When I was a kid, I used to collect rocks. I absolutely loved them! It’s amazing that I never became a geologist. Now I’m passing that love on to my children. In all of my rock collecting as a child, I accumulated quite the assortment. Of all of the rocks I sorted through, only one disappointed me. I can remember distinctly as a child combing through a quarry and finding a sparkling golden nugget. I ran up to my parents thinking that I had struck it big. Come to find out, it was a little something called ‘fools gold’. I didn’t get it. Fools gold? I felt kind of dumb and let down all at the same time. When it comes to the so called ‘golden rule’, many people kind of treat it the same way. Jesus provided the real deal, but so many of us are wheeling and dealing the imitation goods and are so surprised when it doesn’t get the same return.
So in everything,do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:12 (NIV) [my emphasis]
It’s interesting that so many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, know this phrase as the golden rule. But I’m not so convinced that all of them know the meaning of it. A few years back, one of my students quoted it in class. I asked him if he could tell me who said that. His response was typical. He said, “I thought it was just a principle we are taught as kids.” I gently informed him that these were words spoken by Jesus Christ. Since it was a public classroom, mentioning His name changed the entire atmosphere.
Ironically, when the boy used the phrase, it was in a sarcastic and hurtful tone towards another. So I asked him if he enjoys being talked to like he had just spoken to his classmate. Of course he rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “well, all people talk like that.” My teacher ears kicked in and I called him out on it. I said, “first of all, not all people talk like that. Second, just because we know a lot of people who are rude, doesn’t mean we want to be treated that way. Third, if we don’t want to be treated that way, then we shouldn’t treat others that way.” He then slumped into a reflective state and class continued on. He wasn’t mean to another student the rest of the semester. He was actually one of the kindest among his classmates.
This was a classic example of how people misuse this verse. They use it when it’s convenient to prove a point, but not when it forces them to change their ways. Here are what I believe are the two most common misinterpretations of the verse:
1-“…in everything, treat others how you’ve been treated.”
I think this IS society’s golden rule. At least this is how I’ve seen it play out most of my life. It’s also how I’ve been guilty of not applying it like Jesus intended. People with this mindset may start off with good intentions, but if wronged, it will cause a hardness in their heart that callouses over and determines how they relate with others. If loved, they love. If served, they serve.
2-“…in everything, demand that others treat you how you want to be treated.”
Self entitlement is extremely common. People are out to ‘get theirs’ in life. They apply that to relationships, careers, and the like. If others treat them well, it may or may not have any bearing on how they choose to treat others. It’s a ‘me-centered’ universe and their end game is to be treated how they think they deserve and they’ll treat others according to their convenience and mood.
When I read Matthew seven not long ago, it was like a dagger to the heart. I had this image in my mind like I was watching myself interact with others; like it was a movie. You see, it’s a lot easier to critique the actions and words you see and hear from others. But for some reason, the same standards don’t always get applied inwardly. I had a highlight (or low-light) reel run through my mind of several instances of how I mistreated others. They were subtle, but they made me feel ashamed. They made me feel like a hypocrite.
Then I feel like the Lord persuaded me to view situations differently. A thought came to mind. What if I entered every conversation, and took every action, from the perspective of ‘what if this was said or done to me’? That can be the filter but it doesn’t stop there. I believe the words of Jesus are proactive. What I mean is, we should go out of our way to try and change the culture of speech and action. We should enter every conversation with the aim of speaking life, encouragement, truth, gentleness, and hope. That’s what we all want to hear right? We should also try to serve and love all because we all want that from others. So I leave you with the two questions that I’ve been wrestling with ever since my last encounter with Matthew seven.
1-Are you saying the things you want to hear?
2-Are you doing the things you’d like to be done to you?
Imagine how the world around us would change if we did our part to live out the ‘golden rule’.
Peace in Christ my brothers and sisters!