CAN YOU EXPLAIN MARK 9:38-41?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Friend, yes, I sure can, and I would be glad to help you understand it!
We turn in the Scriptures to read Mark 9:38-41: “ And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.  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.  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.” Luke briefly reports it in chapter 9 of his Gospel Record: “ And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.  And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
This bizarre exchange—which seems out of place but is not—should be considered in context. Jesus’ teaching on humility and pride (Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48) pricked John’s guilty conscience, and he answered Jesus with the above quote. John recalls a time when he and his fellow Apostles witnessed a man “casting out devils in [Christ’s] name,” and they were bothered because he “followeth not us… followeth not us.” In fact, they even “forbad” (stopped, hindered) this man from performing any more exorcisms!
Jesus replies to John, “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.” Evidently, the man was a believer and genuine worker of miracles (not the counterfeit of Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus thus commanded His Apostles not to stop him. The man could not speak good in the name of Christ and then quickly speak evil of Christ. He would not turn on Christ. In fact, the Lord indicated this anonymous man was on God’s side—and the Apostles were acting selfishly in deterring him. Remember, they had not said “he followeth not thee [Lord]” but rather twice repeated “he followeth not us… he followeth not us.” Since the Apostles had not authorized that exorcist, they assumed he was an evildoer. Therefore, they “courageously” took it upon themselves to reprove him. By focusing on self, they were in the wrong. They were definitely surprised when Jesus reprimanded them.
Interestingly, while this unknown man was casting out devils in the name of Christ, the disciples were unable to do so moments earlier (Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42). The man’s name is unspecified, but his power is great. Yet, how could he as a non-Apostle cast out devils? Well, remember, Jesus commissioned the 70 men to cast out devils and yet they were not Apostles (cf. Luke 10:1,17). It is no strange thing then if we find this man, a non-Apostle, casting out devils in Mark chapter 9 and Luke chapter 9. Whoever he was makes no difference. The point is, since he had not allied with the 12 Apostles, it prompted them to disapprove of him. While he had no formal denominational or sectarian sanctioning, the Lord Himself commented the Apostles were errant in their handling of the matter. Rather than commending them, He scolded them. They—not the man—were wrong.
Read Mark 9:41 again: “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.” Although a different context, Matthew 10:42 reads similarly: “And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” The setting is rewards for kingdom saints, Israel’s believing remnant (cf. Matthew 10:33-41). Instead of fighting with a fellow believer (Mark 9:38-40), the Apostles should have received him (and been partaker of his ministry/reward). Go back to verse 37: “Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.” Remember, it was this very statement of Christ that stirred up John’s guilty conscience and caused him to introduce the passage we are currently discussing. Pride was operating in the Apostles, and the Lord quickly addressed it. Go back to Mark 9:33-37 (also later in Mark 10:35-45).
The most important lesson we can gain from this is simple. We should be careful in ministry, to make absolutely certain it is the Spirit of God operating in us and not our flesh. Petty infighting is sinful. If it is not sound Bible doctrine communicated in the right spirit (humility not pride), it is far better to keep our mouths closed.
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
SUPPLEMENTAL: COMPARING MARK 9:40 WITH MATTHEW 12:30
“For he that is not against us is on our part” (Mark 9:40) should be compared to “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matthew 12:30). Friends, there is no middle ground: one is either for the Lord Jesus Christ or against Him. We either uphold God’s Book and exalt His Son, or we do not. In the context of Mark, the exorcist was casting out devils in the name of Christ (Mark 9:38). As Jesus Himself remarked, he was working in accordance with Father God. Matthew, however, is spoken in connection to Israel’s religious leaders who have deliberately vilified Jesus as being Satan’s ally (Matthew 12:24). There is no contradiction between the two statements.
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