What Does it Really Mean to 'Do Unto Others' in the Bible?

"Do to others as you would have them do to you." - Luke 6:31 

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." - Matt. 7:12

In the Gospel song “Love” by Kirk Franklin, some of the lines read as follows.

Love
A word that comes and goes
But few people really know
What it means to really love somebody

Love is an idea often talked about within the Christian community and for good reason. As mentioned in the Book of Matthew, Jesus is asked by a Pharisee to identify the greatest commandment. In His reply, Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). While that is the first greatest commandment, Jesus then shares that the second. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Despite Jesus’ clarification, despite other supporting verses in the Bible, despite songs like the one from Kirk Franklin, Christians still find themselves at times pitted against others. Or worse, sometimes against one another for political, religious, or any other personal difference. Though the Bible talks clearly about love, many of us fail to emulate the love of Jesus. To resolve this issue of love, we Christians can find our solution in none other than the Bible. Everyone seems to have an idea of what Jesus meant by love, but perhaps we are confused about who to love or how.

Sometimes we excuse our lack of love for others as a means of personal protection, inconvenience, or prideful resistance. However, the way we are to love others was given in Jesus’ words. And those words are echoed in Scripture. If only we understood the idea of “do unto others” in the context that the Bible tells, we would not be confused on how to love or who.

What Is the Meaning of 'Do Unto Others' in Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12?

The Book of Luke and the Book of Matthew were written by Luke and Matthew respectively. Luke is one of the prominent writers of the New Testament. In addition to the Book of Luke, he also authored Acts. Though he did not bear witness to Jesus’ ministry firsthand, he studied the works of Christ through others such as Paul, whom he worked with. On the other hand, Matthew was a tax collector who left his life to follow Jesus’ ministry, becoming one of the 12 disciples. In both of their books, we see a repeated idea of doing unto others.

“Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, CSB)

“Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” (Luke 6:31, CSB)

In the verse from Matthew, he begins the passage admonishing readers to not judge in order to avoid judgment. He goes on to say that the measure by which we judge others is the measure by which we will be judged. Judged by who? God. He continues that we cannot complain and harshly criticize others if we ourselves have problems of our own. He refers to these personal problems as a “splinter” and a “beam of wood” (Matthew 7:4)

Matthew writes closer to the twelfth verse that God blesses those who pray and those who try. God’s blessings are regarded as a gift, and he compares God’s gifts to the gifts parents give children (Matthew 7:11). If we as sinners know how to give good gifts, imagine what God will do for His children. The measure by which we judge others, the gifts we give to others, all depend on our love for others. Therefore, if instead of having a judgmental attitude, we show mercy, God will show us mercy. If we decide to give good gifts to others out of love, God will also bless us.

In the passage from Luke, he writes an important message from Jesus about how to treat our enemies. “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27). The idea of doing unto others is applied to those we are enemies with too. Someone disliking or mistreating us is not enough reason to not love them. There is no reason given to not love others in either of these verses.

Important to note, Jesus doesn’t command that we love ourselves, possibly because we naturally take care of ourselves, but do not naturally extend that courtesy to others. When the Bible talks about doing unto others there is another piece to the equation. We are to do unto others as we want them to do unto us. For many, loving God comes as a more acceptable idea than loving enemies. People are unlike God, imperfect, flawed, sinful. Therefore maintaining a relationship with people may prove more difficult at times than having a relationship with God. God is never allied against us, but sometimes people are, and that feels disconcerting.

How do we respond? The answer again appears in Scripture. Jesus says to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28) Our call then, to do unto others as we want done to ourselves extends to everyone. Everyone. God has not intended for our love to be reserved just for Him, or for only people who think, look, and act like us.

If that is all He wanted then Jesus’ second greatest commandment would have been presented differently. Jesus would have clarified who we were supposed to love. We can conclude that instead of limiting love to specific people, we can think of everyone as God’s children, and everyone is thus deserving of love. Otherwise, we become like the lawyer clarifying who counts as a neighbor (Luke 10:29). If there is ever an instance where we cannot love our enemies in-person or in the same context we can do our allies, we can at the very least pray for them, and avoid sins such as gossip.

What Does the Golden Rule Teach Us about God and Man?

The idea of treating others as you want to be treated is known as the Golden Rule. A great example of the Golden rule comes about in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus intentionally gives an example of both a priest (religious figure) and a Levite (another religious figure) as being the people who ignored the Jew robbed and hurt on the side of the road. And yet a Samaritan, someone who should despise the Jew, inconvenienced himself to care for a stranger. Jesus makes clear which of the three figures God was pleased with for helping the Jew.

This information is vital for evaluating our own lives and ensuring we design our lives around how God defines love. Love does not occur when we want convenience or prefer the person. Love is meant for everyone, just as God loves everyone.

How Can Christians Live Out This Commandment Daily?

There are a number of practical ways to love others, those like us and those unlike us.

  • Spend time together
  • Give gifts
  • Perform acts of service
  • Pray together (or pray for someone)
  • Make conversation

As we grow in our wisdom of the Word and all of God’s precepts, we can pray and ask God how we can more uniquely serve those around us.

God gives wisdom freely and the more we use our wisdom and gifts for the kingdom, the greater we make the kingdom.

Sources:
OverviewBible.com, Authors Who Wrote the Bible, Saint Luke, Matthew the Apostle

Photo credit: ©GettyImages-Rawpixel


headshot of author Aaron BrownAaron Brown is a freelance writer, dance teacher, and visual artist. He currently contributes articles to GodUpdates, GodTube, iBelieve, and Crosswalk. Aaron also supports clients through the freelance platform Upwork.


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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