What Would Jesus Do? Remember that phenomenon from the late 90s? The movement coincided with one of the very first popular praise and worship songs, Lord I Lift Your Name on High. Remember that one?
Well, I had a professor at Southeastern Seminary that didn’t buy into either one. There is a lyric in the song that says, “You came from heaven to earth to show the way,” and this professor used to say, “If Jesus came to show the way, if He came to be an example, then we must live a sinless life, perform impossible miracles, and then die an excruciating death on a cross while enduring the full wrath of the Father for all sin.” Are you sure you want that as your way of salvation?
So if you were standing beside him in chapel when we would sing that song, you would hear him instead sing, “You came from heaven to earth to be (instead of show) the way (John 14.6).” That’s a lot more appropriate, isn’t it? What a relief for fallen sinners.
But even twenty years later, the theology surrounding Christian living focuses almost solely on the deeds of Christ: Jesus did this so we should do this as well. But to really live like Jesus, wouldn’t it be better to focus on the motivations behind His actions rather than the actions themselves? After all, Jesus performed many acts that we are not physically or spiritually capable of accomplishing. But what if we could discover the driving force behind Jesus’ actions? Then we could also be driven by that same passion, no matter what the deed.
In Philippians 2.5-11 we get a glimpse into the mind of Christ. We see more than what He did but rather why He did it. Check it out:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The focus of this passage is the mind of Christ (Phil 2.5).
Having just expounded on good deeds in verses one through four, Paul now turns to the motivation of those good deeds and he uses Jesus as the example. Paul doesn’t focus on Christ’s specific works; instead, he looks at the catalyst for those actions.
Paul tells us to have the mind of Christ–not the deeds, but the mind. We could go into a depth of detail regarding what constitutes the mind, but for this study it suffices to say we should think like Christ. This is not something that comes naturally to the fallen human mind and requires discipline and study to develop (Harris).
Jesus forwent the equality with God that Adam fell trying to attain (Phil 2.6).
Jesus, being the essence and representation of God wrapped in flesh, turned down the very offer that Satan pitched to Adam and Eve in the garden. Genesis 3.4-5 says,
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (emphasis added)
Satan promised Eve equality with God! And even though the serpent deceived Eve into buying this lie, Adam knew exactly to what he was aspiring (1 Timothy 2.13-14). Many theologians believe Paul had Genesis 3 in mind when he penned this Philippians passage, making a direct parallel between Jesus and Adam.
Paul is saying, “Look! This very thing Adam pursued straight off a cliff, Jesus has set aside.” Jesus put Himself into subjection under the Father’s will knowing the pain and suffering that would ensue because of it.
Paul speaks of Jesus as the “last Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15:45. Similarities exist between the two, but also some stark differences remain. Adam, with no inherent deity, laid claim to equality with God; whereas Jesus, with all the deity of the Godhead, considered this equality something not to be grasped.
Even though He had every right, Jesus still did not consider usurping or undermining the authority of the Father. Instead, He made Himself a slave. Look at the next part of the passage…
Jesus, a Slave to His Master (Phil 2.7)
…but [He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
The word used here for servant is better translated slave. Our English translations tone down the meaning because of the negative connotations associated with the word, slave, but that is exactly what it means here.
Because of the aforementioned negative connotations, we tend to think of a slave as one overly burdened with work by a ruthless task master. That is far from Paul’s meaning in this passage. Jesus willfully, willingly, and joyfully obeyed His Master. There was no crack of the whip or beatings into submission. Jesus desired only to walk in the will of the Father. This was His motivation for every act.
There is no better place to see this played out than the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4. In this passage, Jesus falls under temptation three times and in turn gives three “slaveish” responses. I have paraphrased these responses in light of this below.
- Matthew 4.4. Temptation: Turn these stones into bread. Jesus’ Response: My Master did not tell me I could do it; therefore, I will not do it.
- Matthew 4.7. Temptation: Dive from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus’ Response: I’m not going to test my Master by doing something He hasn’t asked me to do.
- Matthew 4.10. Temptation: Bow down to me, serve me, and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ Response: Satan, your enticements mean nothing to me. They fall on deaf ears. The only voice I obey is the one of my Master. Now, get out of here!
And we certainly must consider Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22.40-42)
If Jesus had merely carried out the deeds He wished for Himself, He would have never gone to the cross. Jesus recognized there was much more at stake than His own desires–He submitted to the Master, even when it meant death on the cross (Phil 2.8). Likewise, we’re called to be obedient to our Master, no matter the cost.
The Father exalted Jesus because of his perfect obedience (Phil 2.9-11).
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow! This is a direct quote from Isaiah 45.23 except for one part. Paul substitutes Yahweh’s name used in Isaiah for the name of Jesus. How’s that for a Trinitarian argument and the deity of Christ?
After Jesus completes His “mission” to restore the kingdom in full obedience to the Father, He will then hand it back over to the Father (1 Corinthians 15.24), and will continue in complete subjection to the Father for all eternity (1 Corinthians 15.27-28).
If Jesus, a member of the Godhead, lives out eternity in submission to His Master, then how much more should we fall into humble obedience under the will and authority of our Father in heaven?
- What did Jesus do? He obeyed the Father–in everything.
- Every response to every circumstance and situation was in obedience to the Father’s will and command.
- He was a joyful and willing slave to His Master, like a silent lamb lead to the slaughter (Isaiah 53.7), and that sums up the mind of Christ.
- Instead of attempting to mimic the deeds of Jesus, we should focus on imitating His obedience.
- It’s not about the measure of the individual deeds that you accomplish throughout your day; it’s about whether or not they are done in obedience and submission to your heavenly Father.
- Is the Father your Master? Do you willfully and joyfully operate under His command at all times?
- How many masters do you really have? What (or who) is controlling you?
- In the midst of temptation, when was the last time you told Satan to go jump in a lake (Luke 8.33 … haha) because you are obedient to only One?