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What Is the Significance of the Golden Rule for Christians Today?

By giving us the Golden Rule, Jesus calls us to a different way of life. It is a life that may not feel logical, or humanly workable, but when we live with Jesus, it is a way that is transformative, and life-giving.

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Feb 24, 2022
What Is the Significance of the Golden Rule for Christians Today?

The Christian life is filled with all sorts of practices and calls. Topping the list is the “Golden Rule.”  Jesus commands that we “do to others as we would have them do to us” (Luke 6:31). At first glance, this call seems easily applicable to our lives, yet we often miss the full radicalness of these words.

The Golden Rule is part of a larger call, a much more difficult call. Jesus commands that we love our enemies. As Christian people, we are to treat our enemies the way we wish our enemies would treat us. In other words, the Golden Rule is not a general call to politeness or nicety; it is the practical application of loving our enemies.

Love for our enemies can’t be something we simply talk about; we must not just “love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

As Christians, love for our enemies ought to be expressed in tangible and recognizable ways. Thus, Jesus gives us three practical instructions for how we are to live out this challenging rule.

1. Blessing Those Who Curse Us

Jesus follows his exhortation to love our enemies with the call to “bless those who curse us” (Luke 6:27). The word “bless” simply means to say good things. Blessing those who curse us, therefore, is to choose to speak a good word about our enemy.

Christ calls us to use our words to uplift and encourage rather than to tear down and condemn. We do not respond to cursing with cursing.

The Bible speaks a lot about how we use our voice. James writes that “those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

As followers of Jesus, we are called to use our voice to declare that which is true, right, and good. There is a large difference between saying, “I hope that they get what’s coming to them” and “I hope they find peace.”

The difference does not merely rely on the words we use but on our very attitude toward those with whom we are in opposition.

Do our words hurt or heal? Do we comfort or criticize? Deeper still, do we use our words as the means to offer prayers for “those who mistreat us” (Luke 6:18).

Praying for our enemy is to pray that God increases the places in our enemies’ lives that are good and loving. This, of course, necessitates that we wilfully view our enemy as one made in God’s image.

Instead of naming every little thing that makes a person wrong, distasteful, or worthy of rejection, we choose to see our enemy as someone Jesus has his heart toward. Make no mistake, in a day of aggressive and toxic social media, the call to bless our enemies is needed more than ever.

2. Be Good to Those Who Harm Us

It is the definition of hypocrisy to live in a way that contradicts what we say. The Golden Rule is to be lived out. We are to act toward our enemies in the way we would hope they act towards us. Jesus, therefore, calls us “to be good to those who hate us” (Luke 6:27).

Importantly, when Jesus said this, his hearers would have immediately thought about the Romans. Israel was an occupied country, and the Roman soldiers often exploited the Jewish people.

In fact, being struck on the cheek, and having their outer cloak demanded of them, was a common occurrence for the Jews of the day (Luke 6:29). 

Given this, turning the other cheek was not a metaphorical statement, it was a concrete action in response to one’s enemy. Of course, Jesus does not mean that we are called to passively accept physical violence.

Violence and abuse of any kind are contrary to the way of God. Turning the other cheek is not about being a passive victim. To turn the other cheek is to stand up for yourself, to stand your ground, and by doing so, declare that all violence is wrong.

Turning the other cheek is about declaring that violence is so antithetical to the way of God that we refuse to do it in retaliation.

An equally counter-cultural message is Jesus’ statement that we are to offer someone our shirt when they demand our cloak. In the first-century Jewish context, a Roman soldier could demand someone’s cloak at any time.

They could not, however, take someone’s shirt. As followers of Jesus, we do not give under obligation, or because it is demanded of us; we give out of a deep love for God and for the other. By doing so we highlight the utter destruction caused when we treat others as objects to be rejected or used.

Doing good to others means that we willfully attempt to make our enemy’s life better. We do not shun them as unworthy of kindness or grace. In radical love, we are called to recognize our enemy’s needs, and to serve those needs as best we can.

3. Giving to Others

Finally, Jesus calls his followers to give freely, stating, “Give to everyone who asks of you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back” (Luke 6:30). This is perhaps one of the most countercultural statements Jesus makes.

Jesus calls us to hold our possessions lightly, to recognize that our true security in life comes from the Lord alone, and not from the hoarding of our own possessions.

Giving without demand is easy to do with the people we like and enjoy. We rarely have a problem giving without expectation to our family and friends. But again, the Golden Rule is to be lived out toward our enemies.

After all, if we love only those who love us, we make the love of God a mere commodity. We wield God’s love as some sort of a weapon to prop up those who are “in” (i.e., those like us), and cast off those who are “out.” As followers of Jesus, we view our possessions as tools to bless even our vilest of enemies.

Staying Close to Jesus

The Golden Rule is a high calling, in truth, everything that Jesus calls us to is illogical, unrealistic, and completely unfathomable. We simply cannot live this out; that is, if we try to do this in our own strength, Jesus asks that we respond to our enemies as Jesus responded to his.

Paul writes that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). Jesus did not retaliate when struck on the cheek.

Instead, he hung on the cross in radical love for those who turned against him, Jesus gave of himself to the point of being stripped naked, never once claiming anything for himself.

And, as he hung on the cross, receiving the insults of those he came to save, Jesus did not curse or condemn, he blessed them with words of forgiveness and love. We are to do the same.

Living out the Golden Rule can be difficult, particularly when we are dealing with someone who has hurt us. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean we pretend that we have not been hurt.

Yet living from a basis of “you hurt me so I’m going to hurt you” is a way of mutual destruction; it destroys us.

By giving us the Golden Rule, Jesus calls us to a different way of life. It is a life that may not feel logical, or humanly workable, but when we live with Jesus, it is a way that is transformative, and life-giving.

For further reading:

What Does it Mean to 'Love Your Enemies'?

Why Are We Told to Love Our Enemies in the Bible?

What Does it Mean to Pray for Your Enemies?

How Do We Show Love to Toxic People?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/yuriz

SWN authorThe Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada.  He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.comibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others.  He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca.  He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.

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