The Golden Rule.

As it’s called.

Matthew 7.12 • Luke 6.31

“Do as you’d be done by.”

That’s C.S. Lewis’s wording. It’s probably the briefest form of the “Golden Rule,” as it’s called, that I’ve come across. I grew up hearing it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve found that particular wording as far back as 1790… but it doesn’t come from any translation of the bible before 1975. Must come from a popular poem, song, or saying.

It’s a simple idea, and one pretty much every religion has deduced. The difference in Christianity is it’s active: Do as you’d be done by. The form we find in other religions is passive: Don’t do as you’d not be done by. “Never impose on others what you wouldn’t choose for yourself,” is how Kong Qiu (in Latin, Confucius) put it. Analects 15.24

Jesus put it this way:

Matthew 7.12 KWL
“So as much as you want people doing for you, you do that for them:
That’s a summary of the Law and the Prophets.”
Luke 6.31 KWL
“Just as you want people doing for you, do likewise for them.”

It is, as Jesus put it, “the Law and the Prophets.” No, he didn’t include the Writings, but he did essentially mean the whole of the bible. You can distill the whole teaching of the scriptures into that one concept.

As some of the Pharisees did in his day. Most Christians assume all the Pharisees wanted to do was pad the commands; to build a fence of tradition round the Law so thick, you’d spend all your time debating tradition, and none of it breaking commands. Yeah, some of ’em had that mindset. But there was another school of thought, which wanted to summarize God’s commands, and boil it down into one easy-to-repeat concept you could remember.

That’s where Hillel the Elder’s story in the Talmud comes from.

On another occasion, a certain pagan came to Shammai and told him, “Make me a convert, but on one condition: Teach me the entire Law while I stand on one foot.” Shammai smacked him away with the measuring stick in his hand.

He next went to Hillel, who told him, “What’s hateful to you, don’t do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Go learn it.” Gemara on Shabbat 2.5

I don’t know whether Jesus knew this story at all, or whether the Hillel story was plagiarized a bit from Jesus. Doesn’t matter. Jesus taught us everything God wants us to know is summarized in “Do as you’d be done by.”

And pretty much the only other folks I’ve found who came up with an active-form Golden Rule are:

  • The Chinese philosopher Mozi (ca. 470–391BC), who put it, “One would do for others as one would do for oneself.”
  • Muhammad ibn Abdullah, founder of Islam (570–632) who, according to Shiite tradition, put it, “As you would have people do to you, do to them.”

Everybody else seems to have simply found it easier to forbid evil than encourage good.

Active, not passive.

So, same as Jesus taught, we gotta have other people in mind when we act. Think about their wishes. Think about what’s good for them. Think about them.

Don’t think of other people as obstacles, roadblocks to move aside, or pawns to manipulate when they get in our way. They’re not that. They’re God’s children. They’re people with hopes, dreams, desires… some good, some bad, some we consider silly. But again: It’s not what we want. It’s about them.

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you,” George Bernard Shaw cynically wrote in his 1903 play Man and Superman. “Their tastes may not be the same.” Shaw wasn’t entirely kidding: We have a bad habit of projecting our motives, wants, and attitudes upon others. “I like this,” we figure, “therefore she must like this.” But that’s not truly thinking about them. That’s projected selfishness. Let’s not commit that. Let’s find out what they really want before we do for them.

“Do as you’d be done by” forces us to emerge from our self-centered universe and think about others for once. And since the starting-point of sin is the exact opposite—looking out for number one, regardless of all others, including God—that suppression of our self-interest in favor of someone else’s point of view is indeed the starting-point of rightness.

It likewise reflects God’s behavior. He does stuff for us, and you’ll notice all the stuff he does, he’d kinda like us to do back to him. (And, for that matter, do for everyone else.) He loves us. He’s infinitely forgiving. He’s patient, kind, puts up with all things, believes and hopes and endures all things, demonstrates joy, peace, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He wants our best. We should want his best.

When we spend some time meditating on just exactly what the end-result would be of really following Jesus’s Golden Rule, we’re gonna find ourselves coming to conclusion after conclusion that mirrors what we find throughout God’s commands: His profound concern for others, his order to the universe, his ideal way of life. We’re gonna see God’s love, and we’re gonna grow in our love for God. ’Cause it’s all there, hiding in plain sight. So think on it.