The largest single collection of the Lord’s teachings is found in the gospel of Matthew. In chapters 5-7 Matthew recorded what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 5 the Lord contrasted the standards which He expected His disciples to live up to with what they had heard from their teachers. In every case His disciples were called to a higher standard than the common practices of first century Judaism. In chapter 6 the Lord called upon His disciples to practice their faith sincerely, and to not be consumed with worry about their daily needs. In chapter 7 the Lord exhorted His disciples to correct their own sins before correcting others. He urged them to enter the narrow gate that leads to life, rather than following the crowds traveling down the broad way that leads to destruction. He also taught them how to recognize false teachers, and warned them that only those who do the Father’s will are going to enter heaven.
In the midst of chapter 7 is one of the most basic principles of the Christian faith. In Mt. 7:12 the Lord said, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (NASB) In this simple command the Lord revealed the core of what it means to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In Mt. 22:35-40 the Lord said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind. The second most important, He said, was to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
We call Mt. 7:12 the Golden Rule, a term that apparently was coined by Anglican theologians in the 17th century. Skeptics sometimes point out that Jesus was not the first to express such a philosophy, but in so doing they ignore the fact that all other expressions of this principle come from a negative perspective. For example, Confucius said, “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” In the first century B.C. Rabbi Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” The Greek philosopher Sextus said, “What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either.”
Although all of these statements predate the Lord’s ministry on the earth, they all fall far short of the standard to which the Lord called His disciples. Followers of Christ are commanded to be proactive in a positive way toward others. We are to do to them, and for them, what we would like done for ourselves. By treating others with the love, kindness, courtesy, respect, and goodness that we desire for ourselves, we follow the Lord’s own example and honor Him by our obedience. At the same time, our actions may draw the lost to salvation in Christ, which is the best thing we can do for anyone.
Nearly everyone is aware of the Golden Rule. Very few, it seems, actually live by it. We should not be surprised that unbelievers do not live by it. After all, they are still in their sins, and have no concept of the kind of sacrificial living to which Christians have been called. Even so, the Lord requires His disciples to follow this principle in their dealings with everyone, whether they are believers or not.
This being the case, how much more so ought Christians to live by the Golden Rule when dealing with each other? In Gal. 6:10 Paul said, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” We cannot be acceptable to our Lord if we do not treat others in the way that we would have them treat us. We can be doctrinally correct in every detail, but if we do not live by the Golden Rule, it means nothing. Therefore, let us be “golden” in all our relationships.