Whatever Happened to the Golden Rule? August 09 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

My intention for this blog was to post part 2 of Genetic Predispositions, but I could not ignore the tragic events of El Paso and Dayton this past weekend. Twenty-two precious human beings senselessly killed in El Paso and 9 in Dayton, plus many injured. This was just one week after a gunman killed 3 at the Garlic Festival in otherwise quiet, rural Gilroy, California. And just yesterday, four stabbing deaths by a man in Orange County.

We have had blogs on mass shootings before: San Bernardino (near where I work), Las Vegas, Dallas. All too common. But for some reason, this time the Lord took my thoughts back to elementary school, where I have vague recollections of “The Golden Rule” being posted on the wall or written on the blackboard:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (from Matthew 7:12, although I don’t remember whether they included the Scripture reference).

This was a public school, mind you. But in those days, reminders like this seemed to be the norm. We were taught it at home, at church, and at school. And even with all that, it wasn’t always followed. We 10-year-olds still had a pretty strong focus on ourselves, and let’s face it - we fight this human inclination pretty much until we leave this earth.

The point of bringing up the Golden Rule is this: How many mass shootings would there be if everyone lived by the Golden Rule? Zero. How much stealing would there be? Zip. How much anger and revenge? Nada. What would our civil discourse be like? Family conversations? The work and school environment? Government?

You can see right away that following the Golden Rule, so simple but so profound, would be transformational in society – in our families, work places, schools, churches, and yes, shopping centers in El Paso and downtowns like Dayton. As self-focused humans, it is not difficult to understand how we would like to be treated. Most people would say that they would like to be treated with respect, kindness, love, understanding, and so forth. Even a small child can understand this. Hardened criminals can even understand how they would like to be treated.

Jesus is saying in Matthew 7:12 (parallel passage Luke 6:31), just turn that around and treat other people the same way. It’s just that we sometimes choose not to do this, and sadly, some people are so focused on revenge and what they would call “grievances” or “injustices” that they commit mass murder.

What we call “The Golden Rule” is actually only part of Matthew 7:12. The full verse varies slightly by translation, but each conveys exactly the same message:

  • Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (NKJV)
  • In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want to be treated, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (NASB)
  • So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (NIV)

This message is similar to the “two great commandments” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 22:37-39:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

We don’t need to be Bible scholars to see the simplicity of the Golden Rule, as well as its profound implications for our lives. While we would confess that we individually fail to practice this truth consistently, as Christians we also understand that the root of society’s problems is in the human heart. It is just very sad and shocking when it plays out in slaughters of innocent people. The world’s approach seems to be the rule of getting even - “do unto others as others do unto you,” or “do unto others even when they are not doing anything to you.”   Precarious is the future of a society that is headed in that direction.

Government officials trying to figure out how to respond to mass shootings are unlikely to talk much about the Golden Rule, or life transformation through faith in Jesus Christ. Aside from life transformation, though, there are not a lot of good options. Better internet and social media controls? Red flag regulations? Strengthening background checks? See something, say something? Banning of assault-style weapons?

None of these will entirely prevent mass shootings when the human heart is at the root of the problem, but that shouldn’t government leaders from trying. Sadly, the very solution to evil in the world - a personal relationship with Jesus Christ - is often what gets vilified in the media and society today. That said, the world still needs to hear these great truths, and to see them lived out in daily life.

The reality is that, despite the powerful, transformational nature of the message, there still will be people who are motivated to do evil things, and it is likely to become even worse. We should not be surprised, given that 2 Timothy 3:1-5 provides a chilling commentary on what is yet to come:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

This is a discouraging forecast of the future, but it all flows out of humans being lovers of self. The power of practicing the Golden Rule is in seeing the love we already have for ourselves turned into what Jesus commanded as the example for how to love others. And even though we ourselves sometimes fail at following the Golden Rule, the world needs to hear it and see it in action. That would be us, showing love to others in the same way we would want love shown to ourselves. May God bless you as you seek to practice it in your own life, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And let’s remember to pray for and, where possible, work with those who are trying to find solutions to mass shootings, limited though the options may be.

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Steve Smith