In 1886, Pastor Charles Sheldon presented a series of messages in story form to his Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas. He used a fictional church and its pastor Reverend Henry Maxwell as the focus of these stories. Each week, Sheldon would tell a captivating story, inserting the challenge of What Would Jesus Do? at the point when the character faced a difficult moral decision or situation. He would end each story on that cliffhanger ensuring the people would come back the following week to learn what happened next.
For example, Edward Norman, the owner of the local newspaper, lost money when he stopped publishing a Sunday edition and chose to stop advertising things, places and events that might encourage people to sin. Though he lost money initially, another person inspired by Reverend Maxwell, gave him a great deal of money to help him create a newspaper that served the Christian community.
Alexander Powers, a railroad superintendent, left his job after he found out the company was violating the Interstate Commerce laws of the United States and helped prove that they were breaking the law. And even though it meant he had to take a less prestigious position at another company for far less money, he stood on the decision.
Charles Sheldon put these stories in a book he called: In His Steps. He intended to help Christian people operate from a context, asking the question What Would Jesus Do? before making any serious decisions. But more than just governing individual choices, in the broader sense, it recognized that our lives were to reflect Jesus’ life.
To take it a step further, it is a discovery that life is not about us or what we want, it’s about who we are in Christ and what God’s will is. So, What Would Jesus Do? helped them change their perspective.
But as you have probably already figured out, the premise of What Would Jesus Do? becomes a fairly shaky way to live because it suggests subjective obedience, making our decisions based on assumptions or opinions of what we think is so. It’s hard to stand on opinions since they change so easily. We stand on that of which we’re convinced. Opinion is based on ought to’s. “This is what I think I ought to do” can turn into “This is what others think I ought to do.” Making me the servant of the crowd. “This feels right or this feels wrong” can become “This is what I feel like doing or not doing.” Making me the servant of my feelings.
What would Jesus do? Jesus said He came to do the will of the Father. If we were to put on Jesus’ sandals and try to decide what He would do today, it would take us back to what the Father had told Him to do when He was here. Since He said, “I do what the Father wants me to do. I say what the Father wants me to say.”
If I tried to make Jesus fit in my shoes and figure out what He would do if He were me is too much of a stretch since Him accomplishing the Father’s will had a very specific meaning. We can’t duplicate His actions because we don’t always understand His actions.
He was both kind to children and turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple. He sat with Nicodemus and explained the new birth and called other pharisees empty tombs and snakes. He healed many and left others unhealed. He spoke healing without going to see the Centurion’s servant and let Lazarus die before He got there. How do we fit these inconsistencies into our lives?
Jesus didn’t decide His actions as He went along. He started from the context of who He was and added his stated intentions of doing the Father’s will. Who He was dictated how He responded to life. The bigger question is: What would Jesus have me do?
He said love your neighbor. Do I have to wonder if that applies to me?
He said do not murder. Do I have to struggle with whether that makes abortion wrong?
He said He was unwilling for any to perish but all to come to repentance. Do I have to ask if I should share Jesus with my friend or family?
Peter said: Acts 10:38 You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
Doing good and healing were highly generalized statements of Jesus’ ministry. But Peter didn’t intend to give the diary of Jesus’ activity. He wanted us to see that what Jesus did, He did because He was the God was with Him Man.
Nicodemus said: no man can do the things you do unless God is with Him. The verb Peter used to say that didn’t mean the activity was why God was with Him. It was because God was with Him, He did what He did. The verb said God had always been with Him. God being with Him was the reason Jesus did the things He did.
It was out from that context He went about doing good and healing. That’s why we already know the answer to the question What Would Jesus Do? He would do that which naturally came from a person God was with. And that’s what He asks us to do.
1Pet 2:21-24 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
Peter was writing to Christians who faced daily concern over what threatened them. Some were going to lose their homes, their families, their lives. He pointed them to Jesus as an example of how to suffer within the context of being a Christian. Things not to do and things to do. The things Jesus Himself did.
who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats,
Peter was placing Jesus’ sufferings in context. He suffered because this is what He came to do. His sufferings weren’t something that surprised Him nor did they interfere with the Father’s plan or change who Jesus was. This was the plan.
Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
Matt 20:28 the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
John 12:27-27 Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.
John 10:10 I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Jesus’ mission included what gave us life and granted what made that life abundant life. To do so required His suffering.
So, What Did Jesus Do? He kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
Entrusting – placing Himself within God’s intentions and letting that form His perspective and dictate His response.
The suffering was necessary because it fit into the context of who He was and what He came to do. He couldn’t live one way and then suffer another way.
While suffering, or in any dilemma He faced, the pattern was the same. He kept entrusting Himself to the Father’s will, which placed Him inside the broader scope of the plan that was set before the foundation of the world was ever laid. That plan would not only allow us to become God’s righteous children, but as His righteous children, we can reject living by unrighteous standards and embrace righteousness as the pattern of our lives.
In other words, Jesus gave us a new context for our lives. We are God’s righteous Children. So, What Would Jesus Do? should, for us, turn into What Would a righteous child of God Do? Then, to follow in His steps, would lead us down the path that pleases the Father just as His did.
Matt 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. We can do that.
We can’t really answer What Would Jesus Do? unless there is a specific command we know He would follow, but we can answer What Would Jesus Have Me Do?
When I stand in the ballot box and cast my vote, I cannot vote for someone whose platform includes violating God’s commands. When I’m investigating social issues, I can love people with whom I disagree and I don’t have to approve of their activities that are contrary to God’s Word. When wondering about my involvement in ministry opportunities, I can give myself to do whatever it takes to make Jesus known to the world.
Matt 26:6-12 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor." But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.”
It wasn’t a question of what would Jesus do in this situation because He was on the receiving end of her actions. But He honored the choice the woman made. So, for her, she was answering a different question: Because of Who Jesus is, what should I do? She chose to honor Him. That’s our choice as well.
If my desire is to honor God, I don’t have to scrutinize every decision. I let the larger context predetermine my response.
· If there is a command to obey, I obey.
· If there is no command, I look for a general principle that covers what I face.
· If there is no general principle, I ask for wisdom, beginning with the desire to obey and then trusting He’ll guide me to do right because I want to honor Him.
That’s why the Ten Commandments are written the way they are. The first four remind us who God is:
- The God who stands above all other interests in our life.
- The God who will not share space with an idol.
- The God whose name is sacred and powerful.
- The God who is worthy of us stopping our lives to worship Him.
The next six tell us how to act toward others. You don’t start with the do’s and don’ts. You consider who it is you are choosing to obey.
- Honoring your father and mother.
- Not doing murder.
- Not committing adultery.
- Not stealing.
- Not making false accusations against another person.
- Not wanting what belongs to your neighbor.
Our actions toward others begin with God not us. Because of Who my God is, what I do, what I say, what I think take on a more specific response. My actions and reactions to whatever I face come from the place inside me that says: I want to glorify my Father who is in heaven. Therefore, this is what I will or will not do.
It’s called Living Biblically. It comes from what James said:
James 1:22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
What lays the foundation of me doing the word? My confidence that what God says is true and that it has bearing upon my life today.
How do we Live Biblically? Come back next week and we’ll see. Hang on. We’re just getting started.
- What Would Jesus Do? is a great reminder that we live in a context of who Jesus is and who we are because of Him.
- Because of that context, we should want what He wanted: to do the Father’s will.
- To do that will, we need to make honoring Him our highest priority.
- When our ultimate desire is to glorify God, He will make His way clear to us because we choose to be doers of His word.