8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
The old hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” sure has fallen on hard times. Back in 1986 an LA Times article reported the following:
Revising a church hymnal is a sure way to orchestrate dissonance, a national Methodist editing committee has found out.
“Onward Christian Soldiers,” with its marching beat and exhortation to battle for Jesus, was considered too militaristic so the committee voted it out, along with another hymn that refers to warfare, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
But, in a crescendo of protest, thousands of militant church members who wanted the longtime favorites included in a new songbook browbeat the committee last week into voting the hymns back in.
The hymnal editor said the controversy was the largest ever to rattle the rafters of the 9.1-million-member United Methodist Church.
Some years later this happened:
SILVER SPRING, Md. — Leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have admitted that, given substantially heightened tensions around religiously-motivated violence, there is no place for the song “Onward Christian Soldiers” in the Seventh-day Adventist hymnal.
“Our history as a church of conscientious objectors opposed to taking up arms makes singing Onward Christian Soldiers around the world on Sabbath morning the ultimate contradiction,” said General Conference Music Historian, Bitto Late.
Late said that the hymn has already been deleted from the online Adventist hymnal and that the General Conference invited Adventists around the world to tear the “ultra-violent” song out of physical hymn books at their earliest convenience.
“To Muslims and Jews, any song about Christian soldiers is anything but a bridge builder so this song has got to go,” said Late. “And while we’re at it, we’re banning Adventist pastors from describing evangelistic efforts as crusades.”
Then in 2017 we read:
A vicar has dropped the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers from a Remembrance Sunday service next month because of the participation of non-Christians in the commemoration…
The Rev. Steve Bailey of St Peter’s church made the decision with the agreement of the local branch of the British Legion. It will be replaced with another hymn, All People That On Earth Do Dwell.
In a statement released by the diocese of Leicester, Bailey said: “We agreed the change in hymn with the Oadby Royal British Legion who run this major civic occasion because members of the community from a wide range of cultural backgrounds attend this event, which is a parade, a service in church and laying of wreaths at the war memorial.”
So it seems as if for at least thirty-five years the idea of “Christian soldiers” has become pretty problematic for a number of Christian groups.
I would argue that S. Baring-Gould’s original hymn is not, of course, about actual armies and battles between human beings but rather about the church advancing the gospel against the Satanic forces of darkness. This stanza seems to capture well what Baring-Gould was writing about:
Like a mighty army
moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading
where the saints have trod;
We are not divided;
all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
one in charity.
In point of fact, the idea of Christians as “soldiers” is firmly attested to in passages like Philippians 2:25, 2 Timothy 2:3-4, and Philemon 2. And this is an important image. Yes, it needs to be rightly defined, but it is indeed important.
In Matthew 10 Jesus sends His disciples out on a mission. He sends them out as a conquering army, but one conquering the hearts of men and women with the gospel of peace and love and one whose weapon is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells them that they will face intense opposition but that they must not waver from their mission. Let us consider, then, how the disciples of Jesus are to conduct themselves in their mission as the army of God.
Jesus’ disciples are to advance the gospel and not themselves.
The first thing we note in our text is that Jesus’ sent disciples are to advance the gospel, not themselves. He says to them:
8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.
His instructions are clear:
- Do not take payment.
- Do not acquire wealth.
- Do not take lots of items with you.
- Plan on depending on God as He works through the kindness of people to provide for your needs.
We have mentioned already that there are certain unique qualities about this specific ministry. The distinction between what is “descriptive” and what is “prescriptive” in the Bible is helpful here. Once again we see that while some of the particulars of this specific missionary journey are descriptive for this particular case, there remain timeless principles.
I say that some of these particulars are prescriptive because (1) a temporary missionary journey commissioned Jesus is different in some of its specific dynamics from a settled church body with under-shepherds giving oversight and (2) scripture elsewhere reveals that ministers taking payment is not wrong in every case and is, in fact, commendable in healthy situations.
For instance, Paul, in 1 Timothy 5, writes:
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Here we can see how some of the particulars in the missionary journey of Matthew 10 were unique to that situation. Paul seems not to object to ministers being cared for by their congregations if they are faithful. He speaks at much greater length about this in 1 Corinthians 9, a few relevant passages I include below.
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. 11 If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12 If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14 In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting.
Paul therefore says that while he declined compensation in some cases, it would not have been wrong for him to accept it had he chosen to do so. But there is a danger with church compensation and it is the danger of minsters feeling like they have been “bought” by the church and must therefore perform to the church’s liking. D.A. Carson writes, “The church does not pay its ministers; rather, it provides them with resources so that they are able to serve freely.” This is a helpful distinction. The church blesses its ministers. It does not buy and own them. Furthermore, as Carson notes, they are not preaching and teaching for money. They preach and teach because God calls them to and then the church helps them live so that they can preach and teach in that place among those people.
All of this being said, the principle within Jesus’ specific instructions remains binding and that principle is this: Jesus’ disciples must not seek to advance themselves or become rich off of the back of the church. We are here to advance the Kingdom.
Perhaps you will forgive me for quoting at length from an article that was published merely four days ago by Christianity Today about a situation many of us have been watching with some interest for some time. It involves the legal resolution of a conflict between a megachurch pastor and his former church.
James MacDonald has been awarded $1.45m after reaching an arbitration settlement with Harvest Bible Chapel (HBC), the megachurch he founded.
He will also receive the assets of his Walk in the Word (WITW) broadcast ministry, settling a dispute with HBC elders who had maintained that it was the property of the church.
MacDonald was forced to leave the Chicago-based megachurch last year following a scandal over inappropriate remarks he made about Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith and independent investigative journalist Julie Roys.
Roys was the author of an investigative piece in World magazine that alleged financial abuse and a culture of bullying at HBC.
As part of the settlement reached with HBC, MacDonald will receive all of the legal and digital assets of WITW, including sermons, podcasts, websites and real estate.
“Walk in the Word (WITW) will no longer be a ministry under the umbrella of HBC. As part of the merging of WITW to HBC, there was an agreement that MacDonald could remove WITW and its assets to an external organization,” HBC elders said in a statement.
“Our insurance company paid MacDonald $1.2 million,” the statement continues.
“HBC also agreed to transfer a vacant parcel of property adjacent to our Crystal Lake Campus which we had listed for sale on the market since mid-2019.
“These funds and this land are for the assets that Walk in the Word brought to HBC when it came under the church in 2010.”
The church will also pay an additional $250,000 in cash – a sum that had apparently been promised to MacDonald in relation to the sale of his former home prior to his firing in 2019.
I want to be clear that I do not print this in order to take a side. I do not know enough of the details to know who is right and who is wrong. All I know is this: this whole debacle seems to be a long way away from the principles of our passage. I know that this is a blight on the witness of the church and on the reputation of ministers. Surely the church must be above these kinds of wranglings over large sums of money. Surely something has gone terribly wrong when something like this happens. And surely the disciples of Matthew 10 would not have been able to imagine what the church has become in a situation like this!
Jesus’ disciples are to expect a divided audience.
The army of God is to advance the Kingdom, not itself. What is more, the army of God can expect a divided audience when it proclaims the truth.
11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
You will notice the two groups Jesus tells them they will encounter
- Those who receive the word.
- Those who reject the word.
It is interesting how often these two groups come up in the gospels. Consider this distinction we find in Matthew 25:31-46:
And again, in Matthew 7:13-14:
- those on the narrow path.
- those on the wide path.
John the Baptist makes this distinction in Matthew 3:12:
In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus spoke His parable of the dragnet at the end of the age in which the angels will separate:
- the righteous
- the evil
And throughout the New Testament we see similar such distinctions drawn.
In our text Jesus speaks of some homes being receptive to the mission of the disciples and some being hostile. Some will believe. Some will not. Of the latter, Jesus famously said:
14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
The disciples are not to be undone by those who reject their message. Neither are they to neglect others who need to hear by focusing solely on getting those who do not to believe, the idea being that only God can soften such a hard heart. No, in such cases of rejection they are to “shake off the dust from your feet.” “Jews shook the dust off their feet when they returned to Israel from pagan lands,” reports the HCSB Study Bible.
This is not, then, an active symbolic consigning of those who reject to judgment and hell. It is rather a symbolic recognition that those who reject have chosen hell over heaven themselves.
Followers of Jesus must wrestle with this in our own day. As a pastor there have been times when I have felt I must shake the dust from my feet concerning somebody. I do not mean by that that I give up on these folks. Rather, I mean that there are times when I must acknowledge that a person or people have decided to embrace that which is not of God despite heartfelt warnings and cautions not to do so and that I must turn them over the Lord and His dealings in the hope that they will repent and return. Those would be situations within the church. And outside the church there are times to turn somebody over to God when they have made it clear that they reject the gospel and when it is clear that your continuing efforts are pushing them further away.
We must never abandon somebody. We must never give up hope. But there is a place for the careful ministry of withdrawal if by that we mean prayerfully handing them to God and not potentially exasperating situations by our own personal efforts in the lives of others.
Jesus’ disciples are to bring a word of salvation and of judgment.
The hard and sobering reality of being the heralding army of God is knowing how much is at stake in the responses of human beings to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Some will believe and live.
Some will reject and enter into judgment.
This should cause us to be passionate and faithful in our efforts at reaching the lost. Souls hang in the balance!
There is a chilling line in The Gulag Archipelago in which Solzhenitsyn asks his readers to imagine that the trains are coming to haul them along with countless Russian prisoners to the gulags where they will suffer and die.
Shut your eyes, reader. Do you hear the thundering of wheels?
I believe that Jesus is saying something very similar here. He is asking those who reject the gospel if they can hear the thundering of wheels. He is sounding a warning, for what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah was a horrific display of divine judgment.
I ask you this: does your promotion of the gospel honor the seriousness of what is at stake here? Do you present the gospel as if lives are hanging in the balance? What would you do if you knew that fire was about to rain down on the house of a friend? Would you run to them and bang on the doors and windows? That is the image that Jesus is drawing upon in His allusion to Sodom and Gomorrah. In Genesis 19 we find the description of what God did to Sodom.
24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. 25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
That is the fate of those who reject the gospel of grace, who reject Jesus Christ. Our word is therefore necessarily a word of grace and judgment, of life and death.
Yes, God does have an army. Its banner is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It carries the cross into the world. Its weapon is love. There will be those for whom the message of Christ is a word of doom, but it will ever and always be a doom of their own tragic embracing. But the church, the body of Christ, the army of God, marches into the world to call lost humanity to life and forgiveness and salvation!
So, yes, let us say together: Onward Christian soldiers!
 Quoted in Blomberg, Craig L.. Matthew: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary) (pp. 171-172). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Holman Bible Editorial Staff; Holman Bible Editorial Staff. HCSB Study Bible (Kindle Locations 133986-133987). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago. Vol. I. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973), p.586.