John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. – Mark 9:38-41
I remember hearing my mom and dad talking about meeting from time to time with other small motel owners in Cape Girardeau (my home town). It was a bit of a surprise to learn that their relations were warm. They were competitors, but friends as well. They realized that competition was good, but so was respect and friendship. When we ran out of rooms at the Sands, we would call the other motels to help people find a place to stay. I can recall making such phone calls from time to time. We would direct them down the street to the West Mount, the La Petite, or Town House motels. We knew people needed places to stay the night.
When the disciples worry about others who are engaging in unauthorized missionary activity it is as though they believe that Jesus is their sole possession. Jesus is not anyone’s exclusive agent. We might think we’re the only ones in town who are right, true, and faithful. But the love of Jesus, and the work of God spans boundaries, party lines, buildings, and gatherings of many types. It is not as though Jesus favors one brand over any other; he has to work with sinners if he is to work in this world at all.
If God had not been on our side we would surely not have prevailed. Our success is surly a sign of God’s favor. Such thoughts and ideas are easily grasped, and often embraced too quickly and uncritically. While it is true that the providential care of God extends into the affairs of women and men, the assumption that God is on our side needs serious examination. The idea puts the wrong person “in the dock,” as C.S. Lewis would say; it places the burden of proof on the wrong One.
The far more important question to be answered is whether or not we are on God’s side. It is also the better question to ask, for it does not presume to say whose side God has taken (a judgment of our own and others’ motives that ought not be taken lightly). Nor does it put one in the place of calling on God to take a side – as though he is some sort of commodity that is to be wooed and won by our merits, or even the justice of our cause. Such an attitude is anything but humble.
They say that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That may be true. But even more true is that the friend of Jesus is my friend: my brother or sister in Christ. Rather than worrying about what he or she may be up to – authorized or not – we ought to be rejoicing in God’s work wherever and through whomever it is to be found.