. And if we are honest we might find ourselves almost thinking judgmentally towards God when we consider that so many millions of men and women are doomed to destruction. It just doesn’t seem fair.
And yet, God has given us the means by which to save them. We know the good news, we know the gospel. We have the antidote for their disease. And yet, in a manner of speaking, we walk right by the dead and dying without lifting a finger to help. Maybe that’s what Jesus was referring to when He said “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you know that the outcome of the way of life they are on leads to destruction, then is not be a good thing that is really necessary is to tell them of a better way? Has not God done the greatest good thing that could ever be done in giving Jesus Christ as a ransom for sinners? Does this great good not compel us to tell those that are doomed to destruction before it’s too late? That there is another way, provided by Christ, that leads to life?
And to that point, let me emphasize that Jesus calls it the way. Before the Christians were called Christians, it was called “The Way.” Jesus says not only is the gate narrow, but the way is narrow that leads to life. We need to realize, and those we attempt to lead to Christ need to realize, that the way of life is a difficult choice. It is hard. It requires leaving some things behind that will not fit on this narrow way. We shouldn’t try to deceive people into thinking that it is something easy to come to Christ, and then later on they will begin to discover that the way is hard. It’s going to require some sacrifice in regards to the things that the world finds needful.
The author of Hebrews likens the way to a race course, of which he says we must “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” So there is some sacrifice that is necessary if we go on this narrow way. Self sacrifice is what is necessary. Crucifying the flesh. Dying to self.
Also I think what is indicated is that this narrow way can only accommodate one person at a time. Perhaps it can be compared to a turnstile, like they have at the subway stations. Only one person can go through at a time. I remember we went to NYC a couple of years ago with Melissa who was looking into a college up there. And this lady was taking on a tour, and she led us through this revolving door, you know the kind with four sections or so and you step into one section and it spins around and you step off on the other side. And when the lady stepped into the section of the door to lead the way, my wife tried to jump in there with her. The lady had a surprised look on her face when Susie crammed up against her. It was meant for only one person at a time.
But the point is, the narrow gate and the narrow way indicates that you are going to have to enter this gate on your own. You can’t piggy back on your wife’s faith, or on your family, or with anyone else. It’s an individual commitment, an individual choice. Jesus said take up your cross and follow me. The broad way is crammed with people. Everyone else seems to be doing the same things, going the same direction. And there is a certain degree of confidence in numbers. But Jesus says they are all going on the wrong path.
Paul in Ephesians 2:1 speaks of this way, this path, as like the course of a river. He says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
I remember crossing a bridge over the Shenandoah River on a Sunday afternoon a few years ago. And there was probably a 100 or more people out on the river floating on rafts. They were all lazily floating along and it really looked like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon on a hot day in the summer. And I can kind of use that image in my mind for what Paul was referring to as the course of this world. The whole world is floating along, being carried along by the world’s culture, the worlds’ philosophy, the busy-i-ness of this world. All their friends are there with them. There is no care for what’s ahead. It hardly seems like you are even moving, and yet you are being carried along to eventual destruction. And Paul says that is the strategy of the prince of the power of the air, that is Satan, in order to keep the world entertained and oblivious of the danger ahead, to deceive and destroy.
Listen, we that know the truth, that have the truth, must share the good news with those who don’t know it. We are the ministers that God has sent into the world so that the world might be saved. We have the good news to give. Knowing what we know now, if we were unsaved, would we not want someone to tell us the good news about how we can be saved from the destruction which lay ahead? Therefore, do unto others what you would have them to do unto you. For this is God’s commandment to you.