How the Golden Rule Makes You Less Selfish

Summary: Jesus teaches the golden rule in a different way than anyone before Him. It sounds like it appeals to our selfishness, but it spurs us on to treat one another better, to consider another person’s needs before our own and fulfill them.


In my last post, I finished teaching on God’s generosity when we ask, seek, and knock in our prayers. In this post, we talk about the golden rule and how to live it out.

Jesus teaches the golden rule differently than anyone taught it before Him. Does it mostly benefit us or the people around us? And how does Jesus relate it to the rest of the Bible? These are some questions we have after reading what Jesus has to say about how we treat one another.

First, we need to understand how to think, act, and speak in ways that glorify Jesus and treat our neighbor the way He desires. But then we need to apply it to our lives, to live by the golden rule. How can we glorify Jesus with the golden rule principle? I hope this post helps each of us to think through these issues. As disciples of Jesus, we are primarily looking at Matthew 5-7. Jesus covers the golden rule in Matthew 7:12. Let’s get started.

The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12)

The golden rule wasn’t called that until recently in history, around the 1800s. It has to do with ethics, how we treat one another. It calls us to think about how we treat others by thinking about how we wish to be treated. Jesus breaks it down into four parts.

First, Jesus uses the word “therefore” to conclude His teaching up to this point from the beginning of Matthew 5. The golden rule is the conclusion to most of the Sermon on the Mount. But the sermon is not finished. Why does this appear to be the end? The next four sections of the sermon are warnings based on the “twos.” Jesus will challenge us with the two ways or gates, the two trees, and the two builders. These warnings challenge His listeners to put His teachings into practice, to listen and obey His teaching. So, one could make the argument that this is the conclusion to the sermon on the mount before the final warnings.

As a conclusion, it sums up Jesus’s teaching so far. We could go through each section of the Sermon on the Mount and use this rule to see how Jesus teaches. For instance, when Jesus teaches about murder and anger, we could say that if we don’t want someone to murder us or be angry with us, we should do our best to not cause anyone else anger or give them reason to murder us.

Second, the beginning of the golden rule, whatever we wish others would do to us. Jesus begins by making us think about how we treat others based on how we want to be treated. You could say He is appealing to our selfish nature. If we don’t like how some would treat us, why would anyone else? It’s natural to think of ourselves before we think of others, so putting the golden rule principle at work within us first makes it more natural to treat others as we wish to be treated.

Third, do the same thing to others. It’s straightforward to put the person after we had thought of ourselves. This follows the same principle of selfishness. If we don’t think of others, but we think of ourselves, we can treat others the way we want to be treated. This is not a selfish principle. It, the principle is about how we treat others, not ourselves. We naturally treat ourselves the best.

So, Jesus makes us the driver of the model for this principle. Generally speaking, we will not enjoy being treated by others the way we don’t want to be treated. It takes just an extra thought to not treat others the way we don’t want to be treated. Unless you are a masochist, this principle works from our selfish care for ourselves first to applying the same standard to others.

Finally, Jesus says that this golden rule principle sums up the Law and prophets, the Old Testament. How so? Try to use it the same way I used it for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. Take an Old Testament law, or a prophet espousing justice referring to the Law. Let’s start with the Ten Commandments. These, like the rest of the law, are about human relationships. The first four commandments describe the godly relationship we should have between us and God. The last six commandments show how we glorify God by treating other people.

Take some of the case law, like what to do when your ox gores a person’s slave, or another person (Exodus 11:29). You must make restitution for that person’s property loss. Let’s apply the golden rule. What would you want your offender to do if his ox destroyed your ox? You would want your ox replaced, or for the person to pay you for the loss of your animal.

The ox is not just for food. It also helps you plan your crops, move heavy objects, and other activities. You’re not just losing a walking piece of meat. When we reverse the golden rule principle, we see how it applies to all of our relationships. This is how the golden rule sums up the Law and the Prophets

Jesus does not state the golden rule for the first time in human history. It’s not a new concept, but Jesus stated it in a way that is fresh for His disciples. Before Jesus stated it positively, many philosophers and law codes stated it in the negative (whatever you don’t want others to do to you, don’t do it to them). The negative approach does not demand we be proactive. It’s like defensive driving. Stated negatively, it does not address every action we make.

If we take the golden rule in the negative sense, we do not have to act unless someone violates our rights. But, when Jesus states the golden rule positively, we must think of others before we act. Like the Ten Commandments, negative laws only prohibit wrongful action. They don’t make us think about how we treat other people. They just penalize us when we don’t treat people the way the law prescribes.

By stating the golden rule this way, Jesus does, He causes His disciples to think about others before they act. The welfare of the people around them comes before their own. Throughout the entire Sermon on the Mount, this is Jesus’s aim, to make us think of others, and to act in the best interest of others first.

Living by the Golden Rule

The big question for us as we tried to live by Jesus’s teachings is, “How does this change the way I live?” Each of us must look for ways to do what Jesus teaches in our lives. The golden rule teaches us to put others first before ourselves. Although it seems to aim at our selfishness, it causes us to think about others before we act, speak, and think about ourselves.

If I treat others the way I want to be treated, they get the treatment I believe I deserve. Everyone wants to be treated well. We don’t want to be enslaved, abused, or offended by others. We can give others the same justice, love, and kindness we want to receive. The golden rule makes us stop and think of how to bless others with kindness and goodness.

Paul talks about putting others before ourselves and to outdo one another with love (Romans 12:10). We try to honor others before ourselves. We put their well-being ahead of our own. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to think about how to stir one another up in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). We become each other’s cheerleaders in life.

Consider how you can bless others with your speech and actions. How can you encourage other believers to greater works in Jesus? When you think of something you need or want, do you think about others who need something more? The golden rule that sounds like it appeals to our selfishness actually teaches us how to put others first and think of their needs.

Growth Challenge

What’s one thing you can do for someone else that will make them more comfortable, give them something they need, and bless them? Be thoughtful in how you bless them and take care of their needs. See how much more you can bless others.

Up Next

We have talked about the importance of the Golden rule and the narrow gate to every disciple of Jesus. In my next post, we will address Jesus’s three challenges to apply His teaching.

Image by Shameer Pk from Pixabay

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