When we approach our discipleship in Christ, we can ask ourselves what it means for us to follow Christ in the context God placed us with the gifts and resources He has given us. And as Jesus walks to Jerusalem with His disciples, they all deal with those kinds of issues. But at one point, another kind of question arises: what does it mean for others to follow Christ?
When we put that question out there, it almost seems a little simplistic, even silly. But, we quickly discover, there is a lot to it.
John the apostle comes across some people doing things that he assumed only he and the other apostles had the right to do.
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not with us.” (vs. 38)
There are a few important keys to John’s statement. First, the person he tried to stop was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They were not self-styled messiahs, and they were not Scribes and Pharisees. They were followers of Jesus, just not part of the inner circle. Secondly, they were successfully casting out demons. Just a few days earlier the disciples were bested by a demon in a little boy, and Jesus came to their rescue (9:16-18). There might a twinge of jealously in John’s words. And thirdly, John’s ultimate complaint was that the unnamed disciple was not following “us.” He should have said, “you.”
Though Jesus was teaching them that to follow Him meant that they needed to become “the least of all and servant of all” (9:35), John and others of the disciples still saw discipleship as a position of privilege, prominence and even power.
The core of Christ’s response leads us straight to the critical factor in what it means for any of us to be disciples of Christ:
“For the one who is not against us is for us.” (vs. 40)
In the context of people performing miracles in the name of Christ, Jesus radically expands John’s view of the Kingdom. The critical factor in following Jesus is not the clique we belong to, but the person we follow.
Paul learned and taught this lesson in a vivid passage in Philippians 1:15-18. There he notes that while he is in prison, there are some who preach Christ to make him feel even worse, and there are some who preach Christ out of all the right motives. How does this make Paul feel? “What then? Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” Later on, Paul addresses those who preach but don’t preach Christ, and calls them “dogs.”
John’s words are often in the hearts and minds of your average Christian. We can get caught up in how “we” do things, and how well “we” do things, and we mistake the gift of discipleship for our own cleverness. I firmly believe that when God places you in a church, you should plant yourself there and become a productive member of that body. But our attitude should always be one of brotherhood.
The critical factor in the universal body of Christ is Jesus Himself. If he is proclaimed and taught, then we all rejoice as the Kingdom of God is revealed to the hearts of men and women. “I” and “we” are not the important thing; that position belongs to Christ alone.