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 affect—what 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.