The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 225)

Serving with Humility

Christian Living

“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. 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'” (Mark 9:38-41).

When John reported to Jesus that he had stopped someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he did not belong to their exclusive group of disciples, was he expecting to get high praise from Jesus for his zealousness? Did you shake your head and wonder how John could be so petty or did you remember that you are sometimes like John when dealing with other Christians? How often have we taken the stand that it must be our way or it’s the wrong way? Churches have split up over how ministries should be conducted and some churches become insular and refuse to have any fellowship with Christians outside their local church because others do not run their ministries in the exact same manner. Why does Mark record this incident and what lessons can we learn from that account?

Jesus gave James and John the name “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) and it was an indication of their fiery zeal when relating to others. However, John was also called the apostle of love, indicating a gentle and compassionate heart. What precipitated John’s reaction to the person casting out demons in Jesus’ name? Not only were they unhappy but the two brothers told the man to stop his ministry immediately. They were zealous in making sure that there was no unauthorised use of Jesus’ name. Were their actions carried out because they were genuinely concerned about the Lord’s work or out of sinful pride?

The Danger of Sinful Pride
The religious leaders in Jesus’ day wore enlarged phylacteries on their hands and enlarged tassels on their robes to make a boast of their spirituality. They prayed loudly and publicly, with long prayers so that others would consider them spiritual. Having grown up with such role models in the Jewish society, it was not surprising that Jesus’ own disciples would seek pre-eminence. The concept of servanthood as the path towards greatness in God’s kingdom was foreign to the Jews just as it is in our competitive society today.

Jesus had grown increasingly popular among the people and to be known as His exclusive disciples must have caused them to swell with pride. What could be greater than being Disciples of Christ, the Son of the living God? Jesus reminded John that ministry in Jesus’ name was not the prerogative of a chosen few but the privilege of all who belonged to the kingdom of God. The objective of serving God is not receiving recognition, but being willing to humble ourselves and serve as Christ Himself had served.

John’s encounter with this unnamed exorcist took place not long after the Lord’s other disciples had failed to cast out a demon possessing a child (Mark 9:17-18). The disciples’ ego would have taken a severe beating when they met another person successfully casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Perhaps they saw themselves as the only people authorised to carry out the Lord’s work. In his spirit of criticism, John forgot the failure and impotence of the disciples in the incident at the foot of the Mount.

In Mark 9:33, as Jesus and His disciples reached Capernaum, He questioned His disciples as to the reasons for the argument they had with one another but they responded with guilty silence. They were embarrassed because they had been arguing as to who among them was the greatest of the Lord’s disciples. This shows that even those closest to the Lord and being instructed by Him were not immune to sinful pride. They might be fishermen and tax collectors but they were concerned about pre-eminence because pride is no respecter of persons. That this argument took place soon after Jesus had revealed to them that He was going to be betrayed into the hands of men and be killed at Calvary indicates that they had failed to grasp the significance of Calvary and instead engaged in one-upmanship. This would also not be the last time the disciples argued among themselves. Subsequently, James and John sought to be given places of honour at Jesus’ right and left hand in the kingdom of God and even sent their mother to petition their cause before Jesus.

Pride does not just make us crave honour and recognition but makes us critical, judgmental and wanting to put others down so that we may promote self. Therefore, we are not surprised that James and John would be upset on hearing that someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. In Mark 9:35, Jesus gave them the remedy for pride. If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. The disciples had visions of grandeur and becoming lowly servants at the beck and call of others was not on their list of coveted achievements. Sadly, spiritual competition for prominence and seeking recognition for our labours continues to plague churches today as Christians seek to be first among men.

God’s Ministry is Not Restricted to Certain Christians
The only reason why John stopped the other person from casting out demons in Jesus’ name was because he was not following them (the disciples) and not because he was not following Jesus. It did not matter that it was done in Jesus’ name and the demon possessed person was being helped. Just because another Christian does not belong to this church, or a particular church we are familiar with, does not mean that God cannot achieve His purposes through that Christian. Understanding that God’s ministry is served by diverse Christians from differing backgrounds and churches will help us to rejoice when we see God’s kingdom being advanced instead of being jealous because they reaped fruits but are not part of our Christian circle. Listen to what Paul said in Phil 1:15-18:

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former proclaims Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

Paul’s intention was not to question the motives when another Christian preaches the Gospel, because we will never know the real motives within the heart of another. Instead he rejoiced because the Gospel was being preached. This affects the way we co-labour with like-minded believers from other churches. They may not be from among us but if they are advancing the kingdom of God without violating Biblical principles, we can certainly rejoice with them and even co-labour with them if the situation permits.

At other times, our attitude towards Christian ministry also affects the way we serve together with other Christians within the church. We all have preferences in the way we do things and when newer/younger members of the church join a particular ministry, they may take a different approach to the ministry. As long as Scriptural principles are not violated, we do not need to stop another person just because they have adopted a different approach. We must learn to be gracious and humble and allow God to teach us through the younger members of the church and not insist that there is only one way of serving in a particular ministry. Conversely, the younger members must not insist on adopting a different approach just for the sake of being different because there is wisdom in the time-tested approaches of ongoing ministries. We must not make the mistake of seeing other Christians as competitors when there are no real competitors among genuine believers.

How Do We Know if Someone is Doing the Lord’s Work?
We must not assume that everyone who professes to be a Christian and doing the Lord’s work must be pleasing the Lord. Some televangelists on American television claim to speak for God but preach a different Gospel from that in Scriptures. They are only seeking to line their own pockets with donations from beguiled Christians. We need to discern those who preach a different Gospel and not co-labour with them in their deception. In Matt 7:15-23, Jesus warned us to beware of false prophets. We would be able to identify the false prophets by their fruits because a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Jesus then continued to warn us that not everyone who called Him “Lord” belonged to Him. Many who prophesied in His name, cast out demons and did many wonders in His name, He would declare that He never knew them because they were practising lawlessness. We are called to exercise discernment when seeking to co-labour with other Christians.

In Mark 9:39, Jesus said that the one who worked a miracle in His name could not then speak evil or curse the name of Jesus. It points to the inability to remain neutral having worked the miracle in Jesus’ name. There are professing Christians today who claim to do God’s work but then take the Lord’s name in vain (the equivalent of cursing) when they relate to colleagues, relatives and friends. Jesus dispels this myth of a genuine believer cursing the Lord’s name having been used by God in doing His work.

In verse 40, Jesus said that, “the one who is not against us is for us.” He was not speaking of those who were non-committal about Him for we have all met people who claimed they are not anti-Christian or antagonistic about Jesus but simply apathetic. Instead Jesus was pointing out that anyone who has been confronted by Jesus cannot remain neutral because neutrality is forever impossible once one is confronted by Christ. Jesus was pointing out to John that the exorcist casting out demons in Jesus’ name was one of His servants even if he did not belong to their inner circle of disciples.

Finally, Jesus pointed out that anyone who gave a drink to another because they belonged to Christ would not lose his rewards. There are God’s servants around us who would render deeds of kindness to us just because we belong to Christ. In our folly of preserving the exclusivity of our church, we sometimes end up treating other Christians as enemies, much to the delight of Satan.

We must recognise that God has other servants whom He uses as much if not more than ourselves. Let us remember that Christian ministry is not about us and how much others recognise our good works. But rather, it is about serving with humility for God’s glory. The Christian community should be characterised by a spirit of lowliness instead of haughtiness, humble service instead of insolence, harmonious relations instead of strife and division. Let us not judge the works of others just because they do not belong to our group or do not do things the same way we do. Let us rejoice whenever God’s kingdom makes inroads into the world even if it is not via our hands or efforts. Jealousy about the success of another Christian’s ministry is unbecoming of a true servant of God. Instead pray for God to bring many labourers into the harvest field because the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

Tan Chee Eng
- Tan Chee Eng is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship.

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