The Depth of the Golden Rule

A close friend and co-worker of ours recently lost her mother after a long battle with dementia. I was amazed by the way she handled the difficult journey with such grace, patience and transparency. This past week she described the heart-wrenching decisions that had to be made along the way as well as the twists and turns of grief, pain and even joy.

She shared something so simple, yet so profound about the lens through which she viewed the whole journey. “I put myself in her shoes and asked, ‘how would I want someone to treat me.'” The golden rule drove her decisions big and small. She explained what this looked like in her conversations with her mother, the time they spent together, her choices regarding living situation and those who would be her care-takers. Each of these areas and more were informed by a genuine desire to treat her mother as she would want to be treated.

Our discussion triggered a realization. First, I recognized a depth in that command I had never felt before. Such a simple yet profound truth, sufficient for caring for a loved one with dementia. Second, I realized that I have not thought deeply about applying the command of Christ we call the golden rule. I think I have hovered around the surface of that imperative, but have rarely explored its significant implications. Let’s look at the text together briefly. In Matthew’s account we are given the following

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

On this command hang the law and the prophets, this is no small thing. The moral concerns of the entire law and prophets can be summarized under this banner. Jesus uses this same language when discussing the overlapping concept of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matt 22:39-40). In other words, this critical command is intended for pervasive application. Every corner of our lives should have the light of this imperative shine on it. Every relationship should be viewed through this lens.

First step in application is to think through the way you want to be treated in different situations. When fearful I wish others to be reassuring. When in pain I want others to be compassionate. When angry I want others to be patient. When excited I want others to share my joy. When I fail I want others to show grace.

The second step in application is to think through our relational contexts. What would it look like to apply this command in these different relationships?

  • In our homes
    • Spouses
    • Children
    • Parents
    • Extended Family
  • At our jobs
    • Bosses
    • Co-workers
    • Employees
  • With our neighbors
    • Friends
    • Acquaintances
  • In our churches
    • Pastors/Elders
    • Members
    • Visitors

A great variety of relational scenarios arise in these different contexts. Taking the golden rule and pressing it into each unique situation would change the we way we relate and the way people feel with us. What would happen if this truth guided how we engaged in all our relationships? How would things be different? How would people feel? How would we feel? The command requires intentionality and sacrifice. It requires Christ-likeness…for “Christ did not please himself” (Rom 15:3). He put the interest of others before himself. He embodied the command to love neighbor and fleshed out the golden imperative.

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