“The Message We Preach”

There are those who believe and teach that an earthly messianic kingdom was offered to the Jews first and that only after it was rejected was it offered to others. But that is not the way we should read Matthew. Matthew knows nothing of two Gospels. There is only one Gospel of God’s rule in Jesus Christ, and he takes pains to show that it was preached from the beginning.

It was the message of John the Baptist, introduced for the first time in Matthew 3: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (v.2). It was the message preached by Jesus himself in Matthew 4: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (v.17). It is what the disciples are told to preach here: “The kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 10.7). Later, Jesus will prophesy that this same “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The only difference between the early preaching and our preaching today is that then the kingdom of God was just “near.” Jesus was on earth, but He had not yet died for sin, nor had He risen from the dead. Today the kingdom is not only near, it is realized, and we proclaim a crucified, risen, and returning Christ, who is both our Lord and Savior.

According to this teaching, the Gospel is the Good News of the kingly rule of Jesus Christ. And if we should ask, how do we get a share in this kingdom? the answer is exactly what the disciples would have said: “Repent of your sin and believe on Jesus Christ.” That is what the apostles were sent to preach and what we must continue to preach until Jesus returns.

What about practical matters? Like taking offerings? Or paying for the trip? Interestingly, Jesus is quite specific in this area. He indicates that the disciples are not to set a fee for their services: “Freely you have received, freely give.” They are not to worry about provisions, not even to the point of taking money or extra clothing: “Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff.” But neither are they to refuse support since “the worker is worth his keep.” As far as lodging is concerned, they are to accept whatever hospitality the upright people of the place might give them: “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave.”

This is obviously balanced counsel, and although not all of it applies to our day, most does. The part that does not seem to apply directly or at all times is the prohibition against taking along money or other provisions. Some Christians have taken this literally, neglecting to make sensible provisions for their work. But they forget that Jesus later changed these instructions. Luke tells us that at the Last Supper Jesus referred to this first mission tour, asking, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. Then He said, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Jesus was saying that the conditions following His crucifixion would be different from those that prevailed early in His earthly ministry.

But there is continuity too. A first principle that should guide our work even today, states “the Gospel must be offered without price.” Everyone knows there are costs associated even with preaching the Gospel; if nothing else, the preacher has to eat. But the Gospel is the message of God’s free grace to us in Jesus Christ, and it is always jarring, contradictory, and sometimes blatantly sinful when a price is placed upon the preaching. In some cases fixing a price on preaching has destroyed both ministers and their ministries.

How do we uphold this principle today? Preaching the Gospel is different from running a business. Pastors/Ministers have been sent by Jesus not to make money but to offer the Gospel freely as God Himself offers it, “without money and without price.”

A second principle might be that “God’s people should support God’s ministers.” On the other hand, ministers do need support, just like everyone else. They too need places to live and have families to support and feed. Who will support them? We can hardly expect the ungodly to do it. Ministers will be rejected, even persecuted by them. If ministers are to receive support, it must come from God’s people. Worthy people will see to it that God’s workers are supported, and when they give their support, the ministers are not to refuse it. Paul operated like this, never asking for money but gratefully acknowledging the provision he received from those who had responded to the Gospel.

A final principle to glean from Jesus’ teaching is that Pastors/Ministers need to trust God for their support. What if God’s people are negligent of their duty, as they sometimes are? In that case, the Christian worker has an opportunity to show that ultimately his trust is in God, who cares for His workers more than anyone else could. This is the main point Jesus made when He told the disciples not to take money or extra clothing or shoes for the journey. The disciples needed these things. They were not to refuse replacements for these necessary items when they were offered. But they were not to take extras in order to show that they were God’s messengers and were genuinely trusting Him for their needs. God would see that what they needed would be given to them along the way.

Maranatha!