The Golden Rule: It’s the Law (and the Prophets)

The Golden Rule: It’s the Law (and the Prophets) June 20, 2014

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”—Jesus of Nazareth

There are not many things I find more beautiful and difficult than the Sermon on the Mount. If any of us can read these words and not be shaken to the core, we’re either lying to ourselves or we don’t get it.

One of Jesus’ most profound statements is what we now call the golden rule: “Do to other what you would have them do to you. . .” This simple little statement is followed by the most powerful exclamation point, ” . . . for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” When Jesus tells you that the whole Law (not to mention all the words of the prophets) are summed up in one phrase, you listen.

It’s interesting to me that this little saying isn’t entirely particular to Jesus. In some fashion it had been around for centuries:

  • “Do not do to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.”—Pittacus (c. 640–568 BC)
  • “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”—Confucius (c. 551–479 BC)
  • “Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.”—Isocrates (436–338 BC)

But when it comes out of Jesus’ mouth, it’s turned on its head. I mean, in the past we got off by simply not annoying people.

I don’t like wedgies, so I shouldn’t give you wedgies. I don’t like to have my car keyed, so I shouldn’t key your car. I don’t want to listen to country music, so I shouldn’t force you to listen to country music. Living harmoniously with others is simply a case of not doing crappy things to them.

Jesus says that the whole of God’s law is summed up with the mindset that I should ardently do for others what I would like for them to do for me. With a simple little change, this saying takes on a whole world of profound significance.

The people of God are called to actively and intentionally do good for others. And not just the good that we’re willing to do, but the good we wish would be done for us.

So fire up your empathy machine and look at the people around you. If you were in their situation, think about what you would you want someone to do for you—then do it.

I mean, after all, it’s the law.

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  • Love it. It’s pretty interesting how obsessed with (what we call) social justice the prophets are. Amos, Micah, Habakkuk—all super interested in people treating each other with this kind of attitude.

  • George Wiley

    Not sure I agree completely with your take on this. It leaves open to much wiggle room. After all the words of Jesus are meant for His followers and not the world at large. Ie, does this apply to those who wish us dead, and actively seek to kill us.

  • Thanks for the comment, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about seeing as how:
    A. I don’t get what the “wiggle room” thing’s about.
    B. I’m pretty much talking to “believers.” Unless… you think that Jesus is saying we’re only do unto other believers as we would have them do unto us. In which case, that’s pretty crazy. But it does let us bomb non-believers so it does have that going for it (if you’re into that kind of thing).

  • I always liked the Golden Rule. It’s more significant when you realize that Jesus is also quoting a key Jewish figure, Hillel the Elder. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Same applies to the New Testament, really.