“In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.”
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.
Summarizing the Law
The sign on the auto dealer’s wall said, “We operate this business according to the Golden Rule.” I recall thinking skeptically, “I wonder if that rule reads ‘The one who has the gold makes the rules.’”
Which of these two golden rules is the one you honor? Which one did Jesus teach?
We have reached a watershed point in the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s verse summarizes “the ethics of discipleship” that Jesus has presented up to this point. Jesus has described the righteousness that exceeds that taught by the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), and now he sums it up by this variant of the law of love for your neighbor.
Before discussing the details of the verse, I will compare two translations of it.
(NET) “In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.” [italics added] NIV 2011 is similar to NET Bible.
(HCSB) “Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them— this is the Law and the Prophets.” [italics added]
Of the two translations, HCSB is closer to the Greek text of Matthew 7:12. Note carefully that HCSB begins with a disciple thinking about how they wish to be treated by others. In other words, the disciple first imagines a scenario about how they would prefer to be treated in the future. Only then does the focus turn to using that analysis to determine how to treat others. I want to be shown love, and so I show love to others.
We all know by experience that our showing love in human relationships does not always result in getting love in return. In spite of that fact, Jesus places his disciples under obligation to lead off with love. There is no bail-out point at which we get to switch tactics and start hating the other person. Recall that we have already been commanded to love our enemies (5:44).
According to R.T. France, “The common description of this saying as the ‘Golden Rule’ is traditionally traced to the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (A.D. 222–35), who, though not a Christian, was reputedly so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this maxim of Jesus as a guide to good living that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber.”
HCSB is again more literal at the end of the verse by saying “this is the Law and the Prophets,” while NET leans a bit farther out to say “this fulfills the law and the prophets.”
The point is, if you want to be Jesus’ disciple, obeying this command is the place to start.
Seeking the minimum
Of course, the problem is that some Christians want to see the Golden Rule as the end of what Jesus requires of them. If you ask such a person if they are a Christian, they may say, “I try to live by the Golden Rule.” That probably means they also attend church on Easter but not otherwise!
The world has tried to distort the teaching of Jesus by replacing it with a cleverly-worded alternative: Do unto others before they do unto you! To the contrary, Jesus wants us to be loving and merciful, but we know that he did it for us first!
“But ‘when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior.’” (Tit. 3:4–6)
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 282.
 France, Matthew, 284.