The first, of course, is “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” but I bet you already knew that.
7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
9 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,
10 Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, enquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
12 And when ye come into an house, salute it.
13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
Believers love to use verses entirely out of context – often so that they can judge the people who are laboring hard in the Kingdom. Now, you know me and I am tough on abusive leaders, really blistering at times, but on this one I have to turn my gaze towards the people in the pews, or sitting in front of the computer screens because I hate (1) seeing people abusing scripture when they have not taken the time to learn context, and (2) seeing people fall into the false doctrine of greasy grace, in all its forms – one of which I will be talking about here.
I am reading an excellent book right now by a Christian theologian named David deSilva called Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity. It is an excellent case study into four almost completely neglected areas of both study and coverage from the pulpit; these concepts and the ways they were viewed, not only in the first century but throughout “old testament” times, illuminate so many verses that in the past have either seemed meaningless or were entirely misinterpreted. Without culture, much of the Bible is written in an indecipherable code. We can guess what they meant, based on why we think they would say such a thing, but we really don’t know. We are not much different than the Renaissance painters, dressing Biblical figures in modern garments and depicting them in modern scenarios. And this is fine – until we endeavor to teach, or we decide to judge.
And judgment is the case here, with this section of scripture.
In the ancient Near East, and notably in the first century (including among the Jews), there existed a system of beneficence. Wealthy men would become the patrons of artisans, politicians, farmers – really, whoever they took a shine to and decided to impart the blessings of finances, influence, or whatever it was that they could provide that the clients (the men receiving the blessings) needed. The gift was to be “freely given” without strings attached. The client was expected by society to be grateful and to return the gift through public praise, the raising of the patron’s esteem, and sometimes by providing the patron with material goods in return (perhaps something for his table if the man is a farmer or with a play written in his honor if the client is an artist). As the gift was freely given, so was the gratitude to be freely given in return. There was certainly no nagging involved, but if the client failed to reciprocate the blessing, it was considered a great crime against society – ingratitude was not an option. People were expected to feel indebted despite the fact that the gift was freely given. As the gift was always costly, the one who received it was always to feel like they had not cancelled out their debt. It might seem disingenuous to us today, but frankly, we are a selfish society driven by cheap grace. We want the gifts of God and we want Him to say, “Aw, it was nothing, you don’t need to do anything in return,” and we want to act in precisely that manner. We are an entitlement society where people give to us and we want to give nothing in return. In the world of Yeshua (Jesus) this was unthinkable. The word for this in Greek was “Charis” which may be familiar to you – it is translated into English as “Grace” and this is precisely why Paul used that term to describe our ongoing relationship with the Creator.
Why did the Jews approach Yeshua about the Centurion’s dying servant (Luke 7)? Because the Centurion had built their synagogue, he was a benefactor, a patron of the community. They were incredibly grateful and so they approached Yeshua on his behalf. He didn’t have to guilt them into going to Yeshua, he didn’t even feel worthy to have Him in his house – they were simply grateful and happy to be able to show their gratitude concretely. We also see the wealthy women who supported Yeshua; He had ministered to them in various ways and they considered His gift to them so significant that they treated Him as a benefactor – supporting Him according to their means (Luke 8:1-3). When someone gave you something that you could not get for yourself, the response was gratitude, and we see reference to this all throughout the Gospels and Paul’s writings. Paul even used this benefactor status to coax Philemon to give his slave Onesimus, because of how much Philemon owed Paul. What I used to see as manipulation was a cultural reminder to Philemon of how great his debt to Paul was and that this was something that would bless Paul in return. These people all had relationship with their respective benefactors. The benefactor blessed them, they reciprocated when and where appropriate, and he would respond by blessing them more, leaving them to gratefully respond again. It was a cycle of grace, an unending cycle of magnanimous blessing and heartfelt gratitude. The client owed the patron not only their gratitude, but their loyalty and they were never supposed to accept a gift from anyone they were not willing to be loyal to, even to the point of being willing to endure public shame and even death on his account (we see references to this throughout the epistles).
And so we have this account in Matthew 10; let’s look at it in light of the first century context.
“Freely ye have received, freely give” – this is not simply a commandment to the disciples that they have been given a gift freely by Yeshua, instruction in the word, but that they should give with the same heart. “Freely” doesn’t mean “without cost” – it means that Yeshua gave the gift out of the abundance of His generosity (a free-will gift) and that they were to give with the same generosity (free will), not only back to Him through obedience, but in that they were themselves to act as benefactors, albeit intermediate benefactors, to others. Yeshua also served as an intermediate benefactor (at a much higher level of course), providing people with access to the Father as we see in John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Yeshua told them not to take any money, or extra clothing – why? Because they were living in a society where if a man walked into the city and began preaching and teaching, it would be unthinkable for the people who had the means to refuse to support him. Even the poor who had nothing to give would do whatever they were able to – even if it was just to praise God in response to what they had heard. No one would sit and listen and then slip out the back door if they had the means to show their gratitude. It would be a public disgrace in the light of such benefaction. Yeshua didn’t have to worry about people with entitlement mentalities taking advantage of the disciples and refusing to honor them with financial support. If the disciples had needs, they would be met by the people because that was the society they were living in. People were grateful when they were given something freely and they proved it.
They were told to find worthy houses. Whose house would be worthy? The house that would not refuse to offer support to those men who were benefiting them with the message of the gospel, with healings and with deliverance.
For anyone to equate our society with the first century or the ancient Near Eastern world is pure folly. Lot was willing to have his own daughters raped before refusing hospitality, and even in modern times there are social laws in place in many parts of the world that support both gratitude and protection. But not our culture, we are a culture demanding everything cheaply – especially grace. Cheap grace isn’t just living how we want after getting “saved” – it’s receiving a gift and then showing no gratitude. It’s taking and taking and taking and giving nothing back, or responding to the gifts by giving grief to the giver as soon as we hear something we don’t like. We don’t have the right to demand that someone extend generosity towards us, we don’t have the right to demand that someone minister to us any more than someone could walk up to a rich man’s house and demand a gift for which he would never receive thanks (and indeed would be thanked with repeated and ever louder demands for more).
But we have been trained to treat God that way (as well as those who minister), instead of living in profound, continuous gratitude: wanting to do whatever we possibly can for Him, wanting to please Him through obedience, wanting to proclaim and magnify His reputation (His “Name”) not only by how we act towards others but by how we talk about Him. That is cheap grace. He gave it all and we don’t want to give anything in return. People minister and then when they ask for $10/year site membership (which often barely covers site maintenance, study books, and video equipment, and often doesn’t cover expenses at all) or sell a book, people scream and pitch a fit and deem them unworthy (people who will readily drop even more money for secular delights). But in this society, people aren’t ashamed to take without giving anything back. People who are not willing to freely give of what they have, have no ground to stand on to point the finger at those who minister full time and do largely give away what they do relatively free.
Someone made the comment yesterday that by putting the grace relationship in this context, that I was taking away from Jesus, who did it all, because it is all about Him and not about us. Well, dying on that cross wasn’t about Him. I will tell you the truth, that when we refuse to return gratitude and loyalty and service for what He has done – we are making it all about us, and not about Him at all. If it really is all about Him, and we believe it, then we will spend every moment proving it by living like He did, by showing that He is worth following, that we value what He did – and that we never ever treat Him like He was just giving us what we deserved because what we deserved is what He went through for us.