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Three Rules



“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them,

for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NKJV).


I don’t remember where I found the following, so I cannot give an

attribution. I thought it was well-written and insightful, given the

world’s problems, so I recommend it this week. —John Ostic


The Iron Rule is the rule of power and force. Its motto is: “Might makes right.” One can do what he is big enough to do. The principle is alluded to in the book of Habakkuk. God had

promised that he would raise up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to punish the southern kingdom of Judah for her grievous sins. This pagan force was a suitable tool in the providential arsenal of Jehovah to accomplish this mission because its disposition was:

“My god is my might” (Habakkuk 1:11). It is an egregious mistake to deify one’s physical prowess!


Advocates of the iron rule have been legion throughout history. Cain, who murdered Abel because his evil works were in stark contrast to his brother’s (1 John 3:12) and because he had the strength to do it, was the first practitioner of this nefarious rule.


Military leaders have found the iron rule quite convenient. Alexander the Great, known as the greatest military leader of all time, is a prime example. In the short span of twelve years,

he conquered the antique world from Macedon to India. An example of his disposition may be seen in his capture of the city of Gaza in southwest Palestine. He took the governor, Betis, bored holes through his heels, and, by chariot, dragged him around the city until he was dead (Abbott 1876, 176). The military exploits of Julius Caesar are too well known to need elaboration. His inscription, given after the defeat of Pharnaces II in Pontus, says it all: “Veni, vidi, vici”—”I came, I saw, I conquered.”


The Silver Rule has sometimes been described as the golden rule in a negative form. It is

the golden rule without the gold. “What you do not wish done to you, do not do to others.” This mode has found expression in the literature of many different cultures. For example, among the Greeks, Isocrates and Epictetus taught the silver rule. The latter condemned slavery on the grounds that one should not do to others what generates anger in himself.


The renowned Jewish rabbi Hillel said: “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other.” Some

have described this concept as a reflection of selfish egoism that withholds injury for personal reasons (see Lenski 1961, 295). In the apocryphal book of Tobit, there is a passage in which Tobias says to his son: “What you yourself hate, do to no man” (4:16). Confucius (551-479 B.C.), a Chinese philosopher, also taught the silver rule. Tuan-mu Tz’u inquired of him: “Is there one word that will keep us on the path to the end of our days?” The teacher replied: “Yes. Reciprocity! What you do not wish yourself, do not unto others” (Ware 1958, 24).


The unifying feature of all these sayings is that they are negative in emphasis. They forbid

much; they enjoin nothing.


Finally, there is the Golden Rule—so designated in the English-speaking world since the mid-sixteenth century. Though some argue that there is little, if any, significant difference between the silver rule and the golden rule and that the contrast has been “exaggerated” (Hendriksen 1973, 364), most scholars contend that the golden rule marks “a distinct advance upon the negative form” (Tasker 1906, 654).


D.A. Carson has noted that the positive form is certainly more telling than its negative

counterpart, for it speaks against sins of omission as well as sins of commission.

The goats in Matthew 25:31-46 would be acquitted under the negative form of the rule

but not under the form attributed to Jesus (1984, 187).


When all facts are considered, the golden rule represents, in a succinct and formalized

fashion, a unique approach to human conduct. Jesus’ statement captured the very

essence of “the law and the prophets.” The golden rule is grounded in divine revelation

and so provides valid motivation for its implementation. Jesus said: “[T]his is the law

and the prophets.” His statement suggests that the golden rule is a summary of everything the Old Testament attempted to teach in terms of ethical conduct (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).

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