49 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.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”
I think this section of Luke 9 (v. 46-56) should be subtitled, “Lessons for Christians.”
The previous lesson being don’t take on the world’s values of greatness and don’t try and build a name for yourself. Love your neighbor in the name of God, do good to them, and God will see you as great even if man never does.
The lesson for this section is, “Don’t get hung up on church affiliation. There’s a time and a place to discuss doctrine (over coffee after everyone has agreed to listen to one another), but it shouldn’t interfere with your mission to love and help people in the name of Christ. “
St. John and some of the other disciples encounter an exorcist who is delivering people in the name of Jesus. Perhaps he had seen Jesus in his village at one time and seen the authority that Jesus had over the unseen world, and he believed in Christ’s authority, but never committed to following Him full time. Or perhaps this man had encountered the disciples during their mission, and saw them cast out demons in the name of Jesus.
So he decides to follow their example. He gets off his behind, gets out into the world, finds someone suffering and tries to do the same, and presumably, by St. John’s testimony, the man is successful. God grants him success.
The disciples, however, see someone acting outside of Team Jesus and try to put a stop to it. We love our factions, don’t we? If you’re not with us, you might be a Christian, but you’re not a real Christian. Only our group has all of the truth. You may have the basics, pal, but we’re really spiritual. We’ve got this bible thing down.
Christians have always loved factions. I think it’s part of human nature to divide ourselves into tribes. It helps us feel secure. It shelters us from opinions, thoughts, or arguments that may challenge our cherished beliefs. It makes us feel safe.
It also gives us common rivals and enemies to rally against.
In this case, the disciples see this man as a rival. One that has to be stopped. In that way, they’re not much better than the Pharisees were when Jesus first arrived. The Pharisees and Sadducees saw Christ as a threat to their power structure. And they both wanted their rivals to stop helping people because they weren’t a part of their select group who believed the ‘correct’ things.
Jesus tells them to knock it off. The man isn’t working to do harm. He’s not opposing the disciples. He is, in fact, following their (and Jesus’) example. He’s out there working and doing good for people in Jesus’ name. So this man is following Jesus, even if he isn’t a part of the approved church or doesn’t hold all of the right doctrine.
And I’m convinced that a lot of people will be saved by Christ and His grace who have never heard of Him, simply because they followed His path unknowingly, people that we in the church would probably write off because they never said a magic prayer or showed up and planted their behinds in a pew every week.
Bottom line, I think we should always try to encourage those who are acting in love for others and are trying their best to follow the example of Jesus, even if they don’t agree with us 100% on doctrine.