Jesus—His Life and Message: The Sermon on the Mount

October 25, 2016

by Peter Amsterdam

Do Unto Others

As we near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a key saying which is often referred to as the “Golden Rule”:

Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.1

The traditional explanation for this being called the Golden Rule is that the Roman Emperor Alexander Severus (AD 208–235), though not a Christian, was so impressed by the comprehensiveness of this saying as a guide to good living that he had it inscribed in gold on the wall of his chamber.2

The concept of the Golden Rule can be found in most major religions throughout the world, as it was a widespread principle of ancient ethics. One book gives nineteen references to similar sayings in ancient writings. Many, though not all, of these ancient forms present the teaching in the negative. An example is Rabbi Hillel (20 BC), who is quoted as saying: “Do not do to anyone what you yourself would hate.”3 Jesus presented this concept in the positive, telling us that we should treat others as we would want them to treat us.

A major thread throughout the Sermon on the Mount is the way believers are to treat other people. We are not to be angry with them or insult them,4 we are to reconcile with them,5 keep our word to them,6 not retaliate against them,7 love our enemies,8 be merciful to others,9 act as peacemakers,10 be as salt and light to others,11 be forgiving12 and nonjudgmental.13 At the end of the Sermon, Jesus encapsulates these points, along with all of the rest of Scripture, in a similar manner to the way He answered at another time when asked what the great commandments were.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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.”14

In both cases, Jesus condenses the essence of the Law and Prophets into a short statement. In the one quoted above, He begins with loving God, followed by loving others; while in the Sermon He focuses on treating others as we would like to be treated, which is predicated on loving God and others. The point being made is that for Christians, the entire Old Testament law is fulfilled by observing the commandments to love God and to love others as we love ourselves; and when we do, we will do to them as we wish they would do to us.

Earlier in the Sermon, Jesus said that He didn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them.15 Here, close to the end of the Sermon, He tells us how we can live according to the teachings of the Law without needing to slavishly adhere to every jot and tittle. When we fully love God, and when we love and treat others with the same love and care that we have for ourselves, we fulfill the teachings of Scripture.

The apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.16 James, the brother of Jesus, put it this way: If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.17

Treating others as we would want them to treat us is a vital principle for anyone who believes in and wants to live the teachings of Christ. It calls us to check our behavior and our attitudes against how we would want others to think and act toward us. As one author put it, It will be a principle which will dominate … life at home, in the factory, in the bus, in the office, in the street, in the train, at … games, everywhere.18 

Scot McKnight wrote:

We must learn that self-care is a grounding for how to treat others. Instead of being just self-care, however, this will lead to other-care. We must be willing to listen to ourselves first to make this happen. So when we see someone else in need, we have to ask ourselves, “What would I want? How would I want to be treated?” Maybe the bracelet can be WWIW: “What would I want?”19

So much of life is about relationships and interaction with others—family, friends, neighbors, strangers, employers, employees, etc. As Christians, we are called to let our light shine before others, to reflect God in all we do. Treating others in the manner we wish to be treated is the perfect guide for interacting with others in a godly manner. When faced with a difficult person or situation and tempted to retaliate with harsh words or harmful actions, we are called to first put ourselves in the other person’s place and ask ourselves: “How would I like to be treated?” We are to understand that every person is loved by God, is made in His image, and we all have equal value as human beings before God; and to treat people accordingly.

We want people to be kind to us, to think well of us, to not disparage us to others. We want others to treat us with respect, to cut us some slack when we are out of sorts, to be understanding when we make mistakes, to care when we are ill, to be loving when we need love. We don’t want to be discriminated against because of our faith, nationality, race, gender, or any other issue. We want to be shown fairness, kindness, and compassion. The call is for each of us to extend these things to others as a way of life, to make treating others the way we want to be treated a touchstone for every contact we have with others. Doing so puts us in the position of living in accordance with the teaching of the Bible.

Scripture teaches:

You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.20

None of us want such things, or any of their offshoots, done to us; so when we are tempted to do wrong to others in any way, we should mentally switch positions with them, asking ourselves how we would feel if this was done to us.

When we live by the royal law, the principle of loving God with all that is within us, and loving our neighbors and treating them as we wish to be treated, and make this a core value, we fulfill the teaching of God’s Word.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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1 Matthew 7:12.

2 France, The Gospel of Matthew, 285.

3 Tobit 4:15. The book of Tobit, along with other Apocryphal books, is included in the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Bibles, but not in Protestant Bibles.

4 Matthew 5:22.

5 Matthew 5:25.

6 Matthew 5:33–37.

7 Matthew 5:38–39.

8 Matthew 5:43–44.

9 Matthew 5:7.

10 Matthew 5:9.

11 Matthew 5:13–16.

12 Matthew 6:14–15.

13 Matthew 7:1–5.

14 Matthew 22:36–40.

15 Matthew 5:17.

16 Romans 13:8–10.

17 James 2:8.

18 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1957), 281.

19 Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, 253.

20 Exodus 20:13–17 NLT.