Mark 9:40 (NRSV): “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Luke 11:23 and Matthew 12:30 (NRSV): “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
By Chuck Griffin
Compare these two statements from Jesus and you may find yourself a little puzzled. They seem to be in conflict.
Those who work against Jesus clearly are his enemy; those who actively declare him Lord and Savior, seeking his will, obviously are his supporters. But what about the status of those who have yet to make a decision regarding whether Jesus is the promised Messiah?
Mark’s verse seems to indicate that those who do not actively oppose Jesus are for all practical purposes with him. The words found in both Luke and Matthew, on the other hand, seem to equate indecision with opposition.
Each statement has its own context, of course. In Mark, the disciples have complained to Jesus about a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, even though “he was not following us.” Jesus says what he says as part of an admonition to leave the man alone.
In Luke, Jesus has been doing the casting out of demons himself, and stands accused by some onlookers of working on behalf of Satan. This leads to a somewhat cryptic lecture from the divine exorcist about how that would make Satan a kingdom divided, doomed to fall. There also is talk of how even a strong man can be overcome and plundered by one who is stronger, a reference to the power Christ has over the evil, temporary ruler of this world.
The story found in Luke also is in the 12th chapter of Matthew. There, Jesus is recorded as going a little further after saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”
“Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32.)
Here’s one way (my favorite way) to look at these passages. Jesus is patient with the undecided—to a point. Where people are seeking to understand salvation, doing good in the process, he wants to give them much leeway as they explore what it means to follow him.
Simultaneously, Jesus expects people to be respectful when the Holy Spirit is at work driving back evil, healing, and lovingly providing what should be convincing evidence to the undecided about God’s grace. Flippant or sarcastic remarks from anyone in the presence of holy moments are unwise, amounting to active opposition to Christ’s mission.
To the undecided, I would say this: God is lovingly patient, but if you genuinely seek God, do so humbly and reverently. Take your search seriously. After all, what you seek would be by definition holy and eternal.
Lord, we thank you for the tremendous patience and love you show all of us. Grant continuing grace to those who wrestle with their unbelief, helping them toward salvation before the final chance to decide passes. Amen.
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