The Golden rule vs The Silver rule


In Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things Ken Wytsma makes a distinction between the golden rule and what he calls the silver rule. The golden tells us to “do unto others and you would have them do unto you.” The silver rule just adds the word “not” in strategic locations: “do not do unto others as you would have them not do unto you.” Or, essentially, it’s the principle “do no harm.”

Unfortunately, we often substitute the golden rule for the silver rule and move from active love, to just trying to avoid doing harm.


It’s a lot easier to live by the silver rule. It’s not that hard to go through your day simply not hurting other people. At the end of the day we can begin to think we’re pretty good people.

But God calls us to more than simply doing no harm – the silver rule – but to actively love others.

Following the golden rule is risky. It requires us to put ourselves on the line, to give of our resources and time. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the Priest and the Levite did no harm to the injured man. They followed the silver rule, risking nothing, but also not acting with love or justice. The Good Samaritan, however, took risks and gave of himself to show active love, to practice the golden rule.

Wytsma concludes by suggesting we flip the question around that often prevents us from following the golden rule. We ask the question, “If I help, what could happen to me?” Wytsma suggests we ask a different question, “If I don’t help, “what will happen to them?”