Luke 9:49-50 (NASB 2020)
John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him, because he does not follow along with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for the one who is not against you is for you.”
We have all heard the phrase, “Either you’re for us or against us”. Versions of this phrase have appeared in countless movies and TV shows. In Star Wars, Anikin Skywalker says to Obi-wan Kenobi “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” In Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast, Gaston tells the villagers “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” as he locks up Belle and her father. We also often hear it in real life, especially from our political leaders. One memorable example is from President George W. Bush just days after the 9/11 attack when he said “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
What most don’t know is this phrase has its roots in the New Testament. Jesus uses this phrase more than once. In Luke 11:23, Jesus says, “The one who is not with Me is against Me”, but earlier, in Luke 9:50, He states the phrase in a slightly different way by saying, “the one who is not against you is for you.”
While both of these verses communicate a similar message, the change of perspective between the two has an interesting impact on how we understand what is being said. The phrase “the one who is not with me is against me” draws a line in the sand and makes it clear that a side has been chosen. If you are not with Jesus, you are against Him. But when it is phrased “the one who is not against you is for you”, it is a much softer and more charitable statement. Here Jesus is saying that if one is not actively against you then they are for you.
It is interesting to see that Jesus found uses for both phrases. There were times where an active role is requited to be “for” Jesus and other times when His work is furthered even, unknowingly, by those who are apparently neutral. As Christians living in the 21st century, it can be very difficult at times to navigate how best to approach certain elements of culture and various people we interact with. While some can be very legalistic and totalitarian in their views of what is beneficial and what is not, it can be helpful to realize that Jesus Himself took more than one approach based on the individual situations.
God often uses people in His plans even if those individuals would not say they were “for” Jesus because He has power over all His creation. Sometimes it can be discouraging to look around and see so many people who are not following Jesus, but by looking at things through the perspective of “the one who is not against you is for you,” we can see that Christ’s mission is being furthered every day even by those who do not believe. We can be thankful that God will use all things, even the lives of unbelievers, to further His gospel and we can pray that those who are not against us will one day be actively “for” Jesus.