The first thing to see in this text is the staggering truth that God — the Creator of the universe, who holds this world in being and governs all that happens — this God is the Father of all who receive Jesus and believe in him, and, as our Father, he is more inclined to help us when we call than the best father this world has ever produced. Look at Matthew 7:9–11:
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more [much more!] will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
God almighty, maker of heaven and earth, is much more inclined to help us when we call than the best of fathers is in the best of families in all of history. That’s the first thing to see.
Much Better Than the Best Earthly Father
And the reason I said he is the Father of all who receive Jesus and believe in him is because that’s what John 1:12 says: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” God is not the Father of everyone. He is the father of those who receive his Son and believe on him as the divine Savior, Lord, and supreme Treasure that he is.
Apart from Jesus, the abortionist, the mom, the baby, the protester, the right wing, the left wing, the pro-lifer, the pro-choicer are all by nature children of wrath, not children of God. I use that phrase because the Bible uses it. Ephesians 2:3: “We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
A God Rich in Mercy
“All the children of wrath may become children of the Father through Jesus Christ.”
But God is not only a God of terrible holiness and wrath; he is also a God rich in mercy. And so he sent his Son into the world, not condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him from God’s own wrath (John 3:17). He came not to be served but to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). To lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:15). To bear our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). To provide us with a righteousness that comes, not from our law-keeping, but through faith (Philippians 3:9). And to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18; 1 Peter 3:18).
All the children of wrath may become children of the Father through Jesus Christ. An aging abortionist, a few blocks from our church, after 3,000 abortions, can become a child of God. She could hear Jesus say, on her deathbed, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The same is true for the mother of five aborted children. And for the selfish, responsibility-shirking boyfriend. And for the secretive, shame-fearing, overbearing parent. And for the desperate fourteen-year-old girl.
A Savior Dying for Abortion-Committing Sinners
Jesus did not mainly come to stop abortions in this world. He came mainly to die for abortion-committing sinners. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).
There is one way to know God as your Father. And it’s the same for the people at Planned Parenthood, and the people at Pro-life Action, and the people at Bethlehem Baptist Church — come to Jesus.
One of Jesus’s disciples, said to him, “Lord, show us the Father.” And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8–9). If you come to me, you have God as your Father. You will no longer be a child of wrath. But if you won’t, then you remain under the wrath of God (John 3:36).
The Heart of Christianity: Jesus Saving Sinners
The heart of Christianity is not a culture of life. The heart of Christianity is: Jesus Christ dying and rising from the dead to save sinners, who then become a culture of life.
Before we can hear Jesus speak his demanding words in Matthew 7:12–14, we must hear his delightful words in verses 9–11. The omnipotent, all-wise, all-holy, all-just, all-good, all-governing God is the Father of all who come to Jesus. And he is more eager to help when you call than the best father earth has ever produced.
Is he your Father? Have you come to Jesus and received him as your Lord and Savior and Treasure? Wherever you are on this line of sin and sorrow — the mother who aborted her child, the father who encouraged it, the doctor who performed it, the activist who tried to stop it, the politician who supported it or fought it, the passive person who never thinks about it — that is not the main issue. The main issue is this: Have you thrown yourself on Jesus for mercy? Have you been adopted out of wrath into the family of God through faith in Jesus?
For the Father’s Family
And the rest of this sermon is for the family of the Father. If you are not part of the family yet, I hope you will listen. It may make you want to come. That was verses 9–11. God is our Father, if Jesus is our Savior. Now verse 12: “So [=therefore] whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The “so” is crucial. It’s the same as saying, “Therefore, because of what I just said, treat people the way you would like to be treated.” Because God is your Father, because he is more eager to help you than the best human father, and because he is omnipotent and has all things at his disposal, go ahead and live for the good of others and not just for yourself.
God Is Your Father! Therefore. . .
Do you see the connection between having God as your Father and living a life for the good of others? God is your Father. God will meet your needs. God will give you strength. God will guide you. God will catch you if you fall. God is always there for you. God will take care of your needs, when you meet the needs of others. Seek his kingdom first, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).
“We honor God by loving others in the strength and grace that our Father provides.”
He is your Father! Therefore, make your treatment of others the way you would like to be treated. We can’t live this way on our own. And even if we could, it would not honor God. We honor God by loving others in the strength and wisdom and the grace that our Father provides. This is how our light shines before men that they may give glory to our Father (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 4:11).
The All-Important Order: Adopted First, Loving Second
Do you see the order? It’s all-important. As children of wrath we come to Jesus; we receive forgiveness because he died for us; we are adopted into God’s family and receive the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:14–17); and now that God is our Father, Jesus sends us into the world to love like this: “Therefore whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” We don’t love people in order to get ourselves adopted. We love people because we are adopted.
Now with the blood-bought fatherly care of God as the root of verse 12, what’s the fruit? What’s involved in doing to others what you wish they would do to you? Two acts of wise imagination, one act of self-renunciation, and one act of joyful generosity.
What’s Involved in Doing unto Others
When Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” he means: what you would wish if you were in their situation. Suppose there is a twenty-year-old sophomore at the university. Her parents are paying her way. She is dreaming of medical school. And suddenly she finds out she is pregnant. She is terrified. Her parents will be furious. Her dream of medical school seems about to go down the drain. And worse than all, she doesn’t know who the father is, because that’s the way she’s been partying.
Now suppose you are a thirty-year-old guy at Bethlehem, married, with a good job, and virtually no needs. If somebody asks you what you wish others would do to you, you might joke and say, “Give me an iPad.” Or, “Give me an Amazon gift card.” Now if this guy thinks, “Jesus said, ‘Do for her what I wish others would do for me,’” and gives her an iPad, or a gift certificate, he has not obeyed Jesus’s command, even though he has done for her what he wishes others would do for him. That’s not what Jesus means.
Two Acts of Imagination
What he means is: There are two acts of imagination you have to do in order to obey this command. One, you have to imagine yourself in her situation. There needs to be a wise, imaginative act of empathy. What is she experiencing? What are her pressures? What are her options? What is she contemplating? What is she feeling? And some of that is only knowable by talking to her. So love draws us into relationships. That’s the first act of imagination. Getting yourself inside her head and heart and feeling some of what she feels and seeing life from her vantage point.
But that is not enough imagination. She may not know what she really needs, or even what she really wants at the deepest level. So you can’t simply say, “I will imagine what she’s feeling, and then I will know what to do.” You have to do another act of imagination: You have to imagine that you are really you, the Bible-saturated Christian, inside her mind and heart and situation, so that you see things from her situation and from the perspective of God’s word. And then you ask: What would I wish that others would do for me? If I were really in her situation, knowing all I know about God and his grace, what would I want someone to do for me?
One Act of Renunciation
And that’s what you try to do. And whenever you think that way and try to act that way, you realize how hard it is. This wasn’t what you had originally wished to do with your time and your money. To make her need your goal now requires not only two acts of imagination, but a profound act of renunciation. You have to renounce what you had planned to do.
One Act of Joyful Generosity
And then, finally, you have to move from self-renunciation to an act of joyful generosity. Nobody feels loved if you try to meet their needs begrudgingly. If you are murmuring the whole time about how inconvenient all this ministry is, no one will feel cared about. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and so do receivers of that giving.
That’s what it means to live the golden rule, as verse 12 is sometimes called: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Two acts of wise imagination, one act of self-renunciation, and a heartfelt act of joyful generosity.
The Key: You Have a Father in Heaven!
“Trusting and enjoying your heavenly Father is the key to loving others.”
And none of that is easy. The key is: you have a Father in heaven. He loved you and sent his Son to die for you. He has freely adopted you. You are an heir of all that he owns. He has given you his Spirit. He is all-powerful and all-wise, and is more ready to help you when you call than the best earthly father in the world. That’s why verses 7–11 precede verse 12. Trusting and enjoying your heavenly Father is the key to loving like this.
Social Action and Gospel Preaching
Now the last thing I want to say comes out of verses 13–14, and it has been burning in me ever since I began my preparations for the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization where I spoke last October in South Africa. I want to say here to this church, that I love and serve, what I said there. I want to say it so that as we are “Building One People” (our capital campaign), we can bring into sharp focus who we are and why we exist and what our priorities are and why we believe God is calling us to spend his money on church extension in the Twin Cities.
Specifically, I want us to have real clarity about the relationship between social and political causes like abortion, or human trafficking, or the global AIDS crisis, or health care, or homosexuality, alcoholism and drugs, or unemployment, or homelessness, fatherlessness, or illiteracy, or crime, or racism, or inaccessibility to education or clean water or medicine — and the list goes on — I want us to have clarity as a church on the relationship between these kinds of suffering on the one hand, and the realities of heaven and hell on the other hand.
Eternity Is at Stake
Look at verses 13–14. Just after telling us to orient our lives on the needs of others, and to love with radical self-renunciation, Jesus calls that way of life the narrow gate and the hard way that leads to life:
Enter by the narrow gate. [In other words, love people like verse 12 says.] For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
What’s at stake in living the golden rule is destruction and life? Hell and heaven. At the end of the narrow way is Life. At the end of the wide way is Destruction. Paul calls it “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Nobody spoke more about hell in the New Testament than Jesus did. He used words like “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12) and “gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13) and “torment” (Luke 16:23) and unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43) and eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). It is, in his mind, eternal, conscious, and horrible.
The Golden Rule — And Heaven and Hell
And the point I want us to see here, as we close, is that Jesus connects the most practical, earthy command in the Bible (the golden rule) with the realities of heaven and hell. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,” means that we will care about every kind of suffering that we meet in this world. We don’t like to suffer. And so we don’t want others to suffer any kind of unjust suffering.
Jesus means that. He wants his people to care about the suffering of others in this age. The suffering of the unborn, and the suffering of those with crisis pregnancies. And every other form of suffering in this world. If we care about our own suffering, we will care about the suffering of others. If we care about our own flourishing, we care about the flourishing of others.
Love Aches for All Suffering
Yes. And then Jesus says, in verses 13 and 14, that there is a worse suffering than anything in this world. There is eternal destruction. Eternal suffering. And there is a better flourishing than anything in this world. There is eternal life. Eternal flourishing. The wide road leads to destruction. And the narrow road leads to eternal life.
From which I conclude this: suffering in this world is terrible and limited, but suffering in the next world is terrible and eternal. And love sees it that way. Love does not shut its eyes to this world or that world. Love reckons with the reality of suffering here, and the worse reality of suffering there.
And what I see all around us today in the Christian church is the tendency to care only about the one or the other. And when I think of our “Building One People” campaign, I think of building a people across these cities who absolutely will not fail to care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.
Caring for All Suffering — Especially Eternal Suffering
I say to you even with more urgency than I said it at the Lausanne Congress: “I plead with you. Don’t choose between rescuing people from suffering in this world and rescuing people from suffering in the next. Embrace them both.” It doesn’t mean we all spend our time in the same way. Gifts and callings and ministries are diverse. But it does mean that we all care about the suffering we see now and the worse suffering to come.
“We care about all life (including the life of the unborn), especially eternal life.”
Oh let us say at Bethlehem — let this one people say — we care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. We care about all life (including the life of the unborn), especially eternal life. Let’s not be among the sophisticated Christians who resist talking about eternal suffering, and the horrors of hell. And let’s not be among the isolated Christians who resist working against the untold sufferings of this world.
Like Jesus, Because of Jesus
Let’s be like Jesus. In every social issue from abortion to alcoholism, from AIDS to unemployment, from hunger to homelessness, let’s give the help that we would like to receive if it were us. And at every moment in that love, let us feel an even greater urgency to pray and speak and work to rescue people from everlasting suffering through the gospel of Jesus.
And to that end, may we rest and rejoice that we have a Father in heaven who hears our cry and will get us home.