Too often we react rather than respond. It is tempting to think of these two words synonymous, but they are not actually the same. A reaction is an immediate type of response. In many cases, it is a bad type of response because it is instantaneous. For example, if we receive bad news, we may instantly react with fear or worry. If someone speaks angrily to us, we may immediately react in anger. A reaction is often a defense mechanism based on emotion. When we speak of giving a response, however, we usually mean a carefully reasoned answer or action. When we respond, we allow our emotions to settle and then carefully weigh the information and consequences of our actions. Whereas, reactions can be described as “This is what I feel like”; a response can be described as “This is how I should act.” Jesus wants us to respond to others with His wisdom, rather than reacting to others with our emotions. Let’s consider this further in our study of the “Golden Rule”.
The Law of Retaliation
It is helpful to begin discussing what Jesus is not saying. Jesus does not tell His followers to do unto others as they have done to you. In other words, do not treat others as they have treated you. This is retaliation and, as we learned earlier, Jesus forbids us from taking vengeance against others, especially over personal insults. We recognize that the “government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong” (Rom 13:4). We also understand that “it is appointed unto man once to die and then to face the judgment” (Heb 9:27). Therefore, we are to “turn the other cheek” (5:39), “give to those who borrow” (5:40), and “go the extra mile” (5:41). We forsake vengeance.
The Golden Rule
If it is not our responsibility to defend ourselves from offense, what should we be doing? Jesus instructs us “whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them” In other words, don’t do unto others what they have done to you, but what you would want them to do to you. Think to yourself, “How would I want to be treated in this situation?” Jesus wants us to take time to respond to others rather than just reacting to others. This means we should consider how we think, speak, and act towards others in order to make sure our responses are honoring to God.
The Royal Law
Jesus told us “whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them—this is the Law and the Prophets.” James wrote, “If you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well” (James 2:8). This means that the Golden Rule can only be carried out through obedience to the royal law. The royal law summarizes the Law and the Prophets. When Jesus was asked “Which command in the law is the greatest?” He answered,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands (Matt 22:37-40).
We honor God by treating others with love. The same love that God shows us should flow through us onto others. Treat others like God has treated you. God loves you. His love is demonstrated in grace and truth.
How I Should Think
Think of others as you would have them think of you. Are you critical of others? Do you judge them on the basis of appearances? Are you jealous? Envious? Do you find yourself thinking about them failing? Do you secretly enjoy bad news they have? Even if you have never spoken or acted on any of these thoughts, they are nonetheless sinful. How would you feel if you found out other people thought like this about you? Confess this sin to God and begin thinking positive and lovingly about others.
How I Should Speak
Speak about others as you would want them to speak about you. Are your words edifying or accusatory? Do you speak like a boss who commands others to do your will or do you speak as a friend? Do your words build up or tear down? Parents, do you find yourself mostly telling your kids what they should (or should not) be doing or do you actually talk with them? Do you gossip about others? Slander others? Jesus said that we will be “held accountable for every idle word that comes out of our mouth” (Matt 12:36). How would you feel if you found out other people were speaking gossip and lies about you? Confess your sinful words to God and begin speaking of others with love. Speak graciously and truthfully with and about others.
How I Should Act
Act towards others as you would have them act towards you. Our actions speak louder than our words. How do you act towards others? Do you hurt or abuse others? Do you intimidate? Do you show favoritism? Do you demand that others do things your way? How do you feel when other people are mean to or mistreat you? If you are not acting honestly or godly towards others, confess it to God. Be a servant of others and seek to be a blessing to them.
John Macarthur wrote in his commentary on this verse: “The perfect love of the Heavenly Father is most reflected in His children when they treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.” This requires us to stop reacting to others based on emotion. Instead, we need to consider what has happened and how we would want to be treated in the situation. Christian love demands that we stop being selfish and self-focused. Treat others how you want to be treated.