The Other Side of the Equation
March 15, 2011
by Peter Amsterdam
The Other Side of the Equation
Audio length: 16:40
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In my previous article, I wrote about the importance of forgiveness—bringing out the point that if someone sins against you, you must forgive them if you want to be forgiven by God.
There is, however, another side to the equation. While Jesus made the obligation to forgive quite clear, He was equally clear that one should avoid acting in ways which result in them needing to be forgiven by others. The fact that your brother is bound by Jesus’ words to forgive isn’t a license for you to intentionally hurt your brother. You are still personally accountable before God for your words and actions.
As usual, Jesus put His principle in succinct but powerful terms: Do to others as you would have them do to you. Another version translates this verse as: Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. In the book of Matthew it’s expressed as: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
If you are trying to make a decision and aren't sure whether it’s morally right or wrong, ask yourself, “Would I want someone else to do to me what I am thinking of doing to them?” If the answer is no, then you know that it’s most likely the wrong thing to do.
On the other hand, if you imagine yourself being on the receiving end of the action you are about to take, and you think you would be happy about it, that can serve as an indicator as to whether you can safely move forward with that action. If you would be happy to hear what you are going to say about someone else said about you, if you would be happy to accept the financial transaction that you are offering your brother, then move forward with it. But if in your heart you know that what you’re about to do to someone might hurt them, and you wouldn’t be happy with someone doing that to you, then you can be pretty sure you’re sinning against your brother.
The biblical injunctions to treat others the same way you want them to treat you and to love your neighbor as yourself aren't just clichés or self-help advice. They are God’s challenge to us as individuals; they are a yardstick by which we should judge our actions. They are God’s guidelines for us, and we would be wise to consider them a yardstick by which He judges our actions.
It’s not some complicated formula that takes a lifetime of study to comprehend; it’s so simple that even a young child can understand. If you wouldn’t want it done to you, then you shouldn’t do it to others.
The Bible can sometimes seem complex, with many layers of meaning. It contains the deep things of God; it holds treasures old and new. Yet Jesus succinctly expressed its core message using a few simple and easy-to-comprehend words so anyone can understand: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. This fulfills the Law and the Prophets, meaning it fulfills all that is contained in the Old Testament.
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The fulfilling is in the doing. These aren't just pretty word pictures or good thoughts; they convey principles that are meant to be put into action.—The action that, when faced with the choice of behaving in a hurtful manner or a loving one, you choose to be loving, even if it is to your own hurt. Jesus’ profound statements are meant to be applied. They are guiding principles by which one should make decisions and judge the decisions one makes.
There are consequences, both positive and negative, in the application or non-application of these principles. What we sow, we reap. If we sow love, we reap love; if we sow kindness, we reap the same.
The converse is true as well, as expressed in the book of Job:
According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it.
There is a correlation between our actions—the way we treat others—and the consequences of those actions. Reaping what we sow is an active principle which can deeply affect our lives. Our personal history will be affected either positively or negatively by how we treat others. Hence, treating others the way we would want them to treat us becomes a principle of great importance, one which we would be wise to apply in our everyday lives.