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God’s Word for You

Luke 11:23 who is not with me is against me

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 16, 2018

23 “Anyone who is not with me is against me.
    Anyone who does not gather with me scatters.”

Jesus said just about the opposite in Mark 9:40: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” But in that context, there was a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name—a man the disciples didn’t know. Jesus was telling them not to stop him, because he wasn’t opposing Jesus; he simply wasn’t known to Jesus’ disciples. He wasn’t contradicting anything Jesus said or taught. Here, the circumstances were very different.

This is the fourth in a series of five responses to an accusation from the Pharisees that Jesus was in league with the devil because he was driving out demons. Here Jesus shows that he could not possibly be working alongside the devil to cast out demons, because whoever is not for Jesus is against him. Luther felt that Jesus was speaking primarily about the devil here (since all five of the Lord’s examples are about the devil) but that this also applies “to the blasphemers whom he here convicts and condemns, as being against him since they are not for him.”

In his commentary on the Gospels, F.W. Wenzel (1876-1937) lists six opposing published interpretations:

  1. This is only about the devil (Andreas Osiander, 1498-1552). This is a clear interpretation that does justice to the text.
  2. This is about the devil and also the Pharisees (Luther). Some of those who espouse this interpretation (Meyer and Zahn) say that the previous interpretation is “too weak” and that the Pharisees must also be meant.
  3. This is about the devil and also the “doubters” of Matthew 12:23 who said, “Could this be the Son of David?” However, this group is not even mentioned in Luke.
  4. Bengel (1687-1752) thought that Jesus was including the Jewish exorcists, who were mentioned in passing in Luke 11:19 (“by whom do your sons drive them out?”). However, there would be little or no reason for Jesus to include them here.
  5. A bizarre interpretation, rarely even mentioned today, is that Jesus was including the devil on the “with me” side rather than on the “against me” side. Evidently, this was a philosophical or metaphysical interpretation that tried to place supernatural beings on one side and natural beings on the other side without (as is often the case with such arguments) any regard for the context.
  6. A sixth interpretation offered in more recent commentaries on Luke is that Jesus meant those “demanding of him a sign from heaven” (Luke 11:16). But these sign-seekers are addressed later in both Matthew and Luke with the sign of Jonah (see Luke 11:29-30).

Of these, the first two fit the context best. Jesus is providing a series of five reasons why he is not working in concert with the devil but is opposed to him. It’s also possible that Jesus would offer a comment such as “Anyone who does not gather with me scatters” as a warning to the Pharisees not oppose the Son of God and his work.

When we consider this passage in terms of church fellowship (activities in which Christians participate together as members of visible churches), we must remember that while weakness in faith is not a reason for ending church fellowship, persistence in false doctrine is. Paul says, “Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). Jesus clearly says here that “Anyone who is not with me is against me.” Fellowship with the Son of God can never mean opposing him or claiming that he is a liar. “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 2:22). Everyone who acknowledges Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, the Savior who rescued us from our sins, has fellowship with Jesus Christ. With regard to work and worship in the visible church, we must rely on a public confession of faith. Those who practice church fellowship with “persistent errorists” (those who cling to false doctrine) share in their evil (2 John 11). We gather with Christ; we must not join with those who scatter.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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