Eliminating Our Enemies (Luke 9:49-50)
Luke is assuring his Christian readers with an orderly account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In this final conversation of Jesus’s Galilean ministry, the disciples are being humbled. They were arguing about which of them would be the greatest in heaven, and Jesus brought a child to his side as an example. Instead of taking up their cross to follow Jesus they were far more concerned with securing positions of honor.
We might consider our passage this afternoon as part two of Jesus’s response to their pride. Although our culture has made an idol out of toleration and merged it’s meaning with approval, the original concept is commended by Jesus here.
We can eliminate many of our enemies by learning to tolerate those who are not opposed to us. In other words, we might have a lot fewer enemies if we stopped creating them out of allies.
I. A Competitive Question (49)
In the next passage John and his brother, James, will seek to call fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritans who were unwilling to receive Jesus.
No one can deny John’s youthful passion. He was all heat. But he frequently lacked compassion in his early discipleship. The need for love to motivate and guide our action became the theme of his latter years.
John is responding to what Jesus has just told them about the child. The one who is least is the greatest. After hearing the rebuke of the previous passage, John is seeking some affirmation here. He wants Jesus to agree that they did the right thing. But, once again, he is mistaken.
Circumstance: We saw someone casting out demons in your name
The man was–as Kent Hughes calls him–“a successful freelance exorcist”. But, lacking a call and commission, was he qualified to do the work?
In Acts 19, the seven sons of Sceva, Jewish exorcists, witnessed the healing power of Paul and attempted to use the name of Jesus to cast out a demon. As imposters, they were overpowered by the demon, and “fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16). Likewise, Simon the Magician was condemned for wanting to purchase the gift of the Spirit (Ac 8:14-25).
However, this situation is different. It would be closer to the time when Moses was warned about two men prophesying. His response was that he wished everyone had the gift of prophecy (Num 11:24-30). This man is exorcising demons in the name of Jesus. Rather than undermining their ministry he’s promoting it. It would seem that this man was a true disciple, even though he didn’t belong to the twelve.
Jesus works in many ways that are oftentimes beyond our comprehension and outside of our typical circle of trust!
Action: We tried to stop him
Maybe they were a bit jealous of his success after their own lack of success (Lk 9:40). The disciples created a problem where one didn’t exist. Unfortunately, this is all too common among believers who are zealous for truth and purity in the church. We need sympathy, patience, and wisdom to temper our zeal.
Wilcock, “To adapt Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer, they must ask for the serenity to accept what does not need to be challenged, the courage to challenge what does, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
They wanted to prevent him from casting out demons in the name of Jesus…
Cause: Because he does not follow with us
John assumes this man is an imposter accomplishing similar things in opposition to them. It’s not hard to imagine a competitive spirit welling up in terms of serving Jesus. Our striving to be faithful, can quickly become arrogant and judgmental.
II. A Unifying Answer (50)
Paul makes a similar appeal to those who proclaimed Christ out of selfish ambition with the intent of adding to his affliction. Instead of responding to their cruelty with angry correction, Paul diffuses the division by commending them (Php 1:17-18).
Scripture is clear that we cannot tolerate evil (Hab 1:13), wickedness (Re 2:2), doctrinal errors (Ga 2:4; 2 Th 2:1-3), sexual sin (1 Co 5:1-5; 6:18-20; Re 2:14), and idolatry (1 Co 10:7; 1 Jn 5:21). Jesus is not suggesting that love wins. He isn’t suggesting that we should approve the ministry of anyone and everyone regardless of their theological and moral failures.
We will always be surrounded by those with conflicting interests or differences in personalities, but that doesn’t mean they are enemies of the gospel. This is always difficult to balance. When is rebuke or admonishment needed? When should we tolerate someone who might be operating under false motives?
There are a lot of churches in the Central Valley. Some of them are genuinely apostate due to their corrupt doctrine. Many of them are compromised in their practice. Should we try to stop them?
When Billy Graham came to Fresno he encouraged the local pastors by informing them that he had rarely seen a more united community. Churches lacked a competitive spirit like so many of the cities he had visited. Can we appreciate our distinctive without attacking our allies?
Bock, “Ministry should not be limited to one group, one denomination, or one theological tradition. All who serve the Lord faithfully deserve our support.”
We ought to lower our view of ourselves if we think we are the only ones qualified to represent God. If that is the case, we are far too important in our own eyes. Those we initially think of as enemies, often turn out to be allies.
When we evaluate others, we should be charitable and gracious. Jesus will give an answer regarding how we should evaluate ourselves in Lk 11:23. Combining the two statements leaves us with the conclusion that there is no neutrality with regard to Christ. We are either for him or against him. Our enemies will find us on their own. We don’t need to go searching for them.