“…For He that Is not Against Us Is for Us”
While Jesus repeated this phrase in slightly different ways several times in the gospel accounts, Mark and Luke specifically record Him saying this in a specific event during His personal ministry on earth. One can find this in Mark 9:38-40 and Luke 9:49-50.
The context of this passage falls within a section of scripture in which Jesus discussed the cross (Mark 9:31-32; Luke 9:44-45). After Jesus discusses this very important fact with His apostles, they argue about who will be the greatest (Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48). Can one not see how arguing about who will be the greatest is out of place in the context of the cross? In this discussion, John remembers a prior event. John might be very well confessing his failure to realize what Christ was teaching when he said, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us” (Luke 9:49). To this, Jesus responded,
Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. (Mark 9:39-41)
This passage has become prominent in past years by those who desire for the church to extend fellowship to denominations. Many preachers today misapply this passage to support the idea of Christians existing in denominations.
One extremely important principle of understanding the Bible is that the Bible is its own best commentary on itself. Therefore, we need to remember several things by correct observation of the text. First, Jesus was speaking directly to “the twelve” (Mark 9:35). In other words, He was speaking to the apostles. Second, when John said, “…he followeth not us,” he is thinking about the apostolic office of “the twelve.” Then, the context shows that Jesus is talking about unrecognized people—probably Gentiles (to whom Luke addresses his gospel), since the mindset of the Jews of that day was selfish and prideful. In addition to the apostolic office, we have seventy more of which the Lord had commissioned in Luke 10:1-17, which we know had power over demons. We should note the fact that the commission to the seventy did not have the same limitations that Jesus gave to His twelve apostles when He sent them on their commission: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6).
Thus, in addition to the twelve that comprised the apostolic office, Christ commissioned seventy others and gave credentials to them exactly as He did the twelve. It seems highly likely that John ran into one of these seventy, since we know for sure that Jesus commissioned them as the twelve with miraculous powers, just as Jesus said: “…for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me” (Mark 9:39).
Therefore, to make a comparison with one in a different religion unknown to the Bible and doing things unauthorized in the Bible without Jesus forbidding such is a serious misapplication of this passage. Furthermore, as stated in the introduction of this article, the subject of the cross is in the background of this scripture. The cross offers the solutions to the problems of which we are discussing and which we find in this section of scripture. The cross does away with sectarianism. It unites and reconciles men with men and men with God (cf. Eph. 2:11-22). Therefore, to establish fellowship with those who continue to remain factious is the opposite message Jesus and the cross give, as we have recorded in the Bible.