Instructions to Apostles - II
9"Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.
11"Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."
Jesus continues His instructions to the apostles for their first missionary journey. In the first eight verses of this chapter, Jesus instructed the apostles to preach and to do good. Here He tells them how they are to sustain themselves on their journey: "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; for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his 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" (vs. 9–11).
Jesus was very specific in His instructions, lest He be misunderstood. He told them not to take anything extra, and to depend on those who heard the preaching to sustain them, "for the worker is worth his keep." There is a fine line to be drawn here. Back in verse 8, Jesus told the apostles, "Freely as you have received, freely give." Now here in these verses, He tells them to expect that those who hear the preaching sustain them. This fine line can be clearly delineated if we understand that it is the responsibility of the apostle to preach with no financial strings attached, and it is not the responsibility of the apostle to ask for sustenance. Rather, it is the responsibility of those who hear the gospel to sustain their teachers. And then, the apostle should willingly, and without any sense of guilt at all, accept any hospitality, or financial gift, that is freely offered to him. Under no circumstances should the apostle use any kind of coercion, or even pleading, to try to impel the hearers to give financially. Such coercion does battle with the idea that the gospel is a free gift. Jesus told His apostles to find a "worthy" person (i.e., someone who could afford to put them up), and to wait to be "welcomed." If they were not welcomed, they were to move on. I can’t help but thinking that many television evangelists here in America violate these principles. They plead, and beg, and then make threats that if the money doesn’t come in, they will be forced off the air. I tend to believe that Jesus would tell them, following the principles He set forth for His apostles, to preach the kingdom of God. Do not ask for, but do welcome the sustenance received through the preaching. And if the amount received is not enough to continue preaching on the air, "shake the dust off your feet" and find some other medium to use to spread the free gift of the Gospel.
On the other hand, let us not forget the responsibility of the hearers, those who are ministered to by preachers. It is their obligation to financially support their spiritual leaders. Paul tells us: "Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor" (Gal. 6:6). If you are not giving at least ten percent of your gross income to your church, to support the good work of preaching the Gospel, then today, sit down, and review your finances. Make a budget so that soon, you may do your part in providing for those who minister to you, "for the worker is worth his keep."
The strategy for sustenance that Jesus gave His apostles was a wise strategy for this first missionary journey for multiple reasons. First, it allowed the apostles to be acutely aware of God’s providence. Their own money was not going to sustain them. The Lord would provide for them through the goodness and hospitality of the people who heard and responded to the good news the apostles were bringing. Later, after the journey, Jesus would remind them of God’s providence on this journey: "Then Jesus asked them, ‘When I sent you without purse bag or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Nothing,’ they answered" (Luke 22:35). Second, it kept them from staying too long in a town that was unresponsive to their message. If they could not find anyone who would put them up in a culture that valued hospitality, then they certainly would not be able to find many people willing to pay heed to their message concerning the kingdom of God.
In general, for this first journey, Jesus did not want them staying in one place too long, even if the town accepted their message. He told them to stay at the same house in any one town until they left that town. Jesus most likely wanted the twelve apostles to cover as much ground as possible in a short time. So, the length of their stay in any one town was not to be any longer than they would be welcome at any one house.
They were not to force their message upon those who were not willing to listen: "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town" (vss. 14–15). Jesus prepared them for the eventuality that the hearers would not "listen to [their] words." This is not an unusual occurrence for the ministers of God’s Word. "Our Lord Himself had already been rejected at Nazareth (see Luke 4:16), and in the country of the Gadarenes, and was rejected afterwards at a Samaritan village (see Luke 9:52); indeed, in general, ‘He came to His own, and His own received Him not,’ (John 1:11). We need not then be surprised if some reject us and our message, since it was so with Jesus, and so with the apostles" [Broadus, 223].
Note the response that Jesus commanded to those who did not listen: "Shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town." This was a symbolic gesture akin to washing the hands of a situation. No blame could fall on the apostles. The apostle would have performed his responsibility of preaching the Gospel. The attitude portrayed here is that the Gospel is a valuable thing, something precious. There’s no need to loudly rebuke or denigrate people for rejecting the good news. We shouldn’t have to beg or bribe people to accept the Gospel. It’s a precious gift, and should be treated as such. Hopefully, the "shaking off" of dust would cause those who witnessed it to think twice about their rejection of the good news.
Jesus bluntly tells the apostles the consequence of the rejection of the Gospel: "I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town" (vs. 15). This is an astonishing claim that Jesus is making about Himself. He is saying that the eternal destiny of people depends on whether they accept or reject His message about the kingdom of God.
Note how Jesus introduces this statement: "I tell you the truth…." This signifies that what follows is significant, and important to heed. Next, He compares the judgment for rejecting the Gospel to one of the best-known displays of God’s judgment: the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. One of the messages of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is that sin will not go forever unpunished. So too, our sins will not go unpunished. But God, in His grace, through the sacrifice of His Son, provided a way for us to escape the punishment, by accepting the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. However, if we reject the Gospel, we will have to face the judgment for our sins, just as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had to face judgment. It is a dangerous thing to do, to reject the Gospel. "This is a doctrine fearfully overlooked, and one that deserves serious consideration. Men are 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 (see John 16:9; Heb. 2:13)" [Ryle, 96-97].
Make no mistake, the judgment of those who reject Christ will be terrible. They will be held accountable for all of their sins. "There is no wonder that Christ declares it will go more easily with them, than with those unbelievers who have refused to hear the Gospel. For when men refuse authority to their Creator and Maker, and grant His voice no audience, but repel His kind invitation, and undermine confidence in Him who promises all ready gifts, such impiety reaches the utmost peak of all possible wrong-doing" [Calvin, 296]. As the writer of Hebrews warns: "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" (Heb. 2:3).