The Christian’s Driving Force
People in every walk of life have their aims and ambitions. Some of these may be very simple and basic – there may be times when all we want to do is to make it through another day with a degree of health and sufficient food to eat. But as soon as those very basic goals are attained other objectives are likely to come into focus: the young lad who wants to be a professional footballer spends every moment he can kicking a ball about; the careerist eats, sleeps and drinks work and is forever thinking about just how they might get on in life; the retiree (if he/she has enough to live on) thinks about holidays and hobbies and healthcare appointments.
This is natural and normal – each of us needs to have some sort of target to aim for in life or else why bother getting up in the morning?
In the same way it is natural and normal for the Christian to have some very specific goals which he/she wishes to attain in life. The verses we are looking at this morning point us in the direction of just what these goals are – or, to put it another way, what the driving force in our lives as Christians ought to be.
So this morning I am addressing you as though you are Christians and in particular as Christians who want to know how to live their regular everyday lives.
You mustn’t interpret this to mean that I consider all of you to actually be Christians. It is entirely possible that some of you are not - I can’t read your heart and I can’t tell whether you have entered into a faith relationship with Jesus or not. But if I can’t read your heart God can. If you find yourself coldly indifferent to what we’re about to look at then it may be an indication that you are not yet a genuine follower of Jesus and that you need as a matter of urgency seek his mercy and grace.
In my name
Last week we saw how Jesus responded to his disciples when they were arguing amongst themselves as to which of them was going to the greatest. His answer contained something of a rebuke as he explained the values of his kingdom were not the same as the values of the world. Self-centred, self-promotion was inappropriate behaviour the followers of the Son of God who had left heaven’s glories in order to serve poor, helpless sinners. He modelled service of the weak and expected his followers to copy his example. In explaining this to the Twelve Jesus introduced a little phrase into his teaching which is really very important indeed: it is to be found in:
v.48 "in my name"
The phrase "in my name" includes the following elements:
By my authority
For my sake
In my service with a view to promoting my glory
Now this made an instant impact upon John who picked it up and reformulated it as he replied to Jesus’ words:
v.49 "in your name"
This idea is repeated in slightly varying forms through the gospels and on into the rest of the NT. Here are most if not all of the variants that we find:
For my sake
For my name’s sake
For the sake of my name
For the sake of his name
For the sake of the name
For the sake of our Lord Jesus
For the sake of Christ.
Briefly put the Christian is to have as his goal doing all for Jesus and for his glory!
Is that my goal? Is it yours?
The disciples had been thinking about their own positions of power and prestige when they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest and Jesus had reorientated them by speaking about service which was to be carried out "in his name". As John heard that he was forced to think and he began to wonder whether he and the others had been mistaken in the way they had dealt with another man who was acting out of just such a concern for the name of Jesus.
The Anonymous Exorcist
I used to think that John simply wanted to change the subject when he began to recount their encounters with this man. I thought like that because I know when I feel uncomfortable because some of my short-comings are revealed that I want to move on to safer territory and I guess that you do too. After all when the light shines we often find that our hard hearts prefer the darkness of our old ways and we don’t like to be shown up to have been wrong in our thinking or in our doing.
But I think there was something more to it than that – I think that John was now concerned that perhaps he and the others had done the wrong thing when they tried to interfere with this man. After all this man had been operating in Jesus’ name. John had got annoyed about that but had he been right to do so? And so he turns to Jesus to find out.
Before we go on let’s slow down and consider some of the background detail:
The fact of demon-possession
The widespread nature of such possession in Jesus’ day
The power to exorcise evil spirits
Luke was a doctor and careful in his descriptions of people’s problems. He did not attribute all sickness to demons but neither did he attribute all sickness to purely physical causes either. There were cases were evil spirits were involved and such cases were real.
And such cases were not a rarity either when Jesus walked on the earth. Jesus came to earth to destroy the works of the devil and it seems as though the spirit world was aware of this and was particularly active because of it. We understand that there were many cases of demon-possession when we consider:
Jesus’ own encounters with evil spirits
His disciples’ encounters as he sent them out to minister in his name. Jesus specifically equipped the Twelve with the necessary authority for casting out demons then the Seventy Two also saw that the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name
Jesus’ reference to others who claimed to belong to him – cf. Mt.7:22
The Jewish exorcists – Jesus referred to those that the Jewish leadership had trained to carry out such work – cf. Mt.12:27
When we think about these things we should realise that Satan’s work is always destructive. It should also help us see that the needs of the human race were great. We should then learn to appreciate all the more the value of Jesus’ coming into the world "to destroy the works of the devil". We have no need to be afraid because Jesus never once failed to cast out evil spirits when confronted by them.
Well now, having thought for a moment about demon possession let’s return to what John and the other disciples did when they had come across the stranger who was casting out evil spirits. It would seem that they had been offended by what this man was doing and so they tried to stop him! But had they been right?
We’ll see in a moment that they hadn’t been right at all but before we come to what Jesus had to say we need to ask ourselves why it was that John thought there was a problem anyway. What were their reasons for objecting to this man doing what he was doing?
We need to do this because we might find that we too are affected and that our thoughts and actions are wrong and need putting right.
This is what we know for sure about this man:
He was casting out demons in Jesus’ name
He was not a member of the close group of disciples who accompanied Jesus
It doesn’t seem as though the big problem for John is the ability of someone to cast out demons in Jesus’ name but rather that he should do so without being associated with their group! Or, as John put it: "he doesn’t follow with us".
Pride is the problem that is being dealt with here. Pride was involved as the disciples argued which of them was greatest and now pride is involved again because John and the others considered membership of their group as of prime importance. It is interesting to note just how John words his objection. His words reveal just how easy it is for self to try to take centre stage. John doesn’t say they wanted to stop the man because he wasn’t following Jesus but because he wasn’t "following with us". It was an early example of the party spirit that has caused and can still cause such trouble in the Christian church.
It was a tremendous privilege for John and the other disciples to have been called to be Jesus’ apostles but it was Jesus who was important not them. It was their task as his apostles to serve him and thus to glorify him it was not their task to try to stop others from doing exactly the same. It is, and must always be, loyalty to Jesus that is the N°1 priority.
We don’t know much about this other man. Had he heard Jesus teaching and had he observed or perhaps even benefitted from Jesus’ power at work? Somehow he had come to believe that the name of Jesus was powerful, so powerful in fact that demons had to submit to it, and so he unashamedly glorified Jesus as he operated in his name and with his authority. (The picture of this anonymous man exemplifies what it is really all about. The servant is unimportant the Master is everything. We don’t know this man’s name but we do know the name of the One whom he served. Don’t you think that speaks volumes? It is the same spirit that had earlier moved John the Baptist to declare "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn.3:30). It was this same sentiment that caused the apostle Paul later to write: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul?" (1Cor.3:5) mere servants for Jesus’ sake!
In the simplest of terms this anonymous man was doing nothing other than Jesus’ 12 apostles had been told to do when Jesus gave them his authority over all demons (see Lk.9:1). They should have been pleased that Jesus was thus being served and honoured and should not have attempted to put a spanner in the works.
Jesus wasn’t harsh on John even though the disciple hadn’t analyzed the situation correctly.
How encouraging we should find this to be! We can and do make mistakes but our Lord and Master is compassionate and kind and deals well with all his disciples. As one of my favourite hymns puts it:
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
no harshness hast Thou, and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
that we may dwell in perfect unity.
He spoke clearly however not beating around the bush giving John clear instruction – "don’t stop him" and followed this up with an explanation:
v.50 "For the one who is not against you is for you."
As we hear this we need to keep a number of things in mind. Jesus was speaking here about a specific situation – while it looks as though it has been framed as a universal truth it must be understood in line with other things that Jesus also taught.
This man in performing miraculous acts of exorcism in Jesus’ name was proclaiming by his very manner of procedure that Jesus was mighty and authoritative – it is in this sense that Jesus’ words must be taken. We must be careful not to make his words mean more than they actually say. This sort of commendation is not to be interpreted and extended so as to grant credence to everything such a person might do or say. You will remember that Jesus knew that some people who would claim to have cast out demons in his name had no true relationship with him at all! There must be a wholeness about a person’s profession of faith and not simply the ability to do some albeit remarkable things in just one or two areas before a person will be declared right in God’s sight.
We can and should welcome honour being to Christ from whatever source it might come. To do so does not imply that we necessarily agree with or approve of everything that a particular person might say or perhaps do.
The apostle Paul gave us a fine example of such a generosity of spirit when he wrote to the church in Philippi and recounted some of his prison experiences. Let me read you what he wrote:
Phil.1:12-18 "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."
Isn’t that a remarkable statement? Paul really was caught up with Jesus and his glory, it was that that was important for him. You can’t imagine a person who is out to secure his own personal glory being able to write in such a way can you?
Oh that we might be able to see clearly when we start to put our interests ahead of those of the honour and glory of Jesus! Oh that we might so cherish his glory and his honour that we would really able to rejoice in every circumstance in which we find ourselves if only he has the pre-eminence!
Christian, this is the life you are called to. How are doing in attaining to this goal?
A Final Remark
The Christian doesn’t really belong in this current world, he is on a pilgrimage just passing through this world with his true home being in heaven. Because the Christian is like that, because he is not of this world, all too often the world will turn on him and hate him. The Christian has enemies – how could it be otherwise when he follows a Master whom the world hated so much that it crucified him? That being the case we have all the more reason not to fall out with others who are seeking to glorify our Saviour. We are not to overlook errors, mistakes and shortcomings and nor are we to swallow their every idea as though our differences were unimportant but let us rejoice with those who do honour our Saviour wherever they may be found.
And may God help us to do so.