And just what did Jesus do – and not do?
It is obvious that in so many ways Jesus is our example – our perfect example. He is our role model, and he is the one we must emulate. However, one can only go so far in using his unique and particular life as a sure-proof template for how Christians today should live their lives. Not everything he did should be emulated. And not everything he did not do should be avoided.
Obviously we should all fully follow him in all things when it comes to his moral character. We should be loving as he was loving. We should be merciful as he was merciful. We should hate sin as he hated sin. We should do good as he did good.
But some care is needed here. Let me discuss this in light of a meme I just saw on the social media. It said the following:
A few things Jesus didn’t do:
Start a program
Teach a syllabus
Build an institution
By itself this is a rather dumb meme as I will explain in a moment. But at least the person sharing it did offer a bit of a qualifier: “Not saying they are sin. But we need to ask why He didn’t. Not trying to bring condemnation here. Rather encourage us to meditate on Jesus’ way of doing things. He told us to make disciples teaching them to do what He did.”
But still, even with that prefatory remark, a meme like this really is of limited value. Indeed, a few folks did give her a bit of pushback. As one person remarked, “Maybe we should be asking what he *did* do and what he instructed?”
She replied: “That’s the point of this post. To get a different perspective and ask why He didn’t. Most people assume these are all good things to do. Employing people is of course and Jesus told parables about employing people. So maybe that one needn’t be on the list. But the whole issue requires attention from any serious disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Well, with that admission, that is a full quarter of the list now being withdrawn! Indeed, with just a bit more careful thought and reflection, the remaining three items could also just as easily be scrapped! It is a rather foolish idea in other words to use the life of Christ as some sort of fool-proof checklist for what we should and should not do as Christ followers.
One can only go so far in this regard. Let me offer a few more lists. Here are just some of the things that Jesus did not do. But it would be the height of folly to suggest that Christians should not do them either:
-raise a family
-have a full-time job to provide for his offspring
-start a Sunday School
-attend Bible college
-teach in a theological seminary
-buy commentaries on the New Testament
-drive a car
-become a schoolteacher
-work in an AIDS hospital
-set up a ministry to fight sexual slavery
-vote in elections
-run for political office
-go to Chinese restaurants
-use the internet
-fly to other countries to attend conferences
-use a lawnmower
-have knee surgery
-use Facebook to share gospel truth
-pay off a mortgage
-take the occasional holiday
I think you get the point. There are all sorts of things that Jesus did not do, and usually for very good reasons. But that does NOT necessarily mean that he disapproved of them or thought that his followers should forever steer clear of them.
And consider also some of the things that Jesus did do:
-call 12 disciples
-pick one guy he knew would betray him
-walk around a rather limited area teaching and preaching
-predict his death and resurrection
-die on a cross for our sins
-rise from the dead on the third day
Again, you hopefully get the drift. Yes, maybe in a spiritual sense we can speak of emulating some of these things: for example, we can be spiritually circumcised, we are to carry our cross, and so on. But Jesus did not expect us to do all the exact same things that he did. He was after all on a one-of-a-kind unique and unrepeatable mission.
Of course I don’t mean to be picking on this one gal who had shared this post. Many folks share comments and memes like this. And they often mean well. They rightly want us to be more like Jesus. As such, these folks are often more or less on the right path.
They may rightly be concerned that we have too much strayed from what Jesus and the disciples want from us. We might be doing things today that have long been done by our forebears but might just be the mere traditions of men. They may well need to be questioned, perhaps challenged, and if need be, fully rejected. Seeking to keep close to the original design is normally a good thing.
We should be imitators of Christ where and when this is the proper thing to do. In this regard, consider this: back in 1896 Charles Monroe Sheldon wrote the best-selling religious novel, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? It has sold millions of copies worldwide, and it has encouraged countless contemporary Christians to think seriously about how Jesus would do things today. And that is certainly worth pondering.
But having said all that, there is of course always a place for some innovation, to think outside the box, to run with new wineskins, and to engage in some creativity as we seek to best do church and to best reach the lost in the 21st century.
In other words, we must not slavishly stick to everything that was done – or not done – by Jesus and the disciples. For example, we must avoid the fallacy of arguing from silence. The fact that Jesus did not say certain things or do certain things need not mean he disapproves of them or wants us to also eschew them.
The religious revisionists and radicals for example will foolishly claim that Jesus never said a word about homosexuality, and therefore there is nothing wrong with it. That is both ludicrous and fallacious of course. As a first century Jew, Jesus fully disapproved of it, and all that he did say about God’s purposes for human sexuality make it clear where he stands on this matter.
So we need to be a bit cautious here. Yes, let’s always seek to go back to our roots when and where possible. Yes, let’s always question where we are now at. But no, let’s not erroneously think that the four gospels give us our complete and perfect marching orders for everything that we should and should not do today.
One simple way of summing all this up is to differentiate between three ways we tend to do things in this regard:
-Liberal Christians believe that we should change both the gospel message and the methods.
-Fundamentalist Christians believe that we should keep both the gospel message and the methods.
-Thoughtful Christians believe that we should keep the gospel message but we can change the methods.
Yes we all must desire to be like Jesus. But let this desire be channelled by wisdom and understanding.