WWPD: What Would Paul Do? Not WWJD

Paul, the “Chosen Vessel”

There is a better way to follow Jesus than looking at Jesus’ life and discerning what He would have done in our circumstance. The Spirit of Jesus indwells and empowers us Whom He has sent to be with us forever (Jn. 14.16-17). We don’t have to analyze what Jesus would have done since He lives within us, teaching the way to live. However, we do need a human example to pattern our walk with Him. It’s not about any kind of mysticism that Jesus leads us; instead, He provides human models who follow cruciform principles. He has given us an example in the person of Paul the Apostle: “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1Cor. 11.1). Paul was a “chosen vessel to carry My name to Gentiles and also kings, and then to the sons of Israel” (Acts 9.15 literal rendering). Paul didn’t go in his own strength or wisdom, but by the Spirit, representing Jesus in a real way since Jesus was working through him.

Jesus had to fulfill both specific and general types during His earthly ministry, and thus could never be our pattern for life. Jesus was more than just prophet, priest, and king; He is also the Creator, The Author of life, the Lawgiver and Judge, the Savior, among other things. There is no way, in our flesh, that we can model our lives on Christ’s life. Instead, He provided other Christians whom He taught earlier: His apostles, specifically, Paul.

The Failed Social Gospel

There are some who want to revive the recurring and misguided idea of WWJD: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/defense-wwjd/. This is a turn to the Social Gospel of Charles Sheldon, who, in 1896, developed a sermon series based on the question, “What would Jesus do?” Eventually, this turned into the novel, In His Steps. Initially, Charles Sheldon sought to provide practical works for the Christian instead of the new life in Christ. Sheldon believed in, and advocated, Christian Socialism, contrary to the pattern given by Paul, and later, the Protestant Reformers.

While Sheldon advocated many good causes, he was also misguided by his view of alcohol prohibition, which, after this law’s implementation, caused more harm than good. Sheldon’s ministry was characterized by a moralism that didn’t offer any eternal hope for its followers. His theology seemed to be focused on the present exclusively and thus was associated with the Social Gospel, which is, in reality, no gospel at all. Yes, it’s true that, among church practice in the N.T., support was given to destitute members. However, this support was very qualified since it was only extended to widows over 60 who had lived exemplary lives and previously served the congregation (1Tim.5.9-10).

Paul’s Cruciformed Life

Paul viewed his flock as co-laborers (2Cor. 6.1) and gave them an example to follow from his own ministry. Every ministry situation we face will be unique, but can be guided by the principles which characterized Christ’s great Apostle. By following the bible’s instruction, we will not fall into the trap of misguided social causes, such as WWJD. Instead we should emulate the cruciform life of Paul in 2Cor. 6.3-10. In the following comprehensive list, nowhere is there any hint of patterning our lives upon that which Christ might have done in similar situations:

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything (NIV).