The Lord Jesus speaks to us in the Gospel we have heard read today and he says…
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. … Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
This verse is one of the origins of the phrase – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Other ancient religions taught the idea that we should not do to others what we do not like being done to us. This is also true of course. But the Lord Jesus, as with many of his teachings, requires much more of us if we want to call ourselves his followers, if we really want to be Christians. This is such an important teaching that it became part of the Christian culture here in the British Isles. And even people with little real knowledge of Christianity still have the idea that it stands for treating others in the way we want to be treated ourselves.
It is easy to say, I will not be rude to someone, because I would not like them to be rude to me. I hope that as Christians seeking to follow Christ in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit we would all try to avoid hurting someone else in such a way. But Jesus Christ demands more of us, not just that we avoid doing hurtful things to others, that doesn’t require us to do much at all. But that we positively go out of our way to do to others what we would like others to do to and for us.
We find ourselves in different places where this rule applies. I can’t see that it is an optional extra. This is what it means in reality to be a Christian. In our families, if we are children, we have to go beyond not being rude or disrespectful to our parents. We have to positively ask ourselves what we could do or say to our parents, how our attitudes and behaviour might change, so that we treat them in the way we would like to be treated.
In the same way, brothers and sisters must not only avoid being mean to each other, if that ever happens, but must positively seek out ways to treat their siblings in the way they would like to be treated.
And parents must treat their children in the same way. Trying hard to remember what it is like to be a child, acting and speaking in a way that builds up their children, and encourages them, and shows them trust and respect, because this is how we want to be treated. That doesn’t mean not exercising discipline or giving in to everything a child asks for, but it means treating them also as a unique person, made in the image of God, and positively going out of our way to speak and act towards them as we would want to be spoken and acted towards.
And especially husbands and wives must make the daily effort to speak and act positively. Never humiliating the other, neither in private and certainly not in public. Always considering how to make the life of the other easier and more fulfilled. Finding ways to speak and act with love and encouragement, because this is what we would wish for ourselves.
Indeed, this teaching of the Lord Jesus instructs us so that as soon as we feel ourselves ready to complain about what our spouse, or children, or parents, or brothers and sisters have not done for us, as soon as we start to feel resentful or frustrated, we must repent from self-centered thoughts and feelings, which are all about us, and consider how we ourselves should be acting and speaking towards others.
And of course this same turning of our heart from ourselves towards others is required in the Church. The divine life unites us together in the Church as one body, but we should not imagine that putting this shared life into practice is easy and without the cost of self-sacrifice. To act and speak as we would want others to act and speak to us requires effort, and needs the grace of God which we only find in receiving the life giving mysteries and in a deep and consistent life of prayer. Only the grace of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit allows us to stop thinking of ourselves first, and he gives us this grace as we desire and seek to live in such a way.
In the first place we need to be aware of those around us. We need to ask what we can say or do to encourage them. Different people have different needs. That means we must get to know people beyond nodding at them as we pass. Indeed, the beginning of thinking of others is to notice them and listen to them attentively. Not waiting to speak but waiting to serve.
In the second place, we must desire that others serve before us and instead of us. Not that we are unwilling to serve in any way, but thinking of others before ourselves. When we start to think, I should be doing that, then we know we are thinking of ourselves. When start to think, I could do that better, then we know we are thinking of ourselves. In the Church our rule should be that we wait when a service that everyone wants is offered so that we take the last place and others are given the opportunity. But we volunteer first for a service that no-one wants, or which is left unfilled. In this way we put into practice placing ourselves last and thinking of others first.
In the third place, thinking of others, doing for them what we would want for ourselves, must encompass everyone in the family of the Church. We cannot imagine that we are putting into practice the instructions of the Lord Jesus if we only concern ourselves with those closest to us, or easiest for us to get along with. Treating others in the way we would want others to treat us must include us all. The words of the Lord Jesus require us to ask, what should I say to this one to encourage him as I would want to be encouraged? What can I do for this one so that I can show her the love and respect I would wish to receive?
And the other words of our Lord Jesus also apply to the family of the Church. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
May all of these things be far from us. We are not enemies of one another, nor do we hate each other, or curse one another, or treat each other spitefully. But for ourselves, as soon as we have any sense within us at all of animosity or negative feelings towards someone else, we must put these instructions into action, so that nothing is allowed to harm our fellowship together in Christ. If there is someone we start to have negative thoughts and feelings towards then it is our heart which must change. We must immediately repent of these feelings and thoughts and confess them to God. We must straight away act in love towards them. We must bless them – Lord, bless this person and give them every good gift for your service. We must pray for them – Lord, you know the needs of this person. Have mercy on them in all things. And we must do good for them. We must go out of our way to actually do something to bring about the change in our heart. Perhaps this is sitting and having a conversation with them. Perhaps it is helping them with a practical problem. Perhaps it is standing with them in the Liturgy. But this is required of us as soon as we have any negative movement of our heart towards a member of our church family. Repent. Bless. Pray. Act.
All of this is necessary to prepare us for service in the name of Christ to the world around us. How will we apply these same principles to the needs of those around us? We will seek to understand their situation, which is one reason why I am organizing a series of presentations about various social problems each month. We will also give an unconditional welcome to all, asking ourselves how we would feel in a strange and unfamiliar place, with people we did not know. What would we want in such a situation? This is what Jesus Christ asks us to give to others. A warm welcome so that no visitor is left standing alone. An attentive ear so that every visitor feels that we care about them and want to know them. A companion during our Agape meal so that every visitor feels at home.
This thinking of others is what God asks of us, at home, in the family of the Church, and in our service of those around us. However hard and difficult we might find it, to change our attitudes to others, God will give us grace and strength through the Holy Spirit, if we desire to be like Christ, to live with his life, above all else.
To the glory of God and for our salvation. Amen.