Perhaps Jesus’ most famous saying is the Golden Rule: “So in all things, whatever you want others to do to you, you do likewise to them; for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Unfortunately, this may also be the most misunderstood saying of Jesus.
It is unfair to take a person’s words out of context. If we ignore the setting of Jesus’ Golden Rule, we can be misled into thinking that Jesus is telling us how to be saved. But Jesus is talking to those who have already decided to follow him. Their decision to follow him is their salvation, not their efforts at living by the Golden Rule.
When God delivered his people Israel from cruel bondage in Egypt, he did not give them the 10 Commandments and promise to save them if they obeyed. No. To be saved they simply had to trust him enough to follow him.
God brought the children of Israel out of slavery first, then he gave them the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The commandments did not save them. The commandments taught them how to live as saved people.
Jesus teaches his followers how to live holy lives, not in order to be saved, but because they are saved. We do not follow the Golden Rule in order to qualify for salvation.
It is unfair to put words in a person’s mouth. Jesus makes no promises with the Golden Rule. He is not giving us the secret to winning friends and influencing people. The Golden Rule is not a tool for making others do the right thing.
Earlier in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that his followers are salt and light. We are to do good deeds so that people will see and give glory to God, not give glory to us.
If we expect the Golden Rule to be an effective way of motivating others to act right, we will be disappointed. As followers of Jesus, we live by the Golden Rule not to persuade others to treat us right. We live by the Golden Rule because it pleases our Lord and brings honor to him.
Some people say that Jesus’ Golden Rule shows that he is no different from the other great religious leaders. Every great world religion, they say, has a teaching similar to the Golden Rule, so treating others as we wish to be treated must be the essence of all religion. But they are wrong.
Jesus says that the Golden Rule is the Law and the Prophets. In other words, it is an accurate representation of the Old Testament. The Golden Rule is not meant to be the pinnacle of human religion. It is a summary of God’s revelation to man in the Bible. And there is more.
When asked which command is greatest, Jesus gave not one but two. First, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Second, we must love our neighbor as ourselves. You cannot have one without the other.
The Golden Rule is not just good advice. It is the word of God. We live by it not because it makes our lives better, but because it pleases our Lord.
May God give us hearts that love him and each another,