We have departed in many ways from the ancient thought that pronouncing a name was a way to wield power. In an age where privacy is a tenuous and uncertain good, the power of a name should begin to strike us in a new way. When we give our name out, we give a certain power over ourselves to others. Most of the time we are ok with this because we expect some kind of service in return. To be identified as somebody in particular by our name makes relationships with others possible, makes us vulnerable and our activity or behavior can be linked back to our concrete self. You only have a past, you only have a history in the eyes of others, because you can be identified. Change your name, change what identifies you, and your history disappears.
We can also see how names invoked over certain things give them more power by what we’ve come to call brands. Call a watch a Rolex and suddenly it has a new power, a new influence. Call someone Bill Gates and suddenly they have authority on computers or business or technology. The ancients recognized that there was power in the invocation of a name. Jesus Himself encourages the invocation of His name to disperse evil – to evict the Evil One from whatever or whomever he has invaded. The power of Jesus’ name is so extreme that there is no “proper” way to invoke it. There is no correct formula, there is no required attitude of concentration, there is no authorization that needs to be given. Jesus’ name scatters evil because the Word is present wherever that name is spoken. Speaking the name of Jesus with or without faith has the power to bring the one speaking it to the truth. Invoking the name of Jesus does not increase the power or the authority of the one speaking, but rather magnifies the transformation of both the one who speaks and whoever hears.
Even if we are able to run around and get on with the business of this life, we must not attribute this ability to our own efforts but accept that we can do these things only by the blessing of God.1
Restoring health for a time to a man’s body amounts to no more than extending his breath for a little while longer. Therefore it should not be considered of great importance, because it is temporal, not eternal.2
James is not trying to take away our freedom to decide, but he is showing us that it is not just what we want that matters. We need God’s grace to complement our efforts and ought to rely not on them but on God’s love for us.3
Does the one who does not know how to do good and does not do it commit a sin? He certainly does, but the one who knows what is good and does not do it sins more grievously.4
This does not mean, however, that such individuals ought prematurely to imagine themselves quite safe and secure simply on account of this kindness which they cherish toward Christians, while at the same time remaining uncleansed by Christ’s baptism, and not thereby incorporated into the unity of his body. Such persons are now already being guided by the mercy of God in such a way that they may also come to receive these loftier gifts, and so depart this present world in safety. Such persons assuredly are more profitable servants even before they become a part of the body of Christ, than those who, while already bearing the Christian name and partaking in the sacraments, recommend courses of action which are only fitted to drag others along with them into eternal punishment.5
There may be something catholic outside the Church catholic. The name of Christ could exist outside the congregation of Christ, as in the case of the man casting out devils in Christ’s name. There may by contrast exist pretenses within the church catholic, as is unquestionably the case of those “who renounce the world3 in words and not in deeds,” and yet the pretense is not catholic. So as there may be found in the church catholic something which is not catholic, so there may be found something which is catholic outside the church catholic.6
Some who are intent on severe disciplinary principles which admonish us to rebuke the restless, not to give what is holy to dogs, to consider a despiser of the church as a heathen, to cut off from the unified structure of the body the member which causes scandal, so disturb the peace of the church that they try to separate the wheat from the chaff before the proper time. Blinded by this error, they are themselves separated instead from the unity of Christ.7
This is the principle on which the whole church acts, not condemning common sacraments among heretics; for in these they are with us, and they are not against us.16 But she condemns and forbids division and separation, or any sentiment adverse to peace and truth. For in this respect they are against us, precisely because they are not with us, in the sense that and due to the fact that in not gathering with us, they are consequently scattering.8
Jesus’ response also implies that a force has been released into the world that will ultimately prove to be more potent than the age’s inbuilt inclination to slander—the power of Jesus’ name itself (on the linkage between name and power, see the NOTE on “in your name” in 9:38). Because of this power, even those who start out manipulating Jesus’ name for their own purposes may unexpectedly find themselves being drawn into its sphere of influence; the same eschatological dynamis that was manifested in the exorcism through speaking the name will tame the tongue that uttered it.9
It is interesting that John says follow us rather than “follow you.” Apparently his criterion for legitimate ministry is acting under the disciples’ authority. Perhaps he does not yet fully recognize that Jesus himself is the only source of their power. His protest echoes the objection of Joshua, who grumbled to Moses that Eldad and Medad were not in the gathering of those to whom Moses imparted his spirit, yet they too received the gift of prophecy (Num 11:24–29). Moses’ reply could be paraphrased for this occasion: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD drove out demons! Would that the LORD might bestow his Spirit on them all!”10
There is no place for exclusivism among those who invoke the name of Jesus. Paul illustrates a similar principle in Phil 1:15–18: “Some preach Christ from envy and rivalry.… What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice.”11
- COMMENTARY ON JAMES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 52). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 124.1. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 52). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Catena. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 52). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ADULTEROUS MARRIAGES 9. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (pp. 52–53). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS 4.6. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 121–122). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON BAPTISM, AGAINST THE DONATISTS 7.39 (76). Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 122). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FAITH AND WORKS 4.6. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 122). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS 4. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 123). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Marcus, J. (2009). Mark 8–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 27A, p. 686). New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
- Healy, M. (2008). The Gospel of Mark (pp. 185–186). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
- Healy, M. (2008). The Gospel of Mark (p. 186). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.