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Jesus and the Golden Rule- Matthew 7:12

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.


Introduction: The World's Idea of How to Treat Others

Martin and Diedre Bobgan wrote a book several years ago entitled How to Counsel from Scripture. In it they gave an interesting illustration about the golden rule, which is:

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

Here is what they said:

"A fascinating study on the principle of the Golden Rule was conducted by Bernard Rimland, director of the Institute for Child Behavior Research. Rimland found that "The happiest people are those who help others." Each person involved in the study was asked to list ten people he knew best and to label them as happy or not happy. Then they were to go through the list again and label each one as selfish or unselfish, using the following definition of selfishness: a stable tendency to devote one's time and resources to one's own interests and welfare and an unwillingness to inconvenience one's self for others."

In categorizing the results, Rimland found that all of the people labeled happy were also labeled unselfish. He wrote that those "whose activities are devoted to bringing themselves happiness...are far less likely to be happy than those whose efforts are devoted to making others happy" Rimland concluded:

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The golden rule, given by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:12 and also found in Luke 6:31, is a revolutionary concept compared to the world's belief in how to treat others. The world tells us to do to others as they have done to you. If they treat you good, then you treat them good. If they treat you evil then get even! Or, at the very least, don't do anything that will benefit their lives in any way.

Jesus would say to love your enemies and pray for those who despitefully use you (Matthew 5:44). Those in the world would have you destroy your enemy and make sure he hurts as much as he hurt you.

If we call ourselves the followers of Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again for our justification, we have an obligation to live by a higher standard than the world preaches.

Let's take a closer look at this admonition of our Lord and see how we can better implement it into our lives as we live in this world that is so opposed to the message of love and grace.

I. The Origin of the Golden Rule

First of all, the term 'golden rule' is not found in the Scriptures, just as the term 'Sermon on the Mount' isn't. These titles were added later by Bible translation teams in order to make Bible study simpler for people. The title 'golden rule' came to be coined in the 16th-17th centuries A.D. However, it is an apt title for this teaching of Jesus.

Next, it might be good to look into and clear up the origin of the golden rule that Jesus gave His disciples. The treatment of others ethically is something that is not unique to Jesus or Christianity. And it could be argued that other religious systems have a similar understanding of treating others as you would have them treat you. However, no other religious philosophy has its exact equal.

Those who oppose the Christian message seek to explain away the golden rule and say that all religions teach basically the same thing. However, Jesus' teachings have what might be considered slight but very important variations that make it a higher ethic than all the other religious traditions.

For instance Confucianism tells its followers:

"Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you"

Meanwhile, Hinduism says:

“This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you”

And a final example comes from Buddhism. It states:

“Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful"

I like what the website has to say about these other religious sayings. They tell us:

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"These sayings are similar to the Golden Rule but are stated negatively and rely on passivity. Jesus’ Golden Rule is a positive command to show love proactively. The Eastern religions say, “Refrain from doing”; Jesus says, “Do!” The Eastern religions say it is enough to hold your negative behavior in check; Jesus says to look for ways to act positively. Because of the “inverted” nature of the non-Christian sayings, they have been described as the “silver rule.”

Some would say that Jesus was merely borrowing from these other religious philosophies. However, the interesting thing is that all of the sayings just quoted from Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism can be traced back to 500 to 400 B.C. at the earliest. Jesus got His golden rule from the book of Leviticus which was written around 1450 B.C. That means that Jesus' source predates the silver rule by 1000 years. It would seem that the borrowing is on the other side.

This is the exact quote of Jesus in from Matthew 7:12. He tells us:

"In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

This shows the brilliance of our Savior as He condenses the whole Old Testament down to this single principle based upon Leviticus 19:18. This verse tells us:

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Of course, the only way one would ever hope to love his neighbor as himself is if he has a relationship with the God of love. That is why Jesus puts this same principle together with another which He places ahead of it as number 1. That principle is loving God with all your heart, soul and might. This is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 which tells the reader:

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."

Jesus calls these the two greatest commandments. Because every command given in the Old Testament will in some way demonstrate one's love for God or love for their neighbor whom God Himself loves (Matthew 22:38-40).

The truth is that there is no real comparison between Jesus' golden rule and that of the others. For the command to love, even one's enemies, separates Christianity from all other ethics.

II. The Golden Rule and Human Nature

In looking deeper at the golden rule, we see that Jesus truly understood human nature. It is a natural thing for fallen man to be self-interested. People all over the globe demand respect, love and appreciation whether or not they truly deserve it. Jesus took that natural self-interested tendency, flipped it around and used it for good to promote godly behavior. He used this human flaw as a place to start regarding how to treat others.

He would say that if you want respect, then give respect. If you want love and appreciation, then give it to your fellow human beings. Be kind to others because you would want kindness from others. And of course the idea that it's more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), has its origins in the fact that one would want someone to give to you and it makes you feel noble and fulfilled to see a person who is helped because of something you were able to do for them.

III. What the Golden Rule Is Not Saying

However, at times the golden rule is used in a way that Jesus and the Scriptures never intended. Some try to invoke it as a justification for telling people not to point out sin in the lives of others. An example that one writer, whom I read, brought up was in the area of gay marriage. The argument goes like this:

"You would never want anyone to tell you who you can and cannot marry. So you shouldn't tell anyone who to marry either!"

S. Michael Houndman, in an article he wrote for entitled: What is the Golden Rule, answered that argument quite nicely when he said:

The Bible instructs us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The Word of God commands us to always be ready to give a gentle and respectful defense for what we believe (1 Peter 3:15). We are to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). And Jesus Himself taught people to "go and sin no more" (John 5:14; 8:11). So, clearly, the Golden Rule is not properly understood as "keep out of other peoples' business."

The golden rule is simply a command to treat people with the same love, dignity and respect that you yourself want and deserve as a being created in the image of God. It is not there to muzzle a person and to cause them to ignore sin.

Further, if you were doing something that were depraved, destructive and sinful that would lead you away from God, and ultimately to eternal separation from Him, if you weren't saved, wouldn't you want someone to warn you? To warn someone lovingly in this way is following the golden rule. It is doing what you would want them to do for you.

Also, we are commanded to speak the truth in love to one another in Ephesians 4:15. And the book of James teaches:

"Let him know that the one who has turned a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20).

Paul also told the Corinthians that they needed to deal with a man harshly who was sleeping with his father's wife (I Corinthians 5:1-5).

And as was noted earlier, Jesus Himself told the woman taken in adultery in John 8:1-11 to:

"God and sin no more!" (11b).

So the golden rule allows for the pointing out of sin in others. But just like all other commands of Jesus, it is a heart issue. If you are talking to someone in sin to make you look better than they are and to put them down, then you are not acting according to love. and respect for their dignity.

Pointing out someone's sin should always be done with a heart that breaks for them and with a desire to bring them back to God in repentance. Because you know that it is in their best interest to repent. And helping you in that way is exactly what you should want that neighbor to do for you if you had gotten yourself in that same situation.

None of us is without sin. And we can all say when we see someone who is entrenched in a particular sin:

"There but for the grace of God go I."

So we should have compassion for the sinner, just as God, in Christ Jesus had compassion on us.


It is obvious, by looking closely at this one verse of Scripture, the golden rule, that it has applications for all of our relationships in life and can be used every day that we live to improve our interactions with our fellow human beings. Obeying it will strengthen marriages and families. It will improve friendships. It will make for a better work environment. And it will help to peacefully settle problems between enemies.

Love is the motive behind the rule and love is the mark of a true Christian. In John 13:35 it says:

"By this all people will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another.”

John also goes so far as to say that if you don't love your brother whom you have seen, you cannot love God whom you haven't seen (I John 4:20).

In just a few words, Jesus' golden rule encapsulates this idea and causes us to go into action in order to fulfill it.

It encourages us to give to others rather than our natural desires to selfishly take. And every day is an opportunity to put it into action.

We must always be on the lookout for those who might benefit from this rule and do for them what we'd like done to us. From the woman who has groceries that she is struggling to carry that we can help with, to the person lying in the hospital room fearing for their health that we can visit and cheer up. It includes soothing the tears of the child who is crying over a lost toy but also sitting with the grieving young wife who just lost her husband to cancer.

It means treating those of all races, colors and creeds with the same love and respect that you'd treat anyone with to whom you come in contact. This rule invites us to follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:4 where he tells us

"Look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others."

It encourages us to be more empathetic as we consider how we'd feel if we were in the exact same situation and how we would want a person to help us.

But at the same time it makes us flexible, because we know that not everything that we would like done for us is what the other person wants and vice versa. We are all different and are at different places in life. And treating someone with respect and dignity includes respecting their wishes in all the various situations.

The Golden rule is just a few words but some of the most powerful words in all of Scripture. May we be a part of changing the world for the better by doing to others what we would have others do to us. And by those actions, bring glory to our Father who is in Heaven.

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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