The Golden Rule Is Worth Its Weight in Platinum

A meditation on the goodness of Jesus, the Golden Rule, and the madness of the Platinum Rule. By The Rev. Justin Clemente, parish priest to New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD.

Better Than Gold?

Jewelers tell me that platinum is denser than gold, which is typically why a ring made of platinum will be more expensive than a ring made of gold. So, while gold out performers platinum ounce to ounce, platinum is seen as more valuable.

In terms of value, a similar thing is happening today with what Christians know as the Golden Rule. Our Lord said, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) This is essentially a restatement of Christ’s summary of the Second Table of the Law: “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31) The “Second Table” is a way of summarizing God’s commands in the horizontal relationships of life (the Fifth Commandment through the Tenth Commandment).  Anglican Christians ought to be especially familiar with this, as we begin most every Holy Communion service with Jesus’ Summary of the Law (or the full Decalogue). Since every Holy Communion service is a corporate renewal of the New Covenant, this is a way of openly admitting our deep need for God’s mercy found in Christ alone, while at the same time praying that God would “give us grace to keep this law.”

It also shouldn’t surprise us that virtually synonymous versions of the Golden Rule can be found in many other religions. On a horizontal level (again, human relationships), they can’t help saying a similar thing, testifying that God’s Law is “written on the heart.” (Romans 2:12-16)

Introducing the Platinum Rule

But, in my 14 years in Corporate America, I would occasionally hear someone put out the PSA that we ought to use the Platinum Rule in our interpersonal dealings, thank you very much.  The Platinum Rule shifts our perspective and says that we are to treat others as they want to be treated. Did you catch that? It doesn’t so much matter how you want to be treated, it’s all about the expectation of the other person.

Now, to understand the thinking behind the Platinum Rule, you need understand that it gained prominence basically as a marketing/business technique. In a limited sense, it even works in that arena (businesses should want their customers to be satisfied)! However, it’s application is often broadened to the rest of life. As one pro-Platinum Rule Tedx Talk put it, “[The Golden Rule] is the worst relationship advice…like ever.” The Talk even suggests that while the Golden Rule is a good starter for kids, the Platinum Rule is made for the grown-up world.

So, how should Christians respond to the rising popularity of the Platinum Rule? Obviously, I don’t think we want to say that Jesus’ words can be improved upon. How can we “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks [us] for a reason for the hope that is in [us]?” (1 Peter 3:15)

Responding to the Platinum Rule

The Platinum Rule sounds extremely humble, but in our self-obsessed culture, it is really just another way of putting the self at the center of all our relationships. Can you imagine how much harm would be done and how much dysfunction would result if all our relationships worked like a customer service rep phone conversation? Whatever makes the customer happy! Try that with an addict and see how it works. Try that with your kids and see how it works. On second thought, don’t! You see, taken to its logical conclusion, the Platinum Rule means external beliefs, expectations, and standards don’t really matter. They don’t set the agenda. Here’s where understanding the context of the Golden Rule really helps. The Golden Rule is a simple summary of God’s commandments on the horizontal level of life (Honor your father and mother, do not commit adultery, do not steal, etc.). The Golden Rule expresses God’s Law, not simply individual preferences. At it’s worst, the Platinum Rule replaces a law we cannot keep with one we think we can. How do you want to be loved? Okay. I’ll love you that away! Instead of the Law accomplishing what it should (driving us to Christ), this new, lowercase “l” law makes us feel self-satisfied and self-righteous.

Moreover, as my Senior Warden recently pointed out to me, the Platinum Rule not only subtly replaces God’s commandments, it replaces God himself with people as the center and standard for human relationships. Taken seriously, it is essentially saying that people can do better than God, that people can love better than God can love us, that we know ourselves better than God knows us, that we can be more empathetic, understanding and tolerant than God and therefore really don’t need God.

It doesn’t take much reflection to see how the Platinum Rule and serious application of it arises out of and plays into the hands of the relativism and pluralism of our day. Apply the Platinum Rule to life, and the outcome certainly won’t be loving in a Christian and biblical sense. There certainly won’t be much speaking the truth in love, that’s for sure (Eph. 4:15)! The Platinum Rule sounds rigorous and demanding but doesn’t require much at all. It’s really just another name for tolerance. Love is a harder thing. To paraphrase N.T. Wright, we can tolerate someone from the across the street all day long, but love does the hard work of crossing the street.

Jesus & the Golden Rule

Lastly, what many fail to see is that Jesus Christ himself is the key to the Golden Rule. He is more (but not less) than a truly good teacher. He alone fully loved his neighbor as himself. What did that entail? “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6) Can you imagine if Jesus had loved sinners in the way we wanted to be loved? Can you imagine what would have happened if Jesus had followed the Platinum Rule?

Again and again in the New Testament, Jesus gives us, not what we want, but what we need. He is the faithful neighbor and the good friend. For “faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6) Ah, how faithful are the wounds of Christ!

And he shows us how to follow in his way, living under the Golden Rule he himself perfectly fulfilled:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5)