Community Group Study Guide — Purposely Seeking Good
The story goes that 100 years before Christ, Rabbi Hillel, who was an influential Jewish teacher, was asked to summarize the entire law in a statement. A gentile (non-Jewish person) came up to Hillel while he was teaching and challenged him to summarize the entire Law of God in the time the Gentile could stand on one leg. Rabbi Hillel responded by saying to him something like, “whatever is hateful to you, do not do to someone else. This is the command of God, everything else is commentary.” At first glance this sounds like decent advice and insight. Obviously we should not do things that are harmful to others and things we would not want the to do to us. However, what if this is deficient and lacking in a significant way for followers of Jesus? Notice Christ’s own words in Matthew 7:12 and see if you can spot the significant difference, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Notice how Jesus was also summarizing the commands of God given to us in the Law and the Prophets into a single statement. Yet, contemporary wisdom in the time of Jesus would say “avoid doing bad”, yet Jesus says instead “purpose to do good”. Followers of Jesus, our love for neighbor should be characterized by purposefully seeking out what is good and this comes only when we are reconciled to God and love him more than anything else, including our own selves.
One of the major themes of the Sermon on the Mount is the need for true righteousness as members of God’s kingdom. Jesus tells us near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that unless our righteousness exceeds the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees then we have no place in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). They were the religious all stars of the day, and they were lacking because they did not have a real spiritual righteousness that led to a love for God and a real love for others. Jesus shows us this as he teaches about how the goal of the Old Testament commands were given to us follow not only the letter of Law, but also the spirit behind them.For example, righteousness in God’s kingdom was not just avoid ing murder rather it was to not even hate your brother and more than that we are to pursue their good and seek reconciliation. Jesus addresses other commands in a similar way from adultery, to divorce, keeping your word, retaliation and loving your enemy. The Law was given to the people of God to reveal their sin and need for him, but also to form them into more loving and generous people who would model who God is to the world (Matthew 5:14-16).
Matthew 7:12 has been referred to as “the Golden Rule” and gives us a proactive vision for how we are to love one another well in Christ.
First, we are told to consider ourselves differently. Jesus tells us to look within, not to find ourselves or to think about how we want others to treat us. Jesus says, “whatever you wish others would do for you…” which is an invitation to examine yourself. Jesus tells us to think and consider how we would want others to treat us so that we can know best how to love others in a variety of situations. We should consider how we’d feel with a broken down car on the side of the road, or carrying a heavy load, or when we can’t make rent, or when we are lonely. As we consider this and think about how we would want others to treat us we get a vision for how we should treat others. Often when we look within our pride swells and we think about how others should be treating us or what we need in this moment, yet Jesus tells us to instead choose humility and go outward with what we learn. The scripture emphasizes over and over again the humility of Jesus, who is worthy of all glory, power and honor and yet he chose the path of a servant for our redemption and was known for being gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). God desires to use his people to be a blessing to others and we should always be considering how they Lord would want us to respond in whatever situation we are in. Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorite authors, has a character in one of her novels reflect back on their life and he put it this way: “This is an important thing my father told me and his father told him: when you encounter another person, when you have any dealings with them at all, it is as if a question is being put to you, you must think “what is the Lord asking of me in this moment and in this situation?”’ If you want to love others well, consider these things and act on them.
Second, the Golden Rule is not passive, but active. Rabbi Hillel taught a rule that was built around what to avoid. Jesus would have us consider not only what we should avoid for our own holiness as we fight sin, but also what we should pursue. There are times when we pass up showing good to others and sacrificially loving them and those moments can be times of sin. James 4:17 tells us that “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The goal here is not to walk around feeling guilt for all your failed opportunities, but we should know and consider that not acting and not loving our neighbor is sin. Historically the church has called this a sin of omission. You can follow Rabbi Hillel’s advice and not do what is hateful by moving into the woods and avoiding people, yet to put into practice the way of Jesus requires being intentional and purposing to love others. God desires to use his people as light in the world to reflect his glory and goodness and that can only happen when our lives overlap with the lives of others.
Finally, The Golden Rule does not guarantee people will reciprocate. Often we teach the Golden Rule in our society as a way to say “be nice to Sally and Sally will be nice to you.” Jesus never promises this. He actually tells us that we should love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us and that when we are reviled we should return blessing. It would be lovely for the good we give to be returned to us, but there is no guarantee of that. Sure, in many circumstances we can turn enemies into friends and friends into family, however our motive to show love to others should not be to hope to receive it in return from them. What Jesus says instead is that by doing to others what we’d have them to do us we participate in what the Law and the Prophets teach. By implication we have the pleasure of God when we live out the Golden Rule, even if it does not end up in the favor of people.
This is a hard way to live since we naturally look to ourselves and we are prone to show favoritism and love those who are like us. Yet, the Lord has placed people in all of our lives that we can love and show good to. Pray and ask for the Lord to open opportunities for you to love people and to help you not to see them as objects or obstacles in your life, but dearly loved image bearers of God whom he has put into your life today.
Followers of Jesus are called to actively seek the good of those God has placed in their lives instead of simply avoiding their harm. The call is to an active faith and not a passive one. The motivation and power for this is found in a reconciled relationship with God through Jesus Christ who sought out our good at great cost. It is by his grace we are saved and empowered to live this new life.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 7:12
Read Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14 and James 2:8. What theme do you see and what does this tell us about the command Jesus gives us in Matthew 7:12?
How do the previous chapters (Matthew 5-6) help us understand the “Golden Rule”?
Jesus invites us to consider ourselves as a way to think about how to love others. What are the dangers of thinking about how we would “wish others to treat us?” In what way can we avoid pride and pursue humility?
Why do you think it is that Jesus does not promise that people will return good to us for the good we show them?
What is your biggest obstacle in fulfilling the Golden Rule on a regular basis. What is your biggest opportunity to put this into practice this week?