The Golden Rule—A Universal Teaching
“All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
THOSE words were spoken nearly two thousand years ago by Jesus Christ in his famous Sermon on the Mount. In the centuries since, much has been said and written about that simple statement. Among other things, it has been extolled as “the very essence of Scripture,” “a summary of the Christian’s duty to his neighbour,” and “a fundamental ethical principle.” So well-known has it become that it is often referred to as the Golden Rule.
The idea of the Golden Rule, however, is by no means confined to the so-called Christian world. Judaism, Buddhism, and Greek philosophy all expounded this ethical maxim in one form or another. Well-known, especially to people in the Far East, is a statement by Confucius, who is venerated in the Orient as the greatest sage and teacher. In The Analects, the third of the Confucian Four Books, we find the thought expressed three times. Twice, in answer to queries from students, Confucius stated: “What you do not want done to you, do not do to others.” On another occasion, when his pupil Zigong boasted “What I do not want others to do to me, I also do not want to do to them,” the teacher responded with this sobering rejoinder, “Yes, but this you are not yet able to do.”
Reading these words, one can see that Confucius’ statement is a negative version of what Jesus later said. The obvious difference is that the Golden Rule stated by Jesus requires positive actions of doing good to others. Suppose people were to act in harmony with Jesus’ positive statement, caring about and taking steps to help others, living by this code daily. Do you think that would make today’s world a better place? Undoubtedly.
Whether the rule is stated in the positive, the negative, or any other form, what is significant is that people in different times and places and with diverse backgrounds have put much stock in the idea of the Golden Rule. This simply shows that what Jesus stated in the Sermon on the Mount is a universal teaching that touches the life of people everywhere in every age.
Ask yourself: ‘Would I like to be treated respectfully, fairly, honestly? Would I like to live in a world without racial prejudice, crime, and war? Would I like to be in a family in which everyone showed concern for the feelings and welfare of others?’ Actually, who would say no to such possibilities? The grim reality is that very few enjoy these conditions. For most people, it is almost too much to hope for such things.
Golden Rule Tarnished
Throughout history, there have been cases of crimes against humanity in which the rights of people were totally ignored. These include the slave trade out of Africa, Nazi death camps, forced child labor, and brutal genocides in one place or another. The horrifying list could be much longer.
Today, our high-tech world is self-centered. Few people think about others when their own convenience or supposed rights are at stake. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Why have so many become selfish, cruel, unfeeling, and self-centered? Is it not because the Golden Rule, though still widely known, is being brushed aside as unrealistic, a moral relic? Sadly, this is the case even among many who claim to believe in God. And judging by the way things are going, people will only become more self-centered.
Therefore, the vital questions that must be considered are: What does living by the Golden Rule involve? Does anyone still live by it? And will there ever be a time when all mankind will live in harmony with the Golden Rule? For the truthful answers to these questions, please read the following article.
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Confucius and others taught variations of the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule—It Is Practical
While most people view the Golden Rule as a moral teaching enunciated by Jesus, he himself stated: “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to him that sent me.”—John 7:16.
YES, the Originator of what Jesus taught, including what came to be known as the Golden Rule, is the one who sent Jesus, namely, the Creator, Jehovah God.
God originally purposed that all mankind treat one another as they would like to be treated. He set the finest example in expressing care for the welfare of others in the way he created humans: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) This means that God lovingly endowed humans with a measure of his own outstanding qualities so that they could enjoy life in peace, happiness, and harmony—potentially forever. Their God-given conscience, when properly trained, would guide them to treat others the way they themselves would want to be treated.
Selfishness Took Over
Since mankind had such a wonderful start, what happened? Simply stated, selfishness made its ugly appearance. Most people are familiar with the Bible’s account of what the first human couple did, as recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Urged on by Satan, an opposer to all that God stands for, Adam and Eve selfishly rejected God’s rulership in preference to independence and self-determination. Their selfish and rebellious action resulted not only in great loss to themselves but also in tragic consequences for all their future offspring. That was a clear demonstration of the dire result of ignoring the teaching that came to be known as the Golden Rule. Consequently, “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
Though mankind as a whole turned their back on the loving ways of Jehovah God, he did not abandon them. For example, Jehovah gave the nation of Israel his Law to guide them. It taught them to treat others as they themselves would want to be treated. The Law gave direction on treatment of slaves, fatherless boys, and widows. It outlined how assault, kidnapping, and stealing were to be dealt with. Sanitary laws showed concern for the health of others. There were even laws on sexual matters. Jehovah epitomized his Law by telling the people: “You must love your fellow as yourself,” a statement that Jesus later quoted. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39, 40) The Law also dealt with the treatment of alien residents among the Israelites. The Law commanded: “You must not oppress an alien resident, as you yourselves have known the soul of the alien resident, because you became alien residents in the land of Egypt.” In other words, the Israelites were to show empathetic kindness to the disadvantaged.—Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19.
As long as Israel faithfully followed the Law, Jehovah blessed the nation. Under the reigns of David and Solomon, the nation prospered and the people were happy and satisfied. A historical account tells us: “Judah and Israel were many, like the grains of sand that are by the sea for multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. And Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree.”—1 Kings 4:20, 25.
Sadly, the peace and security of the nation did not last long. Though having God’s Law, the Israelites did not observe it; they allowed selfishness to choke out their concern for others. This, along with apostasy, resulted in hardship to them individually and as a nation. Finally, in the year 607 B.C.E., Jehovah allowed the Babylonians to destroy the kingdom of Judah, the city of Jerusalem, and even the magnificent temple there. For what reason? “‘For the reason that you did not obey my words, here I am sending and I will take all the families of the north,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘even sending to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will devote them to destruction and make them an object of astonishment and something to whistle at and places devastated to time indefinite.’” (Jeremiah 25:8, 9) What a price to pay for abandoning Jehovah’s pure worship!
An Example to Imitate
Jesus Christ, on the other hand, not only taught the Golden Rule but also set the finest example in following it. He genuinely cared for the welfare of others. (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Luke 5:12, 13) Once, near the city of Nain, Jesus saw a heartbroken widow in a funeral procession for her only son. The Bible account says: “When the Lord caught sight of her, he was moved with pity for her.” (Luke 7:11-15) The expression “moved with pity,” according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, denotes “to be moved as to one’s inwards.” He felt her pain of heart, and it moved him to take positive steps to relieve her pain. What joy it brought that widow when Jesus resurrected the boy and “gave him to his mother”!
Finally, in harmony with God’s purpose, Jesus willingly suffered and gave his life as a ransom so that mankind could be freed from slavery under sin and death. This was the ultimate example of living by the Golden Rule.—Matthew 20:28; John 15:13; Hebrews 4:15.
People Who Apply the Golden Rule
Are there people in our time who really live by the Golden Rule? Yes, and not just when it is convenient. For example, during World War II in Nazi Germany, Jehovah’s Witnesses maintained their faith in God and love for neighbor and refused to compromise the Golden Rule. While the State enforced a campaign of hate and discrimination against all Jews, the Witnesses continued to follow the Golden Rule. Even in concentration camps, they kept on caring for fellow humans, sharing their food, though scarce, with starving Jews and non-Jews alike. Furthermore, though commanded by the State to take up arms to kill others, they refused to do so, just as they did not desire to be killed by others. How could they kill those whom they were to love as themselves? For their refusal, many of them were sent not only to concentration camps but to their death.—Matthew 5:43-48.
As you read this article, you are benefiting from another example of the Golden Rule at work. Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that today many people suffer hopelessly and helplessly. Because of this, the Witnesses voluntarily take positive action to help others to learn about the hope and the practical direction found in the Bible. It is all part of a global educational work now being done on an unprecedented scale. The result? As prophesied at Isaiah 2:2-4, “many peoples,” in fact over six million individuals around the world, have been ‘instructed in Jehovah’s ways and walk in his paths.’ Figuratively, they have learned “to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears.” They have found peace and security in these troublesome times.
What About You?
Reflect for a moment on the agony and suffering that disregard for the Golden Rule has brought on mankind since the rebellion in Eden, instigated by Satan the Devil. Jehovah purposes to reverse the situation soon. How? “For this purpose the Son of God was made manifest, namely, to break up the works of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8) This will occur under the reign of God’s Kingdom, in the wise and capable hands of Jesus Christ, the one who taught and lived by the Golden Rule.—Psalm 37:9-11; Daniel 2:44.
King David of ancient Israel observed: “A young man I used to be, I have also grown old, and yet I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread. All day long he is showing favor and lending, and so his offspring are in line for a blessing.” (Psalm 37:25, 26) Would you not agree that most people today are taking and grabbing rather than “showing favor and lending”? Clearly, following the Golden Rule can lead to true peace and security because it puts one in line for blessings now and in the future under God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom will do away with every last vestige of selfishness and wickedness on earth and replace the present system of corrupt man-made rule with a new system of God’s making. Then, all people will enjoy living by the Golden Rule.—Psalm 29:11; 2 Peter 3:13.
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Jesus not only taught the Golden Rule but also set the finest example in practicing it
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Following the Golden Rule can lead to true peace and security