followandreblog asked: Uncle! I know the Bible should be understood in the right context, but I’m confused about these two verses: “He who is not against you is for you.” and “He who is not with Me is against Me.” How do I make myself understand that these verses do not have contradicting meaning? I should get a study guide for the Bible, is there anything you can recommend?
Unka Glen answered: Here’s the first verse: “‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you’ (Luke 9:49-50). This is describing someone who is trying to do the right thing, and is going about it in kinda the wrong way.
What Jesus says about this, is very important. Jesus is saying: if someone is heading in basically the right direction, and has a sincere if slightly messed up take on things, work within that to bring them around, rather than starting over from scratch.
Paul has the same attitude when he talks to the Greeks in Acts 17:16-34. Paul says that they are real spiritual and everything, and they have all these statues to all these gods, and even one “to an unknown god”, so Paul says that he is a representative of this God they don’t know about yet.
In essence, he’s taking them as they are, messed up in some ways, yes, but OPEN to what he has to say, and he’s working with that. In our ministry we often say, if someone is pointed in the right direction, and heading in the right direction, get out of the way. Help, yes. Cheer them on, certainly. But don’t nitpick it. If it’s moving in the right direction, all the details will come together in due time.
We have a little boy in our children’s ministry who is just a wild little man. He runs around and goes crazy and makes noise and pushes things over and stirs all the other kids up. Well, one day he got in his mind that he wanted to put away the toys in the toy bins, and then stow the bins in the closet.
Well, he’s pushing one of these bins, inch by inch, into a closet, and the darn thing is bigger than he is (he’s not yet 4 years old), and one of the volunteers is trying to stop him because he’s putting it in the wrong closet. I immediately stopped that, saying “he wants to do something right for God’s sake, let him put those bins wherever he wants to, let him do his thing. Don’t spoil this moment.”
Sure enough he put that bin away and stuck his little chest out all proud of himself, and I said “wow! make a muscle!” and he flexed his little arm and showed everybody. Did he actually help? Not so much. Does that matter? No it doesn’t. He’s trying, and he has the right heart, so we’re celebrating that today. We’ll work on the details later.
Now, this other verse is very different, in it Jesus says: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). Here Jesus is talking about the opposite situation. Whereas above we’re talking about someone trying to do the right thing the wrong way, here Jesus is talking about trying to do the wrong thing the right way. Or trying to do the wrong thing and make it LOOK right.
Jesus is saying that He has His people that are “with” Him, and they’re kind of a mess, and they still sin and backslide and make mistakes, and the bins aren’t where they should be, and it may not look like much. But then there are people who are working against all that.
Jesus is saying that a pathetic, lame, fouled up, mostly clueless, messy attempt to serve Him and be a Christian is fine for today. It’s fine because the bottom line is: we are “with” Him. Our hearts are towards Him. We love Him, even though we mess up, even though our lives don’t always reflect it, we do love Him.
But now let’s imagine a church full of very well-behaved people that decided to stop giving money to the poor (because they need to learn to be behaved, like us) and decided instead to make a fancier church. If they’d prayed about it for a second, they would be humbled of their attitude and turned around, but instead, they decide to take funds meant to serve the Kingdom, and they spend it on themselves.
Jesus is saying, in a case like that, these people are working against Him. He’s saying they they are scattering resources, instead of gathering them together, and doing a pre-determined good with them.
This is different from the same church trying to do the right thing and failing at it. Let’s say the same church decides to feed the poor, but they don’t do a good job of finding the food, and preparing it, and delivering it. That’s a different thing altogether. If your heart is set on doing the right thing, God knows that eventually you’ll get it all figured out.
As for a study guide, the NIV Study Bible is great, and if you’re looking for a more personal study, our BridgeBox service includes awesome Bible study materials, and you can click on the image below for more details on that.