John responded, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.” “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you” (9:49-50 CSB).
Perhaps John, the one closest to Jesus, was troubled by what our Lord had just taught, as he remembered something that the apostles had done. So he asked the Lord about it. The second hindrance to a gospel attitude is a party-spirit (9:49-50).
John confessed a troubling occurrence of misplaced zeal. We should not miss the fact that John’s admission comes from those who are loyal to a cause or a group. In particular, John’s statement shows a concern for the honor of Christ’s name. That was good. We ought to be zealous for the Lord and his truth. May many more have a godly zeal!
However, joined with that was a misdirected concern for “our group”. There are a number of manifestations of this attitude. I’ll suggest three that continue to trouble us in our time.
- There are those who are in a denomination, association, or fellowship of churches and who take pride in “our confession of faith” or “our missionary or ministry organizations or methods” or “our religious heritage”. They seem believe that the first ten rows in heaven are reserved for their group. If you don’t think this is so, attend a meeting or conference where one group has the majority. Don’t be surprised when after a few strained polite words that people walk away from you when they discover that you’re not part of their group. Christianity is supposed to be a brotherhood. This group type twists it into a secret society.
- There are those who are in a growing church and who boast “there’s no place like this place anywhere near this place, so this must be the place”. (I’ve actually heard that said.) They are usually quick to point out that their church is “alive” while others are “dead”, or “they have the truth” and others “are in error”. Again, growing churches and experience-centered churches are prone to this error.
- There are those who are in a siege mentality, valiantly “preserving the truth or standards of Christian living”. People with this mentality usually talk like Elijah at his worst. “We’re the only ones left!” They are intent on preserving traditions and group identity at all costs. Talk about loving others and inviting outsiders in is a threat to those in this kind of practical error. They also fear change that new participants in their group might request.
Action Step: Let us never cut down other churches or Christians in a silly attempt to make ourselves look good. If we follow Christ faithfully, he will send his sheep to any gathering of believers.
The Lord Christ gave a sobering reply. It was a swift, direct put down. “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you.”. Stop it!
The Lord Jesus does not need our help as deputy sheriffs to keep his church in line. We might have the best of intentions, but we rarely have the discernment required to do more than to attend to our responsibilities. Jesus simply tells John, “Do not stop him.” You have probably seen some of the old Andy Griffith shows. Dear old Barney was eager to be a good deputy, but many times Andy had to ask him to hand over his bullet. Too many Christians, especially pastors and elders, including some prominent leaders, need to hand their “spiritual bullets” over to the Lord High Sheriff, Jesus.
Again, the disciples had missed a key point. The man was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. (John had said that!) The man spoken of was not opposing the work of God through the apostles. So then, he wasn’t against them but for them.
Biblical separation from error or an ungodly way of life for the cause of God and truth is a constant duty of Christ’s church. But separation just because someone isn’t in our group or because they fail to dot their “Is” and cross their “Ts” as nicely as we do is very, very wrong.
Action Step: We should “walk as far on the right road as we can” with other believers. This is important for you on the job. You may need the help of that other believer in your stand for Christ. It is important right now in your neighborhood to show Christian love before a watching world. Many are in need and suffering and even dying. Help all as you are able and as you have the opportunity! It is important for every local body of believers. As someone once said, “Christians should hang together or we may all hang separately.”
We must learn to accept one another, though we may differ on some matters. Heated controversy attracts feisty people, but it rarely changes anyone’s minds according to the Scriptures. The apostle Paul, who was not reluctant to confront people for error also wrote, Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7 NIV).
Grace and peace,