WWJD – What would Jesus do? It’s a question that was recycled from a book written over 100 years ago. It became a fad that quickly faded. But what would it mean to take the question seriously?
The evangelical church in the United States has trouble identifying just what kingdom living entails. It’s another way to ask WWJD. Many would suggest we ought to try to win as many people as possible to the exclusion of any other task. An extreme version of this would see secular employment as only a means to the end of evangelism.
Without detracting from the great command to make disciples, there is another command – to subdue the earth. That is to cultivate it. That command has never been abrogated.
For the most part, however, it would appear that we Christians are not unduly exercised about being kingdom disciples. That’s undoubtedly one reason pollsters contend there is little difference between those who claim allegiance to Christ and everybody else. Christians in the United States seem far more attuned to middle class American culture as expressed in their communities than the desires of Jesus.
That’s a stinging indictment. Yet Christians have a propensity to hear such things, perhaps even feel guilty, but have little motivation to do anything differently. In fairness, anything different would be counter-cultural and could have a ripple effect with profound consequences.
For instance, a relatively small minority of Christians advocates a simpler lifestyle. In theory many Christians agree with some aspects of that desire. But consider some of the difficulties:
1. Consumer spending is the engine that keeps the American economy going. If large numbers of people cut way back on spending we would experience a significant economic downturn. Those who produce “stuff” need us. This is despite indications that the more we have the less happy we become.
2. There are expectations that come from our children. When our daughters were little we had a lunch box issue at the beginning of every school year. They had to take their lunch in a lunch box. A paper bag wouldn’t do. But it couldn’t be just any lunch box. There were just a few deemed acceptable by the other kids. And it seemed that most years we bought the wrong one.
3. There are expectations that come from our community. For the most part these are not expressed in words but attitudes. Cell phones have moved from the province of a select few to the mass market. If you don’t have a cell phone (I’m still holding out), it’s obvious you’re out of step.
4. We’ve got our own desires too. I’ve got a car with over 200,000 miles on it. It’s beat up but it runs fine. Yet I find myself watching the new car ads regularly. With all the price competition it’s stirring a desire in me for some new wheels.
Which lunch box a child carries or which car a person drives are not intrinsically moral issues. Yet these decisions shape us.
A few will sacrifice for the sake of Christ. Consider the lady who is giving everything away so that the work of the kingdom can prosper. And the medical doctor who left a thriving practice to work with children who live on the street. The physician who retired early to treat the homeless. The couple that moved into the inner city. They experience poverty as they minister to the impoverished. But these are dramatic illustrations.
Consideration of the kingdom ought to guide us in every endeavor. That consideration is always in danger of being trumped by the quest for success and status. It’s bad enough that such desires detract from the kingdom. On top of that we live in a society where those who have achieved success are held up as models. This is as true in the Christian community as it is elsewhere. A life of sacrifice may be admired but it is seldom imitated. Couple that with our propensity toward evil and kingdom values can easily be suppressed or distorted.
So how do ordinary people like us attempt to influence society with Christian values? Scripture urges us to look after the fatherless and widows (James 1:27). Single moms have been with us for a long time. Micah asked, “What does the Lord require of you?” His answer, “To act justly (treat people fairly) and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). At times fairness is not enough. To show mercy is to risk being used. This is more than a prescription for an exemplary life. It is what it means to walk with God — what it means to influence society with Christian values.
Suffice it to say that it is in the church that we ought to learn what it means to be messengers of grace wherever we are. It is in this context that we are to make disciples. We have the great privilege of self consciously bringing the influence of God’s kingdom to a society dimly aware of his nature and purposes.
Just so we get it right. More things are caught than taught.