I was a band director for about 5 years. For two of those years, I had a marching band. Now, most band directors will stay up late during band camp writing their drills for the half time show. They’ll try to show how creative and innovative they can be. Many times, the first song will consist of 20 or 30 sets that the kinds have to march to on the field. In any of the shows that I charted, I don’t think we had twenty sets for all 4 songs combined. I had a philosophy called “KISS” which stood for Keep It Simple, Stupid and the “Stupid” was me. Sure, people wrote more complicated and interesting shows but the kids in my bands didn’t have to work nearly as hard and the show was much easier to clean without all of the clutter. In theology, we can get very cluttered sometimes. Does regeneration precede faith? Is the gift of tongues still in operation today? These and other important questions can and should be wrestled with but not at the expense of living as God has called us to live as salt and light in this world. To that end, Jesus gives us very simple, very directed instruction here in this verse that we should all take to heart.
Observe that this teaching in verse 12 is comprehensive. Jesus says “In everything”. He doesn’t say “When at church” or when “When you’re around your friends”. Christians who only behave as Christians when they’re being watched are called hypocrites and rightly so. I was working at a Sears once and a pastor of a local church came in to buy a dryer. He was quite simply very rude to me. I asked him “Aren’t you the pastor of suchandsuch church?” Almost immediately, his demeanor changed. I imagine that you would probably have stories that are similar that you have seen as well. If we are truly new creatures in Christ it should affect every area of our lives. We should live differently. What Jesus has described in the Sermon on the Mount is a supernatural righteousness that can only be explained by the indwelling, transforming power of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus says “In everything, therefore” what He means is “Based on the truths I’ve revealed that a person cannot produce true righteousness themselves but must beg God to transform them, you must realize that the evidence of a transformed life will be total. Since you’re going to be a new creation with a living heart of flesh replacing your dead heart of stone you will live differently all the time. The fruits of this transformation will be evident if you are truly transformed”.
Also, we should take note that what Jesus prescribes here for believers is preemptive. You see, the teachers of the law taught that you should treat people the same way they treated you. In fact, most of us have that as an instinct within us, don’t we? If someone is rude or hateful to us, we naturally want to respond in kind. However, Jesus teaches just the opposite here. He teaches us that we should “treat people the same way [we] want them to treat [us]”. If we want people to be kind and patient with us, then that is how we should treat other people. Children are taught a version of this in elementary school—“To have a friend, be one”. If we are unkind, unloving, and un-Christlike in our dealings with people, not only are we not living as a true witness to the love of God who, despite our sinful heart, is infinitely loving and patient with us, but we also can expect that same kind of treatment from others. Of course, we can expect persecution when we witness for Christ so obviously this doesn’t guarantee that we will be treated well. What it does guarantee is a faithful, consistent Christian witness.
In fact, if we truly wish to live a life pleasing to God, Jesus give us in this verse a simple, easy to remember, way to do so. We don’t have a list of rules that we have to memorize. If we are treating people the way we want them to treat us, we will not sin. In fact, we will be living completely consistent with God’s entire revelation in scripture. Jesus says if we do this, we will be living as revealed in “the Law and the Prophets”—the Old Testament. Of course, since nothing in the New Testament contradicts the Old Testament, our lives will be consistent with that revelation as well. If we live as Jesus called us to in this verse, we won’t violate the commands of God in scripture.
Of course, we know we won’t live that way all the time. We’re going to sin and as Christ has taught in the Sermon on the Mount, God’s demand for perfect righteousness isn’t graded on a curve. What this teaching should do, therefore, is not just inform us as to how we should live but it should also drive us to our knees in repentance when we fail. Thankfully, we serve a God who is merciful and forgives us when we sin.