Warning and Encouragement

Click here for more messages from the book of Matthew.
Click here for more messages from the Mission and Conflict series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.

Matthew 10:16-31 (Facing opposition)

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing our series through Matthew 10-12 focusing on the theme of mission and conflict. Last week we saw that we are all called on mission from God. We are all called to share the gospel with those around us, and we are all called to participate in bringing the gospel to the world. Today we learn that being on mission from God involves conflict. Even as Jesus sent his disciples out on mission, he warned them about opposition and encouraged them to stay the course. (Read Matthew 10:16 and pray.)

—————————–

How do you deal with conflict? Many of us do not like conflict and will do anything we can to avoid conflict. But what if the conflict is unavoidable? What do you do then?

In today’s passage Jesus makes it clear that conflict is unavoidable when you are on mission for him. The only way to avoid the conflict is to avoid the mission, and that is not an option when you are a follower of Jesus. To follow Jesus is to be on mission. Avoiding the mission means you are no longer following Jesus.

Last week we looked at Jesus’ instructions as he sent the twelve disciples out on their very first mission. Here Jesus continues to give instructions for mission, but these instructions go beyond the initial mission. For example, we saw last week that the initial mission was to the lost sheep of Israel. But here Jesus speaks about being witnesses before governors and kings and Gentiles. Last week we learned to look for people receptive to the gospel. But here Jesus warns us that there will be people who are strongly opposed to the gospel.

And so, today we move from receptivity to opposition, from hospitality to hostility. And even though we should expect opposition in our mission, Jesus tells us we don’t need to be afraid. The passage begins with three warnings to expect opposition, and then ends with three words of encouragement to stay the course. If I were going to summarize the whole passage in a single sentence, it would be this: expect opposition, but don’t be afraid. So, let’s look at the three warnings Jesus gives us first.

I. Warning to expect opposition – “sheep among wolves” (16-25)

Jesus warns us to expect opposition. Look at verse 16 where Jesus says: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Jesus uses several animal images here: sheep, wolves, snakes and doves. Sheep are used as symbols in a number of ways in Scripture, but here they represent the innocence and defenselessness of believers as we go forth on mission to share the gospel with others. The wolves represent those who oppose the gospel and will attack believers for their faith.

Because Jesus sends us out like sheep among wolves, he tells us to be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. To be shrewd is to act wisely. Jesus is telling us to be wise in the way you act towards non-believers. (Colossians 4:5) Do not provoke persecution, but do not fear it either.

And be innocent as doves. The word translated “innocent” here means “unmixed.” So, your motives and your actions should be unmixed. Your motives should be pure, and you should be blameless in all your actions. If you do suffer, you should suffer for being a Christian, not for doing wrong. (1 Peter 4:15-16)

Jesus then gives us three direct warnings about the opposition we will face. He tells us to be on our guard against men, to be on our guard against hatred and to be on our guard against slander.

   A. Be on your guard against men (16-20)

First, he says, “Be on your guard against men.” Although we will learn later in Matthew 10-12 that the true source of opposition comes from Satan, that opposition will usually manifest itself through other people and their opposition to Christ.

      1) They will try to stop you from sharing the gospel

Know that people will try to stop you from sharing the gospel. And that opposition can be sharp and painful. Look at verse 17 where Jesus says: “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues.” (Matthew 10:17) There are many believers throughout history and around the world who have been arrested or physically harmed simply for sharing the gospel. And although it is not illegal to share the gospel here in the United States at this time, there is a growing tension even in our own country when it comes to religious liberties and matters of conscience in speech and at work.

      2) God is using you as a witness to them

Jesus says people will try to stop you from sharing the gospel, but you need to realize that God is using you as a witness to them. Look at verse 18 where Jesus says: “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:18) This verse is another reason why we know that Jesus is thinking beyond the initial mission of the twelve when he gives these instructions. The initial mission was only to the Jews, but here Jesus envisions believers being brought before governors and kings and other non-Jews or Gentiles.

Notice the words “on my account.” Jesus is not talking about us being dragged before the authorities because we have done something wrong. Rather this is on account of Jesus and our witness for Jesus. People will try to stop you from sharing the gospel, but when that happens, know that God is using you as a witness to them.

      3) The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say

Now that could be pretty intimidating being brought before governors and kings, so Jesus has another word of encouragement for us here. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. Look at verses 19-20: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

Jesus says when you get arrested for sharing the gospel, don’t worry, because the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say. The Holy Spirit will give you what to say, the actual words themselves. The Holy Spirit will direct you how to say it, the proper attitude and manner to present the words. And the Holy Spirit will help you when you need it. Jesus says, “At that time you will be given what to say.” “At that time” literally means “in that hour.” You may not actually know what you’re going to say beforehand, but God will give you the help you need at the precise time that you need it. And so, Jesus says don’t worry because the Holy Spirit will help you with the what, the how and the when of your witness. You don’t need to worry, because it won’t be you speaking, but the Holy Spirit speaking through you.

By the way this promise is not restricted for those more extreme situations when you may be arrested for your faith. Anytime you share the gospel with someone else, the Holy Spirit will help you with what to say and how to say it, and he will help you at the exact time you need it.

Notice Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of your Father.” This reminds us of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus repeatedly spoke of God as “your Father” or “your heavenly Father.” You are going to face opposition in sharing the gospel, but God is your heavenly Father, and he will help you in your time of need.

And so, Jesus first tells us to be on your guard against men. They will try to stop you from sharing the gospel, but God is using you as a witness to them and the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.

   B. Be on your guard against hatred (21-23)

Next, he tells us to be on your guard against hatred.

      1) Even family members may turn against you

Jesus warns us that even family members may turn against you. Look at verse 21: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” (Matthew 10:21) We will talk more about family divisions and the gospel when we get to Matthew 12, but for right now, know that even family members may turn against you because of the gospel. Also notice the extreme hatred at play in these verses which manifests itself in betrayal, rebellion and even death.

      2) He who stands firm to the end will be saved

Jesus says that even when people hate you, we need to stand firm and persevere for the sake of the gospel. Look at verse 22: “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) Jesus points forward to a time of widespread hatred and persecution of believers. And why are believers hated? Jesus says, “It’s because of me.” It is because of Jesus and the message that you bring. Here Jesus highlights the importance of perseverance and endurance. Yes, people will hate you because of Jesus, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

      3) Escape persecution when you can

Jesus also tells you to escape persecution when you can. Look at verse 23 where Jesus says: “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:23) In other words, persecution will come, but you don’t need to make yourself a sitting duck for it. This is part of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Jesus says it’s okay to escape persecution when you can. We find some clear examples of this in Scripture, for example, Paul escaping over the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:25), or Paul using his Roman citizenship to avoid physical punishment (Acts 22:25).

Back to Matthew 10:23, the second part of this verse is hard to understand. It almost seems like Jesus is saying that he will return before the disciples finish sharing the gospel in Israel. And yet the gospel has already gone out to Israel, and Jesus has not returned yet. So how are we to understand this verse?

There are several ways we could understand the phrase “the Son of Man coming” in this verse. The phrase could mean Jesus coming back from the dead. Or it could mean Jesus coming to the Father in heaven at the ascension (as in Daniel 7:13). It could mean Jesus coming in judgment against Israel at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Or it could mean Jesus’ second coming.

1) Jesus coming back from the dead
2) Jesus coming to the Father in heaven (Daniel 7:13)
3) Jesus coming in judgment against Israel (A.D. 70)
4) Jesus’ Second Coming

I think either option two or three are most likely what Jesus meant, but what is more important for us to grasp from this verse is the sense of urgency for us today. Jesus is coming back for us, and we need to be active in sharing the gospel.

   C. Be on your guard against slander (24-25)

So, Jesus tells us to be on your guard against men, to be on your guard against hatred, and then thirdly, he tells us to be on your guard against slander.

      1) A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master

Look at Matthew 10:24: “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” (Matthew 10:24-25a)

Here Jesus uses the student/teacher relationship and the servant/master relationship to make his point. A student is not above his teacher. The good student listens to the teacher and learns from the teacher. A servant is not above his master. The good servant listens to the master and follows the master’s instructions. The good student is like his teacher, and the good servant is like his master. Jesus is the teacher, and we are his students. He is the master, and we are his servants. We are not above him. He is above us. We are like him. What happened to Jesus, happens to us.

      2) If people attacked Jesus, don’t be surprised if they attack you

And the point here is this. If people attacked Jesus, don’t be surprised if they attack you. Look at verse 25 now where Jesus continues: “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Matthew 10:25)

Here Jesus uses a third illustration, that of the head of the house and the members of his household. Jesus is the head, and we are the members. Jesus was slandered. He was called Beelzebub or Satan by the Jewish leaders. We will learn more about these accusations against Jesus when we get to Matthew 12. But the point here is the same. If people slandered Jesus, don’t be surprised if they slander you as well. Slander is hurtful and painful, and yet it is part of what we can expect when we share the gospel with others.

And so, Jesus gives us three direct warnings about the opposition we will face as believers on mission from God. Be on your guard against men, be on your guard against hatred, and be on your guard against slander.

II. Encouragement to stay the course – “Do not be afraid” (26-31)

Those are the three warnings Jesus gives us in this passage. Now he follows that up with three words of encouragement. Jesus gives us encouragement to stay the course. Three times in the next verses he tells us not to be afraid. This is the most frequently repeated command in all of Scripture, “Do not be afraid.” It’s been said that there are 365 instances of this command in the Bible, one for each day of the year. I don’t know if that is accurate or not, but even if there were only one command, you could take that one and use it every day for the year. But three times in the next verses, Jesus tells us do not be afraid. Even though we should expect opposition, we do not need to be afraid.

   A. Truth will win out (26-27)

So, what are the three reasons he gives us not to be afraid? First of all, because truth will win out. Everything hidden will be made revealed. Therefore, we can be bold in sharing the gospel.

      1) Everything hidden will be revealed

Look at verse 26 where Jesus says: “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” (Matthew 10:26) What is Jesus saying? Everything hidden will be revealed. Men’s evil deeds will be exposed, justice will prevail, and God’s servants will be vindicated.

      2) Therefore, we can be bold in sharing the gospel

And therefore, we can be bold in sharing the gospel. Jesus continues in verse 27: “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.” (Matthew 10:27) Truth will win out. Everything hidden will be made revealed. Therefore, we can be bold in sharing the gospel. That’s the first word of encouragement, and the first “do not be afraid” in this passage.

   B. Fear God and nothing else (28)

Then Jesus goes on to tell us to fear God and nothing else. Look at verse 28 where Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

      1) Don’t be afraid of those who can only kill the body

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of those who can only kill the body.” Why? Because they cannot kill your soul. As believers we no longer need to fear death, because when you die your spirit immediately goes to be with God in heaven. For the believer to die is gain. To go on living in the body means fruitful labor for the Lord, but to depart from your body and be with Christ is better by far. (Philippians 1:21-23) And when Jesus returns, he will resurrect your body as well.

      2) Fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell

So, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of those who can only kill the body. Rather, fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Don’t be afraid of people who can only inflict temporary harm. Rather, fear God who holds eternity in his hands. When you fear God in your life, when you have reverence for him, when you live your life in awe of him, when you confess your sin to him and receive his Son as your Savior, all other fear is gone.

Fear God and nothing else. That’s the second “don’t be afraid” in this passage. Don’t be afraid of those who can only kill the body. Rather, fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.

      C. God will take care of you (29-31)

And then finally Jesus assures you that God will take care of you. Nothing happens apart from your Father’s will. God knows you intimately, and he cares for you.

      1) Nothing happens apart from your Father’s will

Look at verse 29 where Jesus says: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) Sparrows were common birds that were sold cheaply in the marketplace as food for the poor. Nobody gave a second thought about a sparrow falling to the ground. Nobody that is, except God.

Jesus says not a single sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father, literally, “without your Father.” In other words, nothing happens without God. Nothing happens apart from God’s knowledge and will. Notice that Jesus calls God “your Father” again here. God is your heavenly Father. You are his child, and he will take care of you.

      2) God knows you intimately and cares for you

Jesus says you don’t need to be afraid, because nothing happens apart from your Father’s will, and God knows you intimately and cares for you. Look at verses 30-31 where Jesus says: “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:30-31)

That always amazed me as a child and still does. God knows the number of hairs on your head! He keeps track. He knows how many you had before you got into the shower this morning, and he knows how many you had when you got out. And if God keeps track of even the most insignificant details of your life, then, surely, he is tracking the big things too. God tracks the sparrows in the field and the hairs on your head. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Nothing happens apart from your Father’s will. God knows you intimately, and God will take care of you.

CONCLUSION: And so, Jesus tells us when you go on mission for him, you can expect opposition. And that opposition can be very strong, resulting in arrest, physical harm or even death. And yet even though you can expect opposition, you don’t need to be afraid. Truth will win out. Fear God and nothing else. God will take care of you. Expect opposition, but don’t be afraid, because God is with you and he has promised to help you.

So be prepared to face opposition when you share the gospel with others. Not everyone will like what you have to say. But that is no reason to bail on the mission. People need Jesus, and if you don’t share Jesus with the people God brings your way, then who will?

Part of following Jesus is sharing Jesus with others. Nobody likes conflict. But the mission must go on. So, go forth. Share the gospel. Don’t be afraid. God will take care of you.

© Ray Fowler

You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this message provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and that you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For any web postings, please link to the sermon directly at this website.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copies:
By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

Click here for more messages from the book of Matthew.
Click here for more messages from the Mission and Conflict series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.