The “Golden Rule” is the name given to a principle Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The actual words “Golden Rule” are not found in Scripture, just as the words “Sermon on the Mount” are also not found. These titles were later added by Bible translation teams in order to make Bible study a little easier. The phrase “Golden Rule” began to be ascribed to this Jesus’ teaching during the 16th–17th centuries.
What we call the Golden Rule refers to Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus knew the human heart and its selfishness. In fact, in the preceding verse, He describes human beings as innately “evil” (verse 11). Jesus’ Golden Rule gives us a standard by which naturally selfish people can gauge their actions: actively treat others the way they themselves like to be treated.
All that you “expect” or “desire” of others in similar circumstances, do to them. Act not from selfishness or injustice, but put yourself in the place of the other, and ask what you would expect of him. This would make you impartial, candid, and just. It would destroy avarice, envy, treachery, unkindness, slander, theft, adultery, and murder. It has been well said that this law is what the balance-wheel is to machinery. It would prevent all irregularity of movement in the moral world, as that does in a steam-engine. It is easily applied, its justice is seen by all people, and all must acknowledge its force and value.
Jesus brilliantly condenses the entire Old Testament into this single principle, taken from Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Again, we see the implication that people are naturally lovers of self, and the command uses that human flaw as a place to start in how to treat others.
People universally demand respect, love, and appreciation, whether they deserve it or not. Jesus understood this desire and used it to promote godly behavior. Do you want to be shown respect? Then respect others. Do you crave a kind word? Then speak words of kindness to others. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The Golden Rule is also part of the second greatest commandment, preceded only by the command to love God Himself (Matthew 22:37–39). The night of His arrest, Jesus said to His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Jesus’ love for us is perfect, unchanging, and self-sacrificial. Our capacity to love others the way Jesus commands comes only from our experience of His love and from the power of the Holy Spirit.
One practical way to love others better is to imagine ourselves in their shoes. When we pause to think how we might like to be treated in a certain situation, we build empathy for those actually living that situation. Do we like to be treated with love and respect? Then we should give that gift to others.
Obeying the Christian imperative to love others is a mark of a true Christian (John 13:35). In fact, Christians cannot claim to love God if they don’t actively love other people as well. “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The Golden Rule encapsulates this idea and is unique to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
Let us ask God to give us the right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity with the hymn “In Perfect Charity”: