Suppose you are a pastor or Christian leader, and you are discipling a small group of folks (say 10 or 12) who had recently come to the faith, and you are eager to send them out to evangelise and share the good news. You want to make sure they are properly equipped and prepared for the task, so you want to give them the best possible advice.
So just what would your instructions be? What advice would you give them? What truths would you stress as you send them off into the world to be a witness for Christ? These are good questions indeed, and I suppose the sorts of teaching they would receive would go something like this:
Well, you have a big job ahead of you, and you are representing Christ, so make sure you are very careful in what you say and how you say it. The last thing you want to do is upset people, make them angry, or get them offended. Our job is to go softly softly and make sure we are always nice to others.
We do not want to turn them off with any harsh or hardcore demands. After all, they are just pagans so they cannot be expected to get a heavy list of requirements – after all, God loves people and he accepts people just as they are, with no strings attached.
Our main job is just to love people. In fact, it may often be best not to say anything, and just be loving instead. We want people to know that God is a God of love, and any talk about judgment or sin or unrighteousness could turn these people away.
So just accentuate the positive, stress how loving God is, and make sure you tell them God has a wonderful plan for their lives. Tell them they can have their best life now, and if they go with God, they can have everything their hearts desire: success, a great career, happiness, prosperity, wealth and a great self-image.
That is the gospel we need to share with people today, not the harsh old judgmental one where we turn people off. Make it loving and nice and happy. We must stress all the benefits of coming to Christ. Don’t mention any possible hardships. That just will not work in today’s culture.
Above all, make sure you do not offend anyone. We do not want to give non-believers the impression that Christians are intolerant or judgmental or narrow-minded. And that means whatever you do, do not bring up any of the controversial issues of the day. If they ask about them, just brush all that aside, and concentrate on how much God loves them and wants them to be happy.
Wait, my bad. We actually have the words of Jesus on this very matter. Terrific. We know exactly what he would have said, because he did say it! We simply have to look at all 42 verses of Matthew 10. There we find the exact words of Jesus as he sent out the Twelve for the first time.
Well, that is a relief. So now we can actually compare his marching orders with what most leaders today would say, as offered above. And when we compare the two, they are as different as night and day. One has to ask: just how is it that so much of contemporary Western Christianity has managed to completely turn on its head everything Jesus and the early disciples said and did?
Just look at this chapter – read it for yourself. Let me highlight a few sections of it. He makes it clear throughout that this gospel message is not going to go down very well with many. Plenty of folks will not receive it, and plenty of folks will not receive the disciples. As we read in verses 11-20:
Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Wow, did you get that? There is nothing here about how everyone will love your message and be so happy to hear what you have to say. There are instead numerous warnings about just how hard it will be, and how so many will utterly reject what you have to say.
He not only forewarns about hostility and rejection, but right away he pronounces judgment on those who reject the message. There is nothing here about seeker-sensitive services, and helping people feel good about themselves and the gospel. This is harsh, confrontational stuff, where Jesus clearly teaches the likely response they will get.
But wait, there’s more. As we read in the following verses (21-23):
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.
Double wow! Did you read what Jesus said? He said “you will be hated by everyone because of me”. But we keep hearing today that if we are nice and non-controversial and non-judgmental and loving and accepting, then the masses will come to us and love us and want to be with us. Um, this is not what Jesus taught.
And in verse 24-25 we read this: “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters.” If Jesus was hated, rejected, persecuted and despised, then why should his disciples expect things to be any different for them?
And remember, he was the most loving, gracious and kind person to walk the planet. If he got this much abuse and hatred, why do we think we will be immune from it? No matter how “nice” and loving we try to be, if we proclaim biblical truth boldly and resolutely, we will get the same ugly reaction Jesus got.
As we read in verse 32-40, this is no men-pleasing, make it easy on them gospel. This is a gospel fully laden with tough, seemingly impossible demands. There is no easy-believism here, no cheap grace here, no “accept Jesus into your heart” with no strings attached gospel here. This is tough stuff. Have a read:
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Boy, this is heavy-duty stuff! This is no fluff preaching or fairy floss proclamation. This is tough as nails confrontational truth being proclaimed; you either deny everything for my sake, or you are not worthy to be my disciple. When is the last time you heard your pastor or church leader talk like that?
Most Christians today would flee from such tough words, and accuse Jesus of being too unloving and too hard and too demanding and too unrealistic. Well, I tell you what: I much prefer running with what Jesus said and the way he said it, than with all the namby-pamby, anaemic and cowardly proclamation found in most churches today.
We all must choose who we will follow here. Choose wisely my friends.