Two Things We Must Avoid
“Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great. And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:46-50)
Let us be sure we read this paragraph in its context. The Lord’s disciples were not able to cast out the demonic spirit possessing the young man brought to them (vv. 37-40). They ran across a man they did not know who was preaching the gospel, who cast out devils in the name of Christ, and told him to quit. Then, as they walked along, congratulating themselves on their great works, they started arguing about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!
In verses 46-50 our Lord Jesus Christ gives us two very important warnings. These are warnings needed in every age, warnings needed in every congregation, warnings needed by every believer. Here our Master tells us plainly that there are two things we must ever strive to avoid. We must strive to avoid these two terrible evils, because they are evils to which we are all prone and evils we seldom recognize in ourselves. We are very quick to spot them in others, but very slow to see them in ourselves. May God the Holy Spirit graciously cause us to hear his Word to us in this brief paragraph. Here our Master warns us that we must ever guard against and seek to avoid the horrible evils of pride and censorship.
“Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest” (v. 46). — As the Lord’s disciples were walking from Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum (Mark 9:33), they began to engage in an argument about which of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1). I am only guessing, but the argument probably got pretty heated.
The dispute was not about degrees in glory, or in grace, or who should be the greatest apostle and preacher of the gospel. The dispute was bad enough, but not that bad. You see, these men still thought the Lord Jesus had come here to establish a carnal, earthly, Jewish empire, a literal rather than a spiritual kingdom, an earthly kingdom rather than a heavenly kingdom. Their argument was about who should be prime minister to the Messiah, to the Lord Jesus in his kingdom.
Prophecy is not and should not be a matter of great concern in the church of God. We rejoice to know that Christ is coming again (Revelation 1:7). When he comes, he will raise the dead, make all things new and sit in judgment over all his enemies (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 2 Peter 3:10-14; Revelation 20:11-15). When the Lord Jesus comes again, our salvation will be complete. We are not in the least concerned about looking for signs and trying to figure out when the end shall be. It is absolutely evil to do so. Our business is serving and honoring our Redeemer until he comes.
Yet, the notion of dispensational, premillenialism is horribly evil. As it is with many today, it was the idea of the Jews, of the Pharisees in particular, and of these poor disciples that Christ, the Messiah, would establish a carnal, earthly, Jewish kingdom. And with that carnal doctrine, of necessity comes many carnal ideas, such as those expressed here. Be sure you understand these things:
Š Our Lord Jesus Christ is the King now, seated upon the throne of David, as David’s Son in heaven (Acts 2:22-36).
There is no such thing as a secret rapture, a seven year tribulation period, or a literal 1000 year millennial reign. It matters nothing to me what you believe or do not believe about prophetic systems, as long as you are not deluded by such baseless nonsense as that. The reason these things concern me is that they are not only without foundation in Scripture, they promote pride, divisiveness and carnal lusts after material things in the name of Christianity. Carnal religion promotes carnal hope; and carnal hope promotes carnal desires.
“And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him” (v. 47). — Here is another of those almost casual declarations of our Savior’s deity. He who is the omniscient God perceives the thoughts of men’s hearts. None but God can perceive the thoughts of another’s heart. And he who is God perceives the thoughts of all. Nothing is hidden from him. All things are naked and open to him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).
When our Master perceived the thoughts of the disciples’ hearts, when he would reprove them for their carnal strife, he picked up a child and set it beside himself in the presence of them all.
Matthew tells us that he sat this child in the midst of them all (Matthew 18:1). He wanted them all to see the child. Seeing this child, had he said nothing at all, they should have perceived his purpose. The Lord Jesus wanted them to see that he who is but a child, the most humble and least in his own eyes, is the greatest in the Church and Kingdom of God. Putting this child beside himself, pointing to him, perhaps putting his arm around his shoulders, the Lord Jesus said, — “Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” (v. 48).
We must be careful not to make anything more of this than is intended, and not to make anything less of it than is intended. There is nothing taught or implied here about children, about the baptism of children, or the conversion of children. –Nothing! Certainly, there is nothing here to indicate that children are innocent and without sin before God until they reach an imaginary age of accountability!
The lesson is about Christianity. Our Lord is here teaching us that as a child is simple, humble, dependent, trusting and unconcerned about worldly fame, power and wealth, so we ought to walk before God. As a child, knowing its weakness, depends upon its father, so we ought, as men and women conscious of our weakness, to depend upon Christ (2 Corinthians 12:10). As a little child realizes that he is ignorant and helpless, and therefore depends upon others to teach him, guide him, hold his hand and protect him, so we ought to look to Christ for everything. As children are quickly pacified when injured by others, so we ought to be quick in forgiving those who injure and offend us. As children naturally embrace other children, so we ought to embrace others, avoiding and putting aside those things that divide men and women from one another.
“Whosoever shall receive this child,” one like this child, not in age, but in meekness and humility, one that is not proud and haughty, ambitious of worldly honor and envious of others, whoever receives such a one into his house and heart (Specifically, he is talking about gospel preachers and the gospel we preach.) — “In my name” — because he belongs to me, because he is sent by me, because he represents me, because he delivers my message – “Receiveth me” — his Lord and Master, his Savior and King.
Let us receive one another as Christ himself, in his name. Receive your brother because he belongs to Christ, because is one of his, bears his image, is a partaker of his grace, is loved of God, chosen, redeemed, accepted and an heir of God, joint heir with Christ and with us, one with Christ and one with us in the family of God! Such is Christ’s great regard to his people that he takes anything done for one of his elect as if it had been done to him.
“And whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me.” — In exactly the same way as all who receive Christ receive the Father, so all who receive one of Christ’s disciples receive him. And all who mistreat one of his disciples mistreat him.
“For he that is least among you all,” in his own opinion, the one who truly considers himself the least, -- “the same shall be great,” highly honored, greatly used of God.
“And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us” (v. 49). — Again, be sure to read this statement in its context. John was not here suddenly seeking to change the subject. Just the opposite: The Master’s words pricked his heart. The Word of God brought to light the evil of something he and his brethren had recently done. Tender hearted John was immediately broken hearted because he knew what they had done was totally contrary to the spirit of Christ.
In essence, he was saying, — “Oh, how terribly proud and haughty we have been! Master, I have something to confess. We saw a man the other day who was casting out devils in Your name, and we rebuked him, because he was not one of us.”
“And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (v. 50). — The Master plainly rebuked that censorious spirit. He said, “Do not ever take it upon yourself to rebuke, cut yourself off from, condemn, or even speak evil of any man (in public or in private) who is doing the same work you are doing, preaching the same gospel you are preaching, laboring in my name against the prince of darkness and for the souls of men, just because he is not one of your little group.”
Pride is horribly evil and always divisive. We must ever guard against and strive to avoid that sinful, shameful pride that causes us to seek to promote, elevate, and exalt ourselves. Here is a little band of insignificant nobodies, publicans and fishermen, whom the Lord Jesus had chosen, sought out, called by his grace and made to be his disciples, — (Sinners forgiven! — Rebels conquered! — Prodigals recovered!), — arguing about who should be the greatest! Each one thought he was more deserving of high honor than any of the others!
Such is the depravity of our hearts still! There is no sin, no evil to which we are more naturally and wickedly inclined than pride. May God give us grace ever to realize this and ever be aware of this monster in our hearts that we may watch and pray. No sin is more deeply rooted in our depraved hearts. It clings to us like glue. It is as much a part of us as darkness is a part of night. It never dies, until these bodies cease to breathe. It does not even weaken.
There is no evil of our hearts so hypocritical and deceitful as pride. It wears the robe of humility. It pretends to be meek. It wants desperately to appear self-abasing. Pride is found in the ignorant and the brilliant, the poor and the rich, the most useless and the most gifted.
Yet, there is absolutely nothing about us, any of us that should make, or even allow us to be proud. What can be more absurd than a proud man? Of all creatures, we who are the sons and daughters of Adam have the least reason to be proud. Of all men, we who are made to be the objects and recipients of God’s free grace in Christ have the least excuse for pride. Of all believers, sinners called and gifted of God to preach the gospel of Christ have the least reason to be proud! Nothing in this world is more contrary to the grace of God than our pride (1 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 3:8).
Nothing in the world is more contrary to the example our Lord Jesus left for us to follow than pride. Nothing is more contrary to our Savior’s character than our pride (John 13:1-5, 12-15; Philippians 2:1-8; 3:10).
We must also constantly guard ourselves against and avoid our arrogant, proud tendency to censorship of our brethren. We should studiously avoid sitting in judgment over, criticizing, condemning, or in any way seeking to undermine the ministries of others who serve Christ, but are not aligned with us. That is precisely the meaning of our Lord’s words in verse 50. — “And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
One of the most shameful, God dishonoring, gospel crippling deeds of Church history is the fact that throughout the history of God’s Church there have been many who equate serving Christ and defending the faith with dividing brethren. And this evil has never been more pervasive than it is today.
Be sure you understand my meaning. Our Lord is not here telling us that we are to be indifferent to sound doctrine, or that we are to compromise the gospel for the sake of getting along with others. Heresy is to be and must be exposed, identified and condemned. But there are many who serve the cause of Christ, who preach the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ, who are not a part of our “little group,” our denomination, or our small circle of fellowship.
Let others, if they must, speak ill of us, separate themselves from us, censure us, and condemn us. We must not engage in such evil. For Christ’s sake, for the gospel’s sake, let us do what we can to promote unity in God’s Kingdom, among God’s people, and promote those who preach the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ. As in the days of Elijah, God still has his seven thousand (though, perhaps, unknown to us), who have not bowed the knee to Baal. We are all too prone to think like those of whom Job spoke, “We are the men, and wisdom shall die with us” (Job 12:2). If others choose not to identify themselves with Don Fortner and think and speak evil of Don Fortner, that is no big deal. If they preach the gospel of Christ, if God is using them, I rejoice and thank God for them (Numbers 11:27-29; Philippians 1:12-18).
May God give us grace to cease from strife and contention. May God the Holy Spirit teach us to rejoice in the labors, usefulness and success of others who serve his cause by the gospel, pulling down the strong holds of Satan and building the kingdom of our God. – “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” Let us give our time, efforts, and energies to the preaching of the gospel, aiming at the glory of God and the salvation of sinners on the brink of everlasting ruin. Let us preach Christ, not controversy, seek God’s glory, not personal greatness, seek to build up, not to tear down, hold up the cross, not a creed and seek the good of men’s souls, not the smile of their approval. Like John the Baptist, let us point needy sinners to Christ, the Lamb of God, and say, “Follow him,” not us. Christ is not divided. Let us not be (Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 3:9-10, 16-17; 10:15-17; Colossians 3:12-15).
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