My wife sometimes has to remind me that, “Everything doesn’t have to be a competition”. It can be difficult to remember that, though. We live in a world where everyone from sports teams to politicians compete to win (although the rules are somewhat different across those two domains), and everything from school exams to restaurants are rated. It’s difficult to get through a day without being asked to take a survey, provide feedback, or find ourselves being compared to others.
Healthy competition – if engaged in a friendly manner by all participants – can be a great way to help us become better, or just to have some fun. However, when we identify the wrong person, group, or team as our opponents, we’re probably not going to have an enjoyable experience. If you don’t believe me, you could join a pick-up game of football (I was thinking American football, here), and tackle someone else on your team after the ball is snapped. I don’t recommend that, though – I do not think that you will have much fun after that.
Disciples of Jesus ran into this situation, once (or, at least once, I guess).
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
“Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
Mark 9:38-40 NLT
This is a pretty bold statement: There is no middle ground when it comes to being allied with Jesus. Either we are aligned with Him, or we are opposing Him.
Once we understand Jesus’ role in history – offering His own life as the only payment that could ever cover the debt that we owed for our sins – one of the first questions that we should consider is whether or not we are for Him.
Before reading further, have you made that choice in your life? If not, I implore you to consider it carefully. If you haven’t made a decision either way, well…you’ve made a decision (at least, for now). The good news is that the offer is still open. While there is yet time to make a different decision (for Jesus, rather than against Him), if you have questions, please let me – or another follower of Jesus – know what we can help you with (by showing you what God has to say in the Bible).
After we know where we stand, though, we may find ourselves in the place of the apostles. There are others in this world who speak, work, and live for the name of Jesus Christ. These “other” people may have a different background, heritage, or tradition from us. Their church building might have a different logo on the front, compared to where we worship. They might worship Jesus differently than we do, dress differently, talk differently, or use their gifts differently. There’s a decent chance that they don’t even speak the same language as us.
So, what do we do in this case?
After searching carefully for a congregation or group of Christians who match us exactly (that is, people who look, think, act, and talk just like us), do we categorically dismiss, detract from, or denigrate all those whose point of view doesn’t fit our own? Do we try to shut them down and suppress what they are doing because they don’t match our own point of view? (I confess that I have fallen into this rut in the past, and I can’t promise you that I’m never pulled away from Jesus’ instructions, even today.)
Or, do we take Jesus’ words to heart, and appreciate that there is only one fundamental decision that matters more than anything else: Have we accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord, or not?
To be clear, if we see a fellow brother or sister in Christ teaching something that isn’t true, we should work with them – in love – to educate them (like Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos in Acts 18:24-26). If they are struggling with sin, the Bible explains how to deal with correction appropriately (see Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-17). Not everybody is correct all the time, although not every error is intentional (nor should it always be taken as a personal affront). I also acknowledge that there are those who claim to have the truth, but their lives show otherwise (see Matthew 7:15-23 for some important reminders). Still, Jesus seemed pretty specific and unambiguous when He made this statement about people who were “for” Him.
Later in this same chapter, it seems to me that Jesus – still continuing the same topic – reinforces this point. We might have heard this passage in context of the benefits of salt, but check out the last part of this verse:
Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”
Mark 9:50 NLT
We must “live in peace with each other”. And, if followers of Jesus begin to recognize others who are also working to live with Him as their Lord, accepting each other as all being “for Jesus” (as different as we may all be!), I believe that a lot of conflict in this world would give way to peace.
While I don’t claim that this is easy, nor natural (in our fallen condition), let us aspire to recognize these teaching of Jesus. Throughout the global community of people who believe in Jesus and follow Him, may we recognize who is on His side. I certainly hope that’s the same side we’re on, too!