The blessings of preaching through a book of the Bible verse by verse are many. You get frequent reminders of foundational topics while also touching on items you may never choose to preach on by your own volition. And every once in a while, you get to see God put a text in front of you at the perfect time and are reminded that God’s Word is, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)”
A few weeks ago, we were brought face to face with a timely word from Jesus in Luke 9:49-50 and I think it was one of those supernatural works of God to help us during this season.
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”
– Luke 9:49-50
The Jesus Club
We can understand John’s perspective in this passage. Jesus’ disciples are those who have responded to Jesus’ call on their lives. They have left their fishing boats and their tax booths to “take up their cross daily and follow [Jesus]”. (Luke 9:23)” Jesus has given them power and authority to preach the kingdom, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Luke 9:1). It is a very exclusive club of 12, appointed to be apostles. We know that these men are a work in progress like the rest of us, and sins of hubris are not out of the question (Luke 9:46-48). So, when John sees another man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, he gets protective and defensive. He has a desire for Jesus’ message and ministry to be pure and that means keeping the kingdom work in-house, not outsourcing it. John’s motivations were a mixed, some righteous and some selfish. John wants Jesus’ work to happen in the Jesus Club, not outside; he is afraid that those who are outside of their group will be a bad witness to the name of Jesus.
In our day we have far more divisions than that. Baptism, the Lord’s supper, roles of men and women in church, dress, music styles, and many other things divide Christians into camps. This can take place between churches and denominations, or within a local church. These preferences draw lines that can create opportunities for conflict where scripture would encourage us to be united despite the differences.
Lines of Division
Jesus reminds us, that it is not the lines we draw that unite us, but the lines on his back, the holes in his hands and sides, and his blood poured out that unites us. In chapter 10, Jesus urges his disciples to “not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).” Jesus is the one who defines the lines between those inside the kingdom and those outside, not us (Luke 10:22). It is critical for the health of God’s people that we learn to love those outside our own “camps” as brothers and sisters in Christ, not as enemies. This is our witness in the world (John 13:35). And, even if we did consider a Christian brother or sister an “enemy”, that does not let us off the hook. Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).” Love is our mandate for our friends and enemies.
Different Crowd, Different Word
It is worth noting, that Jesus turns this statement at another point in ministry. Look at Matthew 12:30,
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.“
At first glance, this statement seems to be the opposite of Jesus’ statement in Luke 9. However, from the context we can see the difference. In Luke, Jesus is talking to his disciples about other followers of Jesus. In this context, we are lovingly to accept the efforts of other brothers and sisters in Christ toward the glory of the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 12, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees who have just accused him of doing his work by the power of the Devil. For those outside the kingdom, there is no hope of rejecting Jesus and finding their way in by another way. Jesus is the only way to God. If you are against Christ, you are on the other team, whom Jesus calls an “evil generation” in Matthew 12:39 and 12:45. Unity is for those inside the kingdom and division is for those outside.
Family is Humility
The family of God is a messy place. Just like your family table. We don’t always agree, but we always love and pursue unity. Jesus’ call on our lives is to leave our preferences behind and embrace the diversity of unity in the cross of Christ. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-5)”