The Golden Rule


This morning we will look at one of the most familiar verses in the Bible (even though I am sure there are many who don’t know this is where is comes from). It is known as the Golden Rule: 

12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.

This is a simple yet profound approach on how to relate to other people. Jesus said this is the essence of everything taught in the law and the prophets. That does not mean that all of Christianity can be summed up in this one principle but it does mean the law as it relates too interpersonal relationships is best summed up in these words.

It would be wrong to say that this verse is the essence of Christianity—that this verse tells us everything we need to know about faith in Christ. We still need the Bible’s instruction about sin, atonement, God’s provision of a Savior, how we enter into a relationship with God and the person and nature of Jesus. We still need our basic doctrinal truths. However, when it comes to the basic laws dealing with how to live in this world together . . . the Golden Rule is the summary of all summaries.

It is most likely that the Golden Rule is tied to the talk about being judgmental. Jesus told us not to “play God” or to be constantly picking at another person. There is no reason to be judgmental toward other when there is so much we need to correct in ourselves. The Golden Rule is the positive way of stating this issue. In other words, instead of judging others and picking at them, try treating them with the kind of consideration and respect that you would desire if the situation were reversed. We’ll flesh this out in a little bit.

Even though the teaching of the Golden Rule is brilliant in its simplicity and wisdom it is still not the way most people function. I can think of four perversions of the Golden Rule that are very common among people.

Popular Competing Approaches to the Golden Rule

Do to Others Before they Do to You. You may hear people say this “tongue in cheek”. However, many people live with a defensive posture in life. Their goal is to beat the other guy to the punch.

  • They blame someone else before they themselves can be blamed.
  • They get mad before they understand what is truly happening
  • They dismiss someone because they are different and are afraid of them
  • They work to squeeze out competitors in business lest they be squeezed out.
  • They end a relationship before they “get hurt”
  • They respond aggressively to any negative comment
  • They assume the worst.

This is the idea of a preemptive strike. You strike others before they can strike you. However, what happens is the same thing that would happen if there was a preemptive nuclear strike. You launch your nukes and then we will launch ours . . . the result? Everyone is destroyed. It was called “Mutually Assured Destruction”.

This kind of approach is anchored to fear and paranoia. It assumes the worst about people. You have to presume that you know what another person is going to do.

The thing is, we don’t know what the other person is thinking or intending. The irony is that we assume the worst about the words and actions of others while at the same time pleading with others to give you the benefit of the doubt.

What’s in it for Me? A second and probably the most common approach is the “what’s in it for me” formula for relationships. This is when we relate to each other only in terms of our perceived benefit. In other words, I will be nice to you as long as I believe you can serve some useful purpose for me.

An example of this can sometimes happen in sales. If you look like a customer who has money, sales people will run to wait on you. If you look poor they are less inclined to help you (even though you look poor because you have saved all your money and therefore are loaded!)

This kind of thing can also happen at a church (shamefully). Someone comes to visit that is well-known and whom we believe will be good for our image or maybe be a generous contributor to our budget and we jump over pews to welcome that person. However, someone who we know is on a limited income (they may be poor or they may be retired) who may be eager to know the Lord, may find people less inclined to welcome them because they see no perceived benefit for themselves.

Once again we are making judgments. We are assuming someone has no worth if we do not see an immediate benefit in the relationship. However, God teaches us and blesses us through all kinds of people.

The question to ask is this: how would you like it if people judged you by a mistake deep in your past? How would you feel if people dismissed you because of the color of you hair, the color of your eyes, or the color of your skin? We all feel we have something to contribute to the lives of others.

Mobilize the Army A third approach is one I will call “let’s mobilize the army”. Here, instead of talking to someone about an issue, you talk to a whole bunch of other people so that you have an army of people who are against the person you think needs to be “dealt with”. You could call this the cowards’ way of approaching conflict. You don’t give them the courtesy of an explanation . . . You just start assembling the troops.

We have all felt ambushed at one time or another. We know what it is like to have people question our character. It hurts. It does damage. It is unchristian. This approach to dealing with others is therefore also sinful.

The Bible is clear that we are to talk TO people rather than ABOUT them. It is very hard to defend yourself from half-truths and rumors.

I Can Top That Here’s one more. It’s the “I Can Top That” approach to dealing with people. No matter what a person says you simply point out that you have had it worse, done it better, been paid more, responded better, or accomplished it sooner. (Don’t these people get under your skin?)

The idea here is simple . . . don’t let anyone have the spotlight for long because if they are in the spotlight it means it is not shining on you!

The Apostle Paul tells us that we are to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In other words we are to enter into another person’s pain or joy not seek to minimize it. And when we always have to trump what someone else says or does that is exactly what we are doing, we are minimizing their situation, their life, and them personally.

The Better Way of Jesus

When you think of these other approaches the approach of Jesus stands out for the wise and beautiful counsel that it is. To abide by the Golden Rule requires that we put ourselves in the shoes of another person. It treats others with dignity and respect. We have to stop and enter into their situation or circumstance and ask, “How would I like to be treated if I was in this situation?”

  • In other words we would ask, “If I was new to a church how would I hope to be received?”
  • If I were sick, how would I like to be treated?
  • If I had failed miserably, how would I hope people responded to me?
  • If I were looking for a job what kind of treatment would I hope for from a potential employer?
  • If I was new to a school how would I like the other students to receive me?
  • If I were a pregnant teenager, how would I hope others would respond to my situation?
  • If I had same sex attractions how would I hope to be treated?
  • If I was new to a community what kind of help might I need?
  • If I were a parent with young children what kind of understanding would I want from the people around me when my children were acting up?

I hope you get the idea. The Golden Rule calls us to consider BEFORE we react. It commands us to think about someone other than ourselves. It calls us to hold ourselves to the same standard to which we hold others. Jonathan Edwards did something that I think all of us could do. He wrote down a series of resolutions for his life. He added to these over the course of many years and reviewed them weekly. They apply the Golden Rule. Let me share some of the more compelling of these,

  • Resolved, to live in a such a way as to gain as much happiness in the next world as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way I can think of.
  • Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, where I could possibly in any respect have done better.
  • Let there be grace and kindness in everything I say.
  • Resolved, never to do anything which I should despise or think negatively of if I saw it in another.
  • Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
  • Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

If I were making a list of the ways I wanted to be treated by others. Here is a list of things I think would be on my list. I hope some of them resonate with you.

  • Give me the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming the worst possible motives for my actions.
  • Don’t draw conclusions about me based on surface issues (skin color, ethnicity, gender, social status, appearance), instead take the time to know me as a person.
  • Make the first move to greet me rather than waiting for me to greet you. Contact me when you know there is a problem rather than waiting for me to come to you.
  • Be present when I am hurting. Save the advice and just be my friend and hurt with me for a while.
  • Encourage me by pointing out what I am do well rather than Discourage me by constantly picking at what you believe are my weaknesses, failures, and faults. I am painfully aware of the faults and often have trouble seeing my strengths.
  • Talk to me rather than about me to others.
  • Give me a chance to do something or explain something. Give me the opportunity to show you what I can do.
  • Help me out rather than criticize the fact that I need help.
  • Take care of and respect the things that belong to me whether it is something you borrowed or something you see laying out in the yard. This goes for livestock, children’s toys, or tools that you have borrowed.
  • Help me recoup losses that I have suffered rather than concluding that it is my problem not yours.
  • Share with me the good news of the gospel. Sometimes I need to be reminded of the message of the gospel even as a believer. Sometimes I need to SEE grace rather than merely talk about it.
  • Respect the differences between us rather than ridicule them. Understand my political position, my religious beliefs, and my moral convictions before stereotyping me and caricaturing my position.

How Do We Get to This Point?

Having been given the principle and perhaps even admiring the principle we have to ask a simple question: Why are we so poor at obeying this command? What keeps us from being considerate toward each other in all these ways?

Welch preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,

The whole thing can be brought down to one word, ‘self’. Our Lord expresses it by saying that we should ‘love our neighbor as ourselves.” But that is the one thing we do not do, and do not want to do, because we love self so much in a wrong way. We do not do unto others as we would wish them to do unto us, because the whole time we are thinking only about ourselves, and we never transfer our thought to the other person. (Lloyd-Jones Sermon on the Mount Vol. 2 p. 214)

Once again we are reminded that we cannot live this way unless we have encountered the transformation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel starts with a painful realization: We are sinful people. We will always default to exalting ourselves and using others. We want the benefit of the doubt but we refuse to give it. We want people to take the time to understand us and yet we assume that we understand others perfectly. We are not only sinful; we are arrogantly sinful!

The gospel of Jesus reminds us that we are heading down a dead end road. In order to truly care for others we need to be transformed. We need to see life differently. We need a new heart. This new heart comes only by trusting Jesus to pay for our sin and make us new by His Spirit. We need a new creation. We need God to breathe life into us anew.

This is why we tell people that you will never have the kind of marriage you desire until you are made new in Christ. You will never be able to love each other until you have overcome that passionate and obsessive love you have for yourself! You will never be a truly good parent until you repent of your sinful preoccupation and submit to the transformation that comes through God’s mercy and grace.

In order to live by the Golden Rule we must first be made new. We need a new perspective. We must have a new heart.

There are many people who are trying to live this way in their own strength. They determine that they will simply try a little harder and they will be able to live the way Jesus calls us to live. But, they are going to remain frustrated by life. Living unselfishly requires a new heart.


This morning we have looked at a simple command that everyone knows. However, I hope you have also seen that knowing and doing are two different things. Our challenge is twofold today.

First, we need to look at our own hearts to see if we have turned to the Lord of Life for a new heart. In other words, have you ever come to the Lord and said, “Lord, I am a mess! I have rebelled against you and I am so selfish I cannot even face it. Please save me by your grace. Make me new. Put a new heart in me that I might see You in all things. Help me to also see beyond myself so I can see and consider others.

Second, we must take some time to really think about how we would like to be treated. It takes a conscious effort to think this way. And once we have done so we, by the power of God’s Spirit, should treat others the way we ourselves would like to be treated. And if we all did that . . . wow! What a wonderfully different and better this world would be. And think about how eager others would be to learn about the Jesus that lives inside of us.

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