9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
The wisdom of The Golden Rule, taken from this passage spoken by Jesus himself, is irrefutable. A form of it appears in at least 21 world religions. However, it must be applied circumspectly, after deep reflection on the spirit or intent of the law. Is there one universal standard that is beneficial for everyone and one that is harmful for everyone? Of course, in general, there is: If you would like people to treat you with love, respect or understanding, then you must treat them with love, respect and understanding. But the way that this should be fleshed out will differ from one person to another.
Consider a comment by George Bernard Shaw in 1903: “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same."
Author Ali Sina comments:
"A much more accurate definition of the Golden Rule is: Treat others with the same consideration and respect that you wish to be treated. It does not mean do to others exactly what you like to be done to you. For example, if you like peanut butter, it does not mean you should feed it to some one who is allergic to it, which can kill him. It does not mean you should take your wife who likes concerts, to a basketball game because you like basketball or invite your Hindu friend to a barbecue because you are a meat lover when you know he is vegetarian."
So, we might take this rule to mean: Treat other people as they would like to be treated, just as you want them to treat you as you would like to be treated.
I’ve included the verses preceding this famous verse in the Bible because, seen in context it reveals that Christ is advocating giving someone what they want to receive—something that they have asked for. Your child asks you for bread, you give him bread (or something even better). You don’t give him something that is useless to him. If he asks you for a fish, you don’t give him something that is going to harm him.
God doesn’t expect us to read the minds of others to know what they want. Each of us must learn to express our needs or desires in a respectful way, such as that a child might use to their Father. When we understand the needs of others, we who belong to God should respond as God would, by giving something useful and good inasmuch as it lies in our power to do.
The Golden Rule, to a Christian, should be a one way street. I Peter 3:9 and Romans 12:17 are two examples of places where God urges us not to return evil for evil. The Golden Rule should not be turned around to use as a weapon against others. To think, “He did (whatever negative action) to me, so I should do the same to him.” Only promotes feuds. Christ’s intent was obviously to promote unity and good will among people: to take his words and use them as a justification for retribution does not glorify Him.
Finally, don’t count on The Golden Rule as a way to show someone else specifically how you would like to be treated. Ie: to demonstrate what your “Love Language” is to your spouse. Instead, each of us should try to discover the most effective way to demonstrate love to our loved ones, a way that is meaningful to them, even if it would mean nothing if they tried to show love to us in that way.
So, the simple rule that many live their life by may not be so simple after all, however, as in all things, if we are guided by the Spirit of Christ, which according to James 3:17 is “peace-loving and considerate” we will understand and keep the Spirit of this rule and be blessed, if not by reciprocation, then by growing closer to the God we love.