The Golden Rule

What is the right thing to do? In Matthew 7:12 Jesus gives you a brief standard, called the Golden Rule, which is always available for you to use.

Do to others what you would have them do to you. Jesus gives the Golden Rule. This principle is found in other religions, usually in negative form. Hillel, the outstanding rabbi in the first century BC, was challenged by a pagan Gentile, “teach me the whole Torah while I am standing on one leg.” Hillel’s younger contemporary, Rabbi Shammai, dismissed the challenge. Hallel responded, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” The Gentile converted to Judaism. Earlier Confucius said, “Do nothing to your neighbor which afterward you would not have your neighbor do to you.” The bare negative is certainly far less than what Jesus teaches. Doing nothing at all might satisfy that form, although it is probably not fair to assume that the negative does not expect the positive as well. This is not a principle that equalizes all religions. What Jesus says is profoundly deeper than what other teachers said. Too often people treat this simply as a principle to use because it works. But Jesus ties it in with the attitude and actions of your Father in heaven. No other religious teacher who proclaimed some form of this saying gave his life as a sacrifice in place of his followers. Look at the context!

Remember how God has treated you. Notice the “so” or “therefore,” which ties the saying with the preceding context. It follows the reference to the Father’s treatment of his children. We are evil, v.10. Yet the Father has given good gifts to us. The ultimate instance of this gracious behavior is the Father giving his Son to be your Savior. Your salvation rests in the undeserved, unmerited love of the Father. That gives the whole principle a God-centered, rather than man-centered focus.

Treat others as you would like to be treated. Do to others just what you would have them do to you. That principle is your brief guide to ethics. “This is a golden rule indeed! It does not merely forbid all petty malice and revenge, all cheating and over-reaching. 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 debatable ground with one might principle.” (J. C. Ryle, Expository Yhoughts on the Gospels, Matthew, p. 66) Ask yourself how you would like to be treated, and use that as the guide for your actions. Don’t forget the breadth of what Jesus says. This applies to everything. Run this check before you make important decisions. Ask yourself how you would like to be treated by your family—and then act that way towards them. Remember it as you drive your car. This principle, like the Beatitudes, runs contrary to our sinful human nature. You can practice it only as you trust in the Savior.

Keep the whole Word of God! This is the Law and the Prophets. The Law refers to the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, which contain not only the Ten Commandments, but the more detailed commands which applied those basic principles. It includes the account of God establishing a covenant relationship with his people. The Prophets means the writings of the prophets, the men who summoned God’s people back to covenantal obedience. Together the terms include the entire Old Testament Scriptures. When Jesus says that this golden command is the Law and the Prophets, he certainly is not substituting these few words for the entire Scriptures. He did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them, Matthew 5:17. The Golden Rule summarizes the entire requirements of your covenant God. It puts it in simple form for you to remember. This simplicity contrasts with the rabbinic multiplication of commandments, and their adding human regulations to them.

Grasp God’s heart as he reveals it in the Law and the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets is the true story of God working in our rebellious, sin-cursed world, to bring redemption to his people. He not only saves you from sin and its consequence of eternal punishment, he invites you to the deepest fellowship with him. “He [our Lord] once more made the voice of the law the voice of the living God, who is present in every commandment, so absolute in his demands, so personally interested in man’s conduct, so all-observant, that the thought of yielding to him less than the whole inner life, the heart, the soul, the mind, the strength, can no longer be tolerated. Thus quickened by the spirit of God’s personality, the law becomes in our Lord’s hands a living organism, in which soul and body, spirit and letter, the greater and smaller commandments are to be distinguished, and which admits to being reduced to great comprehensive principles in whose light the weight and purport of all single precepts are to be intelligently appreciated.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church, pages 61–62) The simplicity of Jesus’ summary puts your focus on the Lord who gave his Law and who calls you to live in covenantal obedience to him. The Law is not a series of arbitrary and impersonal commands. Rather, it is the standard of the Kingdom of heaven, the will of the Great King. It is the will of your Father in heaven, calling you to live as his child. This Father not only expects your obedience, but because he knows you are, by nature, evil, he sends his Son to be your Savior.

This Golden Rule may be brief, but it does nothing less than call you to live as a grateful child of your heavenly Father.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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