What we refer to as the Golden Rule had appeared in other places before Jesus stated it but always in a negative form, such as, “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” But Jesus provides a positive expression in his Sermon on the Mount, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12). The “so” denotes the statement as a summary of the way of life Jesus is calling his disciples to as citizens of His Kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount.
The “you” (or y’all) is emphatic and denotes the admonition as a message for all disciples. The idea is, whatever you would want others to do for your advantage, you should do for their advantage. Of course, since it is a message to the disciples of King Jesus it is not to be corrupted as an excuse to sin. Pitting other teachings of Jesus, and other truths Scripture against this principle is itself a rejection of Jesus’s Golden Rule. Jesus’s Golden Rule is a call to think with a sanctified cruciform imagination. Constantly asking oneself and answering: What, under God in Christ, would I want others to do for my advantage in the same situation?
An unsanctified imagination immediately does the opposite, it thinks first of self: How could this benefit me? How does it make me feel? What would make me comfortable? What would make me look better? A sanctified imagination starts with God in Christ. He is Holy, Lord, King, Savior, and Judge. The disciple must prayerfully consider how their actions in any situation can glorify God and display love for Him? Next, a sanctified imagination thinks of others and how their interaction with others can be an expression of love to God. Notice, the disciple is to be imaginatively focused on serving others when they imagine what would be the most advantageous to them if they were in another’s situation.
When Jesus says, “for this is the Law and the Prophets,” He is pointing to the fact that the Sermon on the Mount is about knowing Him and reflecting His reign in the world with our lives. In Matthew 5:17, the beginning of the Sermon, He declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Later in Matthew, Jesus declared,
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:37-40).
The Golden Rule (Matt 7:12) is a call to live out the “as yourself” principle in the Great Commandment (Matt 22:36-40). Doing so demands a sanctified imagination. We all use or imagination to make choices, we imagine the future based on possible choices, the only question is one of who we long to honor as we imagine the future: God in Christ or self?
Martin Luther said it well: “It was certainly clever of Christ to state it this way. The only example He sets up is ourselves… The book is laid into your own bosom, and it is so clear that you do not need glasses to understand Moses and the law. Thus you are your own Bible, your own teacher, your own theologian, and your own preacher” (LW Sermon on the Mount, vol. 21, 236–37). In other words, you preach to the gospel to yourself and constantly think about what it means to walk in line with the gospel. A failure to engage a sanctified imagination will result in a failure to love.
Stated conversely, the Golden Rule would be a dark wooden rule of vengeance, “pay others back, what they have done to you.” This is no more than appointing oneself a personal karma enforcer. Christians are called to live according to the Golden Rule in life and cyberspace. The social media accounts of professing Christians would seem to indicate that many think this admonition doesn’t apply when they log in online.
Rather than reciprocating proportionally based on what has been done, the way forward for disciples of Christ’s Kingdom is rooted in the grace of Kingdom, looking forward and imagining, what would be for the greatest advantage of others in Jesus’s name and acting accordingly.