The Golden Rule


Dr. John Hoole – Nov. 12, 2017



A Guy Named Bill


His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college.   He is brilliant.   Kinda esoteric and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college.

 Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it.   One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair.  The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat.  By now people are looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything.   Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit and when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, trust me, this had never happened in this church before!)   By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill.  Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, a three-piece suit, and a pocket watch.  A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves, You can’t blame him for what he’s going to do.  How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can’t even hear anyone breathing. The people are thinking, The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do. And now they see this elderly man drops his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships alongside him so he won’t be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion. There seems to not be a dry eye in the entire congregation.  When the minister finally gains control he says, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget.”  

Rebecca Manley Pippert, retold by Alice Gray More Stories for the Heart compiled by Alice Gray (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1997), pp. 32-33.


This story is an illustration of the part of The Sermon on the Mount we are now ready to consider.  We call it The Golden Rule.




Matthew 7:12 NKJV


12     Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.


There have been a number of ways to state this same instruction.


                   •        Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

                   •        Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

                   •        Whatever you want people to do to you, do that to them.


This rule is perhaps the most universally praised statement that Jesus ever made --- by Christian and non-Christian alike.  It has been called “the topmost peak of social ethics……..the Everest of all ethical teaching.”


Its uniqueness is even seen in the descriptive phrase which Jesus tacks on after giving the Golden Rule.  He says this statement sums up all that was said by the O.T. Law and prophets.  Other translations put it even more bluntly, by stating, “this IS the Law and the prophets.”  Within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, this is a perfect summary of what precedes it in chapter 7.  In the first eleven verses there is a continuous theme, which is summarized in verse 12.


The basic points that comes before it, which we have already studied:



And now we are told: 


Allow me to state it another way.  The Golden Rule is a practical application of what immediately came before it. (vss 7-11)  In other words, what happens when we get up off our knees, having been in the presence of God?  How are we to act and live, now that we are in the presence of other people?  Life is full of relationships.  And we cannot relate properly in the way the Golden Rule directs us, unless we pray and receive from God the grace to love others as He loves them.




There are many, including some sociologists, ethicists, and social reformers, who would say the same thought carried by Jesus’ statement was documented many times before Christ came on the scene.


Hindu                        This is the sum of duty; do naught unto others which if done to thee would cause

thee pain.  (Mahabharata  5,1517)


Zoroastrian             That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is

                                     not good for itself.


                                Whatever thou dost not approve for thyself, do not approve for anyone else.

                                When thou has acted in this manner, thou art righteous.


Buddhist                 Hurt not others in ways that you would find hurtful  (Udana-Varga  5,18)


Confucian               Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.  (Analects  15,23)


Sikh                         Don’t create enmity with anyone as God is within everyone.


Greek                       Do not do to others what you would not wish to suffer yourself.

Philosophy                Do not do what anyone is vexed to suffer.


                                 Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others

                                  Isocrates,   BC 436-338


There is a story in The Letter of Aristeas about a Jewish scholar who was giving instruction to an Egyptian king,  In his instruction, he makes this statement:  “As you wish that no evil should befall you, but to be a partaker of all good things, so you should act on the same principle towards your subjects and offenders.”


Back in the times of Jesus, the Pharisees, were not unanimous in their beliefs.  They were divided into two camps named for their two greatest rabbis, Hillel and Shammai both of whom appeared on the scene about two decades prior to Christ’s birth.


Their respective schools dominated the religious scene in Israel for the next two centuries.  Shammai was the conservative;  Hillel the moderate.  While Shammai interpreted the Law stringently, Hillel rejected what he saw as strict, inhuman applications of the Law.  Shammai was very focused on the truth of God’s Law.  Hillel took the Law seriously, but he would bend it in the direction of compassion.


Hillel made a statement that became part of the Jewish Talmud.  He said to one of his followers: “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole Law, and the rest is commentary.  Go and learn.”


All of these documented statements predate the life of Christ.  So again I ask the question:




Let me answer the question by first relating a homely story.  During the first quarter of the 19th century, towards the end of Beethoven’s life, an unknown musician made a small alteration in the constructions of the harpsichord.  This alteration subsequently altered the whole development of western music.




                   We’re talking about the Piano.




The strings of a harpsichord are plucked by a small hook, producing a sound with a consistently even intensity, similar to that of a harp.  In the piano the hook was replaced by a hammer, so that the string was struck rather than plucked.  This minute alteration made a huge difference musically.  The dynamic range of the piano is much greater than the harpsichord.


This change paved the way for the dramatic and thrilling compositions (at least to me) of Rachmaninoff, Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, Tchaikowsky and Chopin.  Following its creation, the development of music began to revolve to a large degree around the piano.


This story illustrates the kind of change that was brought into the realm of ethics by the teaching of Jesus Christ --- In particular, this is true of the so-called Golden Rule, as Jesus stated it.  The difference between all the other statements and that of Christ might be considered a small issue by some, but it has made a huge difference in what is expected of us.


The difference is seen in that all the statements of others are in a negative form.  They may be similar, but the point is that all of them are negative.  They say, “Do not do anything to anyone that you would not want them to do to you.”


Jesus’ statement is spoken positively, thereby inverting the saying, and, of course, changing its scope immeasurably.  Jesus said “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”


Like the seemingly small change between plucking and striking a string, I believe it is correct to say that in changing this to a positive statement, there really is no parallel to what Christ instructs us to do.


William Barclay say:


“This is something which had never been said before.  It is new teaching, and a new view of life and of life’s obligations.”


Let me explain the huge difference between all these other ethical statements and that of Christ.




1.      You could say that one is motivated by fear and the other motivated by love.


The negative versions are all ruled by fear.  You don’t want something bad to happen to you, so you are not to do something bad to others.  As such, the negative form has self as the center.  It is possible for a man or woman to discipline themselves so that they do not hurt others, primarily because they do not want others to hurt themselves.


On the other hand, Jesus says that we are to treat others the way we would want to be treated.  This means to do good, not because you expect good in return, but do good whether they return good or not.  Jesus’ statement requires you and I to do something favorably to others, while the others ethical statements only prohibit you from doing something unfavorably to others, if it would be unfavorable to you.


With the others, all that is required is that you don’t harm other people.  That’s great, as far as it goes. With Jesus, what is required is that you show love and kindness to others.  Jesus’ statement is the truly Golden Rule.  The others might be Silver Rules – having some value – but not comparable to Jesus.


2.  The second difference between the negative and positive forms of the Golden Rule is this.


Because the negative forms have self as the center, it has always been possible for people to keep.  But, in its positive form, it is extremely more difficult.  In fact, it makes it impossible for normal human beings to keep.


The negative form of the rule involves nothing more than not doing certain things.  The fact that we should not do injury to other people is not a significantly religious principle.  It is rather a legal principle.  It is a principle that can be kept by a man or woman who has no belief and no interest in religion at all.  In fact, a person can keep the negative form of the rule by simple inaction.


When the rule is put positively, when we are told that we must actively do to others what we would have them do to us a new – or at least different – principle enters into our life.  Now I must be proactive and go out of my normal way to help other people and to be kind to them -- in the same way that I would wish them to help and be kind to me.


Only Jesus gives the fullness of truth which encompasses both the positive and the negative.  And only Jesus can give the power to live by that full truth.  The ability to live this supreme rule must come from outside our fallen nature.  It can come only from the indwelling Holy Spirit, whose first fruit is love.


         In Romans 5:5 we are told  that “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”


             John 13:34 tells that only the Holy Spirit can empower us to love each other as Christ loves us.


According to 1 John 4:19, we can only love in a divine way because God Himself has first loved us divinely.


Selfless love does not serve in order to prevent our own harm or to insure our own welfare.  It serves for the sake of the other one being served, whether we ever received such service or not.  That level of love is the divine level….and can be achieved only by divine help.


To see the difficulty, or impossibility, of observing Christ’s command, we need to look at verses that give very similar instruction.


Galatians 5:14 NKJV


14     For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 


Like the Golden Rule, we are here given a command that is said to summarize the entire Law.  Two statements, each of which are a summary of the same thing, must be speaking the same.


Romans 13:8-10 NKJV


8       Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

9       For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 

10     Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Put on Christ


Here we find three successive statements, each of which is a summary or fulfillment of the Law.  And in each, as it was in Galatians 5:14, we are told to love others.


James 2:8 NKJV


8       If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well;


Each of these verses, including the Golden Rule, are said to be a summary of the entirety of the Old Testament Law.  We are told to love others; love our neighbor as ourselves, do good, be kind regardless of other people’s actions.


But, at this point there may be someone here that asks: “But what about love for God?  Doesn’t loving Him come first?”  Absolutely it does.


But the Bible also makes it clear that we show our love for God by loving others the way He loves us.     Love for others grows out of our love for God.  God counts our love for others as if we were loving Himself.  When we are loving others in the way He loves them, we are loving Him at the same time.


How can I assert that?






In each of the verses we just read, we are instructed to love other people.  Can you guess what Greek word is used for love in each of these verses?






Agape love refers to divine love.  It is not naturally resident in us.  To love this way takes God in us.


What is the difference between the filial love we have for one another and Agape love?  Human beings with filial love will lay down their lives for their friends and family.  But our Lord in Heaven, the source of divine ‘agape’ love, lays down His life for His enemies.


This kind of love is what is to be exhibited in the lives of the followers of Christ.  It is a love that goes beyond the circle of friends we each have, to include even our enemies and those who wish us harm.


It is natural to love them that love us.  But it is supernatural to love them that hate us.  When we demonstrate our love for others in acts of kindness and compassion, we are doing them unto our Lord and Savior.  The implication is that when we love others, it is rooted in our love for God.


Let’s……                Do all the good we can,

                                In all the ways we can,

                                In all the places we can,

                                At all times we can,

                                To all the people we can,

                                As long as we ever can.


1 John 4:20-21 NKJV


20     If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

21     And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.


That’s about as direct as you can state it.  Loving our brother (and sister) is a demonstration of our love for God.  One cannot happen without the other.


But there may be some here that would like to hold me to the strict wording of these verses.  You may want to say, “John, this isn’t talking about our neighbor – but about family” --- “This is talking about how we treat others in the Family of God and we know that Jesus told us that our position as His disciple is demonstrated by our loving one another.”


Jesus Himself expands this beyond just family, and He does so right here in the Sermon on the Mount.


Matthew 5:43-45  (NKJV)


43     "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

44     "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,

45     "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven……


Jesus isn’t talking about family here.  This is no reference to brothers and sisters in the faith.  These may even be ridiculing your walk with the Lord.


Jesus is instructing His followers to be a loving people, and this love will be evident in their lives by the way they treat others.  He says, in effect, “I don’t want you to be passive concerning your treatment of your enemies either.”  You are to love them.


How many of you have visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas?  It has been quite a few years, but I visited the site a number of times when I was in Air Force boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base.


On the wall near the main entrance is a portrait with the following inscription. “James Butler Bonham – no picture of him exist.  This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle.  It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”


Think about this.  No literal portrait of Jesus exists either.  But the likeness of the Son who died to makes us free should be seen in the lives of His followers.  Do I resemble Christ – do people see His likeness in me?  The bottom line is that we can become people who care because we are growing into the image of Christ.  As we become like Him, we become people who care.  And this should be the goal for every Christian.  Our purpose in life is to be conformed to the image of God's Son, Jesus (Rom. 8:29).


Our commitment to Christ will determine if we care and how we respond to others in their need.


A man fell into a pit and couldn't get himself out.-



Psalms 40:2-3 NKJV


2       He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.

3       He has put a new song in my mouth —  Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the Lord.


May God make us like Jesus - People Who Care.   And may we reflect an accurate image of what Christ is like.  Like Christ, let’s lift people out of the pit.