The Golden Rule

Do members of your congregation have expectations of you that you do not meet? Or do people in your congregation fail to meet your expectations?

Reingard and her husband have two sons. They are living in Freudenstadt, a little town in the Blackwood Forest, Germany. She enjoys reading and playing the piano.




Several months after my family and I had moved to a new district, I was engaged in a conversation with a church member when something she said surprised me. She told me I had disappointed her. With some concern, I asked her to tell me what I had done to disappoint her. She said she had been excited when she found out she and I were approximately the same age. She had looked forward to be­coming fast friends. However, she noticed something about me that disturbed her.

It seems that she was very bothered by the fact that I, the pastor's wife, did not walk up to all the church members and shake their hands. She felt I was failing in my duty as a part of the ministerial team. I did not fit the image she had of a good minister's spouse.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? Do members of your congregation have expectations of you that you do not meet? Have people ever withdrawn from you for no apparent reason?

Perhaps you've been on the other side. Do people in your congregation fail to meet your expectations? Do you find your­self being disappointed in others? Do you find yourself pulling away from those who are not what you hoped they would be?

What about expectations? I've often wondered if I have to meet everyone's else expectations. Do I have to meet anybody's expectations? Do others have the right to expect something from me? Are there just expectations and unjustifiable ones?

In my desire to find answers to my questions, I looked to Jesus. He was confronted with many expectations. Matthew 8:1-4 tells the story of the leper. He expected Jesus to heal him, and Jesus did just that. When Peter took his eyes from Jesus and began sinking into the water, he cried for help. Jesus saved Peter from a desperate situation (Matthew 14:28­ 31). Matthew 9:27-29 describes the faith the blind men had when they asked Jesus to heal them. Jesus responded to their faith and gave them sight.

The Bible is full of such stories, and there is a recurring pattern to each account. Humans were in desperate situations, they had wishes and expectations, they articulated their expectations, and Jesus helped them. I believe Jesus knew the expectations of these people before they mentioned them, yet He met them only after He had been asked.

Sometimes Jesus intervened without having been asked. In Matthew 8:28-32, the two demoniacs were healed without be­ing asked. So was the demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb. These men were not able to express themselves; they could not tell Jesus what they needed. But Jesus knew their needs better than they themselves knew them. He helped them without even being asked.

However, there were times when Jesus did not meet the ex­pectations of those around Him. The Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus to perform a miracle, and He chose not to. When the high priests and elders asked Jesus questions about His au­thority, He did not answer them. Jesus knew these people did not have genuine needs and questions. He knew their motives were evil. These were not people who needed help.

When Jesus died, the disciples' world collapsed. They had hoped He would become a great ruler and thought that they would share His government. Their expectations were not met.

Finally, Jesus is not going to meet the expectations of those who want to be rewarded for their good deeds. One day Jesus will tell them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you evildo­ers" (Matthew 7:23).

Jesus' reactions to others' expectations were as follows:

  • Jesus met the expectations of those who asked for His help, stated their expectations, and had a genuine need or were in a desperate situation.
  • When Jesus knew that people needed help but could not ask Him for it, He met their expectations.
  • When people had expectations but not genuine needs or when they had selfish motives, Jesus did not meet their ex­pectations.
  • Jesus only met others' expectations if it was God's will. With Jesus, we are in good company. He met expecta­tions and did not meet expectations. Thus, he made some humans happy; others, He offended. We also meet and do not meet expectations, and we will always do that, for it is neither possible nor good to meet all the expectations people have. Sure, Jesus had a decided advantage. He could see what was in people's hearts. He knew motives, wishes, and needs. As humans, we cannot read the thoughts of others.

Whenever I expect someone to act or react in a certain way and the person does not meet my expectations, I tend to create a mental image of that person. Often, this image is false. The image exists only in my head. It did not originate from experiences made with this person, but rather from unmet expectations. Therefore, it does not reflect reality.

In his book Guide to Unhappiness, Paul Watzlawick narrates the following story: A man wants to hang a picture. He has the nail but no hammer. His neighbor has a hammer. So, the man decides to walk over to the neighbor and ask to borrow the hammer. However, doubt assails him. What if the neighbor does not want to lend the hammer?

The man begins thinking, "Yesterday I met my neighbor in the hallway. He said hello when he passed; he did not stop to talk. Maybe he was in a hurry. But maybe the hurry was only a pretense and in reality he holds something against me. What could it be? I have not done anything to him. He must have the wrong mental picture of me. I would certainly lend him a ham­mer if he needed it. Who does he think he is, anyway! How can he be so selfish!"

In anger, the man runs over to his neighbor's door, scowls at the door, then rings the doorbell. When the neighbor opens the door, the man shouts at him, "Keep your hammer, you idiot!"

Have you ever been guilty of such an act? Such behavior is not fair. No one can meet unknown expectations.

If we always expect something from others, we make their lives and our own difficult. Our lives becomes uneasy because we will be disappointed repeatedly. Other people are uncom­fortable because they live under constant pressure to meet our expectations.

Should we have no expectations of others? Or if we do have expectations, how should we handle them? Jesus gave us the answer when He gave us the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

There is a German proverb which says, "What you do not want to be done to you, do not impose it on someone else." This is not bad advice. It is good if we do not do something to our neighbor that we ourselves do not like. In this case a pas­sive attitude is required. But Jesus requests much more from us. His rule challenges us to actively do good to our neighbor. Jesus' advice is simple.

If you want someone to pay attention to you, pay attention to others.

If you want to receive an invitation, do the inviting first.

If you want to be appreciated, show your appreciation.

If you want someone to be part of you life, take the initiative and make that person part of your life.

If you want to be helped, help first.

If you want to be called, make the initial call.

If you want others to speak kindly to you, speak kindly to them.

The examples could go on and on.

Many years ago my grandmother wrote a poem and placed it in my poetry album.

"If in life you desire happiness, aim at making others happy, for the joy that we give returns to our own hearts."

This is true. Jesus gave us this Golden Rule because He wanted to present a gift to us. He knew the blessing would return to all who lived according to this rule. Those who follow it will be enriched though they themselves are the initial givers.

God wants us to experience satisfaction by helping others become happier. Our own lives will be enriched as soon as we enrich the lives of others. Our lives are empty when we focus only on our own expectations and wishes. Nothing will hap­pen if everyone waits for the other to begin. The Golden Rule challenges us to refrain from evil and get actively involved with others.

When people expect something from others without articu­lating those needs, disappointment is bound to occur. Disap­pointment leads to distrust and quarrels. People begin to build walls, and communication ceases to exist. However, when people live by the Golden Rule, bridges are built. A caring and happy climate is created, and a fellowship abounds.

What Jesus expects from us is not easy. It is not our nor­mal human nature to leave our own needs behind. Yet, what Jesus demands from us, we can learn with His assistance. If we ask for God's help, He will surely meet our expectations.


when I am hungry,

give me someone I can feed.


when I am thirsty,

give me someone I can give a drink.


when I am cold,

give me someone I can clothe.


when I am sad,

give me someone I can comfort.


when I fall down,

give me someone I can lift up.


when my burden is heavy, 

load me with my neighbors' burdens.


when I need love, 

help me to love others.

Reingard and her husband have two sons. They are living in Freudenstadt, a little town in the Blackwood Forest, Germany. She enjoys reading and playing the piano.