Who here remembers the ‘90s?
That glorious decade that gave us so much. Like Beanie Babies, Pogs, Beavis and Butthead, and of course … WWJD bracelets.
There was a period of several years—from about 1995 through the end of the decade—when everybody was wearing those things. High schoolers. Grandparents. Professional athletes.
Of course, WWJD stands for, “What would Jesus do?” And the WWJD bracelet trend was kicked off by a youth minister in Michigan. She had the first batch of 300 or so made for kids in her youth group to pass out to their friends.
The idea was it was a fun and easy way to witness to your faith. And to check yourself. I mean, some behaviors get mighty awkward when you’re wearing an article of clothing that asks, “What would Jesus do?”
But let’s be honest. The spiritual meaning was totally lost on a lot of people who wore those bracelets. They became more of a fashion statement than a statement of faith. I recently saw a picture of Kanye West wearing a WWJD bracelet. Now, I’m nobody’s judge, but I wonder if Mr. West is really concerned with what Jesus would do.
But, then again, maybe some people thought twice about doing or saying something stupid or hateful because they were wearing a WWJD bracelet.
Maybe WWJD bracelets worked exactly like they were supposed to. The more I think about it, and the more I look at the Bible, here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: The question, “What would Jesus do?” is really a question about how we should treat others. That’s the very first place we should apply this question: How we deal with our neighbors.
When you take this question seriously, it can revolutionize your interpersonal relationships and interactions with other people. Because it’s a little harder to be rude or unkind or selfish when you’re trying to treat people the way Jesus would treat them.
It’s so very important to apply the question, “What would Jesus do?” to how we treat others, before we apply it to anything else. Because how we treat people makes so much difference in how or even if they’ll listen to us about Jesus.
I heard a story once about a non-Christian who was following a car with one of those “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper stickers. He thought, “Ok, I guess I love Jesus” and honked his horn. The person in the car ahead rolled down his window, stuck out his hand, and flipped the guy off! Maybe the car was stolen. Or maybe the person was having a bad day. But, that experience colored a non-Christian’s view believers and, by association, of Christ.
See, there’s a situation where a Christian didn’t ask, “What would Jesus do?” Either that, or they have a very warped perception of who Jesus is and what he’s like. And that makes it very difficult to spread the word about Jesus. Because there are a lot of people in the world who’ve been inconvenienced by self-centered Christians. They’ve been disrespected by rude or thoughtless Christians. They’ve been told their voices don’t matter by Christians who haven’t really listened to them. They’ve been shamed by Christians who judge them but never really see them. So, they aren’t going to listen to anything we have to say about Jesus, because they’ve had bad or painful experiences with Christians. And the only way that we’re going to be able to fix it is by taking this question, “What would Jesus do?” and applying it to our encounters and interactions and relationships with other people.
So, let’s go back and take a closer look at Philippians 2, beginning at v3.
Here’s what Paul told the Christians in Philippi:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
When Paul said, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, he was basically saying, “Ask yourselves, ‘What would Jesus do?’”
And in vv. 6-11, Paul tells us exactly what Jesus did. And he also tells us what God did for Jesus and through Jesus.
Verse 6 says:
Who, being in very nature God,
Eugene Peterson translates this in The Message as: He had equal status with God but … he didn’t claim special privileges.
Jesus is fully God. When God comes to live on earth, how would you expect him to live? Wouldn’t he come to live among the rich and the powerful, so he could have influence with the movers and shakers and culture-makers? But that’s not what Jesus did, is it? No. He was born into a working-class family. He was a member of an oppressed minority community. He grew up in a backwater town in the middle of nowhere.
Jesus didn’t take advantage of any privileges he may have had as the Son of God. Instead, Paul says, he made himself nothing (v. 7a).
What does that mean, Jesus made himself nothing? In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul said:
Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
In other words, Jesus gave himself away for others. Any power or privilege he had as the Son of God, he used for other people’s benefit, until he had nothing left. Jesus lived to heal and restore and redeem other people’s lives.
In our passage today, it specifically says that Jesus made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (v. 7b). I think Paul is recalling the story in John 13, when Jesus dressed himself as a household servant and washed his disciples’ feet. That was the night of the Last Supper. The night he would be betrayed by one of the men whose feet he washed. The night before he died a humiliating death on the cross.
The very One who created human feet out of the dust of the ground, bent down and washed the dust off human feet with a basin and a towel. That’s what Jesus did.
Then it says Jesus was made in human likeness (v. 7c). Now, don’t misunderstand what this means. It doesn’t mean Jesus appeared to be human but wasn’t quite human. The Bible teaches that the Son of God became a human.
When our passage says Jesus became like human beings, it’s the same idea as Hebrews 2:17, where it says Jesus had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way. Jesus emptied himself by giving up the riches of heaven and living a fully human life. He experienced all our limitations—pain and hunger and sadness and shame and death.
So, what did Jesus do? He came into our reality. He lived among us and got to know us intimately. Jesus doesn’t judge us without knowing what it’s like to be us. He doesn’t tell us how to live without having experienced life on our terms. That’s what Jesus did.
The next thing we’re told Jesus did is that he humbled himself (v. 8a). What does it mean to humble ourselves? The Bible tells us. And it has as much to do with how we relate to other people as it does how we relate to God.
The passage that teaches us what it means to humble ourselves is Micah 6:8,
He has shown you, O mortal,
what is good.
So, humbling ourselves requires acting justly and loving mercy. Those have to do with how we treat other people, don’t they?
Not only that, these words have very specific meanings in scripture. Doing justice means doing right by the needy and vulnerable. Most often the OT used specific categories of people who needed justice done for them—the poor, widows, orphans and others who struggle. Humbling yourself like Jesus means that you treat those people how you’d like to be treated if you were in their place.
Mercy is also a term with a specific meaning in scripture. That word often means God’s special, unbreakable love for his people. So, to love mercy means that you don’t abandon people when they become inconvenient. You keep caring for them, even when they frustrate you.
That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what our passage today calls us to do.
We are then told how much Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (v. 8b)
The creator of life experienced death for us.
We ask, “What would Jesus do?” and we see him dying for us. Does that mean we have to die for others?
Sometimes it might very well mean that. But I believe the more immediate point of contact for us is dying to ourselves. Not demanding our own way. Not focusing first on our own desires, but what others need. Just like Paul said at the beginning of our passage.
And listen to what our passage says God did for Jesus. Because he served other people instead of claiming special privileges because he’s God’s Son. Because he did justice and embraced faithful love and walked humbly with God—even when that journey led him to the cross.
God exalted him to the highest place
Now all those honors belong to Jesus alone. But it does give us an idea of what God will do for us, if we do what Jesus did. James 4:10 makes it very plain.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
And I think this is what Paul wanted the Christians in Philippi to understand. And it’s the pattern we also need to see. Jesus wasn’t selfish or self-centered. He placed what other people needed above his own comfort and desires. He looked out for others, not just for himself. And because Jesus humbled himself in these ways, God exalted him.
And Paul says if we do what Jesus did, God will lift us up, too. Just like he raised Jesus. We will share in Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus’ victory.
But I also think we’ll see this working out in this life, too.
If we go into our relationships and our encounters and interactions with other people and we treat them like Jesus would—
if we’re willing to empty ourselves of some hang-ups and prejudices;
if we’re meeting people where they’re at and serving them there;
if we’re vulnerable and self-giving, instead of being closed-off and suspicious;
if we’re doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God—
Then I believe we’ll see God at work to lift up our church; our families; our workplaces and neighborhoods and communities.
We’ll all be lifted up together.
So today, we began with this question: What would Jesus do? And I’ve argued that the first place we need to apply this question is how we treat other people. This question needs to guide our encounters and social interactions and our relationships. And we’ve seen from our scripture today that this is exactly how Paul would have applied this question.
Paul used Jesus’ example to pull Christians back from selfishness and self-centeredness; and nurture them toward more open, more generous, more thoughtful ways of living with and for others. Because that’s what we see Jesus doing. And Paul adds an incentive: if we humbly follow Jesus’ example, God will lift us up. Just like he did for Jesus.
So asking, What would Jesus do? is really about discipline in our conversations and all of our dealings with other people.
So, what should we do with this?
Sometime this week you will be tempted to be selfish. Maybe it will be in the supermarket. You’ll be tired and in a hurry, and your cart will be full. And you’ll see someone with one or two items meandering up to a checkout line. And you’ll want to cut them off. It could be something that seemingly insignificant. But it’s not insignificant, because even the small choices we make train our hearts. When that moment comes, ask yourself: What would Jesus do? And you’ll know the answer, won’t you? And whatever that answer is—do it.
Or maybe you’ll be frustrated or hurt by someone. And you’ll want to be right. You’ll want to win the argument. You’ll be tempted to say that one razor-sharp thing you know will cut them down to size. Maybe you’ll even justify it in your own heart and tell yourself, Well—what I’m about to say is true, after all. When that moment comes, ask yourself: But would Jesus say that? You know the answer. Do what Jesus would do.
Maybe your moment will be in rush hour traffic. Or at work. Or school. Or with a family member. Or online. You’ll be tempted to lose your temper. Or make yourself look better at someone else’s expense. Or to judge someone you don’t even know. To think the worst of them. To criticize and make fun. My hope and prayer is, in those moments, you’ll hear a voice that asks: “Yes, but what would Jesus do?” And you’ll know the answer. And that’s what you’ll do.
And I’m confident you’ll be able to do this. You know why? Because the Bible says so. We heard that in our scripture today. It’s the very last verse, v. 13. Paul said:
it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
That means that God not only will give us the how-to, he will also give us the want-to.
In those moments, you can absolutely do what Jesus would do, because God will give you thicker skin and a softer heart. God will enable and empower you.
Now, we need to understand something very important. Asking, What would Jesus do? won’t magically solve every problem. We will all still wrestle with sins and all kinds of struggles in our lives. We’ll still have bad days. Sad days. And selfish days. Those are all just part of the human experience.
But honestly, that’s what really makes me hopeful.
Because I don’t think it’s the fact that Christians sin and struggle and fall short of the glory of God and sometimes act like heathens that turns off non-Christians in the world. No, I think the problem is when non-Christians perceive us as unkind, judgmental, thoughtless, self-centered and rude. It’s when they get cut off in traffic by the church lady with the Jesus fish on her car. It’s when they see Christians posting smug and snarky comments on social media. It’s when they see Christians gossiping. Or being pushy. Or putting other people down.
And even non-Christians know Jesus didn’t do those things. And that’s what pushes so many of them away. I suspect that a group of Christians that’s intensely focused on treating people the way Jesus would is going to be such a breath of fresh air. And it’s going to communicate to people out there that we’re safe people. We’re a safe community. We’re a haven in a heartless world.
So, let us go from here with a renewed commitment
to live in,
to live out,
and to live by this question:
What would Jesus do?