The "Golden Rule"
John 3:16 is an excellent summary of the gospel. It by no means tells you everything you need to know about salvation; other verses are needed to fill in many details. It is, nevertheless, an easy-to-memorize sketch.
Luke 6:31 is an excellent summary verse in the area of conduct. Again, it does not tell you everything you need to know. But while others are certainly needed, applying this easy-to-remember verse goes a long way toward right living. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” We call it the “golden rule.” What makes it so valuable? It is. . .
Some concepts are difficult to grasp. They are abstract, expressed in complex language, mostly theoretical, etc. Not this one. The most simpleminded person can grasp it. Even small children can, which is why a mother asks her child, “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”
A popular alternative to this rule is, “Treat others the same way they have treated you.” That appeals to our sense of fairness. It explains fights (“he hit me first”), arguments, pilfering (helping myself to a little extra something from my employer because he isn’t paying me enough), and countless other sins.
Sometimes people appeal to the Bible as justification for this kind of conduct. Doesn’t it say “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”? Yes, but as always, these statements must be kept in context. The “eye and tooth law” was part of the Old Testament system. It is mentioned three times, each in a judicial setting (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-22; Deuteronomy 19:19-21). Its purpose was to help establish proportionate penalties (neither too lenient nor too severe) in cases where none was prescribed and therefore to be a deterrent to further wrong. It was not intended to be extended into the realm of personal vengeance (Matthew 5:38ff).
Wronging someone who has wronged me often just leads him to another act of retaliation in response to mine. And we may find ourselves retaliating against only perceived wrongs, not real ones.
In contrast, the golden rule shines as obviously superior. Its merits are self-evident. It prevents most conflict and tends to end it when it does occur.
One of the beauties of the golden rule is that we can apply it in any relationship or situation: at home, at school, at work, at the store, in the neighborhood, and in society broadly.
We can apply it to our actions. It makes us be fair in buying and selling. It makes us treat everyone the same, regardless of their position. It requires that we be kind and polite. It insists that we respect others’ property. It makes us patient when people are learning a new task and understanding when someone makes a mistake. It prompts us to be friendly toward those we don’t know.
We can apply it to our judgments of others. They have the same right to a patient, impartial, informed judgment that we do (James 2:1-13); to be given the benefit-of-the-doubt; to have good, rather than bad, motives attributed to them.
We can apply it to our speech. It will help us steer clear of offensive expressions and seek to encourage instead (Ephesians 4:29). It will curtail criticism. It will make us handle conversations about others with accuracy and respect (Psalm 15:3).
Perhaps we do not often think of it this way, but the golden rule applies in our relationship to the Lord as well. If we want Him to hear us, we must listen to Him (Proverbs 28:9). If we want Him to confess us, we must confess Him (Matthew. 10:32-33). If we want Him to exalt us later, we must exalt Him now (1 Peter 5:6; Colossians 3:1-4).
How about it? Are you treating others the way you want them to treat you? Are you treating God the way you want Him to treat you?