The Golden Rule

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

I must admit, I am not that great a fan of the way that Matthew 7:12 has become known as “The Golden Rule.”  It sounds like one of those mechanistic laws for life.  Almost as though it guarantees reciprocal treatment. 

Have a look again at those words in context. What have we been seeing as we have looked at the Sermon on the Mount over the past few weeks? Well, in the immediate context, we have been talking about judgementalism and about prayer.

Notice that Matthew 7:7-11 sharply contrasts the desire to stick the boot in and judge others with the trust we can have in God that he will answer our prayers and give us good things to enjoy because he is our loving heavenly father.  The answer to judgementalism is not to simply abstain from justice and discernment. The answer is generous, overflowing grace and love.

Remember as well that when we looked at prayer earlier, we were reminded that Jesus taught us to pray:

“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”[1]

Jesus concluded his model prayer by saying:

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”[2]

We saw at the time how this was rooted in the gracious generosity of a heavenly Father who knows what we need before we even ask and yet delights to hear and answer our prayers.

Then when we got to chapter 7, Jesus began by saying:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”[3]

Notice the similarity between those statements and the words we are now reading. It is looking less and less like we have a stand-alone “Golden Rule” here and more like we are working with a repeated refrain. The constant theme of the Sermon on the Mount is not about tit for tat or “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Remember also how Jesus scraps the “eye for an eye” approach to justice and encourages believers instead to go the extra mile. [4]

Instead of such an approach, God’s happy people are those who experience, his love, generosity, grace and forgiveness. It so transforms their hearts so that it overflows to their relationships to others. It is not just that we treat as we might want to be treated but that we should be treating as we have been treated.

What will it mean for you today to act with unconditional love, overflowing compassion and grace-filled forgiveness?


[1] Matthew 6:12

[2] Matthew 6:14-15.

[3] Matthew 7:2

[4] Matthew 5:38-42

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