The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12)


This verse seems to be a summary statement of the teaching that Jesus has given in the Sermon on the Mount. Often it is said that preachers should be able to summarise their message in a sentence. Whether that is the case or not I cannot say, although it is of interest that Jesus, the master preacher, did so here.

The obvious deduction that can be made from this verse is the importance of relationships. A brief survey of the Sermon on the Mount will remind us of several crucial features of the Christian life: Christian character as expressed in the Beatitudes; function as salt and light; a believer’s prayer life as summarised in the Lord’s Prayer and in the exhortations to ask, seek and knock; the need of mortification of inward sin as detailed in Jesus’ application of the ten commandments; and not to engage in wrong judging. We can then ask ourselves, What is the common goal of these spiritual disciplines? The answer to this important question is given in 7:12, and it is ‘healthy relationships’.

It is important to note the positive element in Jesus’ teaching. He does not say, ‘Don’t do to others what you would not want them to do to you.’ That negative way of speaking has been found in other religions and in non-Christian philosophies. I don’t want a person to steal from me, and therefore I should not steal from him. I don’t want another person to speak badly about me, therefore I should not speak badly about him. Of course, it is good not to steal or to speak badly about others.

The words of Jesus demand far more. He says, ‘Do unto others what you would like them to do unto you, whether they do them or not.’ In other words, we know the best behaviour that another person should have. We are not to wait until they show it. Instead we are to show them how to do it, to become an example to others. In other words, Jesus wants his followers to live out the Sermon on the Mount wherever they are and whoever they are with. 

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