In psychological terms, the word imitation refers to mimicking or copying observed behavior.
I’ve been enjoyably observing this phenomenon most recently as I’ve observed my six month old granddaughter imitate behaviors she sees around her. Smiling back when someone smiles at her is one of my favorites. Infants learn much through this process. Some developmental psychologists see a causal relationship between pre-verbal pre-verbal imitation and the overall development of a child’s ability to think and reason. It’s a clear case of give and take, where the parents and other caregivers provide the stimulus and the infants learn by imitating what they see.
Smiling back is a learned response, and the baby needs a good deal of face time to learn to identify smiling faces and connect the smile with positive feelings. Taking time to return a baby’s smile let’s a baby know that they have your attention, and that you’re happy. Again, this is give and take; and a necessary element of good and wholesome development.
In some ways our verse today relates to this concept, and in other ways it is almost its opposite.
SO IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU
This simple verse has often been called the Golden Rule. On the surface, it seems quite simple. Yet its simplicity belies a depth and even a difficulty that come to light as we meditate upon the verse and consider its implications.
What Jesus is asking of us is NOT a simple matter of give and take; it actually is more than that. Much more.
You may read that Jesus took a concept that was at last as old as Confucius, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle and simply used it. The people who’ve written that miss a significant point. Philosophers had always stated the thought in the negative. Their teaching was a direction to try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you. At first glance, the significance of the difference might not jump out at you. But this is utterly selfish.
Confucius and the others are simply referring to personal restraint. Their teaching admonishes you to refrain from hurtful actions. One internet site I read completely removed consideration of feelings of guilt, shame or conscience; even placing those words in quotation marks, as if to say they were some sort of foreign concept. This site warned that harm someone does to others can recoil and cause more problems to the one who commits the harmful act. Selfish motivation.
In fact, one can completely follow and obey Plato’s principle here … and NEVER interact with another human being. NOT doing harm is as easy as living alone. If you never connect with anyone, then you’ll never do harm to anyone. And that is all that the teachings of Socrates and Aristotle on this matter require. It costs you nothing.
But that’s not what Jesus commanded. He said, “SO IN EVERYTHING, DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU.”
Oh, now THAT is a horse of a very different color. Jesus is requiring you to deliberately go and interact with others in a specific way. He is calling you to live out the life of love He has placed within you.
You may remember the interchange with one of the teachers of the law who was listening to Jesus debate with some of the Pharisees and other religious leaders. He came and asked Jesus to tell him, of all the commandments, which is the most important? He got more than he bargained for.
Jesus said, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
First Jesus ties in loving God with loving your neighbor. Loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength takes everything we have to give. In fact, it requires that God give us what we do not have so that we can do it at all. But when Jesus tied in loving your neighbor, that opened up an aspect of demonstrated love that was unmaintainable without the power of God.
Loving God REQUIRES that I demonstrate His love to others. There’s no way around it. And I can’t be content simply not to hurt anyone, as Socrates taught. No, Jesus demands so much more. He says DO, and that demands action. Deliberate action. And He begins the command with two words that define the scope — IN EVERYTHING.
Then to drive the point home, Jesus illustrates this requirement in several ways and at multiple times. He tells us that, while He is in the world He is the light of the world; but then tells US that we are to be the light of the world. In another teaching He says that we are the salt of the earth.
How can we possibly live that out … IN EVERYTHING?
I heard a preacher once use the word SALT to illustrate how we can DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU.
S – SERVE
Be the one who looks at others and touches their need. All too often, one can see people who are homeless and in need. While it may be unwise to give money in every case, there are other things to be done. Take an extra blanket or two from your house and carry it in your car. Wouldn’t you want someone to give you a warm blanket if you needed one? DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU. If you have no means to carry a blanket, purchase a gift card for a fast food restaurant and provide them a hot meal. Purchase some groceries that can be eaten without a stove to prepare. There are dozens of creative ways to show love.
And serving isn’t restricted to homeless folks, opportunities to serve are all around you, if you look for them. They will require effort, and perhaps a bit of discomfort. But that was Jesus’ point, wasn’t it. Loving your neighbor, DOING TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU — that demands sacrifice.
A – APPRECIATE
Be deliberate about expressing thanks. Give instructions or orders in a way that demonstrates appreciation for the person who receives them. Compliment actions when possible, it may be the only kind word that person hears that day. DO TO OTHERS. DO!
Spend enough time with God so that His love fills you, and then go and spill it out for others. Pour out His love on those He brings into your circle of relationships. Everyone from your spouse and family, to neighbors, to strangers you encounter as you live your life — all of them would benefit from receiving MORE of God’s love expressed through your words and actions. DO TO OTHERS. Love is a verb. Love is a choice.
T – TREASURE
Give some away. If you have only a little, then give only a little. To use an American illustration, most people reading this could buy a $10 gift card from a McDonalds or Burger King once a month and never struggle with missing the cash. But giving it away once a month would have an incredible impact one someone. If you have more, give more. Jesus said that where your treasure is, that’s where your heart would also be. Find some worthwhile church, charity or cause that will impact people and DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU.
The world talks about GIVE AND TAKE, and tell you that you need to look out for “Number One” every day.
But when Jesus is your “Number One” and you are second, then you only need to focus on GIVE.
DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO TO YOU