Monday, May 06, 2013

Mark 9:38–41

Mark 9:38–41 (ESV): Anyone Not Against Us Is For Us

Passage

This passage continues on from the last one (I think), but the conversation shifts. John informs Jesus that the disciples had seen someone else casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and the disciples tried to stop him because he was not following the disciples. (Or was not following Jesus and the disciples; verse 38 (ESV) just says “he was not following us.”)

Jesus, however, tells his disciples not to stop this person, because nobody who does a “mighty work” in Jesus’ name will “be able soon afterward” to speak evil of Him (verse 39 (ESV)). He also says, “For the one who is not against us is for us” (verse 40 (ESV)). In fact, he tells them that even a small act like giving a Christian a cup of water because they are a Christian will result in a reward from God.

Thoughts

When John tells Jesus that they’d tried to stop a guy for driving out demons because “he was not following us,” it’s not clear grammatically if he means that the man wasn’t following the disciples or that the man wasn’t following Jesus and the disciples. However, judging by the fact that the disciples were arguing not long before about who was the greatest, I’m inclined to believe that it’s the former, not the latter. I think the disciples view themselves as being very special, and are not happy about someone else appearing to be special too.

Jesus then tells the disciples that nobody who does a mighty work in His name can speak evil of Him very soon after. This is an odd phrase; I think it’s worth looking up in a few versions:

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. …” (verse 39 (ESV))
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, …” (verse 39 (NIV))
But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me.” (verse 39 (NASB))
But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. (verse 39 (KJV))
But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. …” (verse 39 (NKJV))
So… what does this mean? I’m sort of leaning toward thinking that it means exactly what it says. Performing a mighty work, or a miracle, in Jesus’ name, has to be done out of faith. It is done with the core understanding that you yourself have no power, only God does, and so you are trusting in Him to do this thing, whatever it is. So I think there are a couple of reasons why one couldn’t perform a miracle in Jesus’ name and then turn around and say something bad about Jesus:
  1. You’ve had enough faith to turn to God in the first place, to ask for something to be done that couldn’t otherwise be done—and then He did it! It would be a very strange change in your mindset to then start thinking or saying bad things about Him.
  2. This thing you’re asking God to do is something that only He can do; you can’t do it yourself, or else it wouldn’t be a miracle/mighty work. Therefore, it’s all in His power: He can choose to do it, or He can choose not to do it. If He who knows everything knows that you’re about to bad-mouth Him, then perhaps He will decide not to do it.
Both of these thoughts seem a bit simplistic to me, so it’s possible that I haven’t given it enough thought.

What’s even more interesting, potentially, is the next verse:

For the one who is not against us is for us. (verse 40 (ESV))
The reason I find this interesting is because of Matthew 12:30 (ESV):

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
In one sense these verses are two sides of the same coin: whoever is not with Jesus is against Him, and whoever is not against Him is for Him. You’re either with Jesus, or you’re against Him; there’s no middle ground. However, what about the people who think they’re in the middle ground? The “I’m no Christian, but I got nothing against Jesus” people? They think they’re neither for Him nor against Him, but Jesus says that they’re either one or the other. The problem is that these two passages could lead us to opposite answers:
  • Mark 9:40 says that anyone who’s not against Jesus is for Him, so people who consider themselves on the fence would be for Him
  • Matthew 12:30 says that anyone who is not with Jesus is against Him, so people who consider themselves on the fence would be against Him
Is this a problem? An inconsistency, perhaps? I don’t think so; I think people in such situations should be paying more attention to Matthew 12:30 than Mark 9:40. For one thing, the context of Mark 9:40 is that the man in question had been driving out demons in Jesus’ name; maybe he wasn’t following Jesus around day-to-day like the disciples were, but he obviously believed, at the very least, that Jesus had the power to drive out demons. (In fact, for God to have been driving out demons when this man asked would indicate to me that he probably had more faith than that.) This is not an agnostic man, there is a certain amount of belief there. Secondly, the Matthew passage says that anyone who is not “with” Jesus is against him, it doesn’t say those who are not “for” him are against him. I hope I’m not pushing the word too far, but it seems that the word “with” implies more of a relationship; this isn’t just “rooting for” Jesus, and hoping that He comes out on top over Satan in the cosmic battle of good vs. evil. This word “with,” to me, implies that the person will be in that battle alongside Jesus, trying to do what is right and live a good life and please God. You can have a relationship with Christ, or you can be against Him. You can be a slave to sin, or a slave to righteousness—one or the other (Romans 6:15–23 (ESV)).
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