All of the Torah and all of the Prophets, Jesus says, are summed up in this simple golden rule: “do to others what you want them to do to you.” Allison says no one called this the “golden rule” before the 18th Century, but what I would call it is the Jesus Creed Lite: it is a variant of the second half of the Jesus Creed (loving God, loving others). To do to others what you want them to do you is to love them as yourself.
What is perhaps indicative of the importance of this saying is that Jesus says living according to the golden rule is to live the whole Torah and the whole Prophets. This is nothing short of amazing. What is also amazing is that it is this very idea that is found in the early Church on the “love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14) and James (2:8-10) both say the second half of the Jesus Creed fulfills the whole Law. So, we have to connect Matthew 7:12 to 22:34-40.
Shammai, according to tradition a contemporary of Jesus, said that the whole Law is summed up (said while standing on one foot, an image for reducing to short summary) in “do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” Allison gives a basketful of other references, from Judaism and the whole world where such a moral axiom is used. Because it is inherently house-wisdom, learned at the knees of wise fathers and mothers, we would do well to avoid thinking Jesus has one-upped the Judaism of his day by saying this in the positive form (“do” rather than “don’t do”). The positive form is more consistent with his focus on loving others (a positive directive).
Finally, I see no reason to think the golden rule is self-serving. The golden rule assumes that Jesus’ followers will be thinking of themselves, caring for themselves, etc., and just builds on it: as we care for ourselves, so we should care for others. Self-centeredness is not assumed; nor does this kind of saying cover so much that those who struggle with self-image are somehow ruled right off the map.