But Is He with Us?Luke 9:46-50; Mark 9:38-41Theme: Christian tolerance.This week’s lessons remind us that there is both diversity and unity in the Body of Christ. LessonBefore we draw conclusions as to what a Christian’s relationship to other professed believers should be, we need to examine this story carefully. One of the things we need to see is that although in this case Jesus said that the one who is not against us (and him) is for us, it does not follow that there could never be a case or circumstance in which a person could be opposed to Christ’s kingdom.
As we noted yesterday, there are occasions when so-called religious people are really against Christ and his kingdom. One warning that this possibility exists is found in what on the surface is a direct contradiction to Christ’s teachings in this story. In Luke 9:50 Jesus declared, “Whoever is not against you is for you.” But just two chapters later, in Luke 11:23, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” These sentences seem utterly opposed; yet both are true, because they are speaking to different situations. In the second instance Jesus was speaking of the believer’s conflict with Satan, showing that in that struggle there can never be room for neutrality. Some who were present were claiming that Jesus was casting out demons by Satan’s power. In the earlier instance this was not the case. Norval Geldenhuys says, “It is a question of someone who believed in Jesus to such an extent that he cast out demons in his name and who revealed such a humble attitude that he allowed the disciples to forbid him to continue the work.”1
Yet it is even stronger than this. In the incident we are studying, the exorcist not only did what he did in Christ’s name and therefore in open allegiance to Christ. He also was effective in what he did, for he was actually casting out demons. This indicates that his allegiance to Jesus was not in word only but by saving faith, for it is only as one is joined to Jesus by faith that power is seen in him. In other words, the man was a true believer in Jesus. His action was a proof of his profession.
What was the disciples’ problem, then? The problem, as John stated it, was that the man was not “one of us.” That is, he did not belong to the disciples’ party. No matter that he professed faith in Christ! No matter that he was doing good works in Christ’s name! He was not of the disciples; therefore they did what they could do to stop his ministry.
This is a devilish thing, for in extreme forms it has actually destroyed the gospel. I give two historical instances. First, it was the error of Judaism at the time of the early expansion of the gospel. The church in Jerusalem had no problem with the Gentiles’ becoming Christians so long as they also became Jews; that is, so long as they became like those who had believed before them. When the gospel expanded to Gentile communities and the new converts began to practice their own forms of Christianity, without reference to the laws and customs of Israel, a party developed that had as its goal the conforming of the Gentiles to Jewish practices. These people went to Galatia, among other places, and there taught that it was not enough to be a follower of Jesus; a person must be a follower of Moses too. It was not enough to have faith; a person must also be saved by works. There was no salvation outside Judaism.
The apostle Paul stepped into this arena, aghast that anything should be added to faith as a condition of salvation. Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, Paul argued. Indeed, that is true even for Judaism. For all his advantages, even the Jew will be lost if he adds anything to the work of Christ for salvation. Paul declared that one does not have to belong to the Jewish camp to be a Christian.
1 Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1977), p. 289.
In the believer’s conflict with Satan, what position must be avoided?
What indicates that the exorcist in Luke 9 was a true believer?
What harmed the gospel during the expansion of the early church?
What was the problem underlying the disciples’ objection to the exorcist’s work?