Christianity, More Than Belief in God or Church Attendance

In the previous verse, we saw Jesus give authority to His disciples over unclean spirits and over every sickness. This authority was meant as a sign that they carried with them the authority of the Messiah. We also saw that God provides gifts to believers today, but not as signs of either salvation or authority. The gifts God provides today serve the purpose of our serving the common good.

So, the 12 apostles have been given the authority of Christ over evil spirits and sickness. In the following verses, Jesus will instruct His 12 on what to do with this authority.

Matthew 10:2-8

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

The visible church (v. 2-4)

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: 

This is the only time, in Matthew’s Gospel, that these first disciples are referred to as apostles. What do you think Matthew means when he refers to these twelve as apostles? The English word, “apostles,” is transliteration (transferred to english from another language using an english spelling) of the Greek word, “απεστειλεν.” The Greek word literally refers to a “sent one” or missionary. So, the word can be translated into the English “missionary.” By Acts 2:25, we see the term used to refer to an office that only those who witnessed and learned from the visible Christ during the time of the twelve (cf. Acts 2:21-25).

So, wherever we read the word “apostle” in the New Testament, it either refers simply to a missionary or to the thirteen who held the apostolic office (the 12, minus Judas, plus Matthias and Paul).

This means that we must rely on context to determine the meaning of the word in this verse. Since these twelve disciples are otherwise referred to as Christ’s disciples in Matthew’s Gospel and since they are about to be sent out to do mission work, it is more likely that the proper interpretation of “apostle” in this context is “missionary” or “envoy.” It refers to one who carries a message on behalf of someone else.

It is difficult to take this verse, by itself, and apply it to every Christian because Jesus is instructing the first twelve disciples particularly. As we saw last week, they have an authority that other Christians do not have for a purpose that other Christians will not have with regard to their spiritual gifts. Christ will instruct these twelve only to go to a particular people, the Jews. In Matthew 28, though, Jesus will extend this mission to every believer, and He will send us out into the nations.

Biblically speaking, every Christian is an apostle in the sense that the term is used in Matthew’s Gospel. Every Christian is called to “go.” Every Christian is a missionary or an envoy, carrying the correct message of king Jesus to the world.

People will often see Christianity as something to do or a place to attend or merely ascribing to a certain set of beliefs. They will see the church as an organization meant to merely help people in need or merely help people overcome some personal struggle or to merely help people to live moral lives or to merely be available at all times at anyone’s beckoning call. While being a Christian and being a committed member of a local church has its perks, it is more the case that every Christian will serve king Jesus. True Christians are generally low-maintenance and highly motivated to give rather than receive. The words of Charles Spurgeon ring true, “Every Christian here is either a missionary or an imposter” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 [London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1908], 476).

The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

Matthew names the twelve missionaries to whom Jesus will give the instructions He is about to give. Notice the diversity. Jesus has called at least one scribe (see Matthew 8:19), at least one tax collector, at least one Zealot (belonging to a group that wanted to overthrow Rome by force), and one who would betray Him. These men had different ideologies, different convictions, different motives for following Jesus, different jobs, different gifts, and different understandings of theology and doctrine. One of them would not even receive eternal life (see John 17:12). Yet, they are unified in mission and in following Christ physically at this time according to Matthew’s Gospel. Can you imagine the messiness that the local church would experience if the people in our churches were as diverse in their beliefs, trades, and religion as were the twelve disciples? Can you imagine the frustration? The truth about discipleship, beginning with evangelism and missions, is that it is very messy. That makes it difficult for us because we like things to be the way that we like them. We like others to be like us and to believe like us and to think like us. We fall into the habit of pushing those who are not like us away for whatever reasons. This isn’t how Christ is. He calls people from every religious or philosophical or practical background that we can think of. He has His people among the nations and religions and philosophies of the world. Yet, He bears with His people, providing His explicit word for the sanctification of all the people He has called. The components of discipleship—evangelism, missions, training in righteousness, teaching, reproof, correction, and mentorship—are messy because people are so diverse. All of God’s chosen people are at different levels of maturity. So, like Christ, we embrace the messiness of genuine discipleship. This actually helps us to understand God’s patience, longsuffering, and bearing with us in our own immaturity. It is a very clear picture of God’s care in His work of salvation (the conversion and sanctification of His people). The work of discipleship is part of our own conversion and sanctification (being made perfect and complete). That is why every Christian is a missionary.

Evangelism and missions (v. 5-8)

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 

We know that we have been sent as missionaries to the nations (see Matthew 28:18-20). Why do you think that Jesus instructs His first missionaries to go only to the Jews at this time in Matthew’s Gospel?

The twelve disciples represent the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Matthew 19:28). In Jeremiah 50:6, these tribes are referred to as the lost sheep of Israel (cf. Isaiah 53:6, Ezekiel 34). Here, in Matthew 10:6, Jesus employs Jeremiah’s language. The Apostle, Paul, will recognize that the message had to go to the Jews before it went to the Gentiles (see Romans 1:16) because the Jewish nation was the nation of promise. It was through the Jews that salvation would come to all nations (see Genesis 15). We remember that Matthew is writing to the Jews in order to prove that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. This message is the message of historic Judaism. Gentile Christianity is built upon true Judaism and cannot exist without it. While Christianity was, formally, a new religion, it is rooted in and a continuation of true Judaism. So, a true form of Judaism is the same, except for some customs, as a true form of Christianity. These differences are explained in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem council. The salvation of God’s people is from God as a result of His promise to Abraham, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.

Jesus gives the twelve a demographic to preach to during this season of ministry. Jesus places His people in certain areas and gives them instructions to be missionaries to certain demographics of people. My local church is located precisely where God meant to place it so that we might be missionaries to a certain demographic of people. Local churches often fail to preach to the demographics around them. Here, we see, that contextualization, a missions term meaning we speak the Gospel in a way that people in a certain area understand, is part of what it means to be on mission according to Christ’s instruction. We are in Arizona, so we live as Arizonans. We are in Pearce, so we live as Pearcites. This is so that we might be able to present the Gospel to all those who live in Pearce, Arizona. This is our demographic, and it is diverse and messy. For the most part, no church here is telling the demographics located here about Christ. Churchy people are just going to church, and that is not the instruction that Christ gives.

And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

Jesus describes His mission for the twelve. They are to primarily preach the Gospel as Jesus has preached the Gospel up to this point. They are to secondarily heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. We have already discovered that these are signs authenticating the authority and message of the twelve. Last week we saw the application and purpose for spiritual gifts following the twelve and in the church today. The application, here, is that we are primarily to speak the Gospel in our location and to all nations and secondarily to practice the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given for the common good (refer to notes on 10:1).

Freely you received, freely give.

What did the twelve disciples freely receive? They freely received the opportunity to follow Christ. Eleven of the twelve freely received eternal life. They freely received, explicitly, the message of Christ the gifts that Christ had given to them. Jesus instructs them to give what they have received freely to everyone whom they are sent freely.

What have God’s chosen people today received freely? Salvation is by grace, not works. So, we have received eternal life freely. We have received the message of Christ freely. God did not charge us in order to speak to us and His sharing of His word does not depend on anything that we do for Him. We have received spiritual gifts for the purpose of the common good. Christ instruction is that we freely share these things while we are on mission. We are on mission as we go (cf. Matthew 28:18-20). Furthermore, when we give, we do not expect anything in return. We are not paying for the services of the church when we donate generously. We are contributing to the mission of God and making sure those who work hard at preaching and teaching are taken care of (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:14). We are not caring for those in our community in order to increase church attendance. We do not serve others in our congregation in order to have a good reputation, earn recognition, or get paid. If people complain or hate us, so be it. Freely we have received, freely we give. That is evangelism in love. That is what it means to live on mission. Preach the Gospel first. Practice the spiritual gifts we have for the common good second. Don’t expect anything in return. Biblical Christianity is the opposite of the world’s consumerism.

Questions:

  1. What does it mean to be the church rather than merely go to church concerning Christ’s mission?
  2. What is the relationship between true Judaism and true Christianity?
  3. What does it mean that Christians are to freely give what we have freely received?
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