Some years ago I read an article by a brother who excoriated the writing of another brother because of his use of Mark 9:38-41 in relationship to unity. I was so put off by the tone of that article that I resolved to no longer consider anything he said on any topic. That was (and is) an unfair approach that I took because in many areas of teaching I could see that he was “spot on.”
Unfair or not, it was my approach, and until recently, I had really given no serious attention to the passage except to read it in my regular Bible readings. Using the Gospel Advocate’s Foundation series quarterly Bible study in our adult class, it is my custom to study the whole chapter of the text of our lesson for that week. Mark 9:2-13 was our text, so I did a textual study of the whole chapter, with a particular interest in 9:38-41.
Here is what the four verses teach in summary. First, Jesus was questioned concerning the propriety of others not associated with Him and His disciples (9:38). Second, Jesus prohibited the disciples, especially John, from preventing those sympathetic to Jesus from “casting out demons” (9:39). Third, those sympathetic to Jesus and His teachings are actually “on our side” and shall receive their reward (9:40-41).
Let us understand what Jesus said and was saying in the larger context. First, in 9:33-37, Jesus taught what discipleship was all about to His chosen twelve. Discipleship under the “banner” of Jesus’ name is not about who is the greatest, but humility and servitude as seen in the form of a child. The theme of this teaching extends itself in the next paragraph (9:38-41). Second, as the disciples needed to learn about humility and servitude, they also needed to learn about sectarianism. Sectarianism is similar to partisanship. In other words, one’s attitude toward another of a different perspective is not as charitable as it should be. That is Jesus’ point. The disciples did not receive or like the one doing good in Jesus’ name, so they wanted the Lord to stop him completely. The Lord would not.
Let us make an application to what Jesus said. Jesus does not address what some might call “doctrinal” points of difference. The Lord addresses an attitude of charity toward others not of a particular group. There is no chance the Lord would compromise His teaching for unity’s sake, and neither will He tolerate His disciples doing that (Galatians 1:6-9). As we think about the passage, for some it is easy to misapply it because of a desire to look at one’s sincere devotion rather than the truth as expressed by God. We would be mistaken if we thought and said that others who teach differently will be accepted by the Lord. To do so would result in two things: 1) miss the point of the context, 2) compromise what the Lord said elsewhere.