In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.Matthew 7:12
The Golden Rule. I’ve personally never liked the term because for it to be the Golden Rule is would have to be the greatest of the commandments. And Jesus and the Law itself have boldly explained that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all heart and all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) However, Jesus elevated the second greatest commandment to be a natural outgrowth of the first “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) In effect, He was making this declaration: “Your love for God is demonstrated by your love for His greatest creation – people.”
Love, as defined by Matthew 22, is the Greek word agapao. Love is not a noun in that passage, but it is a verb. A word of action that demonstrates a deeper inner condition. The word “apagao” in the imperfect tense implies incompletion, or more appropriately a continuous act without end. The word in this tense is used 144 times in the New Testament over 110 verses. It is perhaps the most important word in all of Scripture because it defines the heart of God towards His creation and provides us with a lens through which to observe His actions towards us. He treats us with love, because He desires for us to love Him. He disciplines us in order to draw us back to Him. He seeks to withhold from us that which would make us distant from Him. And He loves us enough to give us a choice to love Him, yet not without making the consequences of such abandonment clear. This demonstration of His great love for us is His example of how we are to treat one another.
We speak the truth in love to one another, not to be a herald of judgement, but to be a beacon of grace, guidance, restoration, and love. We ought to expect the same from others around us. Yet all too often, we either speak judgement against one another, which is the antithesis of God’s desire for us. Judgement is born out of hatred, but accountability is born out of love. Judgement destroys hope; accountability provides restoration. And it’s very easy to blur the lines between the two – as both the one delivering discipline and the one receiving it. In both cases, it is because our vision is obscured by our own inner condition. That is why Jesus warns earlier to examine your own heart before seeking to provide discipline and extend accountability.
We speak of the Golden Rule more often in defensive terms, but the tone and tense of the commandment is active and on the offense, rather than defense. Most of the time when we hear anyone bring up the Golden Rule, it is to defend their own condition and plea for grace and mercy, or rather more appropriately ignorance. However, the Golden Rule is stated in such a way as to be proactive, rather than reactive. It’s imperative as opposed to submissive. The Rule doesn’t say “Do not treat others the same way you do not want them to treat you.” That’s passive and barely even reactive.
So how ought we to treat one another in love? What does that look like? We serve one another. We sacrifice for one another. We respect one another in spite of our differences. We recognize one another as one of God’s children, created in His image for His purposes. To treat one another as we want to be treated is to recognize our God-ordained design as His image bearers. Sometimes that means discipline, but more importantly that means grace.
When we abuse one another, are we treating each other the way that we want to be treated? How ridiculous a proposition! But every day we see it over and over again. Domestic violence continues to invade our homes. Human trafficking continues to rise in every corner of the globe. We treat one another as objects for our own gain, rather than as God’s children designed to be loved.
When we reduce humanity to nothing more than a batch of cells put together by mere random chance with no clear purpose, it is inevitable that we see not only ourselves as a god unto ourselves, but others as objects to be used to further our own agendas and animalistic desires. Evolution does not solve for the moral imperative to love. In fact, anyone who tells you that morality is ingrained in each of us without the need of God or creation, is borrowing capital from God Himself. Moral law directly implies that there is a law giver that defines that law. In order for a moral law to be universally applied, it must come from a law giver that stands outside of that universe. Whether we choose to accept that God is our moral law-giver or not, does not negate our responsibility to His law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law in American society. The same basic principle applies in the spiritual realm as well.
The greatest virtue that extends from love is humility. Humility recognizes our place before the throne of grace, whereas pride seeks to elevate our place to sit upon the throne that is not ours. James, the younger brother of Jesus, states “Do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:5-7)
Humbly stand your ground in love for one another. Resist the temptation to stand in pride against one another. Submit your desires to God’s heart and let His Spirit transform you. When we learn what it means to humbly submit to Him in trust and love, then, and only then, will we ever truly understand how to love one another.