“Who is Jesus to you?” That is the question I learned to ask from a man named Stanley Shipp. When I was a young guy of about twenty years of age Stanley was the old guy at about fifty-five years of age. (That’s my age now, so I probably look like I belong in Jurassic World to college age students today.)
Stanley was a minister who specialized in mentoring young people in the faith. He trained would-be-ministers not so much in the art of preaching but in the art of living like Jesus. It was my privilege to spend some time around him in those formative years.
I vividly remember a story he shared with me and a few others once. He talked about going into a restaurant in St. Louis with a few other people from his church. They cozied up in a booth and carried on a conversation about faith they had been having.
They didn’t know it but the people in the booth behind them were listening. A young couple was there and started eavesdropping on this faith discussion. I can guarantee you they had not heard anyone talk about faith in the way Stanley would. And they had never met someone with a heart as big as his. He was all about being a servant. In fact his business card read, “Stanley Shipp—Your Servant.” (I wish I still had one.)
At some point the couple’s curiosity got the best of them and they leaned around and asked, “Are you talking about Jesus?”
“Yes we are,” Stanley replied.
“Can we join you?” they asked.
I’m sure Stanley about jumped out of his seat to pull up a couple of chairs for them. He was always eager to talk about Jesus. “Anything on your mind?” he asked them.
“Well, we were wondering what Jesus would say about two people living together that aren’t married?” was their question.
When Stanley told us this story he paused long enough for us to think about how we would have responded. Being one who was working on a Biblical studies degree I started running through the passages of Scripture I knew that might be applicable.
That’s when Stanley told us how he answered them. He answered their question with a question. (Which I later realized was something he learned from Jesus.) He said, “Well, before I answer that, let me ask you: Who is Jesus to you?”
The couple was caught off guard. They just wanted a quick answer: it’s either right or wrong. I don’t know if they were up for a debate that night or if they were sincerely looking for some guidance, but Stanley’s question took the conversation in an entirely different direction.
“Why does that matter?” was the response his question prompted.
Stanley replied with a heart as big as the Midwest where he lived. “Well, you see, it really matters who Jesus is to you. If he isn’t the one you are following in life then it won’t matter very much what he says about marriage. But if he is the one you are following and learning how to live life from, then it makes all the difference in the world because you’ll trust him that what he is teaching you is the best thing for you.”
I’m a follower of Jesus. And I know from experience that there are times I have known what Jesus says but it didn’t make much of a difference in my actions. I learned from Stanley that those moments are a reflection of who Jesus is to me. If I truly believe that he knows what the good life is and he is the Teacher of my life, then I’ll listen to what he says in a way that transforms my behavior.
And I learned something else from Stanley’s question. When someone that is not a follower of Jesus asks me what the Scriptures teach about something, answering their question with that question is not a bad starting place. It helps both of us realize that the foundations of our belief systems are completely different. And because they are we are most likely going to have very different ways of seeing things. We can have a lively, respectful discussion. But it helps us both to understand why we see things the way we do.
“Who is Jesus to you?” If you haven’t answered that question already spend some time thinking through it today. It may come in handy next time you’re in a restaurant.
Question: How well do you listen to the questions of others? Have you learned to answer questions with questions that are helpful to the discussion?