God expected that we would love him, but we failed point blank to meet that expectation. He himself, in his Son, did for us what he expected of us, loving us to the point of offering his Son for our sins to make us his own. God’s love did not end in wishful thinking, he washed us with the blood of his Son, fulfilling his own expectation so that we can have a relationship with him.
Most devotional books present one or two verses of the Bible each day and give a brief explanation of them. Many Christians use these devotional books and never study the Bible on their own. But if you were to study the Bible on your own, how could you make sense of a Bible verse? How could you find its meaning? How could you do your own daily devotions? With only a little attention to the context and careful reading, below I want to demonstrate that you can read the Bible for yourself. With understanding. So let’s apply this to a verse that has often been called the Golden Rule.
In Matthew 7:12 Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them for this is the law and the prophets.”
The Golden Rule in Context
The first step to understanding a Bible verse is to consider its context. What comes before this verse? Well, immediately before it we have Jesus’ teaching on prayer (Matthew 7:7-11). And before that, a sermon that Jesus is preaching to his disciples (Matthew 5:1-7:6). You know this as the Sermon on the Mount. Throughout this sermon, Jesus shows his disciples what kind of righteousness is required to enter the kingdom of heaven. He gives many specific commands touching on anger, lust, divorce, and more.
Is Jesus saying something new in Matthew 7:12? No, this verse acts as a summary of all these previous commands for a righteous life. The commands—to not be angry with a brother, not to look at a woman and lust after her, to not divorce, to not take oaths, to not take vengeance, to love your enemies, to not judge others—are well summed up by the Golden Rule. “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
If we obey this one command, we will obey all the others, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. To love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (see Matthew 22:34-40).
What Matthew 7:12 Doesn’t Teach
Now that we have the context, let us look at the verse itself. First, let’s think about what the verse does not say. Jesus does not say whatever others have done for you do also to them. He does not say, let others treat you well and based on their example you treat them the same way. The Law and the Prophets do not teach that we wait for others to reach out to us in love so that we can reach out to them in love. It is selfish, self-centered, and prideful to wait to be loved. Waiting for others to love you first says, “I am important. You are not. I am king. Everyone else is my servant.” The righteousness God requires loves differently.
Jesus says, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The verse does not suggest that others have fulfilled our expectation of them yet, it is at the level of our wishing still.