Have you ever noticed that we have a category for just about everything and everyone? Take a look around the lunch room or the office. You have your nerds, your jocks, your free spirits, your band geeks, your drama queens, your gamers, your potheads, your overachievers. We just tend to divide ourselves up by some arbitrary system of categorization. We call them cliques, and they’re as old as the human race.
These cliques are a common and even expected part of school and work, but what about our churches. We have the conservatives, the liberals, the traditionalists, and the progressives. We have the one cuppers, the multi-cuppers, the hand raisers, and the amen shouters. There are the clappers, the non-clappers, the pre-millenials and the amillenials. The institutional, the non-institutional, the Saturday night instrumentals, and the absolutely 100% non-instrumental, period.
There is definitely an “us and them” mentality within the church…and it’s been that way since the beginning.
We like to know what makes us us and what make them them. Where do we draw the line? What distinctions can we make so that the boundaries are clear? How can we nuance ourselves out of relationship with people we don’t necessarily like?
We are right.
They are not us.
Therefore, they are not right.
John had this same mentality. After all this time of following Jesus, look at what he proudly says to Jesus:
“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
The great irony is that just a few verses earlier, Jesus’ own disciples were unable to drive out one demon. And now we’re told that there is someone not of the Twelve who is casting out multiple demons in Jesus’ name. And the disciples tell him to stop!
Why? Because he was defaming Jesus? Because he was wanting attention for himself? Because he was leading other people astray? No. Because he was not “one of us.”
We’re familiar and comfortable with the saying “Whoever is not for us is against us.” If someone doesn’t say the same things, believe the same things, dress the same way, support the same causes, sing the same songs in the same style…then they must of course be against everything we believe. If they are not for us, if they in fact are not us, then they must be against us.
But what does Jesus say?
“Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
Did you catch that? Whoever is not against us is for us. Jesus completely reverses the old adage that we love and cherish. He takes all our categories and labels and throws them out the window. Our way of determining us and them is turned on end.
And here’s the difference: Jesus is saying to start at the points of unity, not the points of division. What common ground do we and they both share? Let’s focus on that.
The disciples did it then, and we do it now. We tend to focus more on that which divides. We like to highlight the things that keep us on one side of the line and them on the other.
Jesus simply erases the line.
Begin on common ground. This man was doing the work of God in the name of Jesus. He was promoting the name and mission of Jesus. Sure, he may not have been one of Jesus’ closest disciples. He may not have had all the right answers. He may not have known as much about the Bible as others. He may have looked different, spoken differently, and worshiped differently. But that did not make him part of “them” rather than “us.”
I believe that the work of God is WAY bigger than we can ever realize. If there’s one thing we know about God is that he shows up and works in people and places we least expect. Who are we to limit God to working solely through “us?”
Whoever is not against us is for us.