Summary: What is the "Golden Rule" all about in the eyes of Jesus?
The Golden Rule
The “Golden Rule” is commonly referred to in Western society, although it is commonly misused. Cynics substitute statements like “He who has the gold, rules” or “Do unto others before they do unto you” for the words of Jesus. Others see it as a universal ground for ethics and treatment of others which is a little closer to the mark, but misses the point. Some think so long as they hold to the most generic and pragmatic application of their understanding of the rule that they are in good standing before God as though all one has to do to go to heaven is to try to be considerate of others.
Exposition of the Text
If we look at the “golden rule” from Jesus and compare it to other ancient teachers, we will see that what He says is not so unique. Even the Pharisees had a saying that one should not do to others what one considered unpleasant to have done to one’s self. In this, they are saying the negative of what Jesus says here. There, the individual, not God gets to determine what proper treatment of others is. Suppose one was a masochist who believed in hurting himself or herself. Then hurting others from that perspective would be perfectly justified by his or her own view. Since all people are different, trying to establish anything other than a vague statement of being considerate is impossible as far as conduct is concerned. When everyone does what is right or wrong in his or her own eyes, then chaos results. One only need look at the Old Testament book of Judges to see this.
The key to the interpretation of this passage is the word “therefore” in verse 12. Not all English translations from the Greek have the “therefore”, but it is there in Greek. As has been said, when there is a “therefore” we should examine what it is “there for”. “Therefore is a word which sums up or concludes a previous argument. So at least verses 7-11 have to be read into the “therefore” or which the “Golden Rule” in verse 12 is the conclusion. I personally think it goes further back than this, but at the very least, we must see the “ask, seek, and knock” of verses 7-11 as being instrumental to verse 12.
Starting in verse 7, Jesus defines the true disciples of Jesus as those who hear the words of Jesus (God) and out them into practice. The present imperatives in the Greek hear indicate habitual practice of the believer as one who practices prayer. The three imperatives, “ask, seek, knock” are of increasing intensity. The believer’s life consists of fervent prayer, which James says avails much in the sight of God.
True prayer is based on a trustful relationship with God who is looking out for the good of His people. There is no hope in any other kind of prayer. It is the single-minded prayer of faith. In the Lord’s Prayer earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, the prayer of the believer is directed towards the Fatherhood of God, that He is the Father to the believers. Here Jesus reminds them of the goodness of God by comparing God to even the common sinner man. Arguing from the less to the greater, if wicked men know how to treat their children right, how much more will God do right by His children? Earthly fathers do not mock their children by giving them a stone when they are hungry for bread or offer a serpent instead of a fish.
In many ways, this passage also serves as an indictment against the Scribes and the Pharisees, the people whose righteousness must be exceeded if one is to enter into heaven. In what is called the “two way theology” which Jesus employs throughout the Sermon on the Mount as well as elsewhere, The Pharisees are set as the wicked who sit in the seat of the scornful of Psalm 1. They are those who are condemned to perish, whose example is not to be followed. This is set against the “blessed” of Psalm 1 who delight in the Law of the Lord and do not follow the example of the wicked. When one considers that the Sermon on the Mount begins with “Blessed”, we can almost see Jesus ’sermon here as a commentary on the 1st Psalm. The Pharisees saw God as the destroyer of the wicked, in other words, those who did not see things the way they did. They entered into hypocritical judgment.
Instead, it is the Pharisees and Scribes who stood in the condemnation to the measure they desired upon the Gentiles, tax collectors, and commoners. By portraying God as hateful and vengeful, rather than the seeking God who invites all who will come to come to Him, they were in a sense making themselves more righteous than God. Not only this, when they accused Jesus of doing His miracles through the power of Satan, they were in effect saying that Satan was more loving and compassionate than God. Instead of Father, the God the Pharisees claimed to serve was an ogre, one who gave stones for bread and serpents for fish. The Pharisees of course gave good gifts to their children, even though they were evil. But their god could not and would not. No wonder Jesus was so harsh with them and warned them of the unpardonable sin of claiming that the spirit of the devil was working in Jesus rather than God. This was blasphemy of the Holy Spirit which was unforgivable.