The Golden Rule—What Is It?
“LOOK! I don’t trouble my neighbors. As far as I am concerned, they can do what they want. But, of course, if they were in difficulty, I’d do what I could to help.” Is that your view? When disasters strike, acts of kindness and unselfishness may abound, often to the surprise of many. But is this enough?
If you are a parent, you have no doubt admonished your children to avoid provoking their playmates. Many of us bear scars from our youth to show that ignoring that guideline brings retaliation. Yes, we have learned the wisdom of the maxim crystallized by the Oriental philosopher Confucius: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Do you realize, though, that this is merely an inferior, negative version of what is known as the Golden Rule?
A Positive Rule
According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, “golden rule” is defined as “a rule of ethical conduct referring to [Matthew] 7:12 and [Luke] 6:31 and stating that one should do to others as he would have others do to him.” Glance at the box at the foot of the page and consider how different Bible versions of Matthew chapter 7, verse 12 allow the brilliance of this guiding principle to shine forth.
Please note that though the words differ from version to version, the rule is positive. After all, as Jesus reasoned earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7, 8) Asking, seeking, knocking, are all positive actions. “All things, therefore,” Jesus continued, “that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
The Bible shows that Jesus’ disciples also advocated living by this same rule. (Romans 15:2; 1 Peter 3:11; 3 John 11) Unhappily, though, the present state of human relationships testifies that, by and large, people, whether nominally Christian or not, do not follow it. Does this mean that this rule of ethical conduct is no longer valid? Is it perhaps out-of-date?
[Box on page 3]
“Do to other men all that you would have them do to you.”—The Holy Bible, translated by R. A. Knox.
“Treat other people exactly as you would like to be treated by them.”—The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips.
“Whatever you desire that others would do to and for you, even so do you also to and for them.”—The Amplified New Testament.
“Do for others everything you want them to do for you.”—The New Testament in the Language of Today, by W. F. Beck.
“In all respects then, treat your fellowmen as you would wish them to treat you.”—The Four Gospels, translated by E. V. Rieu.
“You must practice dealing with others as you would like for them to deal with you.”—The New Testament, by C. B. Williams.
The Golden Rule—Why Still Valid?
PURE gold never tarnishes, so jewelry fashioned in gold is prized and valued. Rather than discard damaged gold objects, goldsmiths rework the precious metal to fashion a new work of art because gold retains its value.
Similarly, although Jesus pronounced the Golden Rule some two thousand years ago, its value has not diminished. By assaying, or determining, the reasons for its validity, we can better appreciate its value to us today.
When Jesus gave us the Golden Rule, “all things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them,” he added: “This, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.” (Matthew 7:12) How did Jesus’ disciples and others listening to him understand this?
“What the Law and the Prophets Mean”
“The Law” had reference to the early writings that made up the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. These reveal Jehovah’s purpose to produce a seed that would banish evil. (Genesis 3:15) Included in those early Bible books was the Law, or body of commands, that Jehovah in 1513 B.C.E. gave to the nation of Israel through Moses as mediator on Mount Sinai.
Divine law set Israel apart from the surrounding pagan nations, and the Israelites were not to do anything that would compromise their favored standing before Jehovah. They were his exclusive property and had to remain so to receive his blessings. (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 10:12, 13) But in addition to their obligations to God, the Mosaic Law spelled out the responsibility of the Israelites to do good to the alien residents in Israel. For example, it stated: “The alien resident who resides as an alien with you should become to you like a native of yours; and you must love him as yourself, for you became alien residents in the land of Egypt. I am Jehovah your God.” (Leviticus 19:34) During the period of the kings in Israel, alien residents enjoyed many privileges, such as sharing in the construction of God’s temple in Jerusalem.—1 Chronicles 22:2.
The Law given to Israel prohibited adultery, murder, theft and covetousness. These injunctions, together with “whatever other commandment there is,” could be summed up in the precept, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” The apostle Paul added: “Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.”—Romans 13:9, 10.
If the Law outlined the very basis for the Golden Rule, what of “the Prophets”?
The prophetic books of the Hebrew Scriptures likewise affirm the validity of the Golden Rule. They show Jehovah as a God who faithfully fulfills his purpose. He blesses his faithful servants who, though imperfect, try to do his will and demonstrate true repentance over their wayward actions. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the badness of your dealings from in front of my eyes; cease to do bad. Learn to do good; search for justice; set right the oppressor; render judgment for the fatherless boy; plead the cause of the widow.”—Isaiah 1:16, 17.
When God’s people did what was right to others and to God, then Jehovah guaranteed his backing. “This is what Jehovah has said: ‘Keep justice, you people, and do what is righteous. . . . Happy is the mortal man that does this, and the son of mankind that lays hold of it.”—Isaiah 56:1, 2.
Christ Directs His Congregation
Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and since his time, Jehovah’s eternal purpose has continued to progress. (Matthew 5:17; Ephesians 3:10, 11, 17-19) The old Law of Moses has been replaced by the new covenant, which embraces both Jewish and Gentile anointed Christians. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Nevertheless, the Christian congregation of our day still follows the Golden Rule. And here is a further reason for accepting the rule’s validity: Christ is the active Head of the modern Christian congregation. He has not changed his instructions. His inspired advice still holds good.
Before departing from this earth, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of people of all the nations and to teach them to “observe all the things I have commanded you.” That instruction included the Golden Rule. Jesus assured his disciples: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
As recorded at Luke 6:31, Jesus commanded: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.” What a fine example Jesus set in taking the initiative to do good to others!
In the course of his earthly ministry, Jesus carefully observed what people had to endure, and he felt for them. During one of his preaching tours, he saw the crowds and felt pity for them. But more than that, he made arrangements to help them. How? By organizing an intensive preaching campaign that brought his disciples to the homes of the people. As he directed: “Into whatever city or village you enter, search out who in it is deserving, and stay there until you leave.” That this work had his backing and the blessing of his Father is clearly seen from Jesus’ further words: “He that receives you receives me also, and he that receives me receives him also that sent me forth. . . . And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water to drink because he is a disciple, I tell you truly, he will by no means lose his reward.”—Matthew 9:36–10:42.
That the Golden Rule implies positive action in behalf of others is seen by Jesus’ reasoning on another occasion: “If you love those loving you, of what credit is it to you? For even the sinners love those loving them. And if you do good to those doing good to you, really of what credit is it to you? Even the sinners do the same. To the contrary, continue to love your enemies and to do good . . . and your reward will be great.” (Luke 6:32, 33, 35) Consequently, keeping the still valid Golden Rule will prompt us to take the initiative to do good even to people we do not personally know.
Still Valid, Still Working
Perhaps the most conclusive proof that the Golden Rule is still valid comes from the actual experiences of those who live by it. Christians who daily conduct themselves in harmony with God’s laws find great joy and, often, unexpected blessings. By being courteous and kind to the staff of the medical clinic she used, one Christian woman found that she benefited by the way the nurses and the doctors went out of their way to care for her.
Jehovah’s Witnesses involved in quickly built Kingdom Hall projects can also vouch for the validity of the Golden Rule. Kind visits to people living nearby the construction site to inform them of what is planned often meet with positive response. People who previously opposed the Witnesses thus observe that they do good to their neighbors, and they see firsthand the way God’s people cooperate in their work. As a result, some have offered to help with the construction, either directly or by making supplies available.—Compare Zechariah 8:23.
When an Iranian Witness living in London, England, purchased some food from a store, the storekeeper insulted him because he was a foreigner. Undeterred, the Witness kindly and tactfully explained that he, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had no bad feelings toward people of other nationalities. Rather, he visited all in the neighborhood with the Bible message. The result? The store owner added extra delicacies to the food order of the Witness.
Of course, the Golden Rule is not limited to such small acts of kindness. Surely, by far the greatest expression of it is the good that Jehovah’s Witnesses do worldwide by regularly visiting their neighbors’ homes with the message of the good news of God’s Kingdom.
Living by the Golden Rule
Applying the Golden Rule means turning your attention to others. It is a positive guideline. You will need to seek out occasions to do good to those around you. Be outgoing and concerned, taking a personal interest in them! (Philippians 2:4) By so doing, you will reap rich blessings. You will be following Jesus’ advice: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matthew 5:16) In turn, Jehovah will be your Rewarder as you earnestly seek him and live daily by the Golden Rule.—Hebrews 11:6.