Ekballô – that Surprising “Cast Out” Verb


Jim van Heiningen

image003A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for!
Ships are built for navigation. They do get into ports but then out again and on their way. A mission waits to be accomplished. What’s the use of a ship sitting idly in a harbor?

And then you have the Christian in his “comfort-zone”, as George Verwer would put it. Very much like that ship while it is idling in a harbor – useless! However, we must have a look not at the sea, but at the land, because our Lord points at some most important principles there.

“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also,and sent them two by two before his face into every city and place where He himself was about to go. Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Lk. 10:1-2).

      Verbal difference

In verse one it is He himself who sends out his disciples. In verse two the same English verb “send” is used (see also Mt. 9:37-38), but in reality, what both Matthew and Luke record in Greek, is a very different verb. In Luke 10:1 the ‘normal’ word for ‘sending’ a person is used (from which the word “apostle” is derived), but in verse 2 the verb ekballô expresses something much stronger, usually translated by “casting out”. Indeed, no less than 34 times it is used for the casting out of demons! Another example is the throwing out of the temple of the salesmen (Jn. 2; Mt. 21).

So the question arises, why would our Lord use a verb that implies force and even violence? Doesn’t that go against all the rules of ‘correct’ missionary policy? Let us see if we can find some answers.

Those strings

In Matthew 9 the Lord is pictured as deeply moved by the needs of all those around him – no shepherds for the scattered sheep and hardly any reapers in the vast harvest fields. As He looks into the future, He can see that overwhelming need being multiplied a thousand times through the centuries. Of course, He does acknowledge what missionary effort there is, but what is that handful of laborers compared to the great need? “The laborers are few”, extremely few. He shares the burden that weighs heavily on his heart – his disciples must enter into it. He wants them, and He wants us, to pray for something extraordinary – something that will cause many new laborers to be cast out into the fields.

He knows that a myriad strings restrain potential laborers, effectively holding them back. If they are cast out (ekballô), the strings will be broken … Isn’t that what He is telling us to pray for?

George Murray in “Pulse” once told this story: “I was at a missions conference, and a young couple said to me: ‘God has spoken to us. We both have our Bible training. We both believe that God wants us on the mission field. There’s just one little thing that stands in our way. We just bought a house and want to pay it off before we go.’ I said, ‘Well, how long will that take?’ and they said, ‘Twenty years.’ That sounds funny, but it’s not funny, because they did just that. They took 20 years to pay it off. They’re not on the mission field today. And there’s no indication that they’re heading for the mission field, but everybody in their evangelical church is telling them how wise they were to build equity and to buy that house.”

The apostle Paul had something to say about ‘strings’: “You therefore must endurehardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:3-4).

Laborers ‘cast out’, with strings broken, are set free to serve. In these pages we have reported on the awful yet wonderful things happening in Communist China, as well as in a number of other nations with harsh persecution of Christians – Vietnam, Eritrea, Muslim countries, and above all North Korea.

It’s happening in China

How often Hudson Taylor (famous founder of the China Inland Mission) must have prayed the Matthew 9:38 prayer for his beloved image004China, biggest of all harvest fields! And not only he, but also his coworkers and those who stood with them. Has the Lord answered those prayers of a century ago?

He has answered and He is answering. The Lord of the harvest is doing so in unexpected and breathtaking ways. He is doing so through the Communist repression of nearly sixty years. As new (and old) believers are on the run from the pitiless ‘arm of the law’, they spread the Good News of eternal salvation in Christ. The results are a harvest that is being reaped – countless Chinese, far and wide, are won to Christ – many, many millions of them now!

Of late, more and more Chinese believers are also preparing to take the Gospel across the borders into ‘closed’ countries. Reports are already coming in from Muslim countries where an impact is being made. Our Lord knew what He was talking about. Harvest laborers that are ‘cast out’ have no strings to hold them back.

He uses another word picture to explain that there cannot be any “looking back”. If a ‘plowman’ is still attached to his past, he cannot help looking back all the time, which means his furrows will be a mess. But if “cast out” and ‘unattached’, he can look forward and be unrestricted in the work that is waiting. “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for (preaching) the kingdom of God” (Lk. 9:62).

Samuel Zwemer, pioneer missionary among Muslims, had this to say: “There is nothing finer… to me than the way in which missionaries unlearn the love of the old home, die to their native land, and wed their hearts to the people they have served and won… How vulgar the common patriotisms seem beside this inverted homesickness, the passion of a kingdom which has no frontiers and no favored race, the passion of a homeless Christ.”

     God’s outcasts

If “ekballô” stands for “casting out”, the question will be asked “out from what?” A ship is ‘cast out’ of the harbor; demons are cast out from the bodies they possessed; salesmen are cast out of the temple; Satan is cast out of heaven; but missionaries…? The answer is the “comfort-zone”! The ‘zone’ where we feel ‘comfy’, cozy and completely at home, where we are safe, well provided for, and where, gratefully, we count our many blessings..!

In Deuteronomy 20 we find the divine principle that soldiers won’t be of much use on the battle field if they are “attached” – attached that is to possessions, occupations or relations. It meant that in Israel these men were excused from going to war. Israel needed ‘all-out’ warriors, not ‘halfhearted’ ones. A soldier ‘cast out’ from possessions, occupations and relations can truly give himself to the Lord’s battles and do the Lord’s work.

Right from the beginning that was the Lord’s intent. He commanded: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations (Mt. 28:18-20); and “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It didn’t materialize through the first seven chapters of The Acts of the Apostles, but his intent and strategy were there.

Obviously, there had to be a time of consolidation and local extension after Acts 2, but then..? Might the laborers be getting rather “attached”? And rather foggy and forgetful about “Samaria and the end of the earth”? We notice this especially in Acts 10 and 11 in the case of Peter and his fellow servants in Jerusalem and their grave misgivings about the ‘uncircumcised’. The time had come for some ‘special measures’. It is true that Peter’s death as a martyr was still years away, yet the prediction that he would be carried “where you do not wish” (John 21:18) was already coming true in Acts 10.

Intelligent design in Acts

We must have a closer look at God’s designs in Acts. We find that He is meticulously preparing some effective “casting out” crises.

As more and more believers were truly consolidated in their faith, grasping and absorbing what God was teaching them, the grace and power of the risen Christ among them were undeniable. Consequently, in the very place where their Messiah had been betrayed and crucified, pressures were building up again…

Had all this been mere religious ‘effervescence’, then the Ananias affair of chapter 5 would soon have burst the superficial ‘bubble’. Instead, bane was turned into blessing. In chapter 6 serious complaints about discrimination broke out. The answer to that was the selection and appointing of the first ‘deacons’ – again a bad thing turning into a good thing. “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.” These deacons, however, weren’t to remain deacons for long…

Whereas today the ‘office’ and ministry of a ‘deacon’ may mean something very different from denomination to denomination, a NT deacon simply “served tables”. But that didn’t exclude him from the spiritual ministries that were open to all the believers. Deacon Stephen had a testimony unrivaled by anyone – it stung the enemies of the Gospel. And “the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” soon proved to be the last straw! The pressures of bigotry and hatred were coming to their boiling point.

The apostles, so far, had survived touches of real persecution. Now it was one of the first deacons who was going to be the very first Christian martyr… God, however, was fully in control. In fact, we can see a two pronged strategy: God’s eye was on Saul of Tarsus, and it was on a massive ‘casting-out-of-laborers’!


image005Stephen’s testimony in life and death triggered both the “ekballô” and the developments that led to Saul’s conversion: “a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them” (8:1-4).

The word for “scattering” is the very word used for “sowing the seed”. Hadn’t Jesus said that the “sons of the Kingdom” were “the good seed” (Mt. 13:38)? Now the ‘good seed’ was being scattered, literally being ‘cast out’, just as Jesus had told them to ask in prayer of the Lord of the harvest. Every believer, now a refugee and cast out from home and loved ones and work, had in fact become fully involved with both ‘sowing’ and ‘reaping’.

And the story goes on: “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them… when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (11:19-21). Judea and Samaria were being reached, now Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch were added – Antioch being right on the borders of present day Turkey. Whole nations and big cities were involved, yet we are only given a glimpse of all that happened after the Jerusalem ‘ekballô’. Heaven’s annals have the full story.

Noah & sons

Before we conclude this article, something must be said about three personal ‘ekballô’s. We cannot doubt our Lord’s vital interest in all of the harvest fields of the world, and, as if to underline that, He draws our attention to three men who represent every single race on earth. All humanity is descended from Noah’s sons: “Shem, Ham, and Japheth.., from these the whole earth was populated” (Gn. 9:18-19). God’s wonderful design has us stumble across them in Acts 8, 9 and 10. In chapter 8 Ham is represented by the Ethiopian eunuch – eunuchs didn’t amount to much on the Jewish grade list, and being a descendant of Ham wasn’t much of a help either. Yet of the three he is mentioned first!

Saul of Tarsus in ch. 9 represents Shem, and Cornelius in ch. 10 was a Japhethite, possibly a Spaniard. All of the Shem, Ham and Japheth harvest fields were known to the Lord when He said to the disciples: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (Jn. 4:35).

Now for each of these three key men – the Ethiopian, Saul and Cornelius – the Lord of the harvest needed a ‘laborer’. At the same time such ‘laborers’ themselves needed a personalized ‘ekballô’ – at least a severing of any strings holding them back.

It is easily conceivable that when Philip was still one of the seven deacons in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian was there at the same time. The Jewish establishment, obviously, wasn’t of much spiritual help to this son of Ham – they were too busy thinking of the ‘outrages’ of Stephen’s ministry. But at least, before he left Jerusalem, the man had gotten hold of the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. By the time his readings had gotten him to chapter 53, his horses were trudging towards Gaza. And that is where Philip, now an ‘outcast’ from Jerusalem, was ready to ‘labor’ in the harvest field.

Ananias of Damascus in chapter 9 (not to be confused with the Ananias of chapter 5) was a local Christian – possibly one of the elders in the congregation. Understandably he was most reluctant to go and see Saul of Tarsus, who was just about the last person a Jewish Christian would want to meet. Yet Ananias, who knew and loved his Lord intimately, didn’t need extreme measures. He was ready to be cast out and to be used as God’s harvest tool for Saul.

Peter knew he had been called to be a fisher-of-men, but somehow that had always meant fisher-of-Jews to him. So on that housetop in Joppa God had to deal rather drastically with him. Peter was shaken, but, as things sunk in, he stopped saying ‘no’, let himself be ‘cast out’ to Cesarea, and even took six Jewish believers with him. Cornelius and a houseful of uncircumcised were harvested.

These sons of Ham, Shem and Japheth repented, believed and received. They were baptized, went on their way rejoicing and were in turn ready to be ‘cast out’ as well, i.e. if the experience of Saul, the son-of-Shem, is anything to go by. God did it all, yet in his sovereignty He ‘needed’ three men as ‘co-laborers’. Were Philip, Ananias and Peter ready for that? To each one He said “Arise and go!” Philip had already been cast out and was ready when the call came, the other two had their grave doubts and reservations, but then the Lord was allowed to cut every ‘string’ that was holding them back.

     A question

Do we have to wait and keep on asking for ‘laborers’ until, through the upheavals of cruel persecution, God’s children are ‘cast out’? Or can we sincerely offer ourselves to him now, pleading with him to ‘cut all our strings’ and ‘cast us out’, into our own neighborhoods and cities as the laborers He is needing there, and possibly further afield?

The country of Spain represents an open door that leads to the rest of Europe, which means it attracts countless Latin Americans and North Africans. Of the Latin Americans coming in many are Evangelical Christians, a much higher percentage than that of Spanish Evangelical Christians. In other words, thousands of Christian ‘Latinos’ (apply that to the Christian Hispanics in the US, if you wish) are bursting onto the Spanish harvest scene. They have been, so to speak, ‘cast out’ through economic circumstances. Are they the laborers in the Lord’s harvest field this country has been so desperately needing?

Sadly, unlike the Jerusalem refugees (speaking generally), their eyes are not on the Lord and his will for their lives. Purely and simply, what they come looking for, is economic improvement. They may start out attending Christian meetings, but soon disappear into the “rat race” of materialism. They were ‘cast out’ right onto a desperately needy harvest field, but… they come with ‘strings attached’ – and not ready to be ‘detached’. Instead of being God’s amazing answer, they become a poignant part of the problem. They may do well economically, yet lose out totally in the things that really matter.

So, how about it?

Keep on praying? Definitely! But that won’t avail much if you are not truly at his disposal, and “diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).