The Golden Rule
“Therefore whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” —Matthew 7:7-12.
Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Hans Küng coined the phrase “Global Ethic” to refer to moral principles held in common by all religions. The essence of these principles, he concludes, is the Law of Reciprocity: “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” otherwise known as the Golden Rule. Put another way, it is the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
C. S. Lewis adds, “The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right” (Mere Christianity).
What then makes Jesus’ version of the saying exceptional?
It’s uniqueness lies in a conjunction, “Therefore,” that suggests a conclusion based on a premise. The premise, in this case, is the generosity of our heavenly Father: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you, for everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are 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! If you then, who are 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! Therefore whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:7-12).
Here is the motive for the Golden Rule: We have a loving, giving father who set aside his own self-interest to reveal the full measure of his love. We love and give because he first loved us. N.T. Wright has put it this way: “Jesus was neither the first nor the last great moral teacher to offer this so-called ‘Golden Rule’, and it sums up a good deal of his teaching. What distinguishes him from the many others who have said similar things is that underneath the moral lesson is the love of the heavenly father. What should distinguish his followers, but alas frequently doesn’t, is that, knowing this love, they should find themselves able to obey this rule, and the other rules that follow from it, gladly and freely. They should then discover that they are able to reflect God’s love and light into the world” (The New Testament for Everyone).
Secondly, God’s generosity is the dynamic by which we keep the Golden Rule. He gives not merely guidance, as all moral teachers do, but the resources for compliance as well. He provides more than understanding; he supplies the ability to act upon that understanding. He asks for performance but gives his power and love to carry it out.
God does not promise to give us every thing we ask for (an S-Class Mercedes-Benz comes to mind), but he does promise that he will answer every plea for goodness. It will take time to bring our requests to fruition for we’re all very hard cases, but he has promised and he cannot lie.
So what do you need this day to love your neighbor as yourself? Do you lack patience? Mercy? Forgiveness? Hope? Call on your Father and ask for it by name. Keep asking and it will be given to you. Keep seeking and it will be found. Keep knocking and it will be opened to you—in time.