Sunday, March 8, 2009

Misplaced Zeal

The first word of Mark 9:38-50 is the conjunction “and”, which immediately connects what had just been said (Mark 9:33-37) with what is now being said. Jesus was in the middle of a lesson in understanding true greatness; a lesson the Twelve desperately needed to learn. We are no different. Jesus used a child to illustrate His lesson, and the child demonstrated two things. First, all genuine believers are those who have humbled themselves before Christ and become like trusting children. Second, as followers of Christ, we do not serve others motivated by a desire for prestige, place, or prominence. Instead, we serve everyone, the powerful, the helpless, and all those in-between motivated by a desire to make much of God and declare His glory.

At this point in the lesson we read, “And John answered him.” This block of instruction prompted a comment from John, but before we dive into John’s comment, we will briefly browse through his profile. John was inspired by God to pen the Gospel account bearing his name, the three general epistles which also carry his name, and the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. He was originally a disciple of that other John, the Baptist, who began to follow the One of whom the Baptist gave testimony (John 1:35-37). John never named himself in his gospel. He often referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Indeed, John is identified by many theologians and writers as the “apostle of love” because that theme is so interwoven in his writings. John provides us with the foremost verse on God’s love (John 3:16). John 13:35 records these words of Jesus, “By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

His first general epistle is littered with the word love. It appears 33 times, and from that letter we have such well known verses as:
  • 3:1“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”
  • 3:16"Hereby perceive we the love [of God], because he laid down his life for us.”
  • 3:18“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
  • 4:10“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
  • 4:19-20“We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”
The lessons of Christ’s love and humility were lessons well learned by the apostle, but they were learned and developed characteristics, not ones which were natural to him. Do not forget that Jesus tagged John and his older brother James with the nickname “sons of thunder.” These were men of fiery temperament, much of it misplaced; especially early in their discipleship. That is made evident in today's passage for study (Mark 9:38-50).

The teaching on true greatness by serving all people in the name of Jesus got John to thinking, and he said to Jesus, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.”

Well, the nerve of some people! Going around and ministering to others, in the name of Jesus mind you, but not following the Twelve! John told this man, in no uncertain terms, to stop helping people. John saw to it that there would be no unauthorized ministry in Jesus’ name.

Zeal is a good thing, but unless it is governed by Biblical discernment and a consuming love for the glory of God it will do more harm than good.

Sectarianism is one of the easiest “isms” to follow, and this is coming from the mouth of an Independent Baptist pastor! How easy it is for servants of Christ to think that no good can be done in the world, unless it is done by their own group. We are quick to condemn and silence those who differ from us, as if they did not follow Christ because they do not follow Him with us. John was zealously jealous for the exclusive honor of being an apostle, and he would not suffer anyone to take part in what he thought was solely his.

I love JC Ryle’s comments on this passage. He wrote:
We may think our fellow Christians mistaken in some points. We may fancy that more would be done for Christ, if they would join us, and if all worked in the same way. But all this must not prevent us [from] rejoicing if the works of the devil are destroyed and souls are saved. Is our neighbor warring against Satan? Is he really trying to labor for Christ? This is the grand question. Better a thousand times that the work should be done by other hands than not done at all. Happy is he who knows the spirit of Paul when he says, “If Christ is preached, I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” (Philippians 1:18)
We do not know anything about this anonymous exorcist except that what he accomplished was done in the name of Jesus. We also know that Jesus, by His response to John, gave at least an implied commendation of this man (Mark 9:39-40). Jesus patiently taught His disciples, and us, that ministry in Jesus’ name is not the prerogative of the few, but the privilege of all those who belong to the kingdom.

Does this mean that all people who name the name of Jesus are genuine disciples? Is Christ teaching that we are to link arms with all who give lip service to being Christian? Not at all! We are not instructed to embrace those who name the name of Christ but do not preach the truth of Christ. There is no middle ground with Jesus. You are either for Him or against Him. You either proclaim truth or you stand against it. There is no middle ground between truth and error. There is no middle ground between sound doctrine and heresy.

The issue here is not that we are to be tolerant for any and all positions, no matter how aberrant or heretical they may be. What’s at stake here is the glory of and primacy of Christ. Notice that John did not say, “We stopped him because he does not follow You.” His words were, “We stopped him because he does not follow us.” The “us” there is a reference to the Twelve. John’s concern was not primarily for Christ’s honor and kingdom. He was more concerned with safeguarding his own role. Which is why Jesus explained that the real issue is not whether or not this man is one of the Twelve, but whether or not he is for Jesus or against Jesus.

It is the height of foolishness to believe that God only works within your own circles. It’s what John Wesley called the “The miserable bigotry which makes men so unready to believe that there is any work of God but that which takes place among themselves.”

Jesus pressed home the point by saying, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Forget casting out demons – something which the Twelve had recently struggled to do anyway – in the final analysis, it is more important that the servants of God are devoted to Christ than to groups, movements, or ideologies. Indeed, to cause a believer in Christ to stumble and sin is to bring upon one’s self severe judgment. How severe? It would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck and thrown into the sea. This is serious. Christianity is serious. Do you take this seriously?

Pride was one sin with which the apostles mightily struggled. Again, we are no different. Pride will not only cause one to personally sin, but it may easily cause other believers to stumble and sin, and as Jesus teaches in the remaining verses of this chapter, that is a very serious thing. There is a somber tone in verses 42-50 as the Lord used graphic, stunning language to emphasize the seriousness of sin; as well as the seriousness of discipleship. If we are serious about following Christ, about spiritual growth, then we must deal drastically with ourselves; not only for our own sake but for the sake of others as well.

We'll examine the seriousness of discipleshipnext next time.

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