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. Matthew 10:32–33
1. Jesus sends His twelve disciples out to preach and heal.
2. Jesus gives them their orders.
Verses 1–15. This chapter is one of peculiar solemnity. Here is the record of the first ordination which ever took place in the church of Christ. The Lord Jesus chooses and sends forth the twelve apostles. Here is an account of the first charge ever delivered to newly ordained Christian ministers. The Lord Jesus Himself delivers it. Never was there so important an ordination. Never was there so solemn a charge!
There are three lessons which stand out prominently on the face of the first fifteen verses of this chapter. Let us take them in order.
We are taught, in the first place, that all ministers are not necessarily saved men. We see our Lord choosing a Judas Iscariot to be one of His apostles. We cannot doubt that He who knew all hearts, knew well the characters of the men whom He chose. And He includes in the list of apostles one who was a traitor!
We shall do well to bear in mind this fact. Ordination does not confer the saving grace of the Holy Spirit. Ordained men are not necessarily converted. We are not to regard them as infallible, either in doctrine or in practice. We are not to make popes or idols of them, and insensibly put them in Christ’s place. We are to regard them as “men of like passions” with ourselves, liable to the same infirmities, and daily requiring the same grace. We are not to think it impossible for them to do very bad things, or to expect them to be above the reach of harm from flattery, covetousness, and the world. We are to prove their teaching by the word of God, and follow them so far as they follow Christ, but no further. Above all, we ought to pray for them, that they may be successors not of Judas Iscariot, but of James and John. Ministers need many prayers.
We are taught, in the next place, that the great work of a minister of Christ is to do good. He is sent to seek “lost sheep,”—to proclaim glad tidings—to relieve those who are suffering—to diminish sorrow—and to increase joy. His life is meant to be one of “giving,” rather than receiving.
This is a high standard, and a very peculiar one. Let it be well weighed, and carefully examined. It is plain, for one thing, that the life of a faithful minister of Christ cannot be one of ease. He must be ready to spend body and mind, time and strength, in the work of His calling. Laziness and frivolity are bad enough in any profession, but worst of all in that of a watchman for souls. It is plain, for another thing, that the position of the ministers of Christ is not that which ignorant people sometimes ascribe to them, and which they unhappily sometimes claim for themselves. They are not so much ordained to rule as to serve. They are not intended so much to have dominion over the Church, as to supply its needs, and serve its members (2 Cor. 1:24). Happy would it be for the cause of true religion, if these things were better understood! Half the diseases of Christianity have arisen from mistaken notions about the pastor’s office!
We are taught, in the last place, that it is a most dangerous thing to neglect the offers of the Gospel. It shall prove “more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah” in the judgment day, than for those who have heard Christ’s truth, and not received it. This is a doctrine fearfully overlooked, and one that deserves serious consideration. Men are sadly apt to forget, that it does not require great open sins to be sinned, in order to ruin a soul forever. They have only to go on hearing without believing, listening without repenting, going to Church without going to Christ, and by and by they will find themselves in hell! We shall all be judged according to our light. We shall have to give account of our use of religious privileges. To hear of the “great salvation,” and yet neglect it, is one of the worst sins man can commit (John 16:9).
What are we doing, ourselves, with the Gospel? This is the question which every one who reads this passage should put to his conscience. Let us assume that we are decent and respectable in our lives, correct and moral in all the relations of life, regular in our formal attendance on the means of grace. It is all well, so far as it goes. But is this all that can be said of us? Are we really receiving the love of the truth? Is Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith? If not, we are in fearful danger. We are far more guilty than the men of Sodom, who never heard the Gospel at all. We may awake to find, that in spite of our regularity, and morality, and correctness, we have lost our souls for all eternity. It will not save us to have lived in the full sunshine of Christian privileges, and to have heard the Gospel faithfully preached every week. There must be experimental acquaintance with Christ. There must be personal reception of His truth. There must be vital union with Him. We must become his servants and disciples. Without this, the preaching of the Gospel only adds to our responsibility, increases our guilt, and will at length sink us more deeply into hell. These are hard sayings. But the words of Scripture, which we have read, are plain and unmistakable. They are all true.
Verses 16–23. The truths contained in these verses should be pondered by all who try to do good in the world. To the selfish man, who cares for nothing but his own ease or comfort, there may seem to be little in them. To the minister of the Gospel, and to every one who seeks to save souls, these verses ought to be full of interest. No doubt there is much in them, which applies specially to the days of the apostles. But there is much also which applies to all times.
We see, for one thing, that those who would do good to souls, must be moderate in their expectations. They must not think that universal success will attend their labors. They must reckon on meeting with much opposition. They must make up their minds to “be hated,” persecuted, and ill-used, and that too by their nearest relations. They will often find themselves like “sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Let us bear this in mind continually. Whether we preach, or teach, or visit from house to house—whether we write or give counsel, or whatever we do, let it be a settled principle with us not to expect more than Scripture and experience warrant. Human nature is far more wicked and corrupt than we think. The power of evil is far greater than we suppose. It is vain to imagine that everybody will see what is good for them, and believe what we tell them. It is expecting what we shall not find, and will only end in disappointment. Happy is that laborer for Christ, who knows these things at his first starting, and has not to learn them by bitter experience! Here lies the secret cause why many have turned back, who once seemed full of zeal to do good. They began with extravagant expectations. They did not count the cost.
We see, for another thing, that those who would do good have need to pray for wisdom, good sense, and a sound mind. Our Lord tells his disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” He tells those who when they are persecuted in one place, they may lawfully “flee to another.”
There are few of our Lord’s instructions which it is so difficult to use rightly as this. There is a line marked out for us between two extremes; but one that it requires great judgment to define. To avoid persecution by holding our tongues, and keeping our religion entirely to ourselves, is one extreme. We are not to err in that direction. To court persecution, and thrust our religion upon every one we meet, without regard to place, time, or circumstances, is another extreme. In this direction also we are warned not to err any more than in the other. Truly we may say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” We have need to cry to the only wise God for wisdom.
The extreme into which most men are liable to fall in the present day, is that of silence, cowardice, and letting others alone. Our so-called prudence is apt to degenerate into a compromising line of conduct, or downright unfaithfulness. We are only too ready to suppose that it is of no use trying to do good to certain people. We excuse ourselves from efforts to benefit their souls, by saying it would be indiscreet, or inexpedient, or would give needless offence, or would even do positive harm. Let us all watch and be on our guard against this spirit. Laziness and the devil are often the true explanation of it. To give way to it is pleasant to flesh and blood, no doubt, and saves us much trouble. But those who give way to it often throw away great opportunities of usefulness.
On the other hand, it is impossible to deny that there is such a thing as a righteous and holy zeal, which is “not according to knowledge.” It is quite possible to create much needless offence, commit great blunders, and stir up much opposition, which might have been avoided by a little prudence, wise management, and exercise of judgment. Let us all take heed that we are not guilty in this respect. We may be sure there is such a thing as Christian wisdom, which is quite distinct from Jesuitical deception, or carnal policy. This wisdom let us seek. Our Lord Jesus does not require us to throw aside our common sense, when we undertake to work for Him. There will be offence enough connected with our religion, do what we will; but let us not increase it without cause, Let us strive to “watch carefully how we walk, not as unwise, but as wise” (Eph. 5:15).
It is to be feared, that believers in the Lord Jesus do not sufficiently pray for the spirit of knowledge, judgment, and a sound mind. They are apt to fancy that if they have grace, they have all they need. They forget that a gracious heart should pray that it may be full of wisdom, as well as of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3). Let us all remember this. Great grace and common sense are perhaps one of the rarest combinations. That they may go together, the life of David, and the ministry of the apostle Paul are striking proofs. In this, however, as in every other respect, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our most perfect example. None were ever so faithful as He. But none were ever so truly wise. Let us make Him our pattern, and walk in His steps.
1. What are the themes of chapters 1 through 10?
2. How many disciples did Jesus call?
3. What is the “great work of the minister of Christ?” What is this man to do?
4. What are the two traps that the ministers of the Gospel might fall into?
5. To whom did Jesus send His disciples to preach, in this chapter? How is this adjusted later on in the Apostles’ ministry?
6. If His disciples are rejected in one city, what does Christ tell them to do?
1. Have there been any other men like Judas Iscariot in the church, who later turned out to be imposters? Can you name some?
2. How often do we pray for our pastors and elders?
3. Is the world we live in as full of wolves as the one where these disciples were ministering? Are we bold and courageous, wise as serpents, and harmless as doves? What do we most lack of these characteristics?