Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity October 10, 1999
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
537, 389, 403, 203
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy… Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, who said, “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Once, when I was attending a funeral, I heard a woman say something rather startling. I happened to overhear her as she was talking to the widow of the man who had passed away. She said, “I’m just certain that your husband is in heaven now, because he was always so kind to everybody. He always kept the Golden Rule!” Well, I knew she meant the words as a comfort, but I couldn’t help thinking that she was a little mixed up about the Golden rule!
Almost everybody, down to the smallest child, has learned the Golden Rule at one time or another. In simplest terms, it’s “Do as you would be done by.” Or, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In the Bible, it represents the Second Table of the Law—commandments number four through ten—and deals with how we relate to our fellow human beings. In Scriptural terms, God’s Golden Rule is simply, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
It seems pretty straightforward. And yet, there are a lot of people—like that lady at the funeral—who misunderstand the Golden Rule. How deep does it go? Exactly how much love toward our neighbor does God require of us? What does the Golden Rule have to do with whether or not a person is saved? These questions and others are answered in our text for today. Our theme is:
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Does God require obedience to this Golden Rule before a person can be saved and go to heaven? I hope you’re not shocked when I say that the answer is, “Yes!” Remember what Jesus said, that even the smallest part of God’s Law must be fulfilled, “Assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Mt 5:18. And the Golden Rule is not just “a jot or a tittle,” either: it’s a very substantial part of God’s Law! All these commandments—honor your parents, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, bear false witness or covet—all these can be summed up with the words, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Well, if fulfilling this Law is so important, we’d better know more about it. How well does one have to keep the Golden Rule? What level of compliance does God require? It might not scare us so much if God only demanded that we “do our best,” or that we “give it a good try.” In fact, as we mentioned last Sunday that’s just what some of the Reformed denominations teach, that God modifies his demands on people according to what they are able to do. “Just do your best to serve the Lord,” they say, “and He’ll be satisfied with whatever you are able to do.” My friends, that is a terrible lie!
God demands much more than that, and our text for today proves it. There we read His ringing command: Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy!’ God requires a holiness from us that is more than just pretty good—He requires a holiness that equals His own holiness. Jesus Himself repeats this command in the New Testament, when He says simply, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Mt 5:48.
Perfect holiness! Perfect love for our neighbor…that’s what God demands in His Law! When we realize that what God really demands is perfection, not just a “good try”, it tends to frighten us. And well we may be frightened, because none of us can claim to have come anywhere close to measuring up to this standard of perfection. For a time, it may help to hide behind our outward piety, and tell ourselves that we haven’t broken the commandments outwardly—haven’t murdered anyone, haven’t committed adultery, haven’t stolen from anybody, etc. But that argument won’t hold up for long under the true requirements of the Golden Rule.
Look at our text closely. Notice that it’s not talking primarily about outward obedience, but an inward obedience of the heart. It tells us to love our neighbor perfectly with our thoughts and our words, not just with our deeds. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart. Which of us hasn’t hated someone at some time in our lives? Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Which of us hasn’t turned a blind eye to the sin of a friend or family member, refusing to call his attention to it even when it endangered his soul? Which of hasn’t used the old excuse, “Oh, it’s really none of my business.” Is that loving your neighbor? No, God says, it’s just sinful negligence. When we do that, we ourselves share in that person’s guilt. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. In today’s world of lawsuits and counter lawsuits, legal and illegal revenge, the motto of the day is: “Don’t get mad—get even!” Which of us hasn’t been tempted to revenge? Which of us in this church today hasn’t, at one time or another, nursed a comfortable little grudge against someone who did us wrong? All this falls far short of God’s requirement of loving our neighbor perfectly…of loving him, in fact, as much as we love ourselves!
But where does that leave us? If our salvation requires that all of God’s Law, including the Golden Rule, must be kept perfectly…who then can be saved? Praise the Lord—you and I can be saved. Because as a requirement of the Law, Christ kept the Golden Rule for us.
Look again at our text, and see how well Jesus Christ fits into the equation. Jesus IS holy, just as His Father is holy. He NEVER harbored hatred toward anybody; rather He was the personification of God’s love to man. He did NOT avoid the topic of sin, but rather revealed it, and welcomed sinners to come to Him for forgiveness. He NEVER took revenge. He NEVER nursed a grudge against anyone. Peter says, “He committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth’: who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” I Pet 2:21-23.
It’s a perfect match! Jesus is the only Person in the history of the world who ever really kept the Golden Rule. He truly “loved His neighbor as He loved Himself.” In fact He loved you more than He loved Himself! What else but love for you could have driven Him to cross? What else but love for you could have made him give up His own life to pay the price of sins He never committed…your sins? When His enemies taunted Him, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and come down from the cross!” they little realized that He had the power to do just that if He wished. But He didn’t.
I was talking with another pastor once about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, and something he said bothered me. He kept referring to the “four nails.” He said that “four nails” held Jesus to the cross. I finally asked him about it. I said that, as far as I knew, there were only three nails: one for each hand, and one for His feet. “No,” he said, “there were four nails, and the fourth was the one that really held Him there. The fourth nail was love.”
Indeed it was love that held our Savior to the cross—love for each one of us. John truly says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.” I Jn 3:16. We couldn’t keep the Golden Rule—or any part of God’s Law—so Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law for us. In place of the filthy garments of our own righteousness, He has given us the pure, white robe of His own perfect righteousness. And with His death, Jesus took all our sins upon Himself, and atoned for every one of them. Your salvation is everlastingly secure, and heaven stands open and waiting for you!
My Christian friends, that’s simply a fact. We can’t earn heaven for ourselves, and there’s no need to. Jesus has earned it for us. No power on earth, no angel or devil, can force you to give up heaven now. That’s the Good News of the Gospel. As a “requirement,” Jesus kept the Golden Rule for us. But we can and should react to this great gift… As a reaction to the Gospel, let us keep the Golden Rule for Jesus!
After all, what is it that Jesus asks of us? Not all that much. He simply says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” Suppose someone left you an unexpected inheritance of a million dollars…I dare say that after your windfall you’d feel pretty generous toward the people around you, wouldn’t you? It goes without saying! You wouldn’t grudge a gift of a few dollars here and there if you’d just become rich beyond your wildest dreams! That’s how the Lord would like you to show your gratitude to Him—by spreading the wealth around. By doing your best to spread love and kindness into as many lives as you can, while you still have breath to do it! And don’t forget the highest form of love to others: why not let them in on the secret of eternal life?
Whatever you do, don’t let any petty arguments or grudges against people linger in your mind; after everything Christ did for you it would seem kind of ridiculous anyway, wouldn’t it?—Like a millionaire haggling over a few dollars that somebody owes him! Jesus even says, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Mt 5:43-44. Doing these things won’t be much compared to what God’s done for you, but it’s sacrifices such as this with which the Lord is wellf pleased. It’s a good way to say “thank you” to your Savior!
I once read about a man who had parked his brand new convertible sports car on a downtown street of a big city. Eventually, he noticed that a newsboy had stopped to admire the car. “She’s a beauty,” the boy said. “Where’d you get her?” “It was a gift from my brother,” the man replied. The youth looked longingly at the beautiful automobile. He sighed, “I wish…” The man thought he could guess the rest of the sentence: “I wish I could have a car like that!” But to his surprise, the young man continued, “I wish I could be like your brother! My own brother is crippled, and I’d love to give him a car like this!”—The Golden Rule is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Is it a requirement, or a reaction? It’s both. As a requirement of the Law, Jesus kept the Golden Rule for us. As a reaction to the glorious Gospel which has saved us, let us keep the Golden Rule for Him! AMEN.