Beyond the Golden Rule
written by Rev Gary Heard

Most of us were brought up on “The Golden Rule” – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, and we thought we were on safe ground because these words fell from the lips of Jesus, didn’t they! Do you remember the second part of this saying of Jesus? Most of us probably don’t. It reads “for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12). Of course, this means it is a good thing to do. No one disputes that.

But Jesus had this annoying habit of pushing us beyond the law, of getting us to think about things from another perspective, and this is also true in relation to the Golden Rule. Clearly it’s a good starting point. Yet Jesus totally turned this around. The problem with The Golden Rule is that it makes my preferences paramount. It focuses on the way I would like to be treated, and then turns it to another. But Jesus offered a different standard, a new commandment – that you love one another, not as you would prefer to be loved, but… as I have loved you (Jn 13:34). And, we might ask, how has Jesus loved us? Again, John provides us with the answer, and the injunction: We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another (1 Jn 3:16).

This is a commandment of an entirely different order – more valuable than gold. At the heart of it is sacrifice – setting aside our desires and preferences in order to serve the needs of others. There’s another key word from Jesus – serve. It is the basis of greatness in God’s kingdom – those who are the greatest are those who serve (Mark 10:43-44). It requires that we know and understand the needs of those we serve, that we put ourselves out of our comfort zone in order to love others as they need to be loved. That’s a much more difficult demand.

During the week I read a comment in relation to the contentious Danish Cartoons which have so upset large sectors of Islam, in which the cartoons were described as ‘innocuous’. This is the golden rule at work: it doesn’t offend me, so we don’t need to worry. But the vast majority of Muslims regard any depiction of Mohammed as offensive, which renders them anything but ‘innocuous’. This higher order call of Jesus challenges us to show love and to serve in ways which reflect his reaching out to us.

If we are to demonstrate the love of God in Christ to an increasingly diverse generation, the challenge for us is to “go beyond gold”, to love as Jesus loved. When we love in such ways, it is we who will be made to feel uncomfortable, more so than those we are called to love through serving.

But, when we do it to the least of these, we are serving Jesus himself (Mat 25:40). If we are wanting to encounter Jesus, and help others do so, isn’t that a risk worth taking?

February 12, 2006
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