Matthew 7:12-14, “12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
The Sermon on the Mount has three sections. In the first section, Matthew 5:1-16, Jesus describes the characteristics of true discipleship. He also calls Christians to preserve society as the salt of the earth and to show others the Father as lights of the world. He also gives final warnings to those who will not obey His teaching in this important teaching in Matthew 7:13-29.
The section of the Sermon on the Mount is the main body of Jesus’ teaching and is well-defined (Matthew 5:17-7:12). In both Matthew 5:17 and Matthew 7:12, Jesus refers to the “Law and the Prophets,” By doing this, he brackets his teaching between these two verses marking them off as a distinct unit of teaching. Biblical scholars call this bracketing an inclusio, which is a literary device where the beginning and end of a unit of thought mirror each other. Also, what distinguishes this literary unit is the line of thought that is developed in this section, which fleshes out what the brackets summarize.
In this section beginning at Matthew 5:18-7:11 Jesus lays out many of the specifics of life in the Kingdom of God in Christ which fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). To genuinely live out the Kingdom ethic involves not only doing unto our neighbors as we would want to be done to us but is also the end to which the Law and the Prophets direct the people of God (Matthew 7:12).
The Golden Rule
In Matthew 7:12 we are met with the famous “Golden Rule” which is not a new teaching from Jesus. It’s important to explain that the Golden Rule is found in other religions. The story is told of the famous rabbi Hillel of the first century who verbalized the Golden Rule in its negative form when a pagan told the rabbi he would convert if he could hear the Law summarized while he stood on one leg. Hillel said, “What is hurtful to you, do not do to others. This is the Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”
You and I can learn the Golden rule without lifting a finger. After all, if we do not want others to steal from us, we only need to refrain from stealing. The positive aspect of this teaching is unknown before Jesus and is more demanding. For example, doing unto others is a call to service. We want others to love and to serve our interests, and so we must first love and serve them. We want to be wealthy and thus must first share what we have with others. What the Golden Rule does is reveal how Kingdom citizens put others first, endeavoring to love them as Christ has first loved us (1 John 4:7, 19).
John Calvin says, “All the precepts [of the Mosaic law]…have a reference to [the Golden Rule].” It’s also important to explain that the Old Testament laws flesh out what it means to love our neighbor. The law against idolatry enjoins the people of God to love others genuinely. It is not loving to lead others into false worship and death through our service to idols. As you study the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, ask the Holy Spirit from this text to illuminate to you how you are more prone to serve your own interests instead of others, and then repent, and put others ahead of yourself in service to Christ.
Dividing the Audience
Good Bible teachers and preachers of the Word often offer application of the content of their messages to help people understand how that content relates to the life of those who are hearing their teaching. An example of this may be the Bible teacher or preacher who gives an exhortation to listeners to make a decision based on what they hear and are encouraged then to act after the Word has been delivered. Once they have heard what the Lord demands of the hearer, they are responsible to the Lord if they do not obey.
By calling for a decision to either follow Jesus or walk away, Jesus was doing what the Puritans called dividing the audience. Jesus gives this model to pastors and preachers of the Word of God today when He makes a final appeal and application to all He has said in Matthew 5:1-7:12.
The Christian Life Is One Fueled by the Grace of God
Since we now know what He demands of His disciples, they must follow Him as Lord and God. Matthew 7:13-27 shows readers they have only two options. Either they will follow Christ in the strength He supplies by grace, or they will go down the path of destruction. There are no middle ways in the Christian life. You are either following Christ on the narrow road of discipleship, as a learner of Christ or you are on the wide road to eternal damnation in hell, a place of unending, unrelenting, conscious punishment (Matthew 7:13-14).
Many people think they need to clean themselves up before they decide to follow Jesus and become disciples. Even some Christians take this mindset into the Christian life. The truth is we aren’t able to clean ourselves up. We are dead the Bible teaches in our trespasses and sins, but God makes us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-8).
Salvation is not by cleaning ourselves up, nor is it by picking ourselves up by our bootstraps or by our performance. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is a gift to God’s people chosen from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those whom the Father graciously transforms by grace alone choose to serve Christ. The good works of the people of God including their confession of Jesus and their obedience to His commands flow from a transformed heart (Ephesians 2:10). Even so, Christians need the grace of God, even after it sets them on the way of Christ in conversion.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that at the beginning of the Christian life there is grace. In the middle of the Christian life, there is grace. At the end of the Christian life, there is grace. Everywhere in between in the Christian life, there is grace. Grace wondrous grace, Lloyd-Jones said. J.C. Ryle once said that the gospel is the ABC’s of the Christian life.
The Christian life is grounded in the A to Z of the gospel and fueled by the grace of God for a life lived before the face of God. This is why Christians must daily turn to the cross and seek Christ so that they may finish the race. The Creator gives more grace to those who humble themselves, admit their weakness, and ask for divine strength (James 4:6–10). As Matthew Henry writes: “We can neither go in, or go on, without the assistance of divine grace; but it is as true that grace is freely offered, and shall not be lacking to those who seek it and submit to it.”
The Lord Jesus echoes the great Prophets and leaders of Israel when He calls His disciples to choose the narrow path of godliness (Joshua 24:14-15). Lest we apostatize like the nation of Israel did, you and I need to commit ourselves each day by the grace of God and the Spirit of God, to live out the Kingdom ethic as Jesus has commanded.
Matthew Henry helpfully teaches, “We must endure hardship, must wrestle and be in agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation.” The way of Christ is not broad; it is exclusive and restricted only to those who believe in Christ (John 14:6). Jesus calls His followers to abandon all and follow Christ in all of life (Luke 9:23-27). The way of Christ is narrow, and we should not pretend nor teach others it isn’t.
As we share the gospel as Christians with others, we need to tell people that following Jesus means we abandon our agenda for the mission of Christ to seek and save the lost and to make disciples of the Risen Christ. Following Christ means a reorientation of life from our priorities to His, to obeying His teaching, instead of trusting our ourselves where learn from and following the Risen Christ in all of life from the Word of God.