A short devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Anyone Not Against Us Is for Us
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
For my first few years in Huntsville, it seemed like every time I would meet someone and they found out I was from “up north”, they would immediately ask what the biggest difference was between Pennsylvania and Alabama. Understandably, there was a genuine curiosity, and maybe even concern, as to how we were adapting to a new culture. But while everyone sought to ensure that we had been treated to appropriate Southern Hospitality, honestly, the biggest difference for me was the way sports were consumed. Growing up in Pittsburgh, while I was a fan of one of the local college programs, nothing compared to my love for the three local professional sports teams, and I was not alone. Unlike the state of Alabama, where nearly everyone yells either “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle,” the entire region of western Pennsylvania all pulls for the same teams and—figuratively—bleeds black and gold.
In fact, it was not uncommon to find Steelers’ jerseys worn to the early service at church by those heading down to the stadium to tailgate before the 1:00PM kickoff… of a pre-season game! Now, it wasn’t as if there was animosity towards college sports as much as there was a general ignorance and apathy. I’ll never forget attending a family holiday gathering back in Pittsburgh after we had been in the south for a few years and having one of my relatives innocently ask if either of Alabama’s football teams were any good that year, even though Auburn was days away from playing in—and winning—the National Championship and Alabama had just won it the year before. I suppose I should not have really been surprised of course because the exact same thing happened the year before when the Steelers won the Super Bowl and yet barely anyone in Huntsville seemed to know there was a football game that day. Although both places are passionate about football, because the teams are not rivals, and do not even compete in the same leagues, it is as if they exist in two different sports-worlds.
After Jesus gently —but firmly — reminded the disciples that the greatest in His kingdom would actually be the servants of all and welcome even the smallest, most insignificant children in in His name, they were all speechless. Well, almost all of them. Mark tells us that John spoke up and told Jesus, “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” We can’t be certain, but it appears that John thought Jesus would commend them for at least attempting to silence the apparently “unauthorized” disciple who performed exorcisms in the name of Jesus but did not walk with them, the “true” disciples. Yet instead of commending John for attempting to stop the imposter, Jesus surprised him yet again by saying they must not hinder others who perform mighty works in His name and power.
Jesus explained that those who do mighty works in His name will not “be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” To understand why John would have been so confused at Jesus’ response, remember another time where Jesus said something very similar, and yet completely different. In Matthew 12 and Luke 11, Jesus told the Pharisees, with the disciples present, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” Now, it seems like He is saying nearly the exact opposite, “Whoever is not against me is for me.” We might ask, along with John, “What is the deal Jesus? Which one is it, because logically both things can’t be true.” And to that, Jesus would simply reply, “Yes.”
Yes, those who perform mighty deeds in the name of Jesus are working with, not against, Him. There is no evidence to show that the man John tried to stop was claiming the power of Jesus for his own or personally profiting off of his actions. And even if he was being financially compensated for his time, the incredible works wrought by the man brought glory to Jesus and were a clear demonstration of the power of Jesus. In a very real way, this man was a missionary for Jesus by using His power to making His name famous.
At the same time, it is also true that, yes, those who, like the Pharisees, have encountered Jesus and are not decidedly for Him are in fact against Him. The Pharisees knew about Jesus, they saw His works, they heard His words, and the truth is they were not undecided or ambivalent towards Him. In fact, it is impossible to feel neutrality for Jesus once we have, like the Pharisees, encountered Jesus. By not aligning themselves with Jesus when the truth was presented to them, the Pharisees were decidedly against Him, and their actions revealed the animosity of their hearts.
Jesus is warning us, and His disciples, that we must not be quick to rush to judgement against others who claim His name and yet do not share our same background, education, or experience. Those who live, worship, and serve in the name of Jesus are our allies, not our enemies, even if they come from different churches or places. In fact, Jesus says that the world will know that we are His disciples by the way we love one another. It is important to remember that Jesus wasn’t just talking about how we treat outsiders, but specifically how we love and care for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Of course, Jesus isn’t saying that anyone who claims His name is an actual believer and we should yoke ourselves to everyone who says they are Christians. But if their actions align with their professions of faith and they readily give the glory to Jesus, we can, and should, look to partner with those from other communities and congregations for His kingdom and His glory. The work of the body of Christ isn’t just about bringing the most bodies into our building or being the ones to most loudly decry the ills of society, it is about bringing the most glory to His most worthy name. And we can only do that together, just like He taught us.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we thank You that You have invited us not only into Your kingdom and Your family, but also into Your work and Your ministry. We confess that at times we are quick to judge or criticize our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who may worship or serve differently than we do. Show us that when we are united together in You that all things are possible. Give us grace for one another and forgive us for our pride and help us to make sure that our personal preferences are not barriers to the growth of Your kingdom. We pray this in Your Perfect name, Amen.