Even people who have no use for Jesus affirm the importance of his Golden Rule: “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). This is a call for each of us to live thoughtfully, to live selflessly, to live in such a way that we consider not only ourselves, but others. In the Golden Rule we get a glimpse of the world as it ought to be, a glimpse of the world as God made it to be—a world in which our foremost concern is love for others.
This Golden Rule can and should be applied to every area of life. It should impact relationships with friends and enemies, colleagues and neighbors, family members and strangers. There is no one we could encounter who falls outside of “do so to them.” The Rule applies to our relationships with peers, but also applies to our hierarchical relationships—those that involve leading and following.
And all of us at times need to lead and to follow. God has given us a structured world in which the natural order of things sometimes involves leading and sometimes involves following. In those areas in which we are called to lead, we must embrace our leadership; in those areas in which we are called to follow, we must embrace our following. Obedience to God involves nothing less than willingly leading those who follow us and willingly following those who lead us. The Golden Rule speaks to both.
To those who lead, the Rule says something like, “As you wish that others would lead you, so lead them.” Just as we can be tempted to do to others what we would never want them to do to us, we can lead people in a way we would never want them to lead us. We can lead with harshness, with thoughtlessness, with a censorious spirit. We can be hypocritical, cruel, and arbitrary. In those relationships in which God has called us to lead, whether as a boss or manager, a pastor or parent, God calls us to lead in a way in which we’d be happy to be led. He calls us to extend all the dignity we’d wish to have extended to us, to grant all the forbearance we’d wish to have granted to us. He calls us to lead lovingly, joyfully, peaceably, patiently, kindly, gently, faithfully, and skillfully. He calls us to lead in the ways we long to be led. He calls us to lead like Jesus leads us.
To those who follow, the Rule says something like, “As you wish that others would follow you, so follow them.” Just as we can be tempted to do to others what we would never want them to do to us, and just as we can lead people in a way we would never want them to lead us, we can follow people in a way we would never want them to follow us. We can follow grudgingly, unwillingly, and pridefully. We can deliver the bare minimum and no more; we can grumble to our fellow followers, eroding respect for our common leader; we can complain about every decision, convinced we could do better. In those relationships in which God has called us to follow, whether as an employee or associate, a child or church member, we are to follow with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. He calls us to follow in the ways we long to be followed. He calls us to follow like Jesus followed his Father.
Each of us leads and each of us follows. Each of us is called to lead and to follow in a distinctly Christian way. According to Jesus’s Golden Rule, that must look something like this: Lead in the way you’d want to be led; follow in the way you’d want to be followed.