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Matthew 10:9-15 “Principles for Mission Execution”

“Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper in your belts. No bag for the road, nor two tunics, nor boots, nor a staff; because the worker is worthy of his food. So, into whichever city or village you may enter, search out who in it is worthy; and remain there until you leave. So, entering into the house, greet it. And if, on the one hand, the house should be worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if, on the other hand, it should not be worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever may not receive you or hear your words, as you go out from the house or that city, shake the dust from your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than in that city.”

 

The transition from Jesus’ mission statement and the details of the mission’s execution was introduced in the last line of v. 8. The connection is not made concretely between the command to freely give and the introduction to various types of coinage but is a logical connection in that Jesus has now begun to instruct the manner in which the twelve are to go about their mission. In the following verses, Jesus provides three guiding principles which will govern the twelve’s mission of preaching the coming kingdom.

 

What to Bring: The Worthy Worker’s Provision (vv. 9-10)


It would be more accurate to think of these verses as “what not to bring”. Here Jesus provides something of a list of things to be left behind (vv. 9-10a) before revealing the reason for such Spartan traveling (v. 10b).

 

Instructions: What Not to Bring (vv. 9-10a)

Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper in your belts. No bag for the road, nor two tunics, nor boots, nor a staff.

  

The twelve are prohibited from acquiring or procuring (μὴ κτήσησθε) money for their belts.[1] The sense is not that they should empty their pockets before leaving, but that they are forbidden from gathering or amassing a fund to dip into for the journey. There will be no stop at the ATM before they leave. Matthew is quite specific here as he records Jesus’ orders naming gold, silver, and copper as the precious metals used for coinage from the largest to the smallest denominations. This is akin to saying, “no bills, no quarters, no pennies.” This sense of not acquiring (as opposed to not possessing) continues through the rest of the list.


There will be no need of a bag (πήρα – a traveler’s bag, rucksack, duffle), for there won’t be anything to put into it. Not even a second tunic to wear as an extra layer against the cold or to avoid having to pack it. The one they are wearing will suffice. Neither are they allowed to procure more substantial footwear (ὑπόδημα) than the everyday sandal (σανδάλιον) which they undoubtedly already have on. They are not even allowed the time to cut themselves a walking stick or staff. One might reason that a journey of any kind necessitates at least a little money, an extra shirt, decent walking shoes, and a stick. But Jesus does not allow the time to gather any of these arguably essential items. What they have on them right now is good enough. They are literally to go out with nothing but the shirts on their backs and the lint in their pockets. After all, they are workers in the Lord’s harvest and thus can expect to be taken care of.

 

Rationale: Why leave them behind (v. 10b)

Because the worker is worthy of his food.


The reason[2] why Jesus does not allow the twelve to outfit themselves is because it is not needed. By referring to the worker (ἐργάτης) Jesus brings back the imagery of 9:37-38. Thus, the twelve are considered workers (ἐργάται) in the Lord’s harvest as they go about this mission. This connection is necessary to understand, because Jesus is not suggesting that the twelve will receive wages from the people (the harvest), but that they will receive sustenance from the one who hired them; the Lord of the harvest. The term translated as “support” (NASB, LSB) is literally “nourishment” (τροφή) and almost exclusively translated as “food” elsewhere (Matt. 3:4; 6:25; 24:45; Lk. 12:23; Jn. 4:8; Acts 2:46; 9:19; 14:17; 27:33, 34, 36, 38; Heb. 5:12, 14; Jam. 2:15). The point is not that they will be paid or compensated, but that they will be sustained by their master as they go about His business. Just as the priests were fed by Yhwh through the offerings of the people (Num. 18:31), so these twelve workers will be fed by the Lord of the harvest.


The worker is worthy (ἄξιος) by virtue of his work. This is not a statement of moral integrity so much as it describes the association between his work and his rights to sustainment. A landowner is expected to feed his harvesters and supply them with water. Not because they are morally righteous men, but because they are laboring on his behalf. Likewise, the twelve are about to enter the Lord’s harvest and are thus worthy of His support for their needs. They will not go hungry while they are employed in His service. Rather than provisioning themselves, they will be provided for. Now, it is time to trust Him.

 

Where to Stay: The Worthy Home’s Peace (vv. 11-13a)

So, into whichever city or village you may enter, search out who in it is worthy; and remain there until you leave. So, entering into the house, greet it. And if, on the one hand, the house should be worthy, let your peace come upon it.

 

The theme of worthiness continues from the laborer to those whom he labors among, and the vessels God will use to feed His workers. The first priority upon arriving at a new city or village is to search out a worthy (ἄξιός) man to stay with. But, how will they know who is worthy and who is not? The same verb (ἐξετάζω) used to describe the careful search Herod desired the Magi to make (2:8) is used here. The basic sense of this term is to inquire, question, and thus to examine. No such man can be found without asking around.


But like the worthy worker, this worthy individual is not described so based on their morality or social uprightness but is considered worthy on the same basis as the workers. That is, in connection with the work. The worker is worthy because he labors in the harvest, i.e., preaches the coming kingdom. Any individual in the cities and villages would be considered worthy based on his reception to the preaching of the coming kingdom. The point then is not that the twelve are to seek out the most respected individual within the community and stay with him, but that they are to seek out the one who is most receptive to their preaching and use his home as a base of operation while they remain. When they arrive, the first thing they will do is to proclaim the coming kingdom (v. 7). Whether this is in the open square or in the synagogue on the Sabbath makes little difference. The people will be easy to read regarding their reception to the message. Some may listen politely, others will scowl and mutter under their breath, yet some may come and eagerly desire to hear more. These are worthy fellows indeed, for those who seek will certainly find (7:7). 


The command to remain with them while they remain carries two implications. First, this is a command to remain with those who are interested in the coming kingdom. They will receive the focus of their attention and thus receive the brunt of the blessing that they are given authority to distribute (healing, raising, cleansing, casting out). A preacher’s time is devoted to those who are willing to listen to him. Second, this keeps the twelve in check as far as seeking more comfortable accommodations. It may be more pragmatic to bounce around from house to house, but the promise is that they will be provided for, not pampered. 


Upon coming home with their worthy listener, they are commanded to greet the house. The common Jewish greeting is a wish for peace (εἰρήνη/שָׁלוֹם). But this expression for peace in the present context is far more than a polite greeting or friendly wish. In connection with the preaching of the kingdom, this is a prayer or even a declaration that this worthy one and his household will certainly enjoy the peace of God when His kingdom comes. These are declared to be friends of God and not His enemies. They will receive blessing in the coming kingdom and not wrath. This is what is meant by the peace of the twelve coming upon the worthy house. If the house is worthy, meaning that the household is eagerly receptive to their message, then this greeting will become effective. More than words spoken, it will ring with truth when revealed at the kingdom’s coming.

 

When to Leave: The Unworthy Home’s Perdition (vv. 13b-15)

But if, on the other hand, it should not be worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever may not receive you or hear your words, as you go out from the house or that city, shake the dust from your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than in that city.

 

The μὲν/δὲ construction of v. 13 creates a condition akin to “on the one hand…on the other hand” and thus provides two different possibilities. (1) If the house is worthy (i.e., if they are receptive to the message of the kingdom) then they will also receive peace from the twelve. Yet, (2) on the other hand, if they are not worthy (i.e., if they do not receive the message) then there will be no peace for that household. This is no magic spell, but an encouragement to the twelve if things are not as they first supposed. In the event they got it wrong, that someone seemed to be interested and open to the gospel of the kingdom but then grew cold, disinterested, and perhaps even belligerent, the peace they bring (the promises and blessings associated with the kingdom) will return to them so as to be poured out one of those who are open and ready to hear and submit to the word of truth. The point is rather plain: if the house is found to be unworthy, leave. It’s one thing to hang around and make certain that the message of the kingdom is understood. But once comprehended and rejected, there is nothing for the preacher to do but move on to more fertile soil.


There’s been a slow progression in vv. 11-14 from those who are worthy and receive the preaching of the kingdom (vv. 11-12), to the mixture of reception vs. rejection (v. 13), to now those who absolutely reject the apostles and their preaching (vv. 14-15).[3] The rejection to them is two-fold: they are not received (μὴ δέξηται ὑμᾶς) nor are their words listened to (μηδὲ ἀκούσῃ τοὺς λόγους). They want nothing to do with the messengers or the message. As the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, these unworthy fellows have in reality rejected the person and preaching of Jesus Himself. In such a case, Jesus commands an appropriate two-fold response: to leave and shake the dust from their feet. This is not an act of derision or an attempt at being antagonistic but a physical demonstration severing all ties. There is no union, fellowship, friendship, or solidarity between Jesus and those who reject Him, His messengers, or His message. Therefore, the apostles will bring with them no souvenir from such a stay, even something as minute as the city’s dust. The act of shaking off the dust from their feet is not a pronouncement of a curse so much as it is a proclamation of reality: there is no union between the kingdom and this place.


The gravity of the situation sets in with v. 15. There are no people so infamous as those from Sodom and Gomorrah. There is no example of divine judgment so indicative of eschatological wrath as the fire Yhwh rained down on those cities. The immorality and violence attempted upon Yhwh’s messengers will be judged in the future day of judgment when all is revealed, and a man’s deeds are exposed. Doubtlessly, their fate will be most severe. And yet, it will be more tolerable for those immoral and violent people on that day than it will be for those who reject the apostles and their teaching. The cities and villages in Galilee who rejected the apostles will be judged more harshly than those who attempted to rape and kill the holy angels. That thought requires a little meditation.


It is one thing to be wicked, live a wicked life, and die desiring to do wicked things. In this way, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were merely living consistently with their godless nature. It is quite another thing to hear Messiah’s call of His coming kingdom and despise it. The men of Sodom were simply happy living under the rule of Satan. The rejectors in Galilee were in open opposition to King Jesus. Both stand on the same side, but the latter is far worse than the former. It is almost as though Jesus is preparing the twelve that this kingdom message will be severely opposed.[4]



[1] The negated subjunctive carries the same sense as the prohibitions of v. 5. The twelve are not to even consider doing these things.


[2] Causal γὰρ.


[3] Grant Osborne, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2010), p. 381.


[4] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 460.

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