“Paul’s word about being all things to all men and our Lord’s eating with publicans and sinners have been worked overtime to justify unwise sociability.”1 How true! Anyone who is concerned at all about worldliness in the church has had to listen to the proposition that Jesus was accepted and loved by sinners and they were accepted without condemnation by Him. But what Havner feared would justify “unwise sociability” has now gone far beyond that to a more calculated carnality.
This is a typical (postmodern) verbal bait and switch. We rightly receive the initial message that, as a sinner we come to Jesus for salvation: “Just as I am without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me.” We mean that the sinner cannot come to Jesus with his own merit for salvation. That is true. But we cannot jump from there to what cannot be true: namely, that Jesus accepts our sin.
With a little reflection we can realize that the sinner does not come to God with his sin but without it. If he could come with his sin, he would not need a Savior who washes it away! Praise God that we can come before Him justified in Christ! Also, we should realize that the believer, though remaining in his flesh, does not remain in neutral concerning his flesh. He is either in forward or reverse. Either sin is controlling him and he is carnal and powerless before God (and then under chastening for sin), or he is growing in grace, mortifying sin in his life and is continually becoming conformed to the image of Christ. Either way, God does not accept our sin, and therefore does not “accept us” as we are. He always demands a conforming to His holy standard.
Matthew 10 is one of the most difficult chapters for the follower of Christ to read. Jesus said, The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant that he be as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? (10:24-25). Jesus was asked to depart (9:34) from the coasts of the Gergesenes; He was laughed to scorn (9:24) by the people in Capernaum and He offended (13:57) his own family in Nazareth.
The difficulty with this passage is that the follower of Jesus is called on to endure hardship for his faith. Spurgeon said, “True fidelity can endure rough usage.”2 But many have convinced themselves that Jesus never endured rough usage and neither should we unless we are some kind of legalists who purposely antagonize people. If we can convince ourselves that Jesus accepted people without judging their spiritual condition, then we can do the same and can also shun any uncomfortable confrontation with them. But this is exactly what Jesus means in Matthew 10 for a disciple to be above his Master.
Are we more savvy than Jesus?
Do we think we know better how to avoid criticism? They were calling Jesus Beelzebub, the prince of the devils (25, see also 12:24). Was Jesus here telling the disciples to avoid such criticisms at all costs? No! He was telling them to expect it! Hubert Brooke said, “It becomes a mere matter of honesty, that that which belongs to the Lord by right of purchase, should be yielded up to Him by the willing choice and deliberate surrender of the purchased possession.”3
It is enough, Jesus explained, for the disciple that he be as his master (25). Why? Because the believer walks by faith, not by sight. He endures the ridicule here, in order to hear the “well done” up there. Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known (26). Do we have that kind of faith? I think we fear the presence of gossip more than we fear the presence of God. Asaph wrote, Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbors: and our enemies laugh among themselves. Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved (Psa 80:6-7). It is not the smile of their faces he wanted, but only the smile of the God of heaven.
Are we more wise than Jesus?
Do we think we know better how to avoid harm? Jesus continued, And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (28). He followed that by speaking of God’s care for a sparrow’s fall, and His knowledge of the very hairs of our head. In our avoiding of persecutions, have we become better judges of life’s circumstances than God who knows how many hairs are on our head?
In the three and a half years that these disciples walked with Jesus, never did anyone lay a hand on them to harm them. Through the early chapter of Acts, they were thrown in jail but they were not beaten. Not until Acts 5, against the advice of Gamaliel, did the disciples ever have their bodies abused for their faith. And what was their reaction? Did they sue their assailants? Did they protest on the Sanhedrin steps? Did they boycott the fish gate? No! They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41).
The writer of Hebrews directed his readers to consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds (Heb 12:3). Then he added, Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin (4). Wimps! How could they be so fearful in the presence of a great cloud of martyred witnesses? Of whom the world was not worthy (11:38). John Calvin wrote, “Let men do their utmost, they cannot do worse than murder us! And will not the heavenly life compensate for this?”4 Wasn’t this the joy that was set before him (Heb 12:2)? Are the servants above the Lord in this matter of those who can harm our bodies?
Are we more peaceful than Jesus?
Do we think we know better how to avoid controversy? Today’s evangelism mostly consists of how not to speak to people! That is, how to avoid any conversation that might invoke controversy. But in this context Jesus warned, Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (32-33). This is followed by stern language that Jesus came to send a sword, not peace; and that households would be torn apart due to a person’s confession of Jesus. And, He warned, he that loves even family more than He is not worthy of Him. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me (38).
Are we avoiding controversy that Jesus has designed, or are we truly being salt and light to our generation? Oswald Chambers wrote, “Then comes the glorious necessity of militant holiness. Beware of the teaching that allows you to sink back on your oars and drift; the Bible is full of pulsating, strenuous energy. From the moment a person is readjusted to God, then begins the running, being careful that ‘the sin which so easily ensnares us’ (Hebrews 12:1) does not clog our feet.”5
Are we more valuable than Jesus?
Do we think we know better how to avoid death? We have either become too attached to this world or too afraid of death for we have totally turned the next verses on their head. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (39). Many today think this means that Christians find such a wonderful life on this earth that they “lose their life” for Christ’s sake! And not only that, but when we “lose our life” for Christ’s sake, we find the abundant life for which we have been looking. Evidently our lives are always more valuable than those of the apostles or of Christ Himself.
But what did our Lord mean? He meant that if we are so afraid of the “sword” (34), or of those of our own “household” (36), or of a “cross” (38), that we would rather choose to “find our life” now, then we will “lose it” in eternity. But if we are willing to “lose” our life now for His sake and the gospel’s, then we will “find it” in eternity. In the parallel passage in 16:24-28, He added, For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (16:26).
In a more noble day, an older writer said of this passage, “They are best prepared for the life to come, that sit most loose to this present life.”6 J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “The Christian belongs to what he is to become; not to what he has left behind.”7 That is why these words of Jesus are a call to the walk of faith! Otherwise, what right would one have to ask another to die, unless the end result is far greater in value than the sacrifice?
I am glad that the great majority of Christians do not have to be killed for their faith. But unless we would rather avoid denial than death, we will not convince any others of the truth we preach.
And So . . . .
Are we striving to place ourselves above our Lord? Or is it enough for us that we endure as He did? The current infatuation with success and church growth is dictating the answer! They will not come unless they are happy with us, and they will not be happy with us unless we accept them as they are. The trade off is that we do not suffer their reproach, and they will bless our services with their presence. The deal that is struck places us in an exalted position among them—above even where our Lord placed Himself.Notes: 1. Vance Havner, Threescore and Ten (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell, 1973) 107. 2. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978) 339. 3. Quoted by G. Christian Weiss, The Perfect Will of God (Chicago: Moody , 1950) 38. 4. John Calvin, “On Enduring Persecution,” Orations (New York: Collier, 1902) 1374. 5. Oswald Chambers, Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1998) 135. 6. Matthew Henry, St. Matthew (Old Tappan: Revell, nd) 145. 7. J. Sidlow Baxter, Christian Holiness (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) 39.