The Bible has much to say about human behavior and the way we should treat each other. There are thousands of specific directions for doing so, but they can all be summarized in what we know as the Golden Rule. Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
When we treat others as we want to be treated, we will be honest, kind, trustworthy, and loving. We all need honesty, kindness, etc., from other people, so we should be equally concerned with giving those things to other people. When God first gave the law to Moses, He included hundreds of instructions about the way the Israelites were to treat each other (Leviticus 18:3; 20:23; Deuteronomy 18:9). They were immersed in a world that was violent, godless, and wicked. When God chose them to be a holy people, set apart for Himself, He was very specific about what was allowed and what was forbidden (Isaiah 41:8–10; Deuteronomy 7:6; Exodus 19:6).
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In other words, all the laws God had given to Israel could be summarized in two commands: love God above all else, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. If we do those two things, we don’t need the other laws. We will automatically obey them as part of loving God and loving others.
Every culture has its own mores and social customs. Part of treating others as we wish to be treated is to honor those customs so as not to offend. When missionaries move to another part of the world, they are careful to study the customs of that culture and blend in as much as possible. They know that they cannot effectively share Christ with someone they are offending. For example, in cultures where women wear head coverings in public, a female missionary will wear a head covering so as not to offend the culture she wants to reach. In some cultures, people sit on the ground to eat. Even though the missionaries may prefer to sit on a chair, they will set aside preferences in order to love their neighbors as Christ loves them (John 13:34).
Jesus is our model. He is fully God, deserving of all honor and glory (Colossians 2:9; John 1:1). Yet, because He loved the human beings He had created, He set aside His rights as God to take on human flesh and come to earth to live among us (Philippians 2:5–11). He voluntarily accepted the limitations of a fleshly body in order to connect with us. He lived as we live, hurt as we hurt, and fought temptation as we do (Luke 4:1–13). In doing so, He gave us an example of how He expects us to treat others.
Treating others as we would be treated means we must be willing to set aside our own preferences, rights, and desires in order to serve those in our lives. As a mother loses sleep, sacrifices financially, and cares for the children she loves, so we are to give up our own comforts for the good of others. Jesus did exactly that. When our focus is on treating others as Jesus would, we don’t need a hundred specific laws telling us not to murder, steal, rape, abuse, or lie. A heart filled with the love of God would never treat others that way. When the heart is right, right actions will follow (Matthew 15:19; 1 Peter 1:22).