Whoever is not against us is for us

Complete the well known saying, “Whoever is not ….”
Most people know the answer to that question. “Whoever is not for us is against us!” All kinds of famous people have used that saying in their speeches. From Lenin and Mussolini to George Orwell to George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton.
“Whoever is not for us is against us!” In Beauty and the Beast, Gaston tells the villagers, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” before he locks up Belle and her father and leads the mob to hunt the Beast. And at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader tells Obi-Wan Kenobi, “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.”
And Jesus did say something like that. In Matthew 12: 30 Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” The context is the parable of the Binding of the Strong Man. Jesus is defending his ministry of delivering people from demons. Anybody who is not standing with Jesus against the powers of evil stands in opposition to Jesus and His proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Anybody who is not with me is against me. This has been used as the rallying cry of so many causes, both good and evil. If you aren’t part of the solution then you are part of the problem. Anybody who is not for us is against us!
That saying appears in the parallel passages in both Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel. But we are looking at Mark’s Gospel and it is fascinating to note that Mark does not record Jesus saying, “He who is not with me is against me.” Instead and at a different place in the narrative Mark includes this.

Mark 938 “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.”
39 “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, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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.
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” A saying meaning completely the opposite. An attitude which is inclusive not exclusive. Embracing, not rejecting. Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus says.
Some churches and some Christians live their lives by the first saying, “Whoever is not with us is against us.” Very sadly, some churches are narrow minded and inflexible. Some churches are very exclusive and even closed to Christians of other denominations and traditions. They have a fortress mentality, determined at all costs to keep the church holy and to keep the world out. Some Christians will only have fellowship and work and witness with other Christians who are just the same as them. If you don’t believe exactly the same as us, if you don’t do things just the way we do them, if you aren’t with us in every way, then you must be against us.
That kind of exclusive attitude crept into the Early Church very soon when God began to save people who were not Jews but were instead Gentiles. Christians who had been born Jews began to say that Christians who had not been born Jews needed to become Jews before they could become Christians. They became known as the “Circumcision Party”. In essence these Jewish Christians were saying, everybody has to become like us if they are going to be saved. If you aren’t with us, you are against us. These Jewish Christians were so powerful that the church began to split into to two groups which wouldn’t even eat together or have communion together. And the Circumcision Party was so influential that even the apostle Peter and Paul’s companion Barnabas were deceived by their teaching. So we read in Galatians 2 how the apostle Paul challenged Peter over this matter.
Galatians 2:11-14 11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
The truth is that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free man, no male or female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. It was wrong for those Jewish Christians to expect Gentile Christians to become Jews or follow Jewish Christians. But there was a very early example of churches saying to others, you have to become exactly like us. If you aren’t for us you are against us. And sadly we still see some Christians and some churches making the same mistakes today.
Mark 9:40 shows us the opposite. Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us!” Jesus was saying to His disciples, just because somebody doesn’t belong to “your group”, don’t dismiss them or reject them. They can still be doing God’s work.
38 “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.”
39 “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, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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.
It didn’t matter which group this man belonged to. What matters, Jesus says, is that this other person was driving out demons in the name of Jesus. He was working miracles in the name of Jesus. And anything done in the name of Jesus brings glory to Jesus, even something as simple as giving somebody a drink of water. Whether the person belongs to our group or somebody else’s group or nobody’s group at all doesn’t matter one bit.
That kind of divisiveness and party-spirit grew up in the Early Church and the apostle Paul had to challenge the Corinthians for it.
1 Corinthians 3. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

Jealousy, intolerance and even sectarianism can still be strong temptations today, especially when we are convinced that we have got things right and other people have got things wrong. But Jesus rebukes his disciples for their intolerance. Whoever is not against us is for us.
That is the attitude we should have towards other Christian churches – if they are not against us then they are for us! There are things which Christians in other denominations believe which I am convinced are wrong. I don’t need to list such things – you will know what they might be. There are forms of worship and expressions of prayer used in other denominations which give me cause for concern. Some other denominations organise themselves in ways which I will always be uncomfortable with. But as long as they are worshipping and serving in Christ’s name, it is not for me to judge.

I am going to talk more about the question of working with other churches this evening. God calls us to be Never Judging – Always Discerning. But I believe the Bible teaches us that we should be inclusive, not exclusive, welcoming and not judgmental. Whoever is not against us is for us!
That is the attitude each of us as Christians should have to others. And especially that is the attitude we should have as a church towards the new friends God is bringing to us week by week.
Some churches check out new people to make sure they will fit in, that they are exactly the same as us. But that is completely the wrong attitude. We should keep in mind the words of Jesus. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” We should never be defensive or exclusive. We should always be welcoming and accepting and affirming. We are becoming a church of all ages, from almost a dozen different countries with all kinds of backgrounds and experiences and vocations, and I would be hard pressed to say what “our kind of people” would be. But we must never become a church reserved for “our kind of people”
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” Did you notice what Jesus said just before and just after this saying.
Mark 9 36 He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
We must be a church which goes out of our way to welcomes the little children. The vulnerable, the weak, the poor and the marginalised. The widows and the orphans and the strangers and the refugees and the outcasts. These are the kinds of people God cares about and we should care for them too. And then Jesus goes on to way,
42 “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.
We are commanded not only to welcome “little ones” but also to care for them and make absolutely sure we do not cause anyone to stumble. And there is no easier way to cause children or vulnerable people or new Christians to stumble than to make them feel excluded, you aren’t one of us, you are different from us. You aren’t 100% for us – you must be against us.
Do you remember what it was like growing up playing musical chairs? You remember how dreadful it felt being the odd one out – the one left standing while everybody else was comfortably and safely on their chairs. For some folk new to a church, everything must seem like a game of musical chairs, trying hard to fit in and never to be the odd one out. We must do everything we can to help new friends feel welcome and at home. Jesus teaches us to welcome people as He welcomes them. Whoever is not against us is for us.

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