Mark 9:38-42 “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he wasn’t one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘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. And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.'”
Mark records for us this fascinating incident, and one little thing it does is to put the apostle John in a new light. It became fashionable a hundred years ago (and more) to criticise the apostle Paul as a hard doctrinaire personality who tampered with the simple Galilean gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, which theory is utterly untrue. The apostle John, said the same men, was different. He was equally caricatured as being a simple loving man closest to Jesus and so more generous and tolerant than Paul and so a safer guide to true Christianity. Yet here we find John reporting to Jesus that they had seen a man driving out demons in Christ’s name. “We told him to stop,” he said, (v.38). “You are not one of us, we told him straight.” It is the same John whose response on another occasion to a hostile Samaritan village was to say to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk. 9:54) John wanted to wipe out the men, women and children in a village. That is John Boanerges, the son of thunder. I’ve never read of the apostle Paul wanting to destroy villages that rejected him, and there were plenty of them.
Of course this was an immature John, a pre-Pentecost John, and maybe its lesson is to young Christians to be on guard about being too stringent and dogmatic, but let us go on to examine what was the reply of Christ to John? “Do not stop that man from casting our demons,” Jesus said. What reasons did he give for that advice?
1. THE GRACE OF CHRIST WILL KEEP US FROM THE DOMINION OF SIN.
John’s response to this man had been totally negative. John had had his commission – as all the Twelve – from Christ himself. They were the called ones and the trained ones, and on top of that John had a special loving relationship with the Lord. John believed it was important to protect all of that. He was safeguarding the office of apostle, but Jesus is saying to him, “Wait a minute John, the issue is not whether this man belongs to our group. There are true disciples outside our group.” We know that by the end of his ministry Jesus had gathered around him about 500 men and women to whom he appeared after rising from the dead. Weren’t these people speaking a word for Jesus and working according to their light and power for him? What constraints were on this man? If he were acting in Jesus’ name, that is, a regenerate man relying on his authority and merits alone, and he was driving out demons in that great and holy name, that is, if God were blessing this man’s labours, then this man was a favoured man. He could not deliver a child from a demon and “in the next moment” (v.39) be saying terrible things about our Lord, ‘Curse Jesus. The Nazarene is a fake.’ That would be impossible theologically and existentially. Let me explain this to you.
Every true Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and so he has an inner tension and conflict between the flesh and the Spirit. There are those key words of the apostle Paul: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Gals. 5:17). The sinful nature desires to lie in bed on a Sunday morning, but the Spirit desires to go to church, and you do not do what you want. The two natures are in conflict with each other, and in the early years of the Christian life you are establishing new patterns of living, new attitudes to money and work and members of the opposite sex. You grow in grace, in Christian maturity, and victory over the sin that so easily besets you. The old hymn says it truly,
“Yield not to temptation,
For yielding is sin.
Each victory will help you
Some other to win.”
Where sin abound, grace much more abounds. Paul says these words of hope to every Christian, “You do not do what you want” (Gals. 5:17). Increasingly the Christian does what God wants him to do. Sanctification is effectual in all the people of God, though often it seems not to be so. The Holy Spirit increasingly strengthens the desire to obey God. In the early years it is a struggle for basics, and in the middle years it is a different kind of struggle for basics, and in the last years it is a another kind of struggle for basics. But it is always a struggle for basics, and by the grace of God we do not do what we want. We inevitably find (sometimes in a painful way) the will of God is good and perfect and acceptable. You say, “But Peter cursed and swore that he did not know Christ.” True, but afterwards he wept bitterly and he did not go on through life swearing and cursing. You say to me, “Look what sin King David fell into.” True, but after that grievous adultery he did not become a womaniser taking woman after woman. He did not do what he wanted to do when he saw every pretty woman in Jerusalem. He lusted in his heart, certainly, and sought to mortify that lust by the Spirit, but he did not repeat what he did with Bathsheba. The mighty indwelling Holy Spirit desired what was contrary to that. Isn’t that our privilege? The wonderful blessing we possess of the energising and sanctifying Holy Spirit. Every Christian has him, so that Peter who did mighty works in Jesus’ name could not say anything bad about him in the next breath. He knew one experience of enormous pressure and fear in the dark, alone, around the fire, greatly repented over and not repeated.
So here was an anonymous man labouring in the name of Christ, a true disciple, and he was succeeding where the apostles themselves had failed, he was delivering people from Satan. The Lord is saying, “Encourage him John, because he is not going to be worshipping Satan tomorrow. He cannot, in the very next moment, be saying anything bad about Jesus.” You remember in Rome, at first Paul was under house arrest and Christians were able to visit him and he was able to speak to them. That is the scene at the end of Acts 28, but soon the regime got tough for him and he was put in prison in chains. There were some men in the Roman church who took advantage of the lack of apostolic control to go, quite unauthorised by Paul, and preach Christ. They were men envious of Paul, rivals for his leadership, speakers motivated by selfish ambition, Paul calls them trouble makers. But what was Paul’s response? Was it to tell the elders of the Roman church to prevent those men preaching and to bring some discipline to bear on them? No. Paul wrote these words, “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry . . . the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phils 1:15, 17&18).
They were preaching Christ. They were preachers not ritualists and sacerdotalists and circumcisers. They were preaching the Christ of the News Testament. They were not modernists or Gnostics. They were preaching the divine and human natures of the Saviour, the three states of glory and humiliation and exaltation, the three offices of prophet, priest and king. They were glorifying and honouring Christ. Who would not rejoice whenever men from the poorest mixed motives were preaching such a Saviour? Paul is stressing the importance of this.
Paul exhorts the Romans, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). We do that don’t we? We are not the hypercritical men that some would portray us. Let us think of two divisive issues in the professing church today.
i] Ecumenism and modernism. There are churches which are in membership of modernist dominated denominations, that is where men in pulpits that bear the same name as they bear, delude people by preaching error. We find that a problem. Unity has to be in truth as well as in fellowship. There is a New Testament doctrine of Christian separation from error and especially its protagonists, and we ourselves are separatists from heresy. Yet today we have to recognise that in England and in the Netherlands particularly there is stern resistance to such matters as homosexual clergymen, and congregations are refusing to send in their church tax to denominational headquarters which money goes to support congregations and ministries which have no gospel. We much approve of that, and wish it had been done years ago. We do not say to those men, “Brush the dust from your feet and leave that denomination.” We say, “Fight the good fight!” That may earn them the right to leave or result in their being driven out. We pray for those men in the liberal professing groupings and are glad to hear of their endeavours. They are for us not against us.
ii] Contemporary worship. Today there are services of worship which have an inordinate emphasis on the beat of the music, the performers in the front, the decibels from the instruments, and all such human engineering. We ourselves love the great hymns and the fact that worship should be led by men whom God has actually called and given his authority to serve him as a pastor-preacher in his name. We think the hymns we sing are fine poetry, have lasted for centuries because of that fact and because they were written at times of the pouring out of the Spirit upon the church. We think they reflect the trembling hope and the Christian struggle and the penitential tears of the Christian life and the joy of its full assurance better than many contemporary hymns. However, we are not dismissive and sarcastic of other kinds of worship. Some of our students had a weekend in Herefordshire planning the Christian Union programme for next year, and they went to a different kind of church from ours on the Sunday morning, but they spoke well of the earnestness and prayerfulness and the preaching that they had heard. They had different instruments and an open time of prayer, but who will complain of that if there are other essentials at the centre? The people there said nothing bad at all about the Saviour – quite the reverse. That was the criterion. There is the familiar illustration all preachers use of eating fish, and we can apply it to visiting certain congregations. You don’t throw the whole plate of food away because of a few fish bones. So it is when we enter another congregation. We ask whether Christ’s name is being exalted there. That is our delight, not the other elements that are different.
I shared with you in the Prayer Meeting ten days ago a letter I had received from a friend in Texas who had travelled 90 miles to listen to a preacher called Paul who was visiting that distant community. These friends had heard men speak well of Paul’s powerful preaching and they wanted to hear him themselves. George reported to me what he had seen thus; “The music was what you would expect from a country church. We sang gospel hymns projected on a screen. There was some accompaniment by a rather ‘rowdy’ piano, but there was also some acapella with the congregation singing parts, a soprano behind me sang some beautiful harmony. Then there was the preaching. The young man who is the pastor of the church gave a short and soul-stirring message from I Samuel 6, and then Paul delivered a message from Matthew 7. Both messages were like a step back into a previous century – and I don’t mean the 20th century. For me it was one of those rare times when you sit back and say that this is what Biblical gospel preaching is supposed to sound like. Some day God may bring revival through this man, one day genuine revival may break out in a little country church in Texas. My wife and I are going back next Wednesday just in case God should choose to do that then.”
That is a lovely letter, recognising the nature of country folk in Texas singing country music hymns which would not be our preference, but the service as a whole was word-centred. God’s message was the climactic aspect of what went on, the Lord speaking to the people and it seems that there the word came in a mighty way, so that my friends felt that revival would be something like this. They wanted to go back the following week because they knew that such people who preach in Jesus’ name cannot in the next week say anything bad about the Saviour. The grace of God keeps us, when we hear strange doctrines it keeps us, and when Christ is mixed with other things grace keeps us from swallowing the errors. We have been made a discerning people and we can honestly thank God for men who are not from our own small circle. What would the state of the land be like if it depended only on we happy few, we band of brothers? Then there was a second thing that Christ said to John.
2. WHOEVER IS NOT AGAINST US IS FOR US.
What wonderful hope is found in such words. Think of the people of God throughout the history of the church. They loved the Saviour and glorified God. They raised children to serve the Lord and gave sacrificially for his kingdom to spread. But remember this – they were all for us. Their lives and prayers and books and testimony to God were also for us. Augustine and Wycliffe and Luther and Calvin and Knox and Bunyan and Owen and Whitefield and Edwards and M’Cheyne and Spurgeon and Murray and Van Til and Lloyd-Jones are all for us! We are surrounded by a host of witnesses all over the world today, millions upon millions of them and they are all for us. We are not lonely marathon runners hardly seeing another runner from one week to another. We are part of that grand group of the covenant people of God as innumerable as the sands of the seashore, and they are all for us, wanting to bring us with them, stretching out their hands to help, bearing our burdens if need be.
“Whoever is not against us is for us” (v.40). Jesus is telling John that the kingdom of God was being advanced by people outside their little circle. The energies and activities of that man are for us. Of course, we live in an age of apathy. You know the story of the woman taking a street survey and one of the questions she asked people passing by was this, “What is worse, ignorance or apathy?” One man told her curtly, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” We’ve all met people who tell us that they admire our faith, and that they themselves would like to believe, but that it doesn’t work for them personally, though they have nothing at all against Christ. Yet when you see how they live they’ve no interest in Jesus at all, and their lifestyles contradict much of what he says. They obviously oppose Christ’s teaching. So what is Christ saying here? Is he telling John something so incredible as the fact that indifferent and undecided people are really on the side of the gospel because of the fact that they are not speaking out against Christ?
Surely we all realise what contempt can be revealed in indifference. A wife comes home from her job and she barely speaks to her husband. She gets on with making a meal, but she shares nothing with him about her day. That marriage effectively is over. It has been killed not by violence and such abuse but by indifference. “I have nothing against him,” the wife says, ” but I no longer feel any passion for him.” The Lord Jesus speaks elsewhere of people whom he describes as being neither hot nor cold. You meet them in every congregation. They’re not enthusiastic about their own church, but they don’t rubbish it. They’re neither hot nor cold about it. There are people who are not very antagonistic to Christ. They have nothing against Christians, and nothing against the Bible. They have nothing against God. Such people are not persecutors as Saul of Tarsus was. These people don’t make fun of religion. They don’t blaspheme the name of Jesus; they want to be what they call ‘balanced.’ They want to be moderate in everything. They’re not happy about religious enthusiasm; they don’t want passion; they are so afraid that men will become, as they term it, ‘religious fanatics.’ Yet Jesus says some very solemn words about those who are lukewarm, that if we are neither hot nor cold he will spew us out of his mouth.
I don’t want religious bigots, but I do want hearts that throb with one great emotion, “for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I want that for myself, that my great priority in life is to seek first the kingdom of God, to give my heart and my strength and my life no rest until I am found in Christ. That must be a matter of life and death. It is a case of meeting the absolute claims of our marvellous Saviour who says, “I and my Father are one,” who then asks us, “Give me your heart,” not a part of it but “Give me yourself.” We yield our very bodies to him. We make our members instruments of righteousness to God. You remember what men said to Paul? “You are beside yourself. Much learning has made you mad.” Paul replies saying to that man, “If I am beside myself then it’s for you.” You can find in a congregation a couple who leave the morning service, shop, pick up a take-away meal and the Sunday papers and then spend the rest of the day eating, reading the papers, watching TV, playing with the children until bedtime. They never attend the evening service. Then you find in the same church a man who is a fine tennis player, but he will not play on a Sunday because it is the Lord’s Day. You find that the local tennis club will even change its championship to a Saturday so that he can play. Now some may attempt to dismiss that attitude as legalism, but it is none of the sort. The difference between those two is the centrality of God in their lives, that one wants to give a whole day to knowing and loving the Lord more. He is hungry for God. It is highly unlikely that people who spend the Lord’s Day on themselves will remain in the same church as those who dedicate the whole Lord’s Day to the Lord..
The true Christian life both in this world and the next revolves all around the disciples’ love for Christ. There was a preacher in London, 31 year old Thomas Vincent, in that infamous year of 1665. He was a pastor there when the plague came to London and 68,000 people died in that city alone during those twelve months. Seven people in his own home died, but during all this time Tom Vincent visited home after home around Milk Street, and he read Scripture and prayed with many dying people. He preached a series of sermons on the text of I Peter 1:8, about the Lord Jesus Christ, “Whom having not seen ye love.” The sermons were published as a book which is called “The True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ” and this has recently been republished (Soli Deo Gloria 1993). He started his first message like this, “The life of Christianity consists very much in our love to Christ. Without love to Christ, we are as much without spiritual life as a carcass when the soul is fled from it is without natural life. Faith without love to Christ is a dead faith, and a Christian without love to Christ is a dead Christian. Without love to Christ we may have the name of Christian, but we are wholly without the nature. We may have the form of godliness, but are wholly without the power.”
Shouldn’t we love the Lord Jesus? He gave his own self, body and soul, as a sacrificial lamb, to redeem the groaning creation. When they stretched out one arm of his, and one man placed a great rough nail in the centre of the palm of his hand, and another man lifted up a sledgehammer and nailed his hand to the cross, and then did the same to the other hand, he didn’t curse and call fire down from heaven upon them. He prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Don’t you love someone who behaves like that? Is your heart so cold that you don’t love this meek and humble Jesus? O it is wonderful, how could it be? Dying for me . . . for me! Or when he teaches us the way to God, don’t you love this prophet from God? Listen! “Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaisas. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty then that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all that that were in the synagogue were fastened o him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:16-21). Whoever else spoke like that? What orator ever said words like that? Winston Churchill? Margaret Thatcher? David Lloyd-George? No one. Only Jesus speaks to us like that, and sometimes we read the Bible and its words are so moving that everything changes. We love the Lord Jesus, God’s great teacher. And we love the way he cares for us. A Sovereign Protector we have, unseen yet for ever at hand, and his name is Christ. How he watches over us. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He puts everything under an obligation to work for our good if it touches us in any way. If it is as invisible as a grain of pollen, or as terrible as a train crash, if it comes into our lives in any shape then it has to work for our good. He obligates it to do so. Don’t you love someone who cares for you like that? We love him as our priest and prophet and king, but we love him most of all for this reason, that he first loved us.
Surely our love for Christ must be a passionate love? Not the passion of Eros – not the passion of human eroticism, but it is cannot be unpassionate! “My soul doth thirst for the living God. My heart and my flesh cry out for thee.” Do we know anything of that? “Lord thou art my God: early will I seek thee.” If God lives he must be my all in all. He must be my chief end. He must be my fundamental and most passionate commitment. It is for him I am to live. There’s only one place that Christ wants and that is the human heart, that he may dwell in your heart by faith. You talk to someone in the office on Monday morning, and they ask, “What did you do yesterday?” “O I went to church and heard a preacher.” “What did he talk about?” “He told us that we should love Jesus.” “How boring!” That person doesn’t see it, and we aren’t surprised, but there are some who come to church every Sunday and they don’t see it, and that is a tragedy. If this day we think we can be Christians with a moderate commitment, church members with a limited surrender of ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, then we have to face the solemn possibility that he is going to spit us out of his mouth. Do you see what I am saying? That the Lord Jesus is certainly not teaching that everybody who is not persecuting him is actually for him. In fact Christ insists on the serious commitment and consecration of his people to himself.
You remember what the Lord Jesus said on another occasion, how he reversed his words here and made them more demanding: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matt. 12:30). It means that God comes to us in the glory of the gospel and he invites us to travel through life with Christ as our prophet, priest and king. It is the beginning of the most exciting and rewarding journey. “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” he says. “I will be your God and I will bless you with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Come with me, and I will do you good.” But many say that they won’t come with him. They reject his offer.
There are many people and they discuss their attitude to Jesus Christ and they phrase it differently. They say that they haven’t had an invitation from Jesus. The haven’t received it yet, but I would say to you that that is not the way it is. The invitation has come from him, “Come unto me . . . and I will give you rest,” and you are refusing to go. You won’t obey him. You won’t begin to walk with him. This is not an experience you haven’t had, it is a commitment you haven’t made. It is an attitude of disobedience. “I will not go along with you, Lord.” You remember those men who made excuses for not following Christ in life. There were always other priorities they had; there were funerals to attend and people to say good-bye to, or they were newly married. They wouldn’t go with Christ yet, though they were thinking about it, and there are some of you and you are specifying exactly when you will be prepared to go with Christ, when you’ve had the experience, and when you are sure that he loves you, and when you get the right sensations, the tingle factor is going to decide it. But Christ is saying, “Come with me; come as you are; come as an ungodly man; come as a sinner, not a reformed sinner. Don’t come as someone who has solved the problems before he goes along with Christ, not as someone who is sure of salvation before he bows to Christ. He will receive you as you come to him, just as you are.
Let me illustrate this in this way. You stop your car on a motorway service station and you go to the washrooms. When you approach the hand basins you discover that there are no tap handles at all. There is a water spout but not even a stud to stand on to make the water flow and there is nothing to turn on and off. So you stretch out a hand uncertainly to the pipe and as you do that the water flows. Your hands break a beam and that makes the water flow. It is only as you reach out that the water will flow, and so it is with Christ. He promises that if anyone is thirsty he is not to wait. Jesus says, let him come to me and drink, and he then promises that streams of living water will flow from within him. You cannot drink of him unless you come to him. You cannot refresh others unless you come and drink yourself first.
I’ll tell you when you may sincerely say, “I am for Christ,” and that is when he invites you, and he is inviting you to be for him and with him now! It is possible to wrest the great doctrines of the sovereignty of God in saving sinners to our own destruction. I believe in a sovereign God. I believe that I speak his mind when I say that he loves you so much that he is offering himself to you to be your companion and Saviour and God. I believe I speak his word when I say that he invites you to come with him now, when he warns you that the one who is not with him is against him. There are only two places you can be, with Christ or against Christ. There is no third category of the respectful, or the seeker, or the one who is waiting upon him. No. All such are lost sinners like the rest. There are just two categories of people here or in all the world, those who are for and those who are against Christ. So come to him, and if you come to him then he will in no wise cast you out. Now if you believe in the sovereignty of God then believe in the authority of that!
There is nothing more marvellous in all the world than that I can stand in my frailty, and my mortality, and my personal inadequacies before a congregation of ordinary men and women and tell every single one of you that Christ is offering to go with you out of this building today and walk with you home and then on and on throughout your lives to heaven, to the place that he has prepared, that you need never be a stranger to the Lord from this day onward. And I say just this to you, please stop rationalising your unbelief. Let us stop finding some reason for not being with Jesus. You want a warrant to come to Christ and walk with him through life? Are you laying down your own terms? Are you in any state to negotiate with the second person of the godhead? Are you saying to the Son of God, “I’d be on your side if I had assurance that I were elect. Or, I would believe if I had feelings. Or, I would go with Christ if I had a certain kind of religious experience.” There is only one warrant, and that is God’s offer to you to become your Saviour when you come to him, and that is all. You have heard the offer and you accept the offer, and if you don’t then you are against Christ, not because you haven’t heard the gospel, but because having heard it you have only a lukewarm faith, or you are living in defiance of him. Christ says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
3] HOW WE SHOW THAT WE ARE REALLY FOR CHRIST.
Here are these people who say that they are not against Christ, that they are decidedly for Christ. “We believe in him. We are walking through life with him. We know that we are Christians. We are the children of God.” That is what they claim. Today is an anniversary in my life. Fifty years ago today, May 16, 1954, I was converted in a little Baptist church in a South Wales mining valley. After that day I never doubted that I was a Christian though at times I acted and spoke as badly as any Christian in the world has ever behaved. But I still knew whenever I sin that I sin as a Christian. Of course many Christians, perhaps the majority of them – I don’t know – do not know for certain the particular day of their conversion. What they do know is that once they were blind and now they see, though even the precise year of their first seeing the glories of Christ is an uncertainty to them. But whether you know a date or not we all agree that that is certainly not enough. It is not enough to claim that you are a Christian. It is not enough to ‘talk the talk’ as they say; you have to ‘walk the walk.’ This is Jesus’ concern here. How are those who are ‘with Christ’ and not against him to show this in their daily lives? Two ways, the Lord Jesus says.
i] You’re never too important to neglect even the most trivial needs which your neighbours bring to you. The Lord chooses the most basic gift of all, a cup of water. There was no water on tap in Palestine. There were only wells, and travellers could easily get dehydrated as they walked through the heat of the Middle East. You had precious water, but you had borne it home from the well by your efforts, and these travellers were parched. That is the picture, of something you’ve got which is what they need. “Give! Never stop giving. I hate niggardliness in my people,” said the Lord Jesus. “Be generous in my name.” A cup of cold water, just a little thing. Writing a thank you letter, remembering a date, overlooking some offence, making a visit, calling someone, showing your gratitude – just little things, but our lives are to be taken up with such things. We have been saved by the divine gift of grace. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. What a sacrifice, for so glorious a Lord to give something immeasurably precious to such unworthy and unthankful people. God gave eternal life through Christ to you, so you have to give to others. You give your time, and your talents, and your love, and of your spiritual gifts, and your imagination, and your creativity, and your money, and you do it all in the name of Christ, because you belong to him (v.41). So, as it’s in the name of Christ, you do it modestly, and often secretly, so that even your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing. You do it for eternal rewards. “Oh, I don’t do it for rewards,” someone piously says. All very good but don’t ignore what Christ says here, that even the cup of water doesn’t lose its reward. Heaven will be a place of vindication, of setting the record straight, and those who have been passed over in this world will be greatly honoured and rewarded in heaven. “Come you blessed, for I was thirsty and you gave me a cup of water. Father let me introduce to you this woman who belongs to me and who gave so kindly and lovingly all the years of her pilgrimage.” The Christian began his life in a state of Guilt. Then Grace entered his life and he began to walk with Christ and trust in him as his Saviour. From that time on his life was one of Gratitude to God for all God had done for him, and so it became one of Goodness to his neighbours. Jesus went about doing good, and so do all who are the true children of God. Guilt. Grace. Gratitude. Goodness. Those are the steps of the Christian life. So you show that you are for Christ and with Christ by not neglecting your neighbour, even in his most trivial needs. A new book appeared this year named ‘Generosity’ and its subtitle is “Big-heartedness as a way of life.’ That is what we are speaking about. Maybe that book has too much emphasis on ‘money’ generosity whereas it is crucial to be big-hearted in time and thoughtfulness and practical kindnesses.
ii] You are so careful about causing another Christian to sin. The great positive emphasis at first, and then this warning, “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (v.42). Can you imagine the medieval scene? There is a cart being drawn through town by an old grey mare, and on the back of the cart is a man in chains tethered to a large millstone. Crowds of people follow him, and people lining the street hiss at him. The horse and cart come to the harbour and the man is taken down and the millstone is rolled onto a ship, and out they go to sea. When they get a hundred yards out the man is taken to the edge of the boat and the millstone is pushed off the side and the man immediately disappears beneath the waves. What a picture of horror! You inquire what terrible thing had that man done? Was he a child-molester? A rapist? A serial killer? You are told that he had encouraged one of the followers of Jesus to sin.
Do we really take that seriously? That it is a terrible thing to make another Christian sin? To tempt a woman to fall in love with you when she is a married woman, or you are a married man? Isn’t that dreadful? To start a pyramid financial scheme and involve members of the church? To flaunt your possessions so as to make Christians covet what you have? To spread false teaching by giving out literature and tapes and inviting people to hear strange doctrines? To create restlessness and unhappiness in the life of a believer? To discourage them from the means of grace? To be an example of idleness, prayerlessness, and wastefulness? To conceal the truth and keep undue silence in a just cause? To speak the truth at the wrong time and to the wrong end? To misconstrue a person’s intentions and words and actions? To think or speak too highly or too meanly of others? To harden someone’s heart by your own loveless behaviour? To unnecessarily draw attention to the sins of others? To refuse to listen to a just defence? To grieve at the just credit others receive? To rejoice in another Christian’s disgrace? There are many ways we can cause another Christian to sin, and Jesus brings the fear of terrible judgment to bear upon his twelve disciples to help them mortify such behaviour.
So, we are to grow in grace by adding these graces to our lives and mortifying these sins. How is it with you? Are you with Christ? Are you mortifying the temptation to be a sectarian? Are you longing to help others with a host of little things, and very careful about causing another Christian to sin? Those are grand marks of all who are not against Christ but are wholeheartedly for him
16th May 2004 Geoff Thomas