by Tony Nester

A Simple Rule
Tony Nester
(Matthew 7:12 NRSV) ""In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."

There was once a Jewish man who wanted a simple explanation of religion.

He located a famous Jewish teacher and asked, "Can you explain Judaism to me in no more time than I can stand on one leg?" The teacher dismissed him and sent him away.

Then the man found another well known teacher and asked the same question. "Can you tell me everything I need to know about the Jewish faith while I'm standing on one foot?" This teacher said, "Yes I can. The man raised one leg off the ground. The teacher said, "Listen: ‘Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary."

The first teacher was Rabbi Shammai. The second was Rabbi Hillel. The story is found in the Jewish Talmud.

Hillel's words are very close to Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount. The main difference is that Hillel's rule is put in the negative — "Don't do what you don't want people to do to you," whereas Jesus' words are put into the positive — "do unto others as you would want them to do to you" — "The Golden Rule" as we've come to call Jesus' command.

The rule is simple — or so it seems. When we're having trouble with people it's not always easy to know the right way to act. Things aren't always black and white — there are a lot of gray areas, as we say. The legal situation can be complicated. The ethics of the matter can raise many thorny issues. Different parts of the Bible can be quoted that seem to point to different, even opposite, conclusions. What's a Christian to do?

In these situations it helps to have a simple rule. You ask yourself, "Am I treating others the way I would want them to treat me?"

John Stott quotes an Anglican Bishop who says that the Golden Rule helps us avoid getting bogged down in the complexity of lesser rules and regulations: "I ...

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