The golden rule is the very heart of Christian discipleship. However, many times we practice the world’s version of the golden rule rather than the Lord’s.
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12)
Though this ethical principle originated with the Old Testament of the Bible (Lev. 19:18), it is not limited to Judaism or the Christian faith. In fact, nearly every religion and secular philosophy reiterates it.
Motivated by self-preservation
Unfortunately, the golden rule, in most cases, is delivered and practiced as a negative commandment that says, One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
The golden rule in its negative form best serves our human nature which is entirely selfish (2 Tim. 2-5). For example, you may refrain from punching someone who has made you angry because you do not want to be punched. In a sense, that is practicing the golden rule, but only the negative form of it.
When we don’t do what we don’t want done to us, we become motivated by little more than self-preservation. To give another example, we might obey traffic laws because we don’t want to get caught and get a ticket. We’re not led to follow the law out of any noble purpose. We’re only protecting ourselves.
Motivated by love
Contrary to the more popular version, Jesus taught the golden rule in its positive form. He said, to paraphrase, One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
The golden rule in its positive form is selfless. For example, let’s say you need a coat and you only have money to buy one coat. But you learn of someone else who also needs a coat. So, you buy one for that person instead of yourself. That’s putting the golden rule into practice. It must be motivated by love.
We have no greater example of the golden rule than Jesus Christ. He did not allow himself to be captured, beaten, mocked, and crucified for his own good. Rather, he allowed these things out of a love for God’s people (Rom. 5:8) and a love for God’s will (Matt. 26:39).
Keep every commandment by keeping one
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Rom. 13:8-9)
All of the commandments of God are contained within this one precious commandment. You will never kill if you are always willing to lay down your life. You will never steal if you are always giving. By following this one positive commandment, you’ll never run the risk of breaking any of the negative commandments.
We can’t even claim to have the love of God unless we’re showing that same love to others (1 John 3:16-17).
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