One of the foundational questions of moral philosophy down through the ages is: “What is a virtuous life?” When Jesus speaks about what a life of virtue looks like in the Sermon on the Mount, He’s not doing so in a vacuum. He’s joining an ongoing conversation in His Greco-Roman and Jewish milieu. And the clearest example of this dialogue is in Jesus’ articulation of what we now call “The Golden Rule.”


In this passage from Matthew 7:12, Jesus is the first person in world history to make love the central, unifying virtue. This is a watershed moment that continues to shape us today. Not only does Jesus give us unparalleled moral clarity with His ethic of love, He also provides us an unprecedented power to live into that ethic. Let’s explore how Jesus ties the Sermon on the Mount together front-to-back with rhetorical genius.


  1. The Way of Love: Scholars of the Gospels have long observed that Jesus’ virtue of love both unfolds and deepens over the course of His teaching ministry; and it all begins with His teaching of The Golden Rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. In contrast to earlier concepts of virtue, Jesus’ ethic is one of loving service, empathy, compassion, and grace. A few years later, Jesus expands on the The Golden Rule with Matthew 22:37-40; love God, love others. Then, at the end of His ministry, Jesus went further in John 13:24-35; love others as I have loved you. With these revelations, Jesus’s virtue of love is unfolding and deepening: treat others the way you wish to be treated; love others as yourself; and love one another just as I have loved you. So, what is a virtuous life, the ethic of all ethics, the commandment of all commandments? The true ethic is a life of love like Jesus.
  2. The Life of Love: It’s one thing for Jesus to give us this unparalleled moral clarity in His ethic of love. It’s another thing to empower people to actually live into it. Notice that the timing of when Jesus gives the New Commandment in John 13 is the night before He goes to the cross. In other words, the New Commandment isn’t given in isolation, it’s surrounded on every side by the New Covenant inaugurating the work of Jesus and the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is only through the redemption of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit that we can begin to follow Jesus in His way of love. When we walk with the Spirit in Jesus’ way of love for others, the righteous requirements of the law of God are fulfilled in us. It is the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that empowers us to live a life of love like Jesus.
  3. The Heart of Righteousness: By grace, through faith in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit we now have the heart of righteousness. And this new heart of righteousness grants us access to the abundant life of the Kingdom of Heaven.


Takeaway: In Christ and by His Spirit, our Father is loving us into loveliness.


Matthew 7:12


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