“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” I probably could have recited the Golden Rule when I was five years old. I can still recite it today. Signs on classroom bulletin boards and lectures from parents cemented the words into my brain for years.
Most world religions have some variation of this rule of reciprocity. The particular phrasing I have heard most often is from the Bible, in Matthew 7:12.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:12
I heard it explained this way.
Don’t hit. How would you feel if someone hit you? Don’t say mean words. How would you feel if someone said those things to you? Share with your brother. How would you feel if he didn’t share with you?
The Golden Rule was used to guide my behavior. I learned lessons of empathy and give-and-take.
But is that all the Golden Rule is meant to be? A guide to help children respond with kindness?
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says doing to others as we would have them do to us sums up the Law and the Prophets. The other place Jesus talks about a rule summing up the Law and the Prophets is in Matthew 22:34-39
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-39
“Do to others as we would have them do to us” is meant to be synonymous with “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Golden Rule as Jesus taught it is about more than not doing bad things. The Golden Rule as Jesus taught it is about more than responding with kindness. The Golden Rule is about initiating with love.
Recently, I have been craving encouragement. I have been tempted to throw a pity party, sit in the corner, and pout until someone noticed me.
Thankfully, I didn’t. Instead, I used that feeling as the motivation to encourage others. Sometimes strangers, sometimes friends.
When I did this, something interesting happened.
When I chose to encourage someone else the way I was hoping someone would encourage me, I was left feeling encouraged.
Initiating an act of love towards others fulfilled my own craving for love.
This may not always happen. Sometimes, I may give love away and feel more empty than when I started. If I loved just for the sake of it making me feel better, it wouldn’t actually be love.
But, I also think the Golden Rule is connected to the way God’s economy works.
We can do good for others because of what God has done for us. We can love others because of how God has shown us love.
We can give away because God fills us up.
Initiating love is scary. It carries much more risk that just responding in kindness. But it seems to me that this is what Jesus is really talking about.
This is the grown up understanding of the Golden Rule.
I’d love to hear what you think. What other desires to be loved ourselves could spur us on to initiate acts of love towards others?