Definitions needed for ministry
Pp Mark 6:8-11, Luke 9:3-5, 10:4-12
1. Which people and what area am I called to?
2. What am I called to do in the area to which I’ve been called?
Total provision in God’s will
The people they meet
1. He who is worthy
2. Those who will not listen
Both Mark 6:12-13 and Luke 9:6 which follow the two parallel passages of this short section (Mark 6:8-11, Luke 9:3-5) cause us to infer that just the passage which ends with Mtw 10:15 was spoken by Jesus before the disciples went out and that the following verses have been compiled by Matthew to include under one specific topic heading.
It appears from these that the instructions He gave them were concise and brief and that they were sent out with the minimum of instruction, relying more upon the authority which had been given them (Mtw 10:1) and their knowledge of Jesus and His ways than a lengthy handbook of commands.
There is more to this than just the directions of both Mark and Luke, however, and Matfran comments that
‘[Mtw 10:5-16] relates more directly to the immediate mission of the disciples as Jesus sent them out during His ministry in Galilee, whereas the subsequent part of the chapter deals more generally with the nature of the Christian mission in the world’
His position is by no means an uncommon one and Mathag introduces Mtw 10:16ff by assuming that
‘Matthew has apparently taken material...that refers to the distant future and includes it in the missionary discourse to the twelve’
This certainly appears to be justified when the subsequent verses are considered and seen to be more in keeping with a time when Jesus’ popularity had turned into the disciples’ persecution, but to believe the writer of Matthew has done this is difficult to accept here because the passage reads like one discourse given to the disciples upon their beginning of their mission.
Matmor’s suggestion that the writer
‘...has included instructions given to the disciples on a number of occasions in one compact section’
may have a lot going for it but there appears to be no reason to suppose that, alternatively, Jesus gave the same instruction on a number of occasion to His disciples. I noted in my web pages on the Sermon on the Mount that, although commentators assume that Jesus spoke specific passages on specific occasions and never again, it seems hardly right to expect, in the present day, a travelling teacher never to repeat a sermon or a principle to a different group of people who’ve never heard him - so why should we limit Jesus’ instructions as a once-for-all-time utterance that it’s just too bad if you weren’t there because you missed it?!
Matmor gives a better position for the commentator to make later on in his notes, however, and we should follow his statement that the latter part of Mtw 10:5-42
‘...had a good deal of relevance during the years subsequent to the life of the Master’
without denying the relevance of Jesus’ words to the here and now of the context of the twelve being sent out.
I noted under the header of this page that Luke 10:4-12 is a parallel passage to the one in Matthew currently under discussion but, although this is true with regard to the content of what Jesus is saying, it was spoken at a different time. Luke 10:1 informs us that Jesus uttered it on the occasion of the sending out of the seventy, not the twelve (which occurred in Luke 9:1-2 where other common instruction with Matthew’s passage is noted above).
It’s not unreasonable to presume that the expansion of Jesus’ ministry through the twelve to the seventy should have been accompanied by a similar set of instructions and the duplication of the teaching is particularly relevant.
This expansion of the ministry through the seventy from the twelve is paralleled in a passage from the OT that we considered on the previous web page in Numbers 11:10-17,24-30 where we saw how Moses requested before God (‘griped’ would probably be a better description) that others be appointed over Israel for the burden of caring for the multitudes had become too great for him.
The choice of twelve others naturally speaks of the birth of a new nation of Israel as we noted there and the appointment of seventy would therefore speak of the expansion of the ministry over the new nation where one sole leader accepts the dividing of His ministry that more people might have their needs met.
Jesus is unconcerned, therefore, with keeping the numbers of ministers small but, in keeping with the OT numbering, probably took seventy to be symbolic of the continued ministry towards the new Israel represented by the crowds who continually came to Him to have their needs met.
Some manuscripts are noted as referring to seventy-two rather than seventy but the latter number appears to be the original rendering and should be accepted especially because of the justification we gather from the OT passage.
Finally, I have deliberately ended this first section at 10:15 but Matfran seems to divide the discourse for it to end at 10:16 because that same verse occurs in Luke 10:3 and so can be shown to be a message which He gave to the seventy who went out on their preaching tour subsequently to the twelve, Mtw 10:17 being the first verse which goes unparalleled in the same context of both ‘sendings out’.
I’ve ignored this division, however, because I feel it marks more of a conclusion of thought, after which Jesus turns His attention to other instruction and 10:16 naturally fits into the context of 10:17ff rather than be connected to the previous verses.
Definitions needed for ministry
Ministry is not some mystical concept which is as vague as our various definitions of that word but has specific boundaries within which it’s defined. We would be going too far (as will be seen below) to insist upon rigid definitions that aren’t elastic enough to incorporate God’s moving hand in a believer’s life and the variations in purpose that may commission one in one way and another in a totally different direction.
Mathen is quite correct here when he summarises these three and a half verses as Jesus instructing the twelve
‘...where to go, what to proclaim and what to do’
and I shall be following this definition in the two sections which follow. It seems to me that proclamation and deed have often been separated in modern day churches so I intend dealing with them under just the one heading and showing how they go together as two aspects of the one call to the follower of Christ rather than as independent functions, either of which can be present.
I notice from the commentaries I’ve been using that never is the relevancy of ‘preaching the word’ denied for modern society because just about everyone and anyone can do it - but that the miraculous is occasionally denied because no one is comfortable with their own personal deficiency.
But both stand or fall together - besides, what a commentator accepts as ‘preaching’ is often not what is meant by the ‘Word of God’ as laid out in the Bible and often has no anointing for authority upon it. When Jesus’ spoke, the people recognised God-given authority (Mtw 7:28-29), they didn’t gasp at the content of the teaching - today, we often acquire speakers who are eloquent but who lack any real authority because just ‘proclamation’ is of no use if the individual doesn’t also have the authority.
And, if they have the authority to speak, they should also have the authority to heal - only one ‘authority’ is spoken of by Matthew as having been given by Jesus to the disciples (Mtw 10:1), not individual authority for each one.
1. Which people and what area am I called to?
Jesus is incredibly specific in His commissioning of the twelve by commanding them that they are to (Mtw 10:5-6)
‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’
an instruction which eliminates the area to the south-west where the Samaritans dwelt and the east and south where the Decapolis lay being predominantly Gentile. Rather, they are to concern themselves with going amongst the Jews - those Jews in Jewish lands and settlements - and to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven amongst them (Mtw 10:7).
We’ll return to this direct command in a moment but, for now, we need to consider that such a limiting restriction imposed upon believers is far from unusual and has parallels both in the Old and New Testaments.
For instance, Isaiah was sent primarily to the Israelites who resided within the land when he was told (Is 6:9) to
‘...Go, and say to this people’
a similar commission to that of Ezekiel who was told to speak specifically to the exiled Israelites (Ezek 2:3), God commanding him that He had been sent
‘...to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me...’
Both Isaiah and Ezekiel, then, were prophets to the OT people of God - a similar limiting of their ministry as is the case with the twelve disciples being sent out in Matthew. But mission wasn’t always limited to just the OT Israelites. The Lord God told Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) that
‘...I appointed you a prophet to the nations’
something that was much more far-reaching in its scope. Although Jeremiah primarily was to be concerned with announcing God’s word to the Jerusalemites as they were besieged by the Babylonian army, his ministry went far beyond those limitations to take into account the specific messages that God had for the nations of the earth (Jeremiah chapters 46-51).
Such a commission may also be spoken of in terms of being sent to one particular person in order to pass on a message that God has laid upon the messenger. Therefore God calls Moses (Ex 3:10) to go to
‘...Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt’
and to command him to let the Israelites go out from the land.
In the NT, we find the call of God upon the lives of two of the apostles to be both specific and vague. Gal 2:7-9 tells us that when
‘[the Church leaders in Jerusalem] saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised...James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised’
Although this was a specific commission, there was enough lack of detail to allow Paul to go just about anywhere he chose to go so long as Jesus didn’t forbid him entry (see below).
At the time of Mtw 10:5-6, Jesus sent the twelve out only to the Jewish people (and probably the Jews who lived in the immediate area around Galilee). Later, however, Jesus expanded that commission to include all the nations (Mtw 28:19) but that they should begin with Jerusalem and spread out from there (Acts 1:8, Luke 24:47), something that they appear to have been pushed into rather than chose to do themselves (Acts 8:1). And yet, even as the Israelites rejected the message, God was commissioning others who would specifically be sent out with the commission for the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
God calls men and women as individuals to the people in specific areas whether that means, in effect, there is a necessity to uproot ourselves from where we are now and move into other regions or by using them in the area and fellowship in which they live. It’s important that, as individuals, believers know God’s boundaries and destinations for their ministry.
Unfortunately, not knowing God’s specific call can be one of the main reasons why so few people seem to fulfil their calling - by ‘going’ to a particular group when the Lord hasn’t yet called them to go anywhere. And yet, the disciples upon receiving from Jesus the commission to go into all the world with the message just prior to His ascension were also told to (Luke 24:49)
‘...stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high’
a realisation that a call to ministry may not always be as immediate as we would like it to be.
Of course, some people in the Bible, notably the apostle Paul, seem to have received the commission to ‘go’ without being told exactly where they should go and to which people they should aim for. When Paul and Barnabas first received the prophetic word upon their lives by the Holy Spirit, He just said that the men gathered at Antioch were to (Acts 13:2)
‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’
saying nothing about direction or destination. Therefore, a couple of verses later (Acts 13:4) we read of their obedience to the word as they
‘...went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus’
But the Spirit had said nothing about going to Cyprus - all He’d said was that they should be set apart for the work to which He’d called them. As we read of Paul’s continued journeyings throughout the Greek-speaking lands, we get a sense of a man who goes wherever he can in order to proclaim the message of the Gospel and is only infrequently either forbidden to go somewhere or directed specifically to enter other areas.
Therefore, there’s a record of Paul (Acts 16:6-7) being
‘...forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them’
even though this area was probably in great need for hearing the word of the Gospel. But the Holy Spirit has a greater need, it appears, for the word of God to be spoken in Macedonia so that Paul receives a vision in the night (Acts 16:9) of a man of Macedonia who
‘...was standing beseeching him and saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us”’
Assuming that this must be the directing hand of the Lord, they immediately sought an opportunity to go over to Macedonia and, eventually, arrived in Philippi to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ (Acts 16:10-12). But this specific directing of the apostle was rare - if we are to judge from the testimony of Scripture - and Paul more often made his own plans of where to go, allowing Jesus to change them whenever necessary. Therefore the apostle writes to the Roman church (Rom 15:24) that
‘I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be sped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little’
and, later (Rom 15:28), he says more certainly that
‘When therefore I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been raised, I shall go on by way of you to Spain’
something that he never ultimately achieved because of his appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:11) and of his trial before him. Therefore, though it’s right for us to expect a person sent out to know where they’re going and to whom the Gospel is to be preached, it mustn’t become a hard and fast rule that everyone sent will know where they’re going and have one specific region which they are to operate within. The testimony of Scripture indicates that some people go wherever they see the need and where Jesus doesn’t restrict them, whereas others receive a specific commission to go to a particular people and area and preach the Gospel amongst them.
Having seen both the vagueness and the specifics of God’s call upon individual lives for mission, we need to deal with Jesus’ actual words to the disciples here in Mtw 10:5-6. The area into which the disciples are being sent here remain fairly specific and I hinted at the possibility at the beginning of this section that it was probably intended that they stay within the general confines of the region known as Galilee.
This is suggested by Jesus’ words (Mtw 10:5-6) that they were to
‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’
Galilee was surrounded by areas which were predominantly Gentile (to the west and north-west lay the Province of Syria which included Phoenicia, to the east and south lay the Decapolis which was more Greek than Jewish but which was ruled over by the Roman Empire) and Samaritan (south and west the boundaries of Galilee gave way to the regions in which the Samaritans dwelt near Sebaste and Neapolis). The only real continuity of Jewish communities seems to have been located north-east of Galilee in the tetrarchy of Philip where Bethsaida (from which three of the disciples had heralded - John 1:44) was located. Having said that, this tetrarchy seems to have been predominantly Gentile apart from the communities scattered around the shores of the Lake.
We should, perhaps, think of the twelve’s sending out to be specifically concerned with the Jewish communities in both the regions of Galilee and Philip’s tetrarchy and would therefore see Jesus’ ministry to Israel not expanding in terms of territory but in terms of its ability to reach everyone.
We must remember that, although Jesus limits the scope of the twelve by forbidding them to go into either Gentile or Samaritan regions, this is something that Jesus had already done previously. When He landed on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus had already reached out into Gentile territory (Mtw 8:28) and the implication from the inhabitants’ request to leave (Mtw 8:34) is that Jesus had intended to stay there for a while to minister amongst them.
Samaria had also been reached into by Jesus as He returned from Judea early on in His ministry years (John 4:1-42) though we aren’t specifically told just which city He managed to speak the Gospel of the Kingdom to (John 4:28-30,39-40).
So, the bar upon going amongst the Gentiles and Samaritans was something that Jesus doesn’t appear to have believed was an absolute statement that had to be observed by Himself with no exceptions - but that, for the time being, the disciples were to be limited in their ministry so that their journeying wouldn’t take them too far away from their ‘home base’ near the shores of Galilee.
Even so, Jesus on another occasion (Mtw 15:21-28) speaks to the disciples concerning a Canaanite woman (a non-Jew) in a predominantly Gentile area and says (Mtw 15:24) that
‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’
an almost identical phrase as occurs here in Mtw 10:6. However, the woman does receive the healing she’s petitioning Jesus for because her faith is demonstrated by her urgency and insistence. But Jesus knew that His calling was to the Jews - not the Gentiles - even though He was willing to reach out towards them on occasions until, ultimately, the early Church would realise that the restrictions placed upon them were only for a limited time until after the ascension (Acts 10:1-11:18 - especially the last concluding verse).
It may have come as quite some shock, however, for Matthew’s original readership to learn that the Gentiles were not primarily within the scope of Jesus’ ministry - if they were predominantly Gentile! But, to the Jew, the forbidding of the mission to the Samaritans who were unconcerned to keep the Mosaic Law (and who appear to have been interbred Jews and despised by the genealogically purer Israelite - II Kings 17:24-34) and to the Gentiles who were unclean by the very nature of their birth outside of the Jewish genealogical line and of their ‘uncleanness’ in the things they did, was logical and almost necessary for the promise of the restoration of Israel was, obviously, for the Jew.
Therefore, as Mathag notes
‘The fact that Jesus came initially to Israel and only to Israel underlined the faithfulness of God to His covenant promises...That is, in Jesus, God was being pre-eminently faithful to Israel...Jesus is first and foremost Israel’s saviour; Israel is saved in and through the church’
and this would infer that the mention of such a calling to the Jew first above the Gentile was included primarily for a Jewish readership who needed to be reminded that, even though there were multitudes of Gentiles coming to believe in their Messiah, God had first sent Him to their nation.
It also must be noted that Jesus doesn’t go without commenting concerning the Gentiles and has already spoken to the Jews concerning the Roman centurion and stated (Mtw 8:11-12) that
‘...many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth’
something which affirms the grafting in of the Gentiles into the people of God and the rejection of a great many Jews through their lack of faith (implied by the presence of faith in the centurion). Later also, Matthew records Jesus as saying (Mtw 21:43) that
‘...the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it’
indicating that such a limitation of ministry to Jews was seen, by Jesus, to be only a short term restriction which was soon to be expanded to encompass all the nations of the earth. Therefore Matfran is correct when he states that we should see the command of Jesus
‘...not primarily on the prohibition of a wider mission but on the priority of the mission to Israel’
The limiting area, then, was for a time only and should be understood in the context of the day in which it had relevance and of the fulfilment of the promise to Israel to restore the nation.
There are principles here in the subsequent verses which have equal relevance for the person sent out by Jesus to reach those around them or the people in a different area, but many of the principles remain sound for present day preaching. The outworking and the practicalities of the direct instructions, however, may not always be relevant (after all, how many of us wear sandals? - Mtw 10:10).
2. What am I called to do in the area to which I’ve been called?
Once the area of ministry has been defined by God Himself to the individual (as we saw in the previous section), it’s necessary that the function of the believer is also understood in order that he may fulfil the call which has been laid upon him.
Significantly, both the OT and NT purpose of God for followers is almost identical even though there is some variation of purpose. We’ll look at the function of those OT people which we began to consider in the previous section and see what they were specifically called to do.
Firstly, there’s Isaiah, who’s told after he’s received the commission to ‘go’ (Is 6:9) to
‘...say to this people...’
along with Jeremiah who hears God tell him (Jer 1:5-7) that he’s been appointed as a prophet, a function which necessarily means that he’s to be concerned to speak God’s words to the people to whom he’s sent. This is how Jeremiah understands it for he complains to God that
‘...I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth’
whereupon the Lord doesn’t counter by apologising for the misunderstanding in him thinking that he’ll have to speak the Word of God but insists that
‘...to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak’
Ezekiel, also, another of the prophets of God, is told (Ezek 2:4) that the people to whom he’s being sent
‘...are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them; and you shall say to them “Thus says the Lord God”’
An OT prophet was specifically commissioned to relate the voice of God to His people and to declare all the intentions and will of the One who’d sent him to the nation. Speech was predominantly the way that the fulfilment of the commission was brought about but these are not simply words that did little but wash over the hearers. They were spoken specifically so that they would bring about God’s purpose to whoever they were spoken (Is 55:11).
Moses, another prophet, was again told to speak the Word of God to Pharaoh (Ex 3:10) but, because the situation in which the Israelites found themselves demanded more than words, the commission also included the performing and demonstration of signs which backed up Moses’ demands for the children of Israel to be let go (Ex 4:17).
Therefore, when it comes to mission, we should rightly think of both word and deed - the principle being confirmed to us in Mtw 10:7-8a where the disciples are commanded to
‘...preach as you go saying “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons...’
incorporating the spoken word (‘preach...’) and the demonstrable miraculous sign (‘heal...’). Their proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand - that is, that it was about to be established, even that it was already there through the demonstrable evidence of the healing of the sick - was nothing less than Jesus had begun to do when He first started on His mission to Israel (Mtw 4:17) and which He’d continued to do through His teaching of the multitudes who gathered to hear Him (Matthew chapters 5-7). Matmor believes that the disciples were just to utter the sentence almost verbatim as they journeyed throughout the land but this seems unlikely - the phrase is more like a summary of all those things which Jesus had been teaching amongst the people.
Their demonstration throughout Israel of the Kingdom’s presence through the miraculous had already been paralleled in the signs which Jesus had done in their midst - healing the sick (Mtw 8:5-13, 8:14-15, 9:1-8, 9:20-22, 9:27-31), raising the dead (Mtw 9:18-26), cleansing lepers (Mtw 8:1-4) and the casting out of demons (Mtw 8:28-34, 9:32-34).
That this commission was for disciples in general and not just apostles (Mtw 10:1-2) is apparent from comparing the sending out of the seventy (Luke 10:9,17,19) where demonic deliverance and healing are both specifically mentioned as being a function of those sent. This commission is also almost identical to that in Mark 16:17-18 and we have no need to compare the life of the NT Church here as regards the fulfilment of its call to mission for most readers will already be certain that they brought the Kingdom into their society both in word and by deed.
Simply stated, the commission of disciples is to repeat all that they’ve both heard Jesus say and seen Him do, a commission which remains the same despite our modern society who, though they may accept the miraculous, are sincerely aggrieved at anyone who tells them what they should be doing.
When God calls an individual to do a particular work in a particular area, it’s always important for that individual to understand what that work (or ‘ministry’) is and to begin to fulfil it wherever possible - but it should necessarily encompass both the demonstration of the miraculous and the proclamation of the will of God.
Unfortunately, Mathag lessens the force and relevance of the words of Jesus to modern day society and, though he writes that
‘It is unlikely that the commands were intended or originally understood in any other way than literally...’
he goes on to note (my italics) that
‘The commission in its literal terms applied fully only to the apostolic age...’
thinking that, even by the time of the writing of the Gospel
‘...they may have been understood in a spiritual sense - that is, as referring to what happens in the reception of the good news of the Kingdom’
However, why the giving of sight to the blind should never have been included is quite a problem as that’s a better picture and more easily spiritualised than the casting out of demons which the writer of Matthew includes. It is more likely, then, that the words were always expected to be taken literally and that, because of our lack of experience in the miraculous, we have lessened their impact to ourselves and so, it has to be said, removed the challenge of being called to mission which makes do with a spoken word but which relies not upon the miraculous to confirm it.
Total provision in God’s will
I’ve deliberately divided verse 8 into two to keep Jesus’ statements about God’s provision in one place, even though this second half more rightly is an instruction which explains to them the relationship of money to the operation of the miraculous.
A person who’s produced something by themselves and who has managed to attain some position of authority and power may well charge for the services they render to men and women, but the disciples have received the ability to perform the miraculous solely as a gift (Mtw 10:1) and, as such, must operate within the boundaries of the One who’s given it to them.
This entire area of ministry is one that goes beyond the miracle working of Mtw 10:8a and is attributable to all the believer’s life. In I Cor 4:7, Paul asked the church concerning the things which they were using to divide one group from another
‘...What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?’
One has to remember that the entry point of all individuals into the Church is a matter of the grace and mercy of God and of the work of Christ, things that mankind has no control over and which he can’t earn. Even the anointing of the Spirit which equips believers for ministry and to live uprightly for Christ is not a matter of the goodness or hard work of the individual who achieves a certain point in their lives when what they need is given to them as their rightful due (Acts 8:18-20).
Therefore, when we approach the entire subject of ministry, we have to realise that no ministry should ever be withheld because money or provision is not offered to the one who has the ministry given to them by God. Neither should the person think that they can set themselves up as people who should receive payment from those who they display the gift of God amongst - the function of ministry is purely on a ‘give freely’ basis.
This has extreme implications for the Church that, very often, we’ve forgotten to apply. The words of Jesus here were specifically spoken in the context of the work of Mission, even though they are equally applicable in the setting of the local church, and we should, perhaps, try to see the questions they raise in this context.
Many of us have probably already seen outreaches to society in which collections are taken amongst all those who attend. Such actions, although perhaps done in innocence, only give the impression that one’s paying for what’s being seen. Mission work must be done at the cost of those who are being sent with no thought of reimbursement in their own minds and with no expectation that they’ll leave the area in a better financial position than when they first arrived.
Even the freewill offering, love offering or ‘gift’ are taken almost as a matter of course for visiting speakers and ministries.
One minister I knew who travelled the churches insisted that he wasn’t paid but that an offering be taken up for him - whether this is because he didn’t want to be charged with being ‘paid’, I have no idea - but the gift offering is just the same as receiving money for service rendered when it’s expected that such an offering will be taken up.
Jesus will have none of it, however. Compelled to go out amongst the people and speak the word of God to them and to heal the multitudes of their various ailments, He never once requested the crowds that they should put their hands into their pockets and pay Him His due. While it’s quite true that the band received gifts (Luke 8:3, John 13:29), it’s also true that they didn’t expect to be paid for the things they did.
Today we have men and women who travel around their own countries and internationally and who charge fees for the ministries they bring to the fellowships before moving on to another pre-arranged location. These people have gone ‘freelance’ and have devoted their time to building up God’s Church, having put to one side their employment to do so, and we would naturally expect that they should be supported in the things they do - but, in the early Church, this simply wasn’t the case.
Those who went out didn’t charge for their services but looked to God for their provision and sustenance, expecting that God would provide for them through the people they were sent out to and, where they had a trade or profession they could use, made their own living from working (Acts 18:1-3) or accepted support from churches a great distance from where they were in order that the place they ministered might see that the Gospel was being made freely available (II Cor 11:9).
Although there is a certain logic in paying ministries to visit our fellowships, it underlies a need in the local churches to be the places where new ministries are encouraged and recognised, that each area might have its own resources to fulfil the work of Mission. I may be alone in my belief here, but I firmly expect that, if God has brought a group of believers into being in a particular area, He will also equip those people with the necessary ministries to fulfil His will - however, the problem of the church has often been that ministries which are appointed by God are seldom recognised by institutional leadership and are often sat upon that the leadership position might be made secure.
Visiting ministries should always be welcomed wherever they arrive - but the idea that payment should be given for them to function is abhorrent both to the NT and to God Himself.
Having now probably offended most of the present day Church, we need to consider Jesus’ next words in Mtw 10:9-10 and especially His concluding word that
‘...the labourer deserves His food’
something which seems to contradict the first statement if we give it just a cursory glance. This sentence isn’t repeated in the parallel passages noted at the top of this web page and we should try and understand Jesus’ statement in the light of what precedes it before going on to look at other NT passages which speak of the rights of the ministers of the Gospel.
Mtw 10:9-10a, therefore, reads
‘Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics [either for replacements or for warmth at night when sleeping rough], nor sandals, nor a staff...’
whereas the parallel passage in Mark 6:8-9 speaks of taking
‘...no bread, no bag [possibly a food bag is meant], no money in their belts’
but allows the travelling minister to carry a staff (in contrast to the instruction in Matthew).
Luke 9:3 follows Matthew and has no contrasts (as far as I can see) but one has to wonder why Jesus should have instructed the disciples not to take sandals in Mtw 10:10 when to walk barefoot along the roads of ancient Galilee wouldn’t have got them very far. Is the thought that one has to suffer?!
Luke 10:4 gives us the explanation we require, however, and helps to explain the problem of the staff in both Mark and Matthew. Here, the writer notes Jesus’ command (my italics) as
‘Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals...’
which immediately makes us realise that what Jesus is referring to is the disciples’ self-provision of going out carrying spares of what might be needed. If one is ‘carrying’ sandals, one obviously has a spare pair stashed away in the rucksack (naturally speaking) for when the ones on the feet get worn and broken. Jesus is saying, then, that the travelling minister shouldn’t be concerned about having everything that’s likely to be needed and that, when a need arises, God will Himself supply it.
Jesus doesn’t say just how that need will be met but it’s natural to think that provision through the people that they’ve been sent to is what is meant. The travelling minister, then, has to be supported by the group of people to whom he comes in the area of need and not in the area of want.
Jesus isn’t telling His apostles that they should come back overflowing with monetary gifts and material wealth, but that God will see to it that their needs will be met wherever they go.
This principle is the same as that which guided the apostles in the NT. Never once do we read of the apostle Paul’s villa in the south of France that he was hoping to retire to when His ministry days were over and he could no longer travel the civilised world to proclaim the Gospel, but we do read of His expectation that the people to whom he came would supply his own personal need from their resources - and here we’re talking not of taking provision from those who weren’t believers but from those who already were.
Therefore Paul speaks to the Corinthians when they’d been criticising him about not working to earn wages while amongst them (I Cor 9:6-14) and asks
‘...is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?’
going on to affirm that a minister has the right to be supported by the resources of those who’ve received the Gospel (I Cor 9:7-10) concluding with the question (I Cor 9:11)
‘If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?’
Even so, although Paul knew he had the right to expect support from them, he hadn’t insisted that they give him anything and saw the acquisition of material gain for support as something that could stumble men and women from receiving the Gospel (I Cor 9:12).
Therefore Paul was content to waive his right of provision and was obligated to (I Cor 9:18)
‘...make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel’
receiving the supply of His need from the believers in Macedonia (II Cor 11:9) who were eager to be a part of the apostles’ ministry. But, here again, notice that we’re talking need not want.
In another city, this time Thessalonica, Paul decided to work - possibly because of the need to encourage the idlers within the church to take up an occupation or, perhaps, because he was able to find time to contribute to his own work.
Therefore Paul told them by letter (II Thess 3:7-10 - my italics)
‘For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat’
The minister’s ‘rights’, therefore, are not such that they must be applied rigidly in each and every situation but can be adapted or waived to suit the need in a particular area. If there is provision from another region, why burden the fellowship to which you’ve just come? If the fellowship is poor, why not work amongst them to support the work - especially if there’s no external provision from believers in other areas?
But the principle remains (I Cor 9:14) which states the Lord Himself has commanded
‘...that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel’
and, my favourite verse (that’s written tongue in cheek, by the way - Gal 6:6)
‘Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches’
If the Church of Christ was truly concerned to support ministries in their need, we would have far more than we do now and reach more people with the Gospel. Unfortunately, the successful ministries all too often become richer, while those which we deem less important or less effective are ignored and have a paucity of resource directed towards them.
I have gone off at a tangent here so let me summarise Jesus’ position in Mtw 10:8b-10 as simply as possible. No ministry gifts should ever be given as a return for payment seeing as all ministry has first been given as a gift by God to an individual. Travelling ministries have every right to expect their needs to be met by the people to whom they go but they should never expect an excess will be granted them.
The principle is that God’s worker deserves to have his needs met.
The people they meet
Having dealt with the necessities of those being sent out with the authority to do as Jesus would have them do, He turns His attention to the people that the disciples will meet - both those who will receive them warmly (Mtw 10:11-13) and those who will reject not just the message but the one sent (Mtw 9:14).
Although one naturally thinks that God’s provision has ended with the conclusion drawn by Jesus in Mtw 10:8, these following verses do hint at the Lord’s provision in the area of accommodation and we shouldn’t miss the implication that God has gone before them to prepare a place wherever they find themselves.
The Greek has been committed to writing in the first person singular up until this point, an indication that Mtw 10:5-10 was originally intended to be received by each one of the twelve as a personal command to them.
However, the verses which run until verse 14 suddenly change to the first person plural (as Mattask) denoting that they’re being addressed either to the group of twelve or, perhaps better, to the pairs in which they’re being sent out into Israel (Mark 6:7). When the believers come to a particular city or village, they are presumed to act in unison and not as independent believers in different parts of the area, even making sure that they stay in the same household.
1. He who is worthy
There are questions here which need to be answered for some of the instruction doesn’t read too easily. For instance, how could the disciples have determined which people in a town were worthy (Mtw 10:11)? And what did Jesus mean by saluting the house where one was about to stay (Mtw 10:12)? And how can one’s peace come upon a house or return to the disciples if it isn’t (Mtw 10:13)?
These are all things which, to the believer today, mean every little, some of which are shrouded in mystery.
But, the first injunction that we can be specific about is that the disciples were not to go from one house to another in the same area in which they were ministering until they’d done and were ready to move elsewhere (Mtw 10:11).
Only one commentator I have even attempts to make some sense out of this instruction and his explanation does make good sense. Matmor notes that
‘...they could well prolong their stay if they went from house to house, whereas Jesus is sending them on a trip that would embrace a large number of centres of population in a short space of time’
The only problem with this is that, if they were to find a family which they considered to be ‘wealthy’, they could prolong their stay almost indefinitely anyhow, but there’s a certain practicality to the statement which is reflected in the comment.
However, having travelled round England for a year helping out a particular denomination wherever I was sent, I can empathise with anyone who has to move somewhere else. There was one town in particular where the leaders had decided that we should stay in three different houses in as many weeks and it nearly killed us.
True, we were travelling with much more stuff than the disciples were which made the task of packing everything away, loading it into the car and then unpacking it all two hundred yards down the road a waste of time which we could have spent going out onto the streets sharing the Gospel, but the need to have to get to know someone else all over again when you’d just got to the point of understanding and trusting the previous people made for a great deal of misunderstanding.
If the first allowed you to spend time alone in private study, your disappearance during the evening at the second house could be greeted with an offended look as if they took it that we didn’t want to spend time with them.
Living in private homes for short periods of time is a nightmare if one deliberately moves on after a few days somewhere else and yet stays in the same area. Besides, in the set up with the twelve disciples, the first hospitable person may well find offence that the pair are moving on, thinking that their hospitality was deemed, somehow, deficient.
Just on a practical note, therefore, those who travel for the Gospel are best to stay in one place until the time comes for them to move on.
The first century instruction manual known as the ‘Didache’ legislates concerning visitors (Didache 11 - my italics) that
‘Every apostle who comes to you should be welcomed as the Lord, but he is not to stay more than a day, or two days if it is really necessary. If he stays for three days, he is a false prophet’
a command which would immediately have proven Paul to have been ‘false’ who stayed many days in some places when the work opened up to him (see, for example, Acts 18:18)! That’s always the trouble with religious laws, they tend to condemn rather than allow freedom for the work of Christ.
No such restrictions were laid upon the disciples, however, even though, as Matmor pointed out in an earlier quote, the idea behind the sending out of the twelve was of a short missionary tour rather than of an extended visit to every last person that could be found.
Having dealt with this, we need to attempt to answer the questions which we posed at the beginning of this section and we’ll take them in the order in which they appear in the text.
Firstly, then, how could the disciples have determined which people in a town were worthy (Mtw 10:11) and, therefore, who they should stay with?
The disciples are instructed to ‘find out’ who is worthy where the Greek word (Strongs Greek number 1833) means more like ‘scrutinise’ or ‘examine’ (as Matmor) and ‘to examine, seek out, inquire thoroughly’ (as Vines) than to refer to a quick asking round about which homes might be open to a couple of travellers. There is a deliberation here in the disciples’ choice of a place to stay which we shouldn’t miss but which tells us little about the criteria needed to reach such a decision.
Mathen sees the disciples as first preaching the Gospel immediately upon entering the city or village to which they’ve just come and that
‘From the response they receive it would not be difficult to determine who, among the listeners, were “worthy” or “deserving” to provide hospitality to the bringers of good tidings’
but this seems to negate the diligence of the searching if, by the response they receive, they could easily see who was ‘worthy’. Besides, had they arrived as night fell, the first thing on their mind would be to get somewhere to sleep, not to preach the Gospel to the crowds who would have been dispersing into their homes.
Matmor is correct when he sums up the command that
‘...they are not to choose lodgings haphazardly but to look carefully for the right person’
but he goes on to show that he’s unsure whether the sense of the passage means that they’re to look for someone who is willing to extend hospitality or someone who is willing to welcome the message of the Kingdom which they bring. Matfran equally is unsure whether receptivity of the Gospel is required in the word ‘worthy’ when he comments that the travelling pair of disciples
‘...are to look for someone able and willing to accommodate them, and this would normally be someone open to the message, though not necessarily already committed to their cause’
However, there’s an indication in the text that causes us to expect that the ‘worthy’ in a town are specifically those who have responded positively to the good news of the Kingdom of heaven or, at the very least, that they are considered to be expected to - after all, Jesus’ fame has already spread throughout the land (Mtw 4:24) and two messengers sent out by Jesus would be expected to be received as He Himself would be (Mtw 10:24-25, John 15:20).
There’s a contrast between these verses which speak of the ‘worthy’ (Mtw 10:11-13) and those who reject the message (Mtw 10:14). Therefore it’s best that we take the interpretation of ‘the worthy’ as specifically referring to, as Mathag
‘...the receptivity shown to the disciples and their message’
but also the previous reaction to Jesus which should be easily discernible by asking some direct questions.
The second question which needs answering is this:
What did Jesus mean by commanding the disciples to salute the house where they were about to stay (Mtw 10:12)?
Firstly, we should note that, in the sending out of the seventy in Luke 10:5, Jesus instructs the disciples
‘Whatever house you enter, first say “Peace be to this house!”’
and this is probably the burden of the meaning here as well. What the disciples are actually doing is to pronounce a blessing upon all the members of the household who have received them into their habitation, a word which would carry the same authority as the commission which had been given them.
Perhaps, however, by limiting the blessing simply to those of the household we’re restricting the intention of the blessing which speaks of the ‘house’. We should, therefore, extend the blessing to include all those things which take place within the boundaries of the structure and the land which belongs to it.
The word ‘peace’ was almost unfathomable in its shades of meaning amongst first century Jews (as it was in the period of the OT and into the present day) but, if a simple summary is possible, it meant something like a ‘fulness’ or ‘wholeness’ in everything that God desires to give to men and women and not, narrowly, ‘the absence of strife and conflict’ which we often take the word to mean.
The salutation pronounced, therefore, is one of a bestowal of the favour of God not because of some abstract concept but because the household has been receptive to the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Believers, therefore, sent out into the world are expected to bring God’s favour upon those who receive them willingly primarily because they carry with them the blessing and favour of God.
Therefore, Mathen is correct when he notes that
‘...these apostles not only wish peace, they actually bring it’
Finally, the last question for us to answer is how can one’s peace come upon a house or return to the disciples if it isn’t ‘worthy’ (Mtw 10:13)?
We should remember that the disciples are having to make an objective assessment of those who are in the city or village to which they’ve come and to single out someone who they’ve diligently enquired of to try and be sure that they’re receptive to the message of the Gospel. Realistically, they aren’t going to get it right every time so that Jesus’ instruction about the house being either worthy or unworthy is something which only time would reveal to them - even so, they’re still not to move house in the midst of their ministry into the area, it would appear (Mtw 10:11).
Matmor is the most honest of the commentators at this juncture for he notes that
‘It is not easy to see precisely what is meant by their peace returning to them, but clearly it is a way of saying that despite the prayer involved in the greeting there would be no peace for the unworthy householders...They will not bring peace on unworthy people’
but Matfran is too vague in thinking that the peace’s reception is to do with an attitude in the recipient of the blessing. Yes, there needs to be a right attitude but it’s primarily to do with the acceptance or rejection of the Good news which is being brought to their city or village which demonstrates their receptivity.
Therefore, Mathag equates worthiness not with works but with reception of the message and concludes that
‘The peace that the disciples can bestow is not available where the gospel and its messengers are rejected’
The ‘worthy’, however, need not have to be the entire household which has taken the disciples under its roof. As Luke 10:6 notes, an individual will not forfeit his right to be blessed by the disciples’ presence simply because others may reject the message and it may be the case that a house can be considered to have been made ‘worthy’ by one ‘son of peace’ being found there as was the case in the first fruit offering.
To return to our original question, though, it appears difficult to be sure just what it might have meant for the disciples to have been told that either their peace would come upon a house or that it would return to them unless we take it in quantitative terms which it would be difficult to justify and explain.
The point seems to be that the experience of the blessing of God through the Gospel is dependent upon a correct response in the individual to whom the message comes, where primarily neither healing nor deliverance is in mind but the abiding and continuing presence and care of God.
2. Those who will not listen
Contrasting those who will accept the Good news brought to them by the sent out disciples is the command to them to react relevantly towards both houses and villages where the message of the Gospel is rejected, where reception of the messenger and the message are joined together and should, perhaps, be treated as one (Mtw 10:14).
To a town or house that will not listen to the message (that is, when someone is not found within it who is ‘worthy’), the disciples are to remove every part of it from themselves. Mathen notes here that
‘After travelling through heathen territory, Jews had the custom of shaking the dust off their sandals and clothes before re-entering the Holy Land. They were afraid that otherwise, in their own country, levitically clean objects might be rendered unclean. What Jesus is saying, therefore, is that even an Israelitish place, be it a house or a city, that refuses to accept the Gospel must be considered unclean, as if it were pagan soil’
This practice amongst religious Jews appears to have been a late Rabbinic view, first recorded in the Talmud but suggested in the Mishnah. There we read in Oholoth 18:6 that
‘If a man went through the country of the gentiles in hilly or rocky country, he becomes unclean’
and, in Oholoth 2:3
‘These convey uncleanness by contact and carrying...earth from a foreign country...’
so that the implication is just as the later Talmudic references would indicate. Matmor quoting Merx sees the dust being referred to as indicating that which has been
‘...raised by the feet that settles in the clothing’
and not simply that which clings to the soles of the sandals. The act of doing this, however, remains one of dissociation from the people who have rejected the Gospel and the demonstration that they will have nothing further to do with that place. A similar action took place twice in the life of the early Church. In Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:50-51 - my italics), Paul and Barnabas, having been persecuted by the high ranking people of the city and incited by the Jews
‘...shook off the dust from their feet against them and went to Iconium’
Acts 18:6 also records an incident which took place in Corinth though, this time, Paul isn’t leaving the city but his mission to the Jews and he shakes out his garments (an act which parallels the shaking off the dust from one’s feet) saying to them
‘Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’
Even though these houses and towns in Israel to whom the disciples are being sent out to would have seen the Kingdom of God come with power (Mtw 10:8) and heard the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Mtw 10:7), they still reject what can be plainly perceived by them. Therefore, Sodom and Gomorrah (whose final judgment came about through the transgression of the unwritten laws of hospitality which is here being spoken of - Gen 19:1-11) who didn’t hear the preaching of the Gospel, who neither saw signs nor wonders performed in their midst, stand before God in a position of less condemnation. If they’d seen these works (Luke 10:13-14)
‘...they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes’
To refuse to believe the message when mighty acts of God’s power are performed is to stand self-condemned and to prove oneself to be unreachable - for what more can be done? Though the fame of Jesus had spread throughout the Galilean region and beyond (Mtw 4:24) and given them a preliminary taste (perhaps only in reports or in meeting those who had been cured), their rejection of what was now being done firsthand sealed their own fate in the coming judgment.
One has to remember that miracles do not make someone a believer but stand as a dividing act which separates those who are willing to believe the message from those who are not. That opposition is to be expected from the Israelites the disciples will move amongst is assured and commentators who see the remaining verses concerning persecution to be later teaching that Matthew has rolled into one discourse doesn’t take into account that persecution is inferred even in the parallel passages in the other Gospels which deal with the sending out of the twelve and the seventy.
The disciples had to expect to be rejected in places - even amongst the Jews who should have welcomed the message with open arms. But, for them, it should come as no surprise.
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