Father in heaven, give me an undivided heart for you. For your kingdom. For your ways. For your glory. Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. I ask for understanding and wisdom as I seek to read and embody your words. Let your truth be rooted deeply within me.
Today I’m looking at Mark 9:38-40. I find this passage to be full of depths, and hard to comprehend. So I’m reading it several times, letting each word and phrase sit for a bit in my mind as I seek what God wants to teach me in this text:
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.” 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. For the one who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-40 ESV)
I have to admit, I find this passage to be a tough one. My bible says that the disciples were with Jesus, having just gotten a lesson in greatness in the kingdom of God, and then John follows up with a question that I think was totally fair: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” In my footnotes, an alternate translation is given: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name who does not follow us…”
I can see why the disciples would be confused by this. I have had some experiences that resonate with this story, too. If you look around you, you will find many, many different groups of people, all claiming to do things in Jesus’s name, yet not “together.” I have been in churches where leaders decry other denominations that don’t practice Christianity they way they do. Folks who are used to “high church” are suspicious of more casual forms of worship. Believers who prefer a more casual approach often judge those who find “smells and bells” to be helpful in worship. Some people pray for healing with animation, laying on hands, praying in tongues, sometimes anointing with oil. Others take a gentler, quieter approach. And don’t even get me started on political views and Christianity. I know people across the political spectrum who believe that their views—which are often the exact opposite of one another’s—are informed by, and representative of, the gospel. One person loves in Jesus’s name while another judges in Jesus’s name. And along with John and the other disciples, I find myself asking, “God, which is it?!”
I don’t have an easy answer. But this passage seems to hint that there are things that we might not do “together,” but if they are consistent with the work of the gospel, they are good and acceptable to God. “No one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” I may not understand or even always approve of another Christian’s beliefs or approach. But if they are doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, who am I to judge?
“For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will be no means lost his reward.” This raises a question for me, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. There have been times when someone who does not hold a view of Jesus as Lord and Savior has shown me tremendous kindness because I do follow Jesus. I can think of several times when someone, moved by my faith and impressed by my devotion, has shown tremendous kindness and generosity to me. My question is—is there a reward in heaven for them?
This passage seems to suggest there is!
It is so tempting to categorize people as saved or unsaved, born again or dead in sin, heading for heaven or hell-bound. Yet I wonder if it’s really that clear cut. Is it possible that God’s system is more nuanced than that? Is it possible that people who are not clearly “in” or “out” are somehow actually “in process,” and as such, are “storing up treasure in heaven” pre-conversion?
Thus far on this blog, I have shared reflections that are pretty much my own conclusions. But this is a text that leaves me pondering and considering some possibilities that I have not thus far considered.
I would love to hear your thoughts, both on these questions and any other ideas or questions that arise for you as you read this text.
Whatever the answer to these hard questions, one thing is clear to me: we may serve him in different ways, even in different tribes of worship and Christian expression. But at the end of the day, if we’re not against each other, we’re for each other. And, together, we’re for Christ.