The golden rule teaches us to be like God: Love other people while they are actively hating and rejecting you. That’s the golden rule? Did you remember it differently? Then maybe it’s time to look at the golden rule teaching in context straight from Jesus himself…
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Everyone seems to know a version of the golden rule. It’s the ‘do unto others’ principle which we quote to our children. It’s the ‘be nice’ teaching, right? You want people to be nice to you? Be nice to them. Simple.
When Jesus gave the golden rule teaching to his followers, it was slightly more complicated than that. Or maybe even more simple, depending on how you look at it. Jesus said, “Be nice to everyone.” Period. In true simplicity, his teaching could be summarized as, “Love everyone no matter what.” It’s simple, until you think about the ‘what.’
You see, the complication of Jesus’ teaching is that it actually goes against how we operate today. The golden rule was not given in isolation (like it is quoted today). The golden rule was provided within the context of Jesus teaching us about loving our enemies.
That’s right. The first and foremost application of the golden rule is toward people who are our enemies. Jesus defines our enemies, just to make sure we will get it – our enemies are those who hate us, curse us, and mistreat us. They slap us, take our stuff, and ask us for stuff (which shows their gall even more). These are the people we are to love.
The golden rule is to love people who hate you with the love you wish they demonstrated toward you.
Simple, right? Yet oh so complicated in practice. My first objection is that I don’t need my enemies to love me like my dog does. I twist the golden rule to mean that if I am comfortable with people being my enemies, I can treat them the way I want the relationship to be. If I am comfortable with strong dislike, the golden rule can be twisted to suit my needs. Remove head from bum.
That’s not the golden rule. It’s not what Jesus taught. And it will get us nowhere. Jesus elaborates.
He says that anyone can love the people who love them. Even those dirty rotten sinners love the people who love them, he says. We treat love and fair treatment like they transactional back-scratching. These principles are not part of negotiated treaties between people. We cannot go on viewing love as something which is paid and repaid like a debit and a credit in the accounting of life. That’s the world’s way, and Jesus calls us, through the golden rule, to God’s way.
God’s way is to love the ungrateful and the wicked. Proof is that he loves us. He loves us so much he sent his son for us. God didn’t wait to send Jesus until the people of earth acted lovingly toward him. God didn’t wait to show mercy to me until I turned my life with devotion toward him. The core truth of the gospel is that God showed us love and mercy while we were actively rejecting him.
The golden rule teaches us to be like God. Love other people while they are actively hating and rejecting you. That’s the simplicity of the golden rule. The complicated part will be getting our heads around this idea. If we do it, though, we will be more like Jesus and our lives will simplify greatly.
When we stop needing to figure out who to love and who not to love, we can just love everyone and change the world…