The Real Golden Rule
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matt 7:12, Luke 6:31)
These words of Jesus have come to be known as “The Golden Rule”. What many people fail to realise, however, is that Jesus stated this maxim not as the culmination of his own teachings, but as the centre of the Law. Indeed, Leviticus 19:8 tells us to love your neighbour as yourself, and there are those that use this misconceived belief that this is a core teaching of Christ to argue that Christ’s core teachings are indistinguishable to past Rabbi’s. To ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ was recognised widely in the New Testament as the heart of the law (Matt 19:19, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, and James 2:8). Christ’s fulfilment of the heart of Old Testament law came in his ‘new commandment’:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you are to love one another.” (John 13:34, also John 15:12)
The difference is subtle yet significant, and is thus the real Golden Rule to any Christian. Instead of treating others based on our own perception of ideal behaviour, which is so often distorted through negative emotions, we are to treat others as how Christ treated us. Jesus is the example (Kierkegaard called Jesus ‘the prototype’ a few times), and throughout his life called upon people who were willing to follow his example and be imitators.
Because of this, it should not be surprising that throughout all of the Gospels and select epistles (1 John and James especially) Jesus commands his followers to act based on the example he and his father has given them. Jesus has commanded his followers to forgive as unconditionally as God forgives our own sins (Matt 6:14-15, Matt 18:32-33, Col 3:13, Eph 4:32, Matt 18:23-35), to love those who wrong us like how God loves sinners who have wronged him (Luke 6:32-36, Marr 5:43-48), to lay our lives down for others as Christ did for us (1 John 3:16), to serve others as Christ served his disciples (most beautifully described in John 13:1-17 as Christ washed the feet of his disciples with his own hair), and to suffer as Christ did for us (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 1 Peter 2:20-21, Luke 14:27-33). There are many more examples of either Jesus or an apostle imploring us to follow Christ’s example, but the most important point in these verses is how necessary it is for a follower of Christ to follow his example. John wrote in 1 John 2:6 –
“Here is the test by which we can make sure that we are in him: whoever claims to be dwelling in him, binds himself to live as Christ himself lived.”
It could not be any more explicit how the essence of Christianity is the imitation of Jesus Christ, what he taught (ethics, not theology), and how he treated others. As in, Christianity is tied to our existence within the world, making the following of Jesus Christ a primarily existential endeavour. So as we reflect on the real Golden Rule and other teachings of Christ, let us not hide behind 'theological comforts' that we'll all be going to heaven anyway whatever we do (an idea that was equally as dangerous nineteen hundred years ago; see Romans 6), but rather look to the life of Jesus and find in his example an inspiration to continually push ourselves to be kinder, more forgiving, indiscriminately loving, and a true imitator of Christ.