1. THE GOLDEN RULE
Thank you, Ambassador Mlynár for your kind words of introduction. It is a great privilege and
joy to join you for this annual Prayer Breakfast – and how good it is to be able to be together in
person. When I was with you in 2019, I recall being struck by the Norman Rockwell mosaic that
hangs in the UN building entitled “Golden Rule.” The work was presented to the UN in 1985 as a
gift on behalf of the United States by then First Lady Nancy Reagan. The mosaic weighs half a
ton and depicts people of different nationalities coming together. And Jesus’ words “Do unto
others as you would have them do unto you” is inscribed on the surface. Speaking at the
rededication ceremony, the former Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said of Rockwell’s
work, “It reflects humanity – the wondrous mix of nationalities, creeds and colors but it also
reflects the very essence of our mission as set out in our Charter. At its core, the work is about
narrowing the gap between the world as it is and the world as we want it to be,” Of this art
piece, Rockwell said, “Once in a while I get an uncontrollable urge to say something serious.”
The golden rule is an intellectual tour de force. In Jesus’ words we have, arguably, the greatest
ethical maxim ever devised. It is breathtakingly brilliant. The only measure Jesus sets up is us.
The golden rule takes our own sense of self-preservation and then redeploys it for the good of
others. Rockwell’s painting bears the truth is that we are all are born with our own cultural
baggage: We are: who we were born as, where we were born, how we were raised. Our
problem is that it is too easy to get stuck inside that person, causing us to focus on how we are
being treated. When we are asked, “How did your day go?” our response is typically formulated
in response to an entirely different question: “How did people treat us?” The golden rule turns
that on its head and asks, “How did you treat others?” The golden rule invites us to crawl inside
another person’s life and see and experience the world through his or her eyes. Martin Luther,
the great German reformer, said of the golden rule, “It was certainly very clever of Christ to
state it this way.” It was and remains so clever. So brilliant! So perfect and so clear . . . so why
don’t we actually do it?!
2. SO WHY DON’T WE PRACTICE IT?
The golden rule proves the poverty of the argument that says, all you have to do is give people
instruction and tell them what to do –then they will understand and put the rule into practice.
As wise, experienced influential global leaders – let me ask you – seriously - how is that working
out for you? The golden rule has been within the intellectual grasp of humanity for two
thousand years – and the last two hundred years we have taken gargantuan leaps in science and
technology – and still we fail to live by it. And this, then, is the human tragedy—that the
common humanity we share is fundamentally based on the denial of a common shared
3. THE “FOOLS -GOLD” APPLICATION OF THE GOLDEN RULE.
And sadly, often what looks like the application of the golden rule is in fact a kind of “fool’s gold”
– it might look shiny but in truth it is plain old vanity, pride and self interest with a coat of
metallic paint. Let me give you an example. I am sure this is common only to me. Consider all
those moments on the freeway, when you are travelling painfully slowly, and cars are seeking to
merge into the lane that you are occupying. I like to think of myself as a generous driver. In that
moment, because I am so generous of heart, I deign to let a vehicle in. “Look children! Pay
attention world – let this be a lesson in how to drive according to the Golden rule! Yes – you –
stranded, pescatarian driver in the Silver Metallic Prius – come enter the freeway through the
gracious archway that is my munificence!” But then, suddenly, the chili pepper Red Tesla
immediately behind the Silver Metallic Prius attempts to scandalously take advantage of my
magnanimous driving and cut in too. “Not you – wretched interloper!” And one has to speed up
a little bit to teach the bounder some manners! For I am indeed a magnanimous practitioner of
the Golden rule (especially when I have an audience) but I am not that magnanimous!
This is a seemingly trivial example, yet it bears out the sad truth that, left to our own devices,
we cannot help but at best be covertly self-centered – even when we want to appear “other
centered.” The apostle Paul may not have driven in New York traffic, but he was personally, very
familiar with this human dilemma. Even he would write, “For I have the desire to do what is
good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want
to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)
Our own moral compass is not enough to trigger the fullness of the golden rule. We short circuit
the golden rule by getting stuck in the mire of our own self-centeredness. In the operation of
this simple moral rule, left to our own devices, we can’t get past the “Me” part.
Up to his neck in the quicksand of his own self-interest Paul recognizes He needs rescuing. He
needs something or someone to pull him out of the mire. He cries out, “What a wretched man I
am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” But then he is thrown a line.
With relief, he cries out, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
4. SO WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
Yes, Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” And yes, the rule is
morally perfect, but Jesus knew that in all our moral imperfection, we could not make it. So, he
offers us His lifeline. He says, “As I have loved you, love one another…” (John 13:34). Our
golden rule dilemma is that we are starting at the wrong place. We don’t begin with the
application of the golden rule - we begin with Jesus’ love for you.
Jesus assures us, “As I have loved you….” How does that help me? This sounds like another
impossibly high standard. Paul goes on to tell us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,
it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the
truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”(1
Corinthians 13: 4-7) And that can be difficult to hear because we know that we don’t live up to
that standard. But that is to misunderstand the intention of this passage. First and foremost,
what we find here, is a description of how Jesus loves you. Paul’s words are a tender,
passionate, extraordinary, explosive, revolutionary revelation of Jesus' love for you.
Jesus’ love for you is not some sentimentally pious, vanilla, passive aggressive kind of “love” but
a furious love. What I mean by that is not “furious’ in the sense of “wrathful” – but furious in
the sense of a love that is passionate, vehement, unstoppable, tenacious, tremendous,
supreme, tender, compassionate, gentle, extraordinary, explosive, revolutionary. This is the love
that, in extraordinary humility, comes to you first. This is the love that knows full well that the
high words on our lips don’t match the low thoughts in our hearts – yet He still comes to us in
love. The love that, in all humility, will ride into our self-deceit and still love us. The love that
knows that we will deny Him and yet still He intervenes in love. Could you believe that? Could
you trust such a love? The love that passionately, vehemently, unstoppably, tenaciously,
tremendously, supremely, tenderly, compassionately, gently, extraordinarily, explosively comes
to you. The love that will literally intervene in your life, again and again and again to save and
rescue you – to bring you back to the power and profundity of His love.
The love that can tell the difference between what you say and what you truly feel and will still
come to you. The love that comes to you not in condemnation but in mercy. The love that laid
down its life that you might be saved and restored to new life. If we are looking for any other
sort of love in Jesus Christ, we will miss it.
And it is not just the knowledge of such a love. Not even the intellectual assent to such a love. It
is our heart’s encounter with Jesus’ radical, scandalous love for us that that suddenly makes the
golden rule a supernatural possibility. Not because we suddenly got nicer – but because the
furious love of God begins to unstoppably flow through us to others. In the profound security of
God’s love for you - you no longer see someone as trying to take some advantage over you. Held
in the power of His love, you can now see someone living in pain and fear, just like you once did.
And as Jesus met you first with love that you did not deserve – His love literally compels you to
bring the same love, mercy and compassion to another. Especially if it is undeserved. So, this is
all very fine sounding – but does it really work?
5. THE JESUS FREAKS
In a corner of what had been East Germany, I was invited to speak to a gathering of about six
hundred members of a European Gothic (“Goth”) gathering. All of them dressed in black, full
makeup with multiple piercings glistening. These particular Goths were part of a movement that had originated in the clubs of Berlin and
swept across every major European city. They had discovered a shared purpose and affinity that
transcended their cultural identity and they called themselves “The Jesus Freaks!”
I was invited by their leadership team (all of them young, fully fledged Goths) and presented
with their problem. It was explained to me that many of their members, including their leaders,
had fathers, or strong family role models. This was an orphan movement. And their collective
experience of being poorly loved was disabling their capacity to receive and share the love of
God. There were leadership issues. There was fragmentation and disunity. Their own inability to
receive the fullness of God’s love for themselves was short circuiting their capacity to love
So, with a team of twelve Brits (all of us un-pierced, attired in pastel preppy clothes and without
makeup or piercings), I flew to a conference site that was a vast, disused, cotton mill.
Their music was something to behold – full throttled, ear bleeding, chaos in which they
passionately worshipped their Maker. Now, not only were we distinguished by an indecent
display of pastel in a sea of black - we were also the ones who had Kleenex sticking out of our
ears as makeshift ear plugs.
It came to the last night and my text was the parable of The Prodigal Son. I was struck with their
struggle to receive the Father’s love and the Father’s passionate embrace of his son at the end
of the parable. I sensed the Lord’s nudge that we needed to literally take these pierced, broken
souls in our arms, embrace them and speak words of love and blessing over them. I am British
and this idea did not appeal to me. So, I took this idea to the team hoping that they would veto
it. They did not! I climbed onto the platform, taught on the topic, and then nervously made our
offer. If they wanted, and only if they wanted, we would be willing to embrace them as we
prayed the Father’s love and blessing over them. We had men and women on the team – they
could go to whom they liked, or they could not come at all – but our offer was sincere. I stood with the rest of the team in the half-light of the auditorium and waited. After a few
moments (that felt like an eternity), one young man got up from his seat and walked toward
me. Even in the half-light I could see his tears and as he got closer, he crumpled into my arms
and sobbed. As I held him in my arms two things happened. Firstly, his pain pierced my heart. I
held him as tightly as I would hold any of my own children. In my arms he shook with the pain in
his heart, and I found that I could not let him go. Prayers and words of comfort and assurance
unstoppably rose up within me. And I wept as I ministered to him. Secondly, a line began to
emerge in the semi-darkness behind him. A line that became a river of bodies that flowed
toward us. Without any exaggeration, we stood there until 3.00am in the morning and
embraced every pierced and broken soul in that place. By the end of the night my shirt was
drenched in their tears and blackened with mascara.
At about 3.30am, we retreated as a team and, over a cup of tea, began to attempt to process
what we had all just been a part of. As we shared, we were overwhelmed to learn that, as we
held each person in our arms there was one consistent phrase that distinguished all our prayers:
“There is nothing you can do to make the Father love you more, there is nothing you can do to
make the Father love you less – the Father loves you perfectly and unconditionally.”
We slept a few hours and then returned to the warehouse sanctuary for the Sunday morning
session. The atmosphere was so radically changed. The room was now lit with candles and
instead of the usual worship music (which had kind of grown on me) Bach’s St. Matthew’s
Passion was played softly as young people stood together in small groups and prayed for one
another. Tears continued to flow as they ministered to one another. There was a peace in that
place that surpassed all understanding.
And in graffiti, in the largest letters, around the entire perimeter of the vaulted ceiling someone
had written, (in English), “There is nothing you can do to make the Father love you more, there
is nothing you can do to make the Father love you less – the Father loves you perfectly and
What took place that night was the application of the golden rule, but it was unstoppably and
supernaturally carried in the overflow of the love of Jesus, through our hearts to the hearts of
over six hundred young people that we scarcely knew. In my own strength I really could not
have done that, but the Lord entrusted us with His love for six hundred broken, and all we had
to do was open the circuit and let His love be poured out.
6. Final Thought
My hope in speaking to you this morning is that you too can hear Jesus speaking to you with all
the tenderness and force that love can hold. What would your life look like if your identity truly
rested upon God’s relentless, tender, compassionate love for you?
In the heat of battle, in the eye of the storm, God looks you right in the eye and levels with you.
And in the fullness of His perfect and unconditional love, this is what He says, “I will never leave
you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Let me unpack the unusual force of this promise. Not
once and at no point in the future, not ever; never, never, never, in any circumstance
whatsoever, will the love of God in Jesus Christ fail you.
In the encounter of such a great love, here is where the Golden rule ceases to be moral
legislation and becomes instead a spontaneous response that irrepressibly rises up and flows
from us. It will always be in the power of the love of God that we will truly behold the narrowing
of the gap between the world as it is and the world as Jesus wants it to be.
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