Often Jesus’ rule, which is known as the ‘golden rule” is cited as a wonderful way to live. And so it is.
Matthew 7:12 (ESV): “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets”.
A great way to live is always treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves. Interestingly, although most people you meet would agree that this is a great way to live, very few would actually live by it if they thought they could get away with living their selfish lives. Most people only really live this way if there is a chance they will be seen or ‘called out’ if they don’t. The lower that chance, the less likely they are to follow it.
Don’t believe it? Do you lock you door when you go out? Do you lock your car? Are you a patient, courteous driver, who regularly ‘lets people out’ in front of you? If someone upsets you, do you take the gracious view that, ‘that can’t possibly be what they meant to do’? Someone pushes into a queue in front of you, do you step back and graciously think ‘they’re clearly busy and I can bless them by letting them in’? No, I didn’t think so. I could go on with example after example of things people do which are selfish and self serving and which fly in the face of the ‘do unto others…’ instruction Jesus gave. Laws are enacted to control the selfish desires which live in each one of us. Laws are real evidence that very few people (if any at all) actually live by this rule on a day to day basis.
There is a ‘flip side’ to this coin, however, which might ‘help’ you as you try to live by it. You’ve heard the expression ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’? It comes from the Old Testament law (Exodus 21:23-27). Essentially, it says that you deserve that which you did to someone else, it shows that when someone wrongs someone else, the punishment should match the wrong. Any retribution should not be too harsh (which is revenge), and not too lenient (which flies in the face of our sense of justice). There is an Old Testament Law which suggests the same treatment of false accusation: Deuteronomy 19:16-19 says: “If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst”. If we enacted this law in the “developed world”, I believe the load on our legal system would be significantly reduced.
Personally, this ‘carrot and stick’ approach, do good to others because that is how you would want them to treat you, but if you do ill to someone else, that is how you will be treated is powerful a motivation for living a righteous life.
Because God is sovereign over all the nations, this carries through from personal into national life and responsibility. The prophet Obadiah prophesies this: “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (Obadiah 1:15).
Jeremiah prophesies against Babylon “Summon archers against Babylon, all those who draw the bow. Encamp all around her; let no one escape. Repay her for her deeds; do to her as she has done. For she has defied the LORD, the Holy One of Israel” (Jeremiah 50:29, emphasis mine).
The huge majority of (perhaps all) Christians live in Godless nations. We can live simply and as good citizens knowing that God Himself will not only call individuals to account, but also entire nations, and specifically those who lead those nations will be held to a higher standard.
Cf. James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17; Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 16:27