“I’ll Scratch Your Back Regardless”

By Akin Ojumu

As hard as he tries, man is incapable of doing anything good on his own accord. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned or honorable, the good deeds man does are always contaminated by his self-seeking adamic nature. Man’s best efforts are grease-stained filthy rags. His motives are often murky, and his pretexts are always pretentious.

What many confuse with the Golden Rule today, is nothing more than the ethic of reciprocity. It goes along these lines:

Mr A. performs a deed at a cost to himself but that benefits Mr B. In return, Mr B. performs his own deed also at a cost to himself but beneficial to Mr A. Put together, the two deeds produce a net benefit for both Mr A. and Mr B. The costs to both individuals as a result of performing the good deeds are nullified by the benefit each received from the deed the other person performed. Without the reciprocal deed, however, it’s unlikely that either Mr A. or Mr. B will perform another deed that will benefit the other person and at a cost to himself. 

Typically, people expect a return for every good deed they do. It’s the norm for all human interactions at all levels, be it international, national, local, or personal. Without the assurance of reciprocity, eventually the well of goodwill dries up and people will stop doing good deeds all together. 

Egotism, and not altruism, is the defining characteristic of the version of the Golden Rule you find practiced in the secular world. Selfishness and self-centeredness constitute the basis of human relationship among the unredeemed. The negative Golden Rule, i.e., “Do not do to others what you would not want them do to you,” is motivated by fear and not love. And its proper name is actually the Silver Rule and not the Golden Rule. 

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).

What Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount is the antithesis of what the secular world practices. The Golden Rule of Jesus is vastly different from the Silver Rule that you find in other systems of ethics and religions. 

Unlike Confucius, Stoics, and others who advocate reciprocity and teach people to expect return for their good deeds, Jesus advocated something entirely different. Biblical Golden Rule demands overwhelming generosity even when the likelihood of reciprocation is slim or nonexistent. Jesus commands His followers to continue to do good even when they have no expectation of a beneficial return.

Biblical Golden Rule requires the followers of Christ to do to others whatever it is they wish to be done to them. This command does not promise the doer of a good deed a reciprocal good deed in return. On the contrary, it’s an injunction to continue to do good deeds even in situations when they know no good deed will be received in return.

By instructing His followers to do to others “whatever it is they wish to be done to them,” Jesus strips the self out of the Golden Rule. The Christian code of conduct is selfless and sacrificial. A Christian who wishes to be respected by others, Jesus asked him to go ahead and show respect to others. If he wants to be loved, he is to love first. Does he crave a kind word? Then he must speak words of kindness to others. 

If the Christian knows he needs a new pair of shoes and he knows someone who needs a new pair of shoes, then he must get the other person a new pair of shoes, because he knows that’s what he would do for himself. He must go without a new pair of shoes so that the other person can have a new pair of shoes. Whatever it is he wishes for himself he must make happen for someone else.

That, in essence, is the principle of the Golden Rule that Jesus preached. There’s no other religious or philosophical system that has its equal. Jesus’ Golden Rule is not the “ethic of reciprocity” espoused by non-Christian moralists and irreligious secularists. The true meaning of the Golden Rule is totally foreign to the evil world.

Next time, we’ll see why the Golden Rule is impossible for those who don’t have the Spirit of God shed abroad in their hearts.


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