I secretly have always wanted to celebrate Valentine’s day. Maybe it’s my gender or my personality, but there’s something about taking a special day to express to the most important person in your life how deeply you love them. I love the idea of getting all dolled up, getting flowers and a hand written card, eating delicious food, and ending the night seducing your spouse. I love the opportunity for intimacy and expressions of affection. My husband wooing me and not having to do dishes? Sign me up!
But then I entered into a relationship with Devin Hagaman.
My husband is a wonderful, kind, understanding, gracious, patient man who hates Valentine’s day. Do you see my predicament here? Throughout the years we’ve been together, I did the most irrational thing I could come up with and never told him how I would like more dates or romance, particularly on this “hallmark holiday.” Instead, I was afraid to appear “weak and feminine” to the closest man in my life. Dumb, I know. But that longing for a little something special on Valentine’s day still persisted. I thought to myself I’d apply the Golden Rule to him in the hope he would reciprocate. I didn’t make us go out, but I’d make him a card, buy him a little something, and cook a favorite meal of his. I thought surely he’d feel bad and start doing something for me! Isn’t this how it’s supposed to work? But instead I exchanged my gifts to him for a simple “thanks” and him going about his typical evening. This was not what I thought I was signing up for with this “do unto others” crap the bible talked about. I ended every February 14 disappointed and upset.
But here’s the deal: we are at best misinterpreting and at worst twisting and adding to the words of Christ when we treat the Golden Rule this way.
So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Maybe I’m alone here, but I subconsciously added a promise to this verse that if I obeyed it, others would in turn start treating me how I wanted to be treated as well. Yet, we can clearly read that there were no promises made. There is only an instruction for the disciples of Christ to treat our fellow man well regardless of how they treat us. In fact, looking at this biblically, I would more so argue that we will actually be treated poorly by others who aren’t held to this standard.
In John 15:18-19, Jesus says, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, buy I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” If others who don’t belong to Christ hate us, it won’t matter how much we treat them as we wish to be treated. They’ll still treat us with malice and contempt. There is no guarantee when we treat others as Jesus wants us to that we will get good treatment in return.
Regardless of how we are treated in return, God is passionate about us treating our fellow man well. The entirety of the old testament points to this. Jesus summarized it as much when he said in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In the Ten Commandments, the first four instruct us how to love God with everything in us. The last six deal with how we are to interact with our fellow humans. Everything that was taught from then on in Jewish history was based off of those two instructions. The covenant between God and is people then was based off of essence of this. And as his disciples now, we are equally bound to loving God and loving others.
My example of Valentine’s day with my husband is a silly one, but a revealing flaw in my heart. Devin doesn’t hate me because of my christianity; he simply daily shows me love in other ways that isn’t wrapped up in date nights and flowers. It didn’t reveal to me that he was unloving, rather that I was manipulative and didn’t have the heart of Christ in this area. I should be treating my husband well and serving him not because I want something from him, rather because I have an overflow of love for him.
Jesus, the day before he died on the cross, washed the feet of his disciples who would abandon him at his most desperate hour. Jesus even washed the feet of Judas, the man who betrayed him to his death. He showed them love and service knowing they would not only fail to repay him, but in exchange for his love, they would turn on him. He is the perfect example of the Golden Rule practiced with the right motives.
While we aren’t perfect and can’t love like Jesus loves, we are filled with his love and can love others like we love ourselves. But just as Jesus washed his disciples feet not expecting any favors or kindness out of them in return, we also cannot place expectations on others in return for our love for them. Instead, we are simply to treat others well with no strings or conditions attached. We want respect regardless of our past; therefore, we are to respect others regardless of what they’ve done. We want kindness when we don’t deserve it; therefore, we are to be kind to the undeserving. We want to be loved unconditionally; therefore, we are to love unconditionally.
The golden rule done with correct motives is, admittedly, easier said than done. As you see in the opening example, I do not practice it perfectly. Yet, as disciples of Christ, we are to strive to be perfect as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48). While we won’t be complete in perfection until the day we are unied with Christ, we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit work towards it. We can work towards treating one another with the love and respect we wish to be treated with. We can work to having no ulterior motives or expectations as we act in kindness towards each other. We can work to continually become more like Christ.