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Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

This instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ has aptly been called the Golden Rule.

It certainly is a rule for life. In all your dealings with others, do unto them as you would have them do unto you.

This rule is certainly golden. It is one of those rules that serve as sure guides in every situation. We often wonder what is the best course in dealing with others. Following this rule, we will never err.

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

How different life would be, were we all to follow this rule!


To gain a proper understanding of this golden rule, we must bear in mind that Jesus is addressing us as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This rule appears in the Sermon on the Mount. The theme of this sermon is the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. Jesus begins His sermon with the Beatitudes, in which He describes the spiritual characteristics of the citizens of the kingdom. They are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those that hunger after righteousness, etc. They are not this naturally but by reason of the new birth in Jesus Christ.

When Jesus gives us this golden rule for living, He gives it to us as born again citizens of this kingdom. That is important to bear in mind so that we may have a clear understanding of what it is that we want others to do to us. That’s different for a citizen of the kingdom than it is for the natural man.

The natural man, fallen in Adam, is corrupt and depraved. His goals in life are completely earthly, selfish, and sinful. He wants material wealth, prestige, power, and the life of ease that comes with it. He also wants the pleasures of sin. And what does he want others to do to him? He wants others to do those things that will enable him to attain his earthly, selfish, and sinful goals. He wants others to assist him in accumulating wealth. He wants others to help him in his quest for power. He wants others to join him in sin. And when he gets into trouble because of his sinful life-style, he wants others to cover up for him.

All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

This certainly is not what Jesus had in mind with this golden rule.

Now let’s consider the citizen of the kingdom, born of grace. The goals of his life are entirely different. When his life is controlled by grace, he seeks neither the things of this earth, nor the pleasures of sin. He seeks rather the kingdom of God and His righteousness. It is true that this is given as an admonition later on in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:33). Nevertheless, Jesus gives this command to strengthen the resolve that is already in the citizen of the kingdom. What the citizen of the kingdom wants others to do unto him is all that enables him to enter the kingdom and enjoy its righteousness and life. He wants others to help him find the forgiveness of his sins in Jesus Christ. He wants others to assist him in resisting temptation and meeting his obligations to the kingdom in a godly walk. And, yes, he wants his daily bread. That too is important for seeking the kingdom during this life.

All these we should want that men do to us.

These desires are present by reason of the new birth. They must be cultivated by the Word and by prayer.


All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

Many abandon this rule and follow rules of their own making. One such rule is to do unto others as they have done unto you. According to this rule, you do good to those that do good to you, and you return evil for the evil others have shown you. Another rule is to do unto others before they can do it unto you. You suspect that someone is about to do evil to you, so you protect yourself by doing that evil to him first.

But the rule of the kingdom is, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

The meaning is quite simple. In your dealings with others, consider what you would want them to do to you. How would you like to be treated in this situation? Do the same to others.

Notice that Jesus adds, “in all things.” This means that we must apply this rule to every neighbor. We must behave this way not just to our friends, but also to strangers and even to our enemies. We must follow this rule no matter what it costs us in terms of money, time, energy, or reputation.

Jesus emphasizes one more thing that is not reflected in our English translation. We must continually do all things whatsoever we would that men should do to us. In following this rule we find that some do not appreciate what we do, nor do they respond in the way we desire. Our efforts sometimes do not seem to help. Never mind. Continue to do all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you.


For this is the law and the prophets.

The law and the prophets were the Old Testament Scriptures, the sum total of Scriptures that had been given, up until this point in history.

The law was not just the ten commandments but also the whole Mosaic law that governed Israel’s religious and civil life. It was a law that proclaimed the gospel to Israel. There were the ceremonial laws that governed Israel’s worship around the temple with the altar, the sacrifices, the priesthood, and the feast days. When these laws were followed, Israel had a beautiful picture of the salvation that was to come in the promised Christ. The civil laws organized Israel into a nation, giving them a picture of the future kingdom of heaven. And the ten commandments not only showed Israel the need for the Savior, but also served as a rule for gratitude.

The prophets did all their work in the context of that law. The Mosaic law dominated all of Israel’s life in the Old Testament, including the revelation of God given later through the prophets. The word through the prophets merely developed the gospel of grace revealed in the law to a richer, fuller measure.

Since the time that Jesus gave this instruction, God has also given us the New Testament Scriptures. These follow in the great tradition of the law and prophets. They reveal how the promises of the law and prophets are all fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The golden rule must govern our behavior because of the law and the prophets.

This means, first, that the golden rule is the practical application of what the law and the prophets require of us in our relationship to the neighbor. The law and the prophets require that we love God with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves. These are the two great commandments of the law. This golden rule is a practical application of the command to love the neighbor as ourselves. Certainly this great commandment of the law means that we are to love ourselves. We are to love ourselves as the workmanship of God. If we truly love ourselves, we will seek our eternal welfare in the kingdom of heaven. This is also what we should want others to do unto us. And if we love the neighbor in the same way, we will also do the same to him.

But there is more.

The law and the prophets empower us to follow this golden rule.

Of ourselves we cannot and will not keep this rule. By nature we are so corrupt that we hate God and the neighbor. Consequently, we always fall short of this rule. We tend to do unto others as they have done unto us. We may even keep this rule some of the time, with some people, under certain circumstances. But we will never do it out of the deep spiritual principle of love that Jesus sets before us.

But the law and the prophets (today we would say the whole of Scripture) change all that. The law and the prophets proclaim salvation in Jesus Christ from the depravity and power of sin. Not only do they proclaim salvation, they are also the power of God to bring us that salvation. The result of that salvation is that we do love our neighbor as ourselves, and in that love we do follow this golden rule with him. By calling our attention to the law and the prophets, Jesus is simply calling us to live the salvation He has given us.


Therefore!

This golden rule is the conclusion to what Jesus has just taught about prayer.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. What man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven.

Therefore!

In this golden rule Jesus draws a conclusion. If God so loves us that He will look to our welfare with His good gifts, so must we also love our neighbor by looking to his welfare. And this is accomplished by doing unto him as we would have him do to us.

As we deal with one another, let us pray fervently for God’s good gifts of love. You cannot follow this golden rule without such prayer. For only when you have received in prayer the goodness of God’s love will you be motivated to love the neighbor as yourself and to follow in that love this golden rule.