A Call to Humility and Christian Unity - Mark 9:38-41

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Introduction

In the church it’s not uncommon to find two kinds of people: those who are passionate about unity and those who are passionate about truth. To be clear, these do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, the call of the Scriptures is to love and pursue both unity and the truth. But often we tend to be pulled to one side or the other. We may love and value unity and pursue it as the highest good. Or we may love and value truth in a way that impacts our ability to live in unity with other followers of Jesus.

As we come to Mark 9:38-41 we find Jesus helping His disciples recognize the danger of exclusivity over unity. No doubt driven in part by pride, the disciples are quick to protect the name of Jesus and to stand against anyone who they perceive as an unqualified disciple. Yet in their zeal they admonish man who is a sincere believer in Jesus and who is doing good works in His name. In this passage we find a warning for those are zealous about truth and yet whose zeal may lead to unnecessary separation.

Context

In Mark 9:33-37 we saw, perhaps more clearly than ever, the pride of the disciples as they discussed among themselves who was greatest. This demonstration of their love of status and position led Jesus to spend some time teaching them about the centrality of humility to the Christian life; that the greatest of all is the servant of all. As we move to 9:38-41 we should recognize that the pride of the disciples continues to be revealed. This time their pride is shown in their attempt to silence those that they perceive as outsiders.

The Situation – The Disciples’ Attempt to Protect the Ministry of Jesus (9:38)

  • A cause for concern – While Jesus was known for casting out demons and He had given the same kind of authority to the disciples, they were taken aback when they saw someone else involved in this kind of work and they told him to stop. 
  • A genuine believer – When we take the whole passage into consideration it seems apparent that this man who was casting out demons is a genuine believer. After all, he isn’t simply trying to cast out demons he is actually doing it. And Jesus affirms that these things are being done ‘in His name.’
  • An outsider – Why would the disciples try to stop a man from doing good in the name of Jesus? Again we see the roots of pride as they determine that only those in the inner circle of Jesus should be permitted to do such works. They stopped him because “he wasn’t following us.” 
  • Thought to consider– Have you ever been skeptical of what someone was doing in the name of Jesus simply because they aren’t associated with your church or your branch of Christianity? Have you ever been tempted to make the test of faith something other than a sincere faith in Christ? Do you judge other’s actions and motives simply because they aren’t a part of your group?

The Response – Jesus Responds to the Disciples’ Actions (9:39-40) 

  • A correction – While John may have expected an approving response from Jesus he actually gets a correction. Jesus tells the disciples they should not have stopped the man and then He explains why.
  • A principle – This is where it becomes clear that this man must be a genuine believer. Jesus reasons that someone who can do these things in His name isn’t someone who’s a threat to Him or to Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 12:3). 
  • A proverb – Jesus uses a proverb of sorts to drive home his point:For the one who is not against us is for us. This saying of Jesus is similar to the sentiment of Paul regarding the varied reasons why people preach the Gospel – He simply rejoices that the message is preached (Philippians 1:12-18). 
  • Thoughts to consider – Both Jesus and Paul are known for standing for the truth. This saying of Jesus shouldn’t be used to suggest that every wall should be broken down and every line should be crossed in the name of unity. However, it is a warning to those who are tempted to build walls where they aren’t necessary. We must be clear about what is essential and what is not essential and be careful not to break fellowship over secondary issues. Simply put, we need discernment.

 An Example – Jesus Illustrates His Teaching (9:41)  

  • While the disciples struggled with building walls and erecting hierarchies, Jesus cuts off any temptation to segregate based on the size of someone’s works. Some will show their sincere faith in Jesus in great ways, but genuine faith can also be seen in simple acts of faith like sharing a cup of water with someone in need. We must be careful not to look down on or minimize any genuine work of faith. Again we see an emphasis on the importance of humility.

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