Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:11 “And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in
it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.”
Arriving in a town on their first short-term mission trip, the Twelve were to state their business and then, from the crowd’s response, determine who should provide them hospitality. In deciding who to stay with, the Twelve were to have one test. Find someone congenial and friendly, ready to welcome them with warm hospitality. No martyr complex–they were not to go out of their way looking for austerity or insult. No monasticism–their job was to touch people, not avoid them. No materialism–they weren’t to seek out the richest citizen with the biggest house.
Once settled in a house, they were to stay there until they left town. They were not to change lodgings, as if discontented. Leaving an efficiency apartment for a mansion could offend the first host, and send a bad signal by implying creature comforts matter most. The sole criteria was to be who received them kindly.
Missionaries still try to employ the principle in our text. We occasionally receive requests from overseas, asking us to pray that local itinerants might be able to find a “man of peace” (see LK 10:6) in the villages they carry the Gospel to.
We too can learn a good lesson here. We may not need to seek out someone to open their house door to us for lodging, but we should be trying to find those ready to open their heart door for our message. The Twelve were in essence looking not only for hospitality, but also for people willing to listen to their message.
Blessed is a believer who cares enough for others to find ways to determine the level of their spiritual receptivity. Paul Kirkendal, a friend from Gosnell days, would ask people, “Have you been thinking about spiritual things lately?” If the answer was no, he backed off from spiritual talk; if yes, he engaged them at their point of interest. Inviting people to entry level events at church can be a great way to determine where people are spiritually, and maybe our best discussion starter is “I’m praying for you.” Over ninety percent of North Americans believe in prayer. Their response to our offer to pray often speaks volumes about their spirituality.
The Twelve were to seek out the spiritually receptive. We need to go and do likewise. Be on the lookout for people who may want to hear the Gospel. This is not to say we should neglect the hardhearted or difficult fields. Many say the September 11 terrorist attack on our country was partly caused by a long failure of Christians to do missions in hard, hostile lands. A few consecrated believers can make a big difference even in the most antagonistic societies (e.g. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Many people are resistant, and we are to work with them, but at the same time, let’s keep our spiritual antennas up and focused on fertile fields. Concentrate our effort on folks receptive to the message of Jesus.
Matt. 10:12 “And when ye come into an house, salute it.”
The host homes served as bases of operation from which the Twelve went ministering house to house. They did not sit back and wait for people to come to them. Every church is tempted to backslide from a go-and-seek mentality into a come-and-meet one. To expect lost people to come to our church buildings in droves is silly as well as sinful. Ed Meyer shared with me this week a poem that used to be on the visitation board at Tower Grove Baptist Church in St. Louis:
They will not seek, they must be sought.
They will not learn, they must be taught.
They will not come, they must be brought.
In houses, the Twelve had their best chance of finding what people were truly thinking. We USA Christians don’t go on visitation to houses much any more. I think our cause has been weakened, yea impoverished, by this unfortunate trend.
Upon entering a house, the disciples were to offer the family a salutation. For Jews the usual greeting was, “Peace” (see LK 10:5). The Twelve were not to blurt out the message in rudeness. Customary tokens of respect were to be shown.
Even for the Apostles, religious earnestness and zeal were no excuse for dispensing with manners. Christianity does not teach us to do away with common rules of courtesy. It rather instructs us to treat all human beings civilly, which is the very purpose of good manners. It is no coincidence that as Christian influence in our country wanes, we are becoming a meaner culture–more road rage, spouse and child abuse, rudeness at home, the bank, the grocery store, and license bureau.
Parents, teach children to be friendly to everyone and to respect their elders. This is not trite advice from a dusty Emily Post etiquette book, but directives from the Holy Book. “Be ye kind one to another” (EP 4:32a). “Rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old” (LV 19:32). Kindness and respect matter. Rules of courtesy are not efforts at haughtiness, but rather strong ways of saying everyone in the orb of our life at a given moment is important and has worth.
I find it interesting that people who would never consider breaking rules of decorum in other lands have no qualms about smashing cultural courtesies here at home. In India, people greet one another by putting their palms together and courteously bowing the head. None of us would tell them, “That’s silly, just stick out your hand and give me a good old American handshake.” In Tanzania, folks eat goat and rice from a common bowl. None of us would say, “Have you never heard of Louis Pasteur and germs? We should each have our own sterilized plate and silverware.” We are sensitive to customs in faraway lands. We should have the same attitude at home. Our failure to be polite is making us rude and crude.
Matt. 10:13a “And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it:. . .”
The Twelve were to convey the peace they had. “Peace” may have become a flippant greeting for many, but for the Twelve it was a reminder of their mission, and served as a natural starting point for talking about what they came to discuss.
The opportunity to convey peace is a heady responsibility. Christ sent the Twelve to do what He was doing. Jesus wanted them to be Him for the masses.
We have the same charge. Reverence causes us to recoil at the thought of considering ourselves a little Christ, but this is the very definition of the word Christian. As believers we are called to be a little Christ. On our feeble voices we speak peace. Our lips convey this precious treasure of Heaven to paupers in need.
We not only wish peace for others, we bring it with us. We come carrying with us the highest and best peace, one that comes only from God. When people receive our message, the reward that comes “upon” them is spiritual peace with God, the finest blessing of all, because all other blessings are contained in it.
In our day, a greeting of “Peace” is often superficial, but we believers must mean it. No one should say “Peace” more heartily than Christians. It has a deep meaning for us. It is a holy phrase, a prayer for God to grant good of every kind.
On their first short-term mission trip, the Twelve were commanded to make their initial communication with people a prayer conveying good news. How sad that we who are commissioned to tell good news are often known solely as bearers of bad news, of condemning speech. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, tells the sad story of how his own people negatively reacted to his decision to change the first of his four spiritual laws from being negative to being positive. Initially his first law was “Man is sinful,” which was the same way every other USA soulwinning plan began at the time. Eventually Bill Bright decided he did not want his first word to prechristians to be negative, so he made “Man is sinful” his second law and adopted as his first law, “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” When he announced this change, secretaries and other workers actually cried, believing Bill Bright had sold out to liberalism, which was not the case. Bill was right. Our first message should always be good news. “For God so loved the world. . .” (JN 3:16). We bring good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all peoples. Unto us is born a judge–no, a Savior–Christ the Lord (see Lk 2:10-11). Let our first word to prechristians ever be, “Peace to you. God loves you.”