People love well-defined boundaries. We love to draw a clear line between the good and bad people. When a nation goes to war, for example, the enemy is often portrayed as evil. And we are always the good guys. Of course, the other side thinks the same thing. Lines like this give us comfort. They help us simplify the world, categorize it neatly in clearly defined packages. But there’s just one problem with the lines we make: they don’t always match up with reality.
The world isn’t as simple as Christians are good; non-Christians are bad. In fact, we Christians often do horrible things, and some non-Christians do good works that put many of us believers to shame. Our lines, we find, just don’t match up with the real world. Reality is more blurry.
In the tenth chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out his specially chosen missionaries to carry a message of peace and salvation to the world. “We’re the good guys,” the disciples must have been thinking, “and we’re going out to face the evil people.” But then Jesus said something really weird. As he was giving instructions, Jesus said, “If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him” (Luke 10:6).
“Hold on a second, Jesus. A man of peace? Out there? I thought we were the ones carrying the message of peace! What do you mean that we might find people out there who already have peace?” the disciples must have thought.
Luke used the word peace somewhat interchangeably with the word salvation. It referred back to the Old Testament idea of shalom. This peace was much more than only the absence of war. Shalom meant a harmonious community filled with happiness, security, plenty of food, and cooperation—the way the world was supposed to be. So it’s quite striking that Jesus told his disciples that this shalom might already be out there in the world.
While the disciples had drawn a very clear line between themselves (good) and those to whom they were sent (bad), Jesus was constantly blurring these lines. The Pharisees thought they had it all figured out—God loved those who scrupulously kept all the rules. But when Jesus came, he spoke well of tax collectors, prostitutes, half-bred Samaritans, and sinners. He even told the Pharisees that those “dirty” people were entering the kingdom ahead of them (Matt. 21:31).
Here’s the point: Christians don’t have a monopoly on God.
Did you ever play the board game Monopoly? It’s called “Monopoly” because by the end of the game, if you make it that far, one person has all the wealth and properties. That’s what a monopoly is. In economics, it happens “when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.” In short, one person has all the stuff.
The disciples of Jesus always seemed to think that they had a monopoly on what God was doing. So when the disciples saw outsiders casting out demons (“bad” people doing a good thing), Jesus taught them, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).
God is at work in strange and unexpected places. He’s not just the God of the church; he’s the God of creation. He’s not just revealing himself to those who confess the name of Jesus Christ; he’s revealing himself to those who haven’t even heard of Jesus before. John Wesley called this “prevenient grace” which simply means “the grace that goes before us.” In other words, long before any of us ever heard of Jesus or trusted in him for our salvation, he was already quietly at work in our lives.
That should impact the way we relate to the world. Rather than being the know-it-alls that are bringing truth to a pagan land, we can approach nonbelievers in humility, recognizing that they too have God at work in their lives.
So, Now What:
Commit yourself this week to “seeing” God. Lend an open ear to someone who has a story to tell and as you listen, ask yourself if you see evidence of God already at work in this person’s life…and then join him in his transforming love for all!
[from Here After, Merge Series, by Jeremy Summers & Greg Coates]