Everyone agrees that the Golden Rule is a good ethic to follow. Everyone agrees that it’s a principle they seek to live by. And yet, how often do we practice it? If we’re being honest, it doesn’t really seem that often! Rather, retaliation or manipulation seem to be the ethics we practice. Let’s look afresh at the Golden Rule with some help from Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition. Pay particularly close attention to the context in which Jesus gives the Golden Rule. Notice how he gives it in the context of mistreatment or others taking advantage of you. Here’s the text followed by some notes from Halley’s Bible Handbook.

Luke 6:27–36

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Luke 6:27-36

The Golden Rule and Personal Relationships

Here is a kind of condensation of Matthew 5 and 7. Some of Jesus’ teachings, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Love your enemies,” and “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” are already found in the Old Testament — they have been the foundation of godly living all along. For example, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18). Yet they seem to be so high above our selfish human nature that we are in the habit of excusing ourselves from even trying to live up to them by saying to ourselves that Jesus surely knew that He was setting impossible ideals before us.

However, Jesus Himself lived up to them and taught unequivocally that we must keep our hearts free from resentment, no matter how others may mistreat us. And not only that, but we should actually seek the welfare of those who seek to hurt us. Not possible? Yes, it is possible, in some measure, by the gracious help of God and the strictest self-discipline, to love those who hate us.

To practice the Golden Rule, even in small measure, makes us happy, helps us in our business and in every relationship. It is the most practical thing in this world. In serving others we serve ourselves. People like to deal with those who believe in and practice the Golden Rule. Try it and see!

The Golden Rule and Government

The Golden Rule is not a sufficient basis for exemption from military service. Jesus was speaking to individuals, not governments. Governments are ordained of God (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–17). Criminal elements have to be suppressed. Jesus expressly stated that His kingdom could exist within the kingdom of Caesar (Matthew 22:21). The first Gentile to be admitted into the church was a Roman soldier (Acts 10:1); he was not required to renounce military service. A judge, a police officer, or a military man may in his own heart and life practice the principles of the Golden Rule, so far as he can as an individual, while as an officer of the law or the government he must strictly follow the rules of justice.

Governments may, in some respects and in limited measure, follow the Golden Rule. But if force were abandoned altogether, the reality is that anarchy would result. Let us have clear thinking on this point. As much as we abhor war, a Christian is not to be commended for making the Golden Rule an excuse for letting others do the fighting to preserve his liberty. On the other hand, there are those who are conscientious objectors to military service out of deep conviction. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5), without judging others.

More Help from Halley’s Bible Handbook

Henry Halley published his original Bible Handbook close to 100 years ago. It has gone through many updates and revisions resulting now in Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition. This edition is full of notes, maps, photographs, archaeological information, and a whole lot more. This handbook makes for an excellent reference tool for studying the Bible. Visit our store today to learn more!

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