The Golden Rule and the Glory of Being Good

Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them—this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

Next to “Do not judge” I’m sure this is the most famous verse in the Bible. It’s been incorporated so fully into our culture as the “Golden Rule” that I don’t think most people even realize where it comes from—that Jesus said it.

And that he based it on a surprising foundation.

Why should we keep the Golden Rule?

If you answered “because it sums up the law,” you’re right and wrong. It does, and Jesus makes that point. But first, he grounds his statement in the goodness of God.

What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

God is good, so we should treat each other the way we want to be treated. In other words, we should be good too.

This is a glorious calling.

What Does It Mean to “Be Good”?

Few phrases have suffered as much violence in English as “be good.” Even if you WANT to be good, it sounds like a rebuke. It also sounds like it won’t be fun.

That couldn’t be more wrong. “Be good” is a command to overflow, to be outrageously gracious and giving, to be fruitful in all the best ways.

That is glorious, and it’s a lot of fun. If we all did it, it would change the world.

That’s because at base, the word “good” doesn’t mean the same thing as “moral” or “righteous” (whatever we think those words mean). It’s closer in meaning to “generous.”

Let’s unpack that.

God the Benefactor

The Greek word agathos (“good”) means that which brings forth a benefit. The Bible applies it to fruitful trees and abundant ground (a good tree brings forth good fruit; good ground produces a full harvest). In both Greek and English the plural noun form can refer to riches (“goods”). The word is a primary characteristic of God (“God is good”).

Just as it does here in Matthew, when the Bible speaks of God’s goodness it doesn’t so much speak of God as moral in some abstract way, but of God as giving, as a source of life and benefit to all, even his enemies.

Psalm 103 famously exults:

My soul, praise the LORD,
and do not forget all His benefits.
He forgives all your sin;
He heals all your diseases.
He redeems your life from the Pit;
He crowns you with faithful love and compassion.
He satisfies you with goodness;
your youth is renewed like the eagle.
(Psalm 103:2-5)

To say that God is good is to say that he is a benefactor. He is the kind of person who is constantly bringing benefit to those who know him. He’s an opener of doors, a giver of resources, a networker of relationships, and a spreader of good cheer.

Many of us harbor “rich uncle” daydreams: one day we’ll have a benefactor who changes everything for us in an instant through his riches and his unexpected generosity and favoritism toward us.

Turns out, that’s God.

We Are Supposed to Be Good

God is good. We are supposed to be good too.

Jesus connects goodness in Matthew 7 with keeping the “golden rule”: as it’s famously paraphrased, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

We tend to take the Golden Rule in its negative sense only: DON’T do things you wouldn’t want others to do to you. But should we really limit “how we want to be treated” to a narrow, just-don’t-step-on-my-toes, I-can-take-care-of-myself-thanks kind of paradigm?

Or, when we’re allowed to dream, would we like to be treated differently … in an outrageous, generous, joyful, and love-filled way?

What if we took the Golden Rule in its positive sense? What if we made an effort to do for others what we’d like—in our wildest dreams—others to do for us?

Jesus is getting at something like this, because he’s pretty blunt that when it comes to goodness, our habits of giving our children bread and fish (instead of stones and snakes) don’t even qualify us as “good.” We are still “evil.” GOD’s goodness is so far beyond this as not to compare.

“How much MORE will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11).

What If We Were Good?

Jesus links the way we behave toward others to the goodness of God. We can be more like God in this area if we choose to be.

How would that affect our world?

What if we became benefactors, people who spread light, love, and life on a very different scale than the culture around us?

What if we became promoters, encouragers, givers, edifiers, mentors, friends, and lovers in the truest sense?

What if we flung grace wildly in every direction, not keeping track of who owes us what—just giving for the joy of giving?

I argued last week that rather than believe God is good, we have tended throughout history to invent theologies redefining “good” so we can keep believing God is evil.

I would argue that when we do this, some of what we’re doing is making God in our own image. Let’s instead do the work of submitting ourselves to the Spirit so we can be remade in His.

If we do, we will give the world a far more accurate picture of who God is.

God is good. We can be too, through His grace and the power of His Spirit. What more joyful and glorious calling could we possibly have?


(This is Part 90 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)

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One response to “The Golden Rule and the Glory of Being Good”

  1. Nick Avatar

    Men have been INVENTING THEOLOGIES ever since the last apostle died.
    Sadly there are plenty of folk keen to adopt them too.

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