Michael Metzger

WWJD is speculative. WDJD is substantive.

Several years ago WWJD bracelets were popular: What would Jesus do? But this is a speculative question—Dallas Willard says the point is not how Jesus would behave “on the spot.” The better question is: What did Jesus do—WDJD? For example, did Jesus define shalom as faith flourishing to the degree that others flourish?

The answer is found in what Jesus aimed for. The chief end of life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Glorifying God includes loving him and our neighbors—the Great Commandment. Jesus had this aim. One day he was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt. 22:36-40).

Since the Great Commandment is the aim, what was the avenue Jesus took in fulfilling the Great Commandment? This is where Jesus threw his disciples a curve ball.

In Luke 17, Jesus concluded a series of messages on what faith should look like. It was appealing. The disciples wanted more. They came to the Lord and gushed, “Increase our faith!” That’s the right question, right? Admit it—if someone in your faith community requested increased faith, what would your staff do? Most pastors would be thrilled.

Jesus on the other hand issues a mild rebuke: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” The disciples want more faith and Jesus essentially says: “a little dab will do ya.” (No wonder the Lord didn’t have more friends—look at the way he treated those who were his friends!) But Jesus needed to give a mild rebuke to set up a major redirect. He tells a story that comes out of nowhere. It’s about a hungry master and his servants.

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat?” Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink?” Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17: 5-10)

Unpacking this story reveals how Jesus understood shalom. He equates the disciples’ request for faith to being fed—a common metaphor in that day. The disciples were essentially saying to Christ: “Feed us”—much as the oversized plant Audrey II did in “Little Shop of Horrors” (“Feed me, Seymour!”). And, as happened to Aubrey II, “feed me” can have horrific consequences. Thus, a rebuke and redirect. The disciples thought about faith in terms of its affectwhat increased faith can accomplish. The problem is faith as small as a mustard seed contains a great deal of power. Jesus redirects the disciples to consider how faith is acquired rather than what it can achieve. Here’s why.

In the story, Jesus reverses the roles and asks the disciples what they would normally do with their servants. If they were masters, they’d never say to their servants, “Sit down to eat!” Yet this is essentially what the disciples requested: Feed me! Jesus reminded them that any master would command the servants to serve until the master flourishes—to first prepare the master’s supper, get cleaned up, and wait on the master until he’s full. The point is clear: the master flourishes first. After that you flourish. Where did Jesus get this idea of first causing others to flourish—and then the faith community will flourish?

In Jeremiah 29, the Jews are sent into Babylonian exile and told to build homes, plant gardens, get married, raise families and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer. 29:4-7). Peace and prosperity is shalom. But the larger point is clear: the Jews’ flourishing came only as they promoted flourishing among their captors’ culture. “Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” The avenue to flourishing faith is shalom—serving others (outside the faith) so that they first flourish.

This understanding of faith is a check against hubris. Jesus said one of the surest signs of shalom is that after faith communities do “everything they were told to do,” they’ll shrug and say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” That’s because enacting shalom is harder when faith communities gauge flourishing by outside institutions rather than attendance and involvement. Hard work is a check against hubris, and changing outside institutions is hard. It also means the flourishing of faith is not self-referential—I determine if I’m growing. Shalom is other-referential—measuring the flourishing of outside institutions and individuals to gauge the growth of faith.

Make no mistake about it, faith is power and power cannot be ignored. In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter calls the church to shalom, or “faithful presence within.” This means the church doesn’t see power as “taking over culture” but using power on behalf of others to enact shalom. This gibes with empirical evidence gathered by David Burnham, a partner at Burnham Rosen Group that specializes in strategic business planning and leadership development.

Burnham and his late colleague David McClelland discovered in the late 1980’s that the competencies distinguishing successful leaders from average leaders were no longer predicting superior business performance. In 1992, Burnham initiated a five-year study in eight countries and 13 industries. He followed leaders delivering first quartile business performance and high employee morale in their industries and compared them to those delivering average performance. Burnham discovered that those using power on behalf of others achieved superior performance. Science continues to catch up to scripture, and scripture has always promoted shalom as the avenue to increased faith. Even Jesus taught this, which is why WWJD is speculative—we can’t know in every instance what Jesus would or might do. WDJD on the other hand is substantive—we do know that Jesus defined shalom as faith flourishing to the degree that others flourish… and he worked to that end.


The Morning Mike Check

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  1. It’s best for us if others succeed. That’s a simple, but brilliant reality.

    We don’t think that way often. Instead, we defining winning (though some sort of competition) to be the best thing for us.

  2. Great piece, Mike!

    OK, I want to make sure I understand this: No one can deny that the United States was flourishing as an institution at the beginning of the Great Society (1965), all the way through the 70s, 80s and 90s up until 9/11.

    So, as Christians, we were supposed to be pleased the United States was the most prosperous nation in the world? We should have been happy to lend a hand in that prosperity because when the U.S. is prospering, we are prospering?

    Throughout that time, the moral sinew of the society was slowly unraveling: (from free love to legal abortion, self-centered materialism to moral relativism). So we find ourselves in 2010: with cultural icons like Brittney Spears, Mel Gibson and Lady GaGa, our once great economic engine in danger of a double-dip recession or even depression and our leaders demanding that China pull the world out of the spiral, and Scientology is the fastest growing religion.

    Gentlemen, we have a problem. The United States (world?) doesn’t buy into the God thing. We are Noah building an arc and it hasn’t started raining yet. Popular percecption/definition of reality cannot relate to our perception/definition. They have been imperceptively drifting away from one another for long before 1965.

    I think it is illustrative to remember the Jewish experience in the world since the final destruction of the Temple in 70AD. They have tried very hard to practice Shalom in a world that did not welcome them (on the whole). I think we need to ask ourselves why.

  3. Hello Chris,

    I can’t claim to speak on behalf of Mike, but let me see if I can help with your question. The response section of this blog is entitled “Commentaries”, so I’ll try to add to the commentary at large.

    If I understand you rightly, what you are asking is how can we promote the goodness and peace of a society that has so many moral failings? That’s a good question. Here’s another: how can a good parent promote the goodness and peace of their children, even if their children are wilful sinners?

    The reason I ask this question is because institutions and societies are made up of people. If we can answer why a good parent would seek the best for their naughty child (a single person), we may have a better understanding of why we as Christians would be called to seek the flourishing of a non-Christ centred culture (many people).

    The best answer that I can think of is love. A good parent loves their child, even when they misbehave. They will seek to help them flourish in order that they may enter into a right relationship with them. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 5:45 that the Father causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. To leap off of what Mike pointed out in Jeremiah 29, God sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous is an act of indiscriminate love (some call this Common Grace) that blesses both the believer and the unbeliever. God wants people to have a right relationship with Him, and it makes sense that He who loved us while we were still sinners, would love others too with both physical and spiritual blessings.

    We also are called to love like God. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. This is also indiscriminate love, because our neighbour is not just the person we like, but even the people we don’t like; the moral and the immoral. Jesus outlines this in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and He emphasizes the point again when He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

    To put this in practical terms, let’s think about what happens when a believing farmer has fields that are surrounded by the fields of unbelievers. When that farmer prays for rain, he is in effect praying for his neighbours as well. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. The believer is flourishing because His neighbours are flourishing. When he prays for himself and his neighbours, he is enacting shalom.

    Similar to the believing farmer, we as Christians are surrounded by those who do not believe. When we seek to be a blessing to others regardless of their beliefs, we are showing Christ like love. When Jesus was approached by John the Baptist’s disciples to see if He was the one to come, He replied: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” These miracles were not necessarily for those who believed, but so that the glory of the Lord might be shown. So, not only do we seek the good of those around us because God calls us to, but because it glorifies Him.

    I would also suggest that we try to enact shalom within a non-Christian society because in so doing we can introduce people to the Gospel. This is, I believe, one of the main reasons Clapham Institute exists. As Mike said in a Q&A with Comment Magazine, he seeks to “[reframe] the way people imagine faith.” I think he understands that there are a lot of assumptions regarding what faith really is. Before he can preach the good news of the Gospel to them, he must first strip away faulty beliefs so they can see the good news for what it is. He must also show them that the gospel is not just esoteric mumbo jumbo, but also makes good sense:
    For example, I consult for a gifts distribution company, in which I’ve reframed the gospel as a four-word “corporate code” that shapes every aspect of work—ought, is, can, and will. This code gives people “hooks” to talk about work as it ought to be, recognize the way it is, consider what they can do about it, and—hopefully—push toward what the company will be. If and when they ask “where I got this stuff,” I tell them it’s rooted in the ancient “four chapter” gospel of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. This is how I get my foot in the door, because people invariably ask, “Where did you get this code—it really helps!” (http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/789/)

    Looking again to the root of your question, Chris, I think most of your qualms lie in how one defines the flourishing of society. Trying to help our society gain wealth for the sake of wealth is not to bring shalom to the believer and unbeliever. However, finding a way to bring law and order, to create business practices that give back to the community, to teach institutions to invest their money wisely so that they can be good stewards with it is to seek the good and the peace of the unbelieving society we find ourselves in, and it is to enact shalom.

    Again, to seek the flourishing of society, secular or otherwise, is biblical: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other’” (Zechariah 7:9-10). This command was not just to do good to the Israelites, whom were God’s chosen people, but even to the alien, or foreigners, who were not believers at all.

    If we truly understood what it meant to love our neighbour as ourselves, we might stop asking why we should help people who don’t believe in God, and we would start empathizing with them. We would give to them what we would want given to ourselves. And after a time, the society we live in would ask why we were helping them out and where we got all our good ideas from. Then, we would have the opportunity, as Mike has, to start telling people the good news of the Gospel.

  4. Chris:

    I am indebted to Peter for his thorough and thoughtful reply. Well done! The challenge before us, at the most fundamental level, is offering a new frame (and ancient one, actually) for the gospel.

    A new frame rearranges facts that people have long assumed “fit” reality. When Copernicus suggested a new frame, that the sun is the center of the universe, those who held to the earth being at the center of the solar system were perplexed. Answers and agreement were hard to find, since scientists in opposing camps were using the same words (“sun” and “earth”) but defining them in different ways.

    The heliocentric frame eventually won – it took three generations – because it was better aligned with reality. But reality takes a while to win. The problem was with those who believed the earth is at the center of the system. They resisted redefining “earth” and “sun” inside a new frame, since that wasn’t the way their books framed and defined reality. When ideas begin to challenge industries (publication) and institutions (science), people dig in their heels.

    This is the problem with paradigm shifts – they replace frames, not facts. They reveal that the old books are misguided at best and essentially wrong at worst. What James Hunter is proposing {“To Change the World”) – and what I am also presenting in this column – is a new frame. The challenge for the church is the human tendency to see facts such as evangelism and worship and technology – everything really – inside the old frame. But new frames make the old books on “doing church” misguided at best and essentially wrong at worst.

    You can’t fix this system – you have to replace it. It can be done, but only when a church sees the solution as starting inside a new frame (paradigm) rather than tweaking old paradigms and programs. In this column, I am merely reiterating what Hunter describes in “To Change the World” – the faith community flourishes of the degree that center institutions (regardless of the faith orientation) flourish. It’s the frame for making sense of Jesus’ life and mission.

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