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The Golden Rule

12"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

In perhaps Jesus' most widely known teaching, He commands: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." This, of course, is what is known throughout the world as the Golden Rule. Some have noted that similar teachings were given by other notable teachers. Confucius (ca. 500 BC) said: "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others." [Bartlett's Quotations]. Aristotle (ca. 350 BC) said: "We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends to behave to us." [Ibid.]. In the Apocryphal book of Tobit, it is taught: "What thou hatest, do to no one" (Tobit 4:15). The Talmud relates that Rabbi Hillel taught: "What is hateful to thee, do not do to another" [cited in Broadus, 161]. Philo taught: "One must not himself do what he hates to have done to him" [Ibid.]. These are similar to the teachings of Jesus, but they are different. Notice that all of these teachings (with the exception of Aristotle's, which applies only to "friends") are stated in the negative. They tell what you should "not do". Only Jesus' teaching is stated positively ("Do to others..."), and Jesus' teaching applies to all, both enemies and friends. "Our Lord makes it a rule for positive action, and towards all men" [Ibid.]. In other words, Jesus is not just telling us to refrain from doing evil, He is commanding us to actively do good to others. This is a far cry from the example set by the religious leaders of that time. "The morality taught by the Scribes and exemplified by the Pharisees, seems to have been-'Do to others as they do to you-Love your neighbor, hate your enemy-Love them that love you, do good to them that do good to you-Lend to them from whom you hope to receive again; and as to those who do you injuries, the rule is, An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'" [Brown, 308].

The poor example of the religious leaders of the day made necessary Jesus' teachings concerning the Law. And what better way was there to conclude His teachings than with one easily memorized rule that summarizes all He taught concerning the Law in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus ties the Golden Rule to His previous teachings by beginning, "So in everything..." (which can also be translated, "Therefore..."). The Golden Rule can be seen as a summarizing, concluding statement for all of Matt. 5:17 through 7:11. Note that in Matt. 5:17, Jesus referred to "the Law and the Prophets", saying that He had not come to abolish them. Here He gives a rule that "sums up the Law and the Prophets." And so, Jesus enveloped His teachings concerning the Law in the Sermon on the Mount with a reference back to the Old Testament, as if to underscore the continued importance and validity of the Old Testament teachings.

Indeed, Jesus' statement that the Golden Rule "sums up the Law and the Prophets" adds extra weight to the rule, and gives us extra incentive to pay special attention in carrying it out. To practice this rule, and to make it the basis of our dealings with others, is not merely to apply a trite saying to our lives, but it is to live a life in compliance to the written commands of the Almighty Creator of the Universe. It is to please the Living God. It is to live a life acceptable to Him.

It is quite interesting to me that the Golden Rule, which "sums up the Law and the Prophets", takes advantage of our natural love for ourselves. We are to "do to others what [we] would have them do to [us]." Since we all naturally love ourselves, to practice this rule is to show love for others. Jesus elsewhere gave a similar command, which He also said summed up the Law: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt. 22:37-40). The command to "love your neighbor as yourself" assumes as its basis that we love ourselves. And we do. This is how God has made us. We all love ourselves. Those who say they do not love themselves are self-deceived. Someone may wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and exclaim: "Blecch! Look how ugly I am! I hate myself." But his statement, "I hate myself", is a lie, for if he hated himself, he would not be so concerned that he was ugly. The very fact that he is concerned that he is ugly demonstrates that he loves himself.

Jesus uses the natural, God-given trait of love for oneself as the basis of the Golden Rule in order to give a general rule for obeying God's law that is understandable to everyone. There is no need for interpretation by learned theologians. If there is any question as to how to keep God's law in your behavior towards another, remember the Golden Rule. Even a child can readily understand the Golden Rule. "This is a golden rule indeed! It does not merely forbid all petty malice and revenge, all cheating and overreaching: it does much more. It settles a hundred difficult points, which in a world like this are continually arising between man and man; it prevents the necessity of laying down endless little rules for our conduct in specific cases; it sweeps the whole debateable ground with one mighty principle; it shows us a balance and measure, by which every one may see at once what is his duty" [Ryle, 66]. Now, there are some who (I guess) do not think the Golden Rule is clear enough. They would invent hypotheticals, such as, "...but what if I desire that someone do evil to me? Should I then do evil to him?" Don't be absurd! Use your God-given common sense to interpret this rule of life. "Put yourself in another's place, and then act to him as you would wish him to act towards you under the same circumstances. This is a right royal rule, a precept always at hand, always applicable, always right" [Spurgeon, 80].

Sadly, though the Golden Rule is very easily understood, we fail miserably in keeping it. "We all know how easy it is to read such a statement, or to listen to an exposition of it, or to read an exposition of it in a book, or to see some great picture which conveys it, and to say, 'Yes; wonderful, marvelous,' and yet to fail completely to put it into practice in actual life and living" [Lloyd-Jones, 207]. Even we, who aver that this magnificent rule should be the basis of all our dealings with others, fail consistently at living up to its standard. "The tragedy is that, having praised it, [we] do not implement it. And, after all, the law was not meant to be praised, it was meant to be practiced" [Ibid., 211]. Even we who love the Lord, who delight in the worship of the Lord, fail in treating our fellow men in the way our Lord commands. "It is utterly vain to speak like angels when on our knees before God, if we act like devils in our transactions with men" [Pink, 206].

In dealing with our fellow man, we far too often take our cue from the world. We follow the world's version of the Golden Rule: we seek to treat others in the same way they treat us. We demand our rights. We demand our justice. If I am crossed, I will cross. If I am wronged, I will wrong. "Worldly pride and honor will say, Treat them as they have treated us-return a kindness, revenge an injury. Jesus says, Treat them as we should wish them to treat us-forgive, forbear, make the best of the past, hope for the best in future.-To carry out this rule requires imagination, sympathy, unselfishness" [Broadus, 163]. The rule is not: Treat others as they treat us. The rule is not conditional upon others observing this rule. Even if they don't, we must. The rule is not a rule of justice, but of love, of God's love. The Golden Rule is based on God's willingness to give: God gives to us even when we do not deserve it. So also, we should give to others, even when they are not giving toward us. Our behavior, as children of God, should without exception be better, more giving, more loving, than the behavior of others toward us. Such behavior should set us apart as Christians. "A man is never in a right frame of spirit until he takes as much delight in doing others good as he would take in having good done to himself; nay, more; for our Lord tells us that 'it is a more blessed thing to give than to receive' (Acts 20:35). Why a more blessed thing? Because this comes nearest to the nature of God, who gives, all, and takes of none" [Manton, 374]. God well knows that there are some upon whom we would rather not practice this rule. "They're evil! They're sinners!", we cry. But wait: are you not a sinner? But for the grace of God, would you not be doing the same thing they are? But for the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit, would you not be delighting in sin? Those of us who know the joy of the salvation of the Lord, also know the depths of our own depravity. This realization should help us in carrying out this rule. We know the mighty work that the love of God has wrought in our lives, and so, we should be willing, indeed eager, to practice the love of God toward others.

Then there are some who are ready and willing to practice the Golden Rule in their dealings with those who do not know God, but they seem to forget to practice it in their dealings with brothers. Don't just practice the Golden Rule out in the world, be sure to practice it at home, and in everyday, ordinary situations. "In the ordinary relations of life, this rule may be of the greatest use. Were husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, often applying this rule, how full of peace and happiness would be the domestic scene!" [Brown, 312]. Love your brothers; build them up; commend them; complement them; defer to their needs and desires. And in every situation, stop and ask yourself this question before you act: "Is this what I would have others do for me?"

We praise You, Father, for such a great rule to live by. We praise You for this teaching of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. May we by the help of Your Spirit carry this rule out, practice it in all our dealings with men. Bring it to mind when we need to be reminded of it. We ask these things in name of our Teacher and our example, Jesus Christ, Amen.

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