It’s one of the oldest life truths known to the human race. Jesus taught it, but it predates him by almost two thousand years and is found in every world religion. It’s the ultimate key to a fruitful and satisfying life. Of course, I’m speaking of The Golden Rule (TGR); the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.
TGR is first found about 2000 BC in ancient Egypt in The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, “Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do.” In 1440 BC The Hebrew Scriptures stated, “Don’t oppress a foreigner, for you well know how it feels to be a foreigner, since you were foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9) and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Over three millennia later that statement would be a good one for Aussies to get a hold of in our treatment of refugees!
Various philosophers then picked up TGR. In 5th century BC Greece, Socrates wrote “Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.” Plato said, “May I do to others as I would that they should do to me.” Aristotle, Seneca and Philo also wrote about TGR.
The twelve classical world religions all contain TGR. Judaism is the oldest religion to embrace it: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Buddhism: “a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” (Samyutta Nikaya v. 353). Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” (Mahabharata 5:1517). Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself” (Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths). Imagine the impact in the world right now if the pseudo-Islamic groups like the so-called Islamic State, the Taliban and Al Qaeda got a hold of this truth!
Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Jainism and Sikhism all state the golden rule in various ways.
What has been known, taught and practised for thousands of years in various religions and philosophies has now been embraced by modern social psychology as stated in The Law of Reciprocity. When someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. One psychology website asked the question: “Have you ever noticed that you feel compelled to do something for people who have helped you along the way – even if they haven’t asked you to? There’s something very powerful at play that causes this phenomenon.” This site also taught about intent: “If your intent is to give so you get something back then your motive is wrong.”
Jesus put it like this, “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). In other words, living by this one rule of life is like living up to the entire Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians refer to as The Old Testament).
Inbuilt into this law of life is what I call the golden question and the golden answer. The question is, “how do I want to be treated?” And the answer, “that’s how I’m going to live!” Jesus taught some practical ways of living out TGR in everyday life (note the progression):
- Do not judge others, so that others will not judge you.
The word “judge” here means, “to pick out by separating.” In other words, Christian people – or anyone who chooses to live by TGR – will never single out a particular people group and treat them differently to the way they would treat others.
- Do not condemn others, and others will not condemn you.
“Condemn” means “to pass sentence upon.” If you live by TGR you won’t pronounce a punishment on those who are different or who have a differing opinion.
- Forgive others, and others will forgive you.
Forgiveness is the opposite of condemnation. Instead of passing judgment you choose to pardon, to release others and to set them free.
- Give to others, and others will give to you.
The implication here is that instead of giving judgement, condemnation and unforgiveness, TGR encourages us to give the opposite and to give it generously. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
While I certainly don’t always get it right, I do believe TGR is the best way to live. It’s also a good thing to bear in mind as we interact with others in society and could be a good gauge in helping us do the right thing when we face various ethical debates and dilemmas. Instead of wanting everything “my way” what would be the best way to act for the benefit of others? How can I treat others as I would like to be treated? After all, it’s how God has chosen to treat each of us in Jesus. Jesus died for us “while we were yet sinners” and has given us his undeserved, sacrificial, no-strings-attached, self-giving love. How should this truth impact the way we treat those who haven’t yet come to Christ?