The Golden Rule
While everything Jesus said is important, some things especially grab our attention. One of those things is the Golden Rule: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12).
First, note the “therefore.” This word most always points back to something previously said. In this case, Jesus had been talking about the goodness and generosity of God in answering our prayers and providing for our needs (7:7-11). He compares God to an earthly parent who eagerly responds to the true needs of their child. A parent either reactively or proactively will sacrifice in order to do the best thing for a child, and we do this as flawed creatures: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
From this basis Jesus expands His observation to the importance of doing good for all. His command is active rather than passive. That is, Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.” That is a legitimate maxim, but it doesn’t achieve God’s ultimate purpose in our lives. Does God merely withhold bad things from us? Or does He bountifully bless us even beyond our awareness?
Some people feel good about themselves because of what they don’t do to others, but this is a pretty low bar to hurdle. Jesus puts the onus squarely on our shoulders to bless, serve and provide for others in ways that would enrich our souls if someone were to do so for us.
Jesus concludes by saying: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” This is similar to His later summary of the Law: “‘You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:37-40). If we automatically did what we should toward God and our fellow man, there would be no need for codified law. But since we don’t, we need the external guidance of divine law to direct our attitudes and actions. And the ultimate purpose of those regulations is active fulfillment of our duty toward God and man.
Consider the following scenarios:
1) Suppose a child goes missing in your neighborhood; an urgent call is put out for volunteers to search the surrounding area.
Passive: “Well, I didn’t take the child and I don’t know who did, so I’m not going traipsing through tick-infested woods to look for him.”
Active: “If it were my child, I would be totally distraught and would welcome every effort to find my lost daughter. I have to go help.”
2) A lone visitor comes into our assembly and sits down.
Passive: “I’m uncomfortable introducing myself to someone I don’t know. Others are more outgoing; someone else will greet them or give them a visitor’s card.”
Active: “When I’m traveling and worshiping elsewhere, I always feel a little out of place. I appreciate friendly faces and warm greetings; it puts me at ease. I’m going to speak to the visitor and make them feel welcome.”
3) Some scenarios are trickier. People respond differently to grief or sickness or financial troubles. Some want to be left alone when ailing or in the hospital; others appreciate a short visit. Some find comfort in sharing and/or talking about the loss of a loved one; others may want solitude.
Passive: “Since I don’t know what someone needs, I’m just going to stay out of their way and let them deal with it on their own. If they need something they can reach out. Surely they know I care.”
Active: “I’m not sure what would be the best course of action under the circumstances. I think I’ll check with family and friends to get a handle on how best to help, or maybe I’ll write a short note of concern and let them know I’m praying for them.”
4) Suppose you strike up a conversation with someone in a store (this happened to Melanie recently when we were shopping in Costco).
Passive: “There’s no need to mention anything religious as we don’t have time to discuss anything and they’ll probably think I’m a fanatic.”
Active: “There are some people out there looking for religious guidance. I will engage people when I can and perhaps drop in a casual reference to the Bible and see if they react. Maybe they will pick up on it and we can talk further.”
(In Costco, Melanie had her Swim Kids shirt on, and she started talking to kids who were with their mom. The mom saw her logo and mentioned being new to the area and desiring to get her kids into swimming. In this case it was the other woman who mentioned looking for a church, and Melanie found her opening.)
Ironically, with all our communication devices, crowded neighborhoods, group projects at school, recreational activities for kids and various occasions to be involved with others, it seems we are further apart than ever. The truth is there are aggravations, frustrations, inconveniences and nuisances that arise from interaction with the world. But God does not call us to live in a monastery. We must learn to interact with others and do so with one overarching goal: to model Christ to them and serve in whatever capacity we can for their overall welfare.
It is good when we are not the cause of violence or grief or mistreatment of others, but it is not enough to just avoid injuring others. We must be a peacemaker, a servant, a fount of wisdom, a helper, an exhorter, an example.
And in order to see the needs around us, we must take self out of the center of our consciousness and contemplate the life-situations of others. We cannot love our neighbor properly until we see our neighbor’s burdens and problems and proactively seek to help. The Golden Rule is not a maxim just for children; it applies to adults. How well are we living it out in our daily lives?