Luke 9:50 - He who is not against you is for you. Luke 11:23 - He who is not with Me is against Me.
The two verses above from the Gospel of Luke could easily be mixed up and interchanged. In fact, because they sound so similar they have often been misquoted. Close your eyes right now and see if you can quote them correctly! At first glance these two quotations from our Lord Jesus may even appear contradictory. A closer examination, however, reveals that they are quite different. And this difference has enormous significance when it comes to the practical application of these verses. What is the implication of these statements by our Lord for Christians today? First of all, let's think through what these verses do not say. Jesus did not say in Luke 9:50, "He who is not against Me is for Me." That would be contrary to everything the Scriptures teach about the uniqueness of Christ, the Son of God. There are many world religions, for example, that are not opposed to Christ as a good and exemplary man. He is even high on the lists as a great person or prophet. But this does not mean that these religions are for Christ. In fact, they are adamantly against Christ as the only means of approach to God. As another example, take the ethical teachings of Jesus. These teachings are extolled by "good" people all over this country and beyond. But this does not mean that every upright American is for Christ. Try starting a discussion with these people about what Jesus said concerning who's on the "narrow road that leads to life" and who's on the "broad road that leads to destruction." (Remember that these statements come from Christ's well-known ethical Sermon on the Mount--beloved and quoted by upstanding people everywhere.) It soon becomes quite obvious that these so-called broad-minded people, who are supposedly open to all philosophies, including the teachings of Jesus, are very closed-minded and are actually against Christ when it comes to what Jesus said about who are the saved and how they are saved. The fact that Jesus indicated that the majority of people reject the narrow way to life and are therefore on the road to damnation is intolerable to their way of thinking. Their professed position of being for Jesus and His ethical teachings is in reality a firm position against Christ. Now let's consider what Jesus did not say in Luke 11:23. The Lord did not say, "He who is not with you is against you." If that were the case, would we be able to trust anyone--including fellow believers? Would any church fellowship or ministry survive? Let's face it. It's not only unbelievers who "don't see it my way." Christians have a hard time agreeing with one another on lots of things! Aren't you glad that everyone who doesn't see eye to eye with you is not against you? There are many believers (and non-Christians as well) who are not against us, even though they are not "for" us in everything we preach and practice. (By the way, if you're looking for the perfect church where everyone sees everything exactly as you do, you can be sure of two things about that church: first, it is very small and second, you'll be looking for another church shortly!) Seriously speaking, we need to be very careful of fellowships that demand total agreement in all areas. One of the characteristics of cults is that members are suspect if they are not in 100% agreement with the leaders in every detail of every area of faith and practice. That is not biblical Christianity. The Bible does not call for the uniformity of all believers, but rather teaches the unity of all believers. We can be united in the purpose of serving Christ without being uniform in all the details. Jesus did not say, "He who is not with you is against you." The fact that others are not with us does not necessarily mean that they are against us! As growing Christians, we need to clearly see what Jesus did not say as well as what He did say. When it comes to what Jesus did say in Luke 9:50 and Luke 11:23, it is very important to note that we are dealing with two different contexts. The context of Luke 9:50 is not speaking about a question of a critical Christian doctrine, but about a Christian practice. The subject is the practice of doing good works in the name of Christ. In verse 49, John referred to an incident in which the disciples had observed someone who was not of the Twelve exorcising demons in the name of Christ. They tried to stop such activity because the man was not part of the "in group." But Jesus told His disciples not to hinder such service because "He who is not against you is for you." The Lord was not indicating in this context that as long as people don't actively oppose us, they are on our side no matter what they do or believe! He was teaching that those who are involved in good works in the name of Christ are not against us but rather for us, even though there may not be complete agreement between our group and their group. In the parallel passage in Mark 9:40, we see that the Lord included Himself in the circle of the disciples. In context, then, Luke 9:50 is not a stamp of approval on all religious zealots as long as they don't positively oppose us. It is rather a stamp of disapproval on us if we actively hinder those involved in good works done in the name of Christ--even when we don't entirely approve of their ministry and methods, and even when we're convinced that the Lord is with us more than He is with them! Because we all have a strong natural tendency to put down those who don't "do it our way," most Christians are often disobedient to this command of the Lord. No wonder God warns us, "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:15). It has often been said that the Christian army is the only army in the world where soldiers shoot at one another instead of at the enemy. While such a statement may be exaggerated, it is not without truth. How sad and shameful are situations in which fellow believers bad-mouth and nit-pick at one another. The new commandment that our Lord Jesus gave to us was that "you love one another" (John 13:34). The Lord indicated that the world would know that we are Christians "if we have love for one another" (John 13:35). The early Church was so obedient to this new commandment that the pagan Roman world was forced to say of the first century Christians, "My, how they love one another!" Can the world say that of Christians today? Sadly, in most cases it can not. In fact, in many cases the reaction is, "My, how they fight with one another!" Today we think nothing of breaking the new commandment! Oh, we love the other believers in our own social and sectarian circles, but we don't even care to love believers who don't see eye to eye with us. We try to force them or manipulate them to do the work of the Lord our way. And if they don't, we assume that they are against us and, consciously or unconsciously, take steps to hinder them. We may saythat we love them and that we're just trying to "help and correct" them, but this is usually just a euphemism for "criticize and hinder." But Jesus said that we are not to hinder them. Why? Because, in the context of good works done in the name of Christ, "he who is not against you is for you." It is important to recognize that Jesus did not say that we had to join the church or ministry of everyone who is not against us. There may be some very good doctrinal reasons why we could never completely enjoy happy fellowship in such a group. And the Lord did not say that we had to change our convictions about how the Lord's work should be carried out. Christians have strong convictions, for example, as to financial and administrative procedures. Forms of church government and modes of baptism are other areas where there is considerable conviction. Finally, the Lord Jesus did not say that we had to sponsor the ministries of Christians who don't do it or see it our way. Some Christians disagree as to how best to carry out the great commission on the foreign mission field or the inner city, for example. Furthermore, Christians have varying concerns for the work of the Lord. Some are more concerned about literature distribution than about TV and radio evangelism. Some are more concerned about college age ministries than about children's work. We are free to support ministries of our own choosing. But we are not to hinder ministries of good works, if they are done in the name of Christ, just because we don't agree with them or support them. We are not to hinder them with actions or words! Let us stop shooting fellow soldiers! Just because they are not in our unit does not mean they are not in the Lord's army! If the Lord Jesus had not checked the disciples' wrong attitude at this point, a number of individuals would have been left in the spiritual bondage of demon possession! That reality does not seem to have dawned on the disciples, or have troubled them in the slightest. Jealousy and spiritual pride were certainly factors in the blindness of the disciples. In verse 40, we see that together they could not cast out one demon, whereas the man they tried to hinder was singlehandedly casting out many demons. It's hard not to be jealous when others who are not in our circle of fellowship are more successful than we are in ministry. And then in verse 46 we see the disciples arguing over who would be the greatest. The Lord rebuked their spiritual pride by using a little child in His lesson to them on humility. We need to take off our blinders and see how much we resemble the disciples at this point. Because of our petty jealousies and spiritual pride, we spend more time and show more interest in taking pot-shots at other Christians than we do in concerning ourselves with the hundreds of souls all around us in spiritual bondage. Well, then, where do we draw the line? Is there ever a time when we should speak out and thus hinder religious leaders or ministries we don't agree with? Yes! We draw the line at the doctrine of the Person and work of Christ. Why? Because Jesus said in Luke 11:23, "He who is not with Me is against Me." When it comes to the doctrine of Christ, there is no neutral ground. If a person is not positively for Christ, that person is against Christ. The Lord went further and said, "He who does not gather with Me, scatters." If a person is not actively involved in serving Christ, then that person actually becomes a negative influence in the work of the Lord. This is not to say that every believer who is not a "super Christian" and totally sold out to a life of Christian service is working against Christ. But if there is no evidence of some kind of "gathering" for the Lord, the question of whose side a person is on might be raised. According to the Lord Jesus, those who only profess to be Christians are involved in the scattering work of Satan. In this connection, it is important once again to note the context of the Scripture we are interpreting. Observe that the context of Luke 11:23 is "Christian doctrine" more than "Christian practice," in contrast to the context of Luke 9:50. The Pharisees had accused Christ of overpowering demons by the power of Satan. This was a direct attack on the Person and ministry of the Son of God. The Lord Jesus proceeded to show them that they were not only wrong but illogical. He said, "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" (See verses 17 and 18.) In no uncertain terms the Lord made it clear that there are two kingdoms opposed to one another. There is the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of God. Everyone is in one kingdom or the other. There is no neutral third kingdom which a person can join in order to sit on the sidelines and watch. If a person is not with Christ in the kingdom of God, that person is involved with the kingdom of Satan, in opposition to Christ. Such an individual may not have blasphemed the Holy Spirit, like the Pharisees who were being addressed in Luke 11. (See also the context of the parallel passage in Matthew 12:24-32.) However, that individual is still a slave in the kingdom of Satan which is working against Christ. Within the kingdom of God we can maintain a neutral stance with fellow citizens, even though we may not cross our theological t's and dot our theological i's the same way they do. In fact, as we've already seen, we are to be neutral, and we are not to hinder them when it comes to service done in the name of Christ. But we cannot be neutral when it comes to the doctrine of the Person and work of Christ, for this is the bull's eye of the target that the kingdom of Satan is aiming to destroy. A person who is preaching a distorted doctrine of Christ is either an active member of the kingdom of Satan or a sadly misinformed and greatly in-need-of-help believer. In either case, we must expose the error as we protect and proclaim the doctrine of the Person and work of our Lord Jesus. Drawing the line is not always easy. When is a self-proclaimed Christian ministry not really a Christian ministry, or no longer a Christian ministry? Where is the precise line between the critical bull's eye area of Christian doctrine and those areas which are not as critical? While drawing the line is not always easy, the Lord has given us two basic guidelines. Remember that in Christian service, "He who is not against you is for you." Remember that in Christian doctrine, "He who is not with Me is against Me."