The Golden Rule Liberates Us From Selfish Love

This blog was originally written by Dieudonné Tamfu and posted on TGC Africa.

Most devotional books present one or two verses of the Bible each day and give a brief explanation of them. Many Christians use these devotional books and never study the Bible on their own. But if you were to study the Bible on your own, how could you make sense of a Bible verse? How could you find its meaning? How could you do your own daily devotions? With only a little attention to the context and careful reading, below I want to demonstrate that you can read the Bible for yourself. With understanding. So let’s apply this to a verse that has often been called the Golden Rule.

In Matthew 7:12 Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them for this is the law and the prophets.”

The Golden Rule in Context

The first step to understanding a Bible verse is to consider its context. What comes before this verse? Well, immediately before it we have Jesus’ teaching on prayer (Matthew 7:7-11). And before that, a sermon that Jesus is preaching to his disciples (Matthew 5:1-7:6). You know this as the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout this sermon, Jesus shows his disciples what kind of righteousness is required to enter the kingdom of heaven. He gives many specific commands touching on anger, lust, divorce, and more.

Is Jesus saying something new in Matthew 7:12? No, this verse acts as a summary of all these previous commands for a righteous life. The commands—to not be angry with a brother, not to look at a woman and lust after her, to not divorce, to not take oaths, to not take vengeance, to love your enemies, to not judge others—are well summed up by the Golden Rule. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”

If we obey this one command, we will obey all the others, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. To love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (see Matthew 22:34-40).

What Matthew 7:12 Doesn’t Teach

Now that we have the context, let us look at the verse itself. First, let’s think about what the verse does not say. Jesus does not say whatever others have done for you do also to them. He does not say, let others treat you well and based on their example you treat them the same way. The Law and the Prophets do not teach that we wait for others to reach out to us in love so that we can reach out to them in love. It is selfish, self-centered, and prideful to wait to be loved. Waiting for others to love you first says, “I am important. You are not. I am king. Everyone else is my servant.” The righteousness God requires loves differently.

Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The verse does not suggest that others have fulfilled our expectation of them yet, it is at the level of our wishing still. When we are still wishing and expecting, we fulfill our wishes and expectations on others. Thus, a loving husband, wife, or friend fulfills the golden rule when they do for the beloved what they wish the beloved could have done to them. The beloved may not have or may never fulfill our expectations, but we can fulfill them ourselves by loving them.

This is how Jesus loved us. God expected that we would love him, but we failed point blank to meet that expectation. He himself, in his Son, did for us what he expected of us, loving us to the point of offering his Son for our sins to make us his own. God’s love did not end in wishful thinking, he washed us with the blood of his Son, fulfilling his own expectation so that we can have a relationship with him. God expected us to love him, and God did for us what he expected of us, loving us in Christ to the grave. By loving us, his love empowers us to love him. He did for us what he wanted us to do for him. We love God because God first loved us.

Let Your Love Meet Your Own Expectations of Love

Jesus is teaching us to take the first step to love others the way we wish they could have loved us. If we think we are so significant others need to love us, sacrifice for us, and not us for them, and if we punish them by avoiding them or gossiping about them, when they have not loved us as we expected, we are not obeying Jesus’ command. To love Jesus’ way is to meet your expectations of love on those you expect would have loved you. That is the radical nature of true love. Reach out and demonstrate love. Do not wait to be loved.

What a difference this would make in every relationship! Think of marriage for instance. In marriage, a husband might wish his wife could be more understanding when he is tired. Instead of growing bitter towards his wife for her failure to meet this expectation, in obedience to Jesus’ command, the husband can seek to understand his wife’s needs better. If you desire to be understood, love others in an understanding way, and you will fulfill the word of God instead of your own selfish desires.

This radical love seems impossible. How can Jesus demand this of us? He knows we are evil. He just said it in Matthew 7:11, “You then, who are evil.” So where does the power come from? The conjunction “so” at the beginning of Matthew 7:12 leads us the source of the power to fulfil the Golden Rule. “So” or “therefore” shows that Matthew 7:12 is a conclusion, drawing from the previous verses. Jesus intentionally places this summary command right after his teaching on prayer.

The Gospel Logic Behind Radical Love

Jesus teaches, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11).

The argument goes like this: ask and receive grace from the Lord, particularly the Holy Spirit (see Luke 11:13), knock and enter to enjoy fellowship with God by the power of the Spirit, seek and find in God all your satisfaction and joy, and on the basis of this joy, love others sacrificially. Because God has given you the Spirit in prayer, because God has opened the door and entered fellowship with you, because God has satisfied your seeking after him with himself, as your greatest delight, therefore love others sacrificially.

God’s generous love for us is the power and the pattern for our generous love to others. When we look to God in prayer and God satisfies us with himself in the person of the Spirit, we can reach out in love to those who may never reach out to us in love. Because God has loved us, and God has met all our needs in himself, we can overflow like a spring, showering love on others for their well-being and so fulfil the Law and the Prophets.

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