In studying Luke’s gospel, I’ve considered the question of whether Luke 9.50 contradicts Luke 11.23 (and vice-versa).
In Luke 9.50, Jesus says, ‘The one who is not against you is for you.’
In Luke 11.23, Jesus says, ‘Whoever is not with me is against me.’
Are these contradictory sayings? Short answer: No. They’re both true. They complement one another.
In the context of Luke 9.50, it’s clear that Jesus is talking about people who are casting out demons in his name but don’t belong to his immediate group of disciples. Jesus is teaching John that’s okay. People can be on the same team, can be following and honoring Jesus, even if they’re not part of his immediate group.
In Luke 11.23, the situation is different. Jesus is talking about a spiritual battle between two opposing forces, and he’s saying that each person must choose whether to be on Satan’s side or God’s side.
In honor of the approaching Memorial Day, I’ll use two WWII analogies to show what I think is the difference between Jesus’ two sayings.
Imagine an American soldier is engaging German troops and sees some British soldiers also engaging the Germans. He reports this to his commanding officer because he’s concerned about the presence of the British troops. And his officer says, ‘It’s okay. They’re different troops, but they have the same objective we do – to beat the Germans.’ That’s what Jesus is saying when he tells John, ‘The one who is not against you is for you.’
Now imagine that as the Allies advance through occupied France, an American spy who has gathered critical intelligence for the Allies hides out overnight in the home of a Frenchman, and German troops get wind of it and come to question the Frenchman. That Frenchman can’t possibly maintain neutrality. If he says nothing, the spy will make it back to the Allies with the important intelligence. If he tells the German troops what he knows, they’ll kill the spy. It’s impossible for him to be neutral. That’s what Jesus is saying when he teaches, ‘Whoever is not with me is against me.’
Reading these two sayings in their context helps us understand what Jesus means, and it helps us see that both sayings are true and important.