God’s Word for You
Luke 9:49-50 whoever is not against you is for you
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, June 4, 2018
Whoever Is Not Against You Is for You
49 John said, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he is not following you with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Don’t stop him, because whoever is not against you is for you.”
We need to understand that this passage does not speak to the doctrine of church fellowship. When we talk about fellowship, we consider on the one hand those who believe what the Bible says just as we do in every doctrinal point, as Jesus says: “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). On the other side of that doctrine is that we also “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). This is why, for example, a Lutheran would never invite a Catholic priest into the pulpit or pray (which is an act of worship) with a congregation of some other denomination.
Here in Luke 9 something else was going on. The “someone” in the text was not claiming or even requesting fellowship with the disciples. He was not a follower of Jesus, and the disciples recognized this, but they didn’t understand how to react when he was driving out demons in Jesus’ name.
Luke does not say that the Someone was “attempting” to drive out demons. He says that the Someone actually was doing it. This could not have been possible apart from saving faith in Christ. He wasn’t merely showing an interest in Jesus, he trusted that Jesus was the Savior, and that through his name he could help those who were terrorized by the devil’s hoards.
John and the other disciples had tried to stop this man, but Jesus told them not to. For those familiar with Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:30, this can present a problem. In that place, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” In Matthew, Jesus was talking to Pharisees about divisions in the church based on faith. Whoever is opposed to Christ is therefore (obviously) not in fellowship with Christ and his church. But here in Luke, in a different context, Jesus is talking about one man who is not in a called office. The Someone here was not trying to pose as an apostle or as a preacher of righteousness (1 Peter 2:5). If he had, Jesus would have labeled him the way Paul did: “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). No, this Someone was acting out of his faith, and therefore, Jesus says, he is “not against you.” That didn’t mean that they had to extend “the right hand of fellowship” to him (Galatians 2:9), but that they should have asked him questions. Where did he get his faith? Had he been baptized? Had he heard John preach, or one of their own number? They should have asked him if he might want to follow Jesus with them—any of these things would have been better than John’s strongarm tactics of trying to forbid him from opposing Satan.
“There are two kinds of signs that are good and legitimate,” Luther wrote regarding miracles like this Someone casting out demons. “First, those that are performed by pious persons who are Christians; secondly, those that are performed by evil persons who occupy an office (that is, an office of the public ministry such as a pastor or teacher) and teach correctly” (LW 21, 279). This Someone was not leading people away from Christ but using his faith in Christ to promote faith in others and to drive away the devil and his demons.
No one should use this passage to open the doors of fellowship to those who do not agree with us in doctrine. Let’s state the matter again clearly: This passage does not speak to the doctrine of church fellowship. What it does teach us is that when those who are outside our circle or outside our fellowship preach the gospel to people (or even, as here, performing miracles in Jesus’ name), we should not hinder them. We should watch out and avoid those who cause divisions, but we should also allow the ministry of the gospel to be done. The house of God has many rooms. There are some within who are faithful at almost every turn, and others who will be saved “only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:15). Just as a principal doesn’t rush in to teach every lesson for his teachers, so also, we don’t need to rush in to every church and occupy each and every pulpit. Allow the gospel to be preached, and look to your own faithfulness, your own confession of faith, and your own life. Remember that you are God’s temple, and God’s Spirit lives in you. The ministry of another church belongs to that church. Your ministry or your service belongs to yours. Be faithful in what you do and give glory to God who gave you the gifts you use.
Note: At this time when the Wisconsin Synod is opposed and even caricatured by the Missouri Synod and others about our belief that there is more than one possible form of public ministry, it is good to remember that Luther and the other reformers asserted in the “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope” that the public ministry includes many forms: “apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers” (para. 26), “bishops and presbyters” para. 61), “deacons and (an) archdeacon” (para. 62), and even in the signatures, “minister,” “preacher” and “superintendent.” All told, they enumerated eleven different titles or forms of established and even ordained gospel ministry.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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