You have heard this question before. You have probably even seen the "WWJD" bumper stickers. Perhaps you even have one on your car. This little slogan is ubiquitous across generations. I used to hear my grandparents saying it when they felt I was making a poor choice.
This slogan is so often used that it almost seems like empty rhetoric any more. It's meaning has been diluted to the point of being, as alluded to above, "bumper sticker theology." It has little meaning and carries little weight today.
Part of the issue with this phrase is the fact that I think it asks the wrong question. Or, at least, it leads people to answer the question using insufficient methods. When we ask the question, "What would Jesus do?" it is usually being asking by, or to, someone who perhaps does not have enough information about Jesus to really know what Jesus would do.
For my part, I believe that in order to answer the question "What would Jesus do?" the best thing to do is to look at the gospels and find out what Jesus did. Now, it is understood that the gospels do not cover everything Jesus ever did in every possible scenario He could have encountered. It is also understood that Jesus would have not found Himself in scenarios that many of us today have to deal with. But that does not mean that we cannot gain some wisdom about what Jesus might do in a given set of circumstances if we look at the gospels and see what Jesus did.
One of my absolute favorite passages from the gospels is John 4. This is the account of the woman at the well. It seems best to provide a quick look at this account before moving on:
7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” 16 He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” 28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.
39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
This is a truly fascinating story. Here, Jesus is confronted with a situation involving a woman who was, by all accounts of Christian morality, a sinner. Yet, what did Jesus do? He spoke to her. He listened to her. He was kind, gentle, compassionate and yet spoke Truth to her. He did not accept her behavior as being OK. He pointed out her sin in a way that she recognized that He did not find it morally acceptable (see verse 29). But He did not rebuke her harshly and condemn her to the fires of eternal torment where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We see a similar story in John 8 with the woman caught in adultery. While I do love the lesson there, I think there are many similarities with the John 4 passage as to how Jesus responded to people in sin. However, since the John 8 passage is potentially not an authentic part of the original document, I prefer John 4.
Looking through the gospels, there is a trend with respect to how Jesus dealt with sinful people. In all cases, when the person recognized their brokenness, Jesus was compassionate, loving, gentle, kind, wise, perceptive, engaging and yet at the same time firm. It was only when interacting with those who thought they were successfully earning their own righteousness that Jesus was harsh, critical, condemning and outright volatile.
So, what would Jesus do? Jesus would do what Jesus did do. He loved those people who recognized their situation and offered them Himself. He served. He accepted interruptions from people who needed Him. He taught people Truth in a spirit of love. But He never accepted sin as anything other than what it was. He never condoned behavior that went against the goodness of God. He stood firm and did not budge, even when confronted with ancient Jewish traditions (insofar as those traditions were from the Jews and not from God).
I have heard Ken Samples say on numerous occasions that "Jesus was the most fully human being who has ever lived." He showed exactly what it was to be perfectly human...the way Man was originally created in Genesis 1. When I take a look at how Jesus responded in the various situations and circumstances that were detailed in the gospels, I am in awe. It makes me feel so small and inferior and broken that it is difficult to imagine how I could ever become more like Him.
Often, there are situations in which I honestly do not know what Jesus would do, even given what He did. But that is mostly because I am not Jesus and He was so much wiser, so much more loving and so much more self-sacrificing than me that I just could not possibly come up with an idea of what He might do.
Other times, the hard part is actually trying to do what Jesus would do. And that happens far more often than not. Becoming like Jesus is hard. It is only by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that we can even lean in that direction. But we won't get anywhere close until Jesus comes again. And that is a day I await with great anticipation.
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