Whether or not you grew up in a Christian home, you were probably raised hearing The Golden Rule – Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. It has been a pillar of morality in our society for generations and yet, many people do not know that it comes from the Bible.
For the people who do know that it comes from the Bible, even fewer know the context in which it was spoken. Like me, for the longest time, The Golden Rule stood alone in my mind unsupported by the words printed around it in Matthew 7. The Golden Rule was spoken toward the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in v. 12 of that chapter, and if you have an ESV Bible (and perhaps other versions as well), the editors chose to have v. 12 start a new section with a new heading. This, however, interrupts the train of thought that Jesus is working through.
At the beginning of v. 12 we read the first word as being “So” which points us back to the previous verses for the reason why we should treat others the way we want them to treat us. The previous paragraph (vv. 7-11) gives great weight and motivation to this command because in it we find the graciousness of God dripping from the page. In verse 7 Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Then, in vv. 9-10, he asks the audience a couple of instructive questions about their tendency as parents: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?” The obvious answer is that most people wouldn’t show that kind of cruelty to their kids. So then, Jesus concludes by asking, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (v. 11)
What’s the point? Why do these verses give power to The Golden Rule? Because they make The Golden Rule more than just a “be good for goodness’ sake” command. If you tell me to be good without giving me a reason (and a good reason at that), I might obey for a little while, but it won’t last. Jesus knows this about our nature, so he tells us about the overflowing kindness of our heavenly Father who will always give good things to us when we ask. So, The Golden Rule becomes “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you because God always gives good gifts to his children.” We aren’t called to be good for goodness’ sake, we are called to be good because God has been so good to us. Because Jesus died in the place of believers, God is an ever-generous giver of good to us, therefore, we are called to extend that kindness to others.