There’s Only One Golden Rule

For quite some time I’ve wanted to write a post about the Golden Rule, but it never seems to get written. The idea has been on my mind again lately. Perhaps it’s because I’ve peeked ahead to Matthew 7 that we will be covering in church for the next two Sundays to finish up a sermon series on the essential Jesus. It is in this portion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that He shares the Golden Rule. “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 (NIV).

It is often said that the Golden Rule is part of every major religion, but that really isn’t true. Every major religion or philosophy (and probably most minor religions) does have some form of a rule of reciprocity of treatment, but many times it is in the negative form, which is sometimes called the Silver Rule. Just a few of such “rules” are:

  • Judaism – “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.” —Tobit 4:15
  • Buddhism – “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” —Udanavarga 5:18
  • Bahá’í Faith – “Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe.” —`Abdu’l-Bahá
  • Confucianism – “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius
  • Ancient Greece – “Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.” – Pittacus; and “Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others.” – Isocrates
  • Hinduism – “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.” —Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)
  • Platonism – “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” —Plato’s
    Socrates
  • Scientology – “Thus today we have two golden rules for happiness: 1. Be able to experience anything; and 2. Cause only those things which others are able to experience easily.” —Scientology: A New Slant on Life, Two Rules for Happy Living
  • Wicca – “These eight words the Rede fulfill, ‘an ye harm none do as ye will.” —The Wiccan Rede

While each of these rules are all well and good in that they call on their followers to no do any harm to others. But the Golden Rule that Jesus taught was much different. The Golden Rule calls for us to be proactive in our treatment of others. Jesus calls us to do good, not simply to refrain from doing wrong.

The Silver Rule looks like people going about their own business with little concern for others, except to make sure one’s actions don’t actively harm someone else.

The Golden Rule, on the other hand, looks like people going out of their way to feed the hungry, to provide shelter for the homeless, to encourage those in despair, to visit the lonely. The Golden Rule causes me to think, “If I was hungry and didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from, what would I want others to do for me?” And would I only want those I knew well to help, or if there were only strangers around would I want them to help so I wouldn’t starve? What I would want those strangers to do to help me is what I need to do for others, whether I know them or not.

The Golden Rule is proactive. When we follow it, we look far and wide for those in need and do what we can to help them, even if it is not convenient for us.

The Silver Rule is all well and good, but the Golden Rule is so much more. It is what Jesus did for us. He looked far and wide, and He found that we were lost and in need of a Savior. He saw that we owed a debt of sin that we could not pay, and He paid it. He saw that we were in bondage and in need of redemption, and He redeemed us. He saw that we were alone and in need of love, and He loved us.

Let us follow Jesus’ lead and do unto according to the Golden Rule.

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9 Comments

Filed under Faith, Jesus, Life

9 responses to “There’s Only One Golden Rule

  1. The positive form of the golden rule can be problematic. At extremes it may lead a rapist to justify his actions to say “well would like someone to jump out and have sex with me, so I am just doing on to others what I would have them do onto me”. Though this is extreme it may prompt people to do things that other people would prefer not to be done – mowing someone’s lawn when it gets long, repeatedly visiting someone who wants solitude, etc.

    The silver (or negative golden rule) rule is a safe minimum. Alone it is not sufficient, which is why Hinduism (and I expect the other religions) have other rules such as giving to the needy, seeing God in every person, patience, compassion, etc.

    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I think there is a critical flaw in the logic of your example, though. At it’s core, rape is not about sex but about power. For your scenario to support your argument the would-be rapist would have to think, “I would really like someone to overpower me and force me to do something I don’t want to do.” No one thinks like that.

      The Silver Rule may be safe, but Jesus was never safe. He was radical and challenged the status quo. He stood up for all those who followed Him and suffered death and the wrath of the Father to secure our place as His beloved. Peace, Linda

      • Thanks Linda,
        I think you are right about the rape example, but I could give a number of more mundane examples. I have friends who I know will appreciate being taken out for a day-long walk on the moors, even when its raining – but I also know people who would absolutely hate that!

        Thinking about if further I don’t think that either the golden rule or the silver rule on their own can reflect the teachings of a religion. The meaning of the golden rule in Christianity is clear with the teaching of Jesus. The meaning of the silver rule is clear when taken in accord with the vedas and teachings of gurus of a follower’s lineage. Without this additional example, two murderers assisting each-other could be seen as obeying the golden rule, and one criminal not giving police evidence on another as obeying the silver.

  2. You know what? “do unto others what you would have them do to you” means if you don’t want to get wounded don’t wound any one……..you can’t sow corn and reap peanut. I agree with you “do unto others what you would have them do to you” is the golden rule that when we abide by the world would be a happy place to live.

  3. Richard Cook

    “Did not he that made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb”(Job 31:15)?
    God the Father has made us all the very same way. We are our brothers keeper.

  4. Meshawn Senior

    Very interesting, Linda! I had never heard of the “Silver Rule” before or other religions’ beliefs concerning it. Blessings!

  5. You did such a good job explaining the difference between Jesus’ Golden Rule and the others. :) God bless you as He keeps you proactive today!

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