The Golden Rule
Texts: Matt. 7:12
by Robert J. Young

Here is a familiar text. As such, it loses its challenge and uniqueness. We fail to learn, we fail to really study. One has observed that the chapter and verse numbers tell us something: 7 days a week, 12 months a year, here is guidance for life.
This verse has been called the summit of the Sermon on the Mount. Here is the high point, the sermon rapidly moves to its climax from this point. This is one of the most famous statements of Jesus. Even those who are not Christians, those in other religions know this statement. In the teachings of the rabbis, it is possible to find a parallel to almost everything Jesus taught while on earth. But there is no parallel to this statement. There is no statement in the rabbinical teaching that goes to these extreme--here is something new. This concept will lead to a new life, new allegiances, new commitments, new community on the part of Jesus' followers.
While this verse is well known to us, it is previously unparalleled, perhaps a part of the observation of Mt. 7:28-29, no one ever taught like this. Here is substance. Here is much in few words. Our outline is simple: the context, the command, the connections.

I. The context
So, therefore, means that what is to follow is related to what goes before. Here are ideas that point backward. What has Jesus just said? Matt. 7:&-11. As you look at your relationships with those around you, you must be mindful of how God has dealt with you. God is generous, giving, liberal, listening, opening, revealing. Therefore, we must be such with others. We must be merciful, forgiving. Our God meets needs, so we are being called to be there for others. Our conduct is not established by how others are treating us, but by how God has treated us. Therefore, God in giving good gifts to us teaches us how to give to others. We can be benevolent, generous, kind, liberal. This will exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, Matt. 5:20. All before this command points to it, all after builds upon it. Here is our calling, here is what we are to be and to do.
The Scribes and Pharisees saw their relationship with God as earned, and looked down on others as unworthy of God. We must go beyond that. How is such possible? By the way we treat others. Jesus lived his life by this principle: how must we treat others. That is what makes Christianity rise above all else, Eph. 4:32, 5:1. Christianity is not lived in isolation, no man is an island. We must deal with people. We are in the people business.
Consider the example of Jesus, for example from the gospel of John. John 4,5,8,9,10,11,12,13.... These are examples of our Savior dealing with people. This is Jesus' message. He shows us how to deal with people with dignity, worth, esteem. He raises people up to plateau God intended. He deals with physical needs and spiritual needs. So must we if we are Christ-like, Christians. 1 John 4:7-17; 3:16; John 3:16; 13:34-35.
The major difference is not in the way we worship, teach, the things we teach, commitment level, lifestyle, etc., although these will differ. The primary difference, however, is in the way we treat people.

II. The command
Here is a command higher than others. Jesus said it differently, Matt. 22:37-40, but this is excellent summary. Barclay: This is the Everest of the Sermon on the Mount. Here is the higher, superior ethic. Jewish rabbis had this command in negative form. Hillel: whatever is hateful to you, do not do to others. For many years, I thought this was the Golden Rule. I understood the negative version. I heard it growing up. If you don't want someone to do it to you, don't do it to them. Certainly, such is included. The negative is included, but Jesus speaks positively. Jesus is not just saying we must refrain from doing to others what we would not want done to us. That is not the ethic here. That is an ethic of courtesy. Anyone can refrain from treating others as they do not want to be treated. There are multitudes of good people in our nation who practice this negative form of the command, even non-religious people who will not cheat, murder, kidnap, lie, slander, harm you, break into your house. People who refrain from doing what is hateful to them. The negative form does not make a disciple of Jesus. The negative form of the command is a courteous guideline for successful personal interaction. In fact, total inactivity can fulfill the negative form. A monk sitting on a flagpole, or in a monastery, or a Christian sitting at home can fulfill the negative form. But going out alone to the mountain or staying at home snug and secure is the antithesis of all Christianity stands for and is about. Christ is not calling us out of this world as much as he is calling us to be Christians in this world. Be with your neighbors and friends, and while you are there, be salt and light and leaven. Be among people, and be like Jesus. Christianity is not summarized in any negative ethic.
Jesus puts this command positively. As God has been toward you, so you be toward others. Go out of your way to help others. Nothing on earth but the love of Jesus can motivate such activity, 2 Cor. 5:14. As Christians, we act as we do because of Jesus--this explains our love, evangelism, care, concern, and desire for good for all. This is a great command, extremely difficult, very important. This will set apart the people of God.
When evangelism comes from this motive, it will change us, make us evangelism. What Jesus is commanding here cannot help but make us evangelistic. Suppose you were not a Christian, looking for answers in life, seeking more abundant living, wallowing in problems, concerns, frustrations. What would you want? Would you want someone to share the gospel? If so, do likewise. If you would desire salvation, tell others.
Something else is significant here. Jesus take self-love as the foundation for loving others. Self- love does not stand in our way when we are Christians. Selfishness is far from us. Such normally holds us back from being what we could be, but Jesus takes this motive and uses it to serve others. What you want (self-love), you do for others.
Think of the many applications of the Golden Rule.... How would you want to be treated? Whatsoever you desire.... This means we put others on the same level as ourselves, that we are obligated to others, that others are deserving, and such are hard lessons indeed.

III. The connections

  • This is connected to the OT. This is the law and the prophets. Here is the aim of the OT law.
  • This is connected to God. This is the epitome of God's character. This is the desire of God.
  • This is connected to life. This will challenge us and change us. May God help us become like Jesus.

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    Last updated November 12, 2002.