When Jesus, a large number of secularists, and a whole lot of other religions all agree on something, you might figure you are on to something.
“Love you neighbour as yourself.”
This, and it’s close cousin “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, is a point where many secularists and many non-Christian religious traditions agree quite substantially with Jesus (and the Apostles, who are also big fans – Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8). I suspect this fact has made this principle a pretty good starting point for a lot of discussion and working together. It seems to be on to something.
This in turn fits with it being referred to as ‘the Golden Rule’, both in general and by Christians in particular.
This is all good stuff. Frankly if any of us are following any part of Jesus’ teaching (as he picked up Old Testament teaching) that can only be good for us and for society as a whole.
However for Christians this will never be enough. And I wonder if some of us are in danger of forgetting that – thinking that if we get the Golden Rule right, we will get everything right.
Problem is, the Golden Rule is actually silver. It is good and vitally important – and frankly we could all do a lot more living it out. But, it is second – silver. It only makes ultimate Christian sense when it is understood in the light of the real Christian Golden Rule.
When someone came up to Jesus and asked him the most important commandment, here is what happened:
29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’1 There is no commandment greater than these."
Here we see it very plainly – loving God with all our beings is first (the real Christian Golden Rule), and flows into the second, which is loving our neighbours as ourselves (the Christian Silver Rule).
What this does is makes sense of reality – if God is there, he deserves to be loved first. Jesus puts it in that order. But it also ends up providing motivation – if you really love God with all your being, you will love creatures made in his image, and you will have the resources to recognise that all humans are indeed made in his image, and are therefore rightful objects of your love. (When people who call themselves by Christ’s name forget to love in their speech and actions, that is a good opportunity to call us to return to being true to our love of God by loving others.)
In light of this, I have stopped calling ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘do unto others’ the Golden Rule. As the Silver Rule, it is still vitally important, and it can still be stated on its own of course (as Jesus and the apostles do at times). But calling it the Silver (rather than Golden) Rule reminds us that there is indeed another command that is Golden. And that in urn reminds us that to really get the Silver Rule in its depth, with the sorts of implications Jesus saw in it, and to really have the resources to live this Silver Rule out in its Christian fullness, you need the real Golden Rule firmly in your heart and mind first.
But of course, Christians will realise that even knowing that the Golden and Silver Rules go together is not enough to motivate us to keep them when it is really costly – and Jesus clearly thought it would be costly (see the Good Samaritan for example, Luke 10:25-37). The only thing that will really cut it to motivate and resource us to live lives shaped by these rules is the Love to which both rules point – the Love that teaches us how to love both God and neighbour; the Love shown us in the one who loved others (to the point of death) in the way they had positively not loved him; the Love which moved that one to give his whole being – heart, soul, mind and strength – for us, when we didn’t even care for him.
10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11)
REFERENCES TO THE GOLDEN AND SILVER RULES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The Two Together:
Matt 22:36-40; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-8
Love your neighbour as yourself:
Matt 19:19; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; James 2:8
Do unto others:
Lk 6:31; Matt 7:12