************ Sermon on Leviticus 19:18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 27, 2013
"The Golden Rule"
How are we to treat our neighbor? What rule is to govern our relationship with those around us? The secular world says, "Do unto others whatever they have done to you, only double." Or, to put it more concisely, "Don't get mad, get even."
"Don't get mad, get even." That's why these days, when you get fired from a job, the security guard comes and watches while you clear your desk and then escorts you out of the building. They are afraid you might do something like release a virus into the network or break the copy machine.
"Don't get mad, get even." We saw two instances of this philosophy this past week. First, a Massachusetts teenager has been charged with murdering a 24-year-old math teacher at his high school. He used a box cutter to stab the woman, then disposed of her body and went to the movies. Second, in Nevada a 12-year-old boy armed with a handgun shot dead a teacher and wounded two schoolmates before turning his gun on himself. "Don't get mad, get even."
In contrast to this, the Christian lives by an entirely different standard. This standard is our theme on this World Hunger Sunday. We find this standard for relationships in our text for this morning: "Love your neighbor as yourself." We know this as the Golden Rule. Its more popular version says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
I Living by the Silver Rule
A One of the books I used as I prepared for this message says American culture – and by this he means Evangelical American Christianity – has changed the Golden Rule to the Silver Rule. The Golden Rule, remember, is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The Silver Rule is, "Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you." The Silver rule is almost the same as the Golden rule except for the addition of the word "not." That one word, however, makes all the difference in the world.
The Golden Rule requires action: do unto others. The Silver rule allows you to be passive and neutral. The Golden Rule makes justice necessary while the Silver Rule allows justice to be optional. The Golden Rule tells us to do good, no matter what. The Silver Rule allows me to be indifferent. The Golden Rule requires me to do my utmost. The Silver Rule settles for the minimum. We like to talk about the Golden Rule, but we often live by the Silver Rule. That's because the Silver Rule doesn't require me to do anything. The Silver Rule may keep me from stealing but it doesn't require me to share with those in need.
Do you see the crucial difference between the Golden Rule and the Silver Rule? It is the difference between "Do good" and "Don't do bad."
On this World Hunger Sunday do we live by the Golden Rule or by the Silver Rule? Do we do good? Or, do we not do bad? Do we share? Or, do we content ourselves with not stealing? Golden Rule or Silver Rule: what do you live by?
B The Golden Rule requires me to love, give, sacrifice, serve, initiate, speak up, create, listen, practice justice, and much more. The Silver Rule only requires me not to harm anyone.
Some days, to be honest, the Silver Rule seems appealing. I can wake up, exercise, shave, shower, eat breakfast, go to the office, work on a sermon, return home, go on a bike ride, eat supper, do some reading, and go to bed. Doing what I just described doesn't hurt anyone. Since I didn't commit any obvious evil, I can describe myself as a pretty good person.
Is this an easy life? You betcha. A doable life? That too. But does it describe my best life? Not at all. Does it conform to God's law? Never. When I follow the Silver Rule think of all the opportunities to do good that I am missing. What opportunities to serve and bless my wife am I neglecting, for example, even as I am eating breakfast and getting ready for work?
The Golden Rule is difficult. It is difficult to practice. It is difficult to measure up to its ideals. It is difficult to not feel guilty when it is our standard. The Silver Rule is easy. We can keep the Silver Rule without leaving the house. We can go through entire days without breaking the Silver Rule. We can go through life without guilt when the Silver Rule is our standard. We can fool ourselves into thinking we are pure and holy and righteous when we live by the Silver Rule.
C At the time of Jesus, there was an entire class of people who lived their lives by the Silver Rule. We know them as Pharisees. But what did Jesus hold before them? The Golden Rule! Jesus said,
(Mt 22:37-39) "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (39) And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"Now, do you remember the shocking phrase that comes after this? Jesus said, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Mt 22:40). The Law and the Prophets represents countless generations of religious, ethical, and prophetic teaching. The Pharisees prided themselves on knowing every jot and tittle of the law and the prophets. Yet, Jesus summed up all of that with a single word: love.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
D Matthew 25, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, highlights a wonderful truth for us: following the Golden Rule counts as loving others and loving God. The connection is direct and immediate:
(Mt 25:34-40) "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (36) I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' (37) "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (38) When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' (40) "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'The righteous are those who give their lives away in acts of love to the poor and needy. They are the ones who follow the Golden Rule, no matter what. They go away to eternal life.
Who are the unrighteous in this parable? Who are the ones who go away to eternal punishment? They are the ones who follow the Silver Rule. They don't personally harm the hungry, the stranger, the poor, the diseased, the imprisoned. But they don't help them either. And, they end up in hell!
II Living by the Golden Rule
A In our text for this World Hunger Sunday we are called by God to live by the Golden Rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Now, don't forget, when we love our neighbor we are also loving God.
So, what exactly does this mean? What are we being told to do?
As you know, the Ten Commandments are divided into two tables. The first table has four commandments, teaching us what our relation to God should be. The second table has six commandments, teaching us what we owe our neighbor.
Leviticus 19 mostly follows this outline. It tells us about our relation to God when it talks about Sabbaths, idols, fellowship offerings, and the use of God's name. It tells us about our relation to our neighbor when it mentions mother and father, reaping, stealing, lying, deception, fraud, wages, cursing the deaf, perverting justice, slander, danger, hatred, seeking revenge, and love.
I want you to notice that more than half of the verses telling us about our relation to our neighbor deal with issues of justice and poverty. In fact, more than 2100 verses in the Bible mention poverty. That's a lot of ink. By contrast, prayer is mentioned less than a quarter of that. Meaning what? Meaning that issues of justice and poverty are near and dear to the heart of God. Because in loving our neighbor we are loving God.
B "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Follow the Golden Rule instead of the Silver Rule.
The Hebrew word for "love" here is very general and is used in a wide variety of situations from God’s infinite affection for His people to the carnal appetites of a lazy glutton. The word describes love between human beings: love of father and mother for son, love of slave for master, love for stranger, love for friend. But it also describes love for things: love for savory meat, love for oil, love for silver and gifts, love for God's commandments.
In His summary of the law Jesus makes clear that something more than a general love is in mind. Jesus says,
(Mt 22:37-40) "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' ... 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"Notice, Jesus quotes the Golden Rule. There is nothing vague and general about the word for love used here by Jesus. Jesus specifically and deliberately uses the Greek word "agape." It is no accident that the word "agape" is used to describe the work of Christ. Out of agape love He gave of Himself and sacrificed Himself when He came to earth and went to the cross and the grave. The word "agape" drips with meaning and significance. It requires me to give, sacrifice, serve, initiate, speak up, create, listen, practice justice. It requires me to be like Christ.
C "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Follow the Golden Rule instead of the Silver Rule.
Notice how Leviticus 19, in the law of gleaning, spells this out for us on this World Hunger Sunday:
(Lev 19:9-10) "'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. (10) Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Into the very structure and fabric of Israelite society God builds a way to look after the poor and the alien. This is no mere afterthought on God's part. This is not a reaction to a new and startling situation. This becomes part and parcel of what God intends even before the Israelites enter and possess the Promised Land.
I was talking with one of our nut farmers. He explained to me how he harvests twice to increase his yield. In our society and culture this makes sense. But this was not allowed in Israel. The farmer was not allowed to harvest twice. Nor was he allowed to harvest all of the crop. He had to leave the outside rows and the leftover fruit for the poor and alien.
Think about this law of gleaning from the point-of-view of the poor and alien:
-It gave them security about the future. They didn't need to wonder or worry about whether there would be food the next day.
-It gave them safety. They didn't face the danger of being chased off private property or being abused by the owner.
-It gave them honor and dignity. It wasn't a handout. It didn't perpetuate a welfare or entitlement society. They had to do the hard work of harvesting themselves.
-It prevented fraud. Not just anyone could harvest the leftover grain or grapes. The farmer next door, the rich man in town, the wealthy merchant, could not stop and help themselves. It was meant for the poor and alien.
I should mention that any person and any organization that strives to help the poor and hungry would be wise to follow these same principles. Rick Postma, the director of Word & Deed, is a friend of mine and he is obsessive about following these principles in his work. He asks the hard questions that our government rarely asks before it gives handouts in the form of welfare and other social programs.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Follow the Golden Rule instead of the Silver Rule. But do it in a way that builds up people.
III Live the Golden Rule Under God
Did you notice the phrase that is repeated over and over again in Leviticus 19? Fifteen times we hear God saying, "I am the LORD your God." In the Hebrew the word for LORD is "Yahweh." What does this name mean?
God Himself explained this name to Moses. "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). Remember God saying this out of the burning bush?
Yahweh. "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). This name means that He is the one and only God. That He is and was and ever shall be. That He is the Author and Sustainer of life. That He is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. That He is the Almighty. That He is the King Who reigns and rules all things.
That name Yahweh especially identifies Him as the God of the covenant Who saves His people. He is the God Who continually intervenes to save. God did this in Egypt and at the Red Sea. God did this with Sihon and Og – these kings of the Amorites struck fear into the hearts of Israel yet they were defeated. God did this with Jericho – her great walls came tumbling down at a shout. God did this with Gideon and the Midianites – remember, with 300 soldiers Gideon defeated an army that was beyond counting. God did this when David faced Goliath – imagine a young lad beating a heavily armed giant with a sling and a stone. God did this time and again through the ministry of Elijah – think of the contest between the 450 prophets of Baal on the one hand and Elijah all by himself on the other hand. Over and over again God saved His people.
What God did in the Old Testament He also does in the New. God saves us from sin and death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Jesus. He is the saving God of the covenant; He is Yahweh.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Follow the Golden Rule instead of the Silver Rule. Why? Because "I am the Lord." Because I am Your Maker and King. Because I am the God Who gives you life and breath. Because I am the God Who saves you.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Follow the Golden Rule instead of the Silver Rule.
Let me end by saying love is so misunderstood and misused today. To some people, it is a feeling – that sticky and selfish affection that boyfriend and girlfriend have for each other. To another, it is a Santa Claus type of love that withholds nothing and exercises no discipline. To still another, it is that syrupy-sweet, sugary-coated attitude that sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil.
Love is not a feeling. Love is not tolerance and permissiveness. Love is not sugary sweetness. Rather, love is being like Jesus. Love is looking after the poor and the alien.
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