Reverse Servant Evangelism?

Matthew 10 is a very enigmatic passage. It consists the longest evangelism training session of Jesus to His disciples. The entire context of this account begins in Matt 9:35 and ends in Matt 11:1. In my experience, Matthew 10 is not often considered in evangelism training today.

Several years ago I came to the realization that Matthew 10 did not have much prominence in my 1,100 pages of notes on evangelism. It was disconcerting. So, I made the Final Exam of my Basic Evangelism class a comparison-contrast of my notes with the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 10. I told my students that Jesus always trumps me—I like it when Jesus proves me wrong!

I told my students that Jesus always trumps me—I like it when Jesus proves me wrong!

The students grappled with the Final Exam, because the teachings of Jesus have a strong focus on persecution and rejection for the gospel. In the U.S., because of our First Amendment, we do not encounter persecution for the gospel in the same way as today’s Christians in Iraq or North Korea.

One dimension of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 10 is what I call, “Reverse Servant Evangelism”:

“Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food” (Matt 10:9-10).

Servant Evangelism does have a place in the toolbox of an effective evangelistic church—it definitely provides proximity to lost people who need to hear the gospel.

But, in the case of Matthew 10, Jesus intentionally sent out his disciples without any money, without a change of clothes, and without any reserve of food. They had no resources for Servant Evangelism. These were counter-intuitive commands from Jesus as He commissioned His disciples to bear witness of Him in every city and town where He Himself was going to go.

They had no resources for Servant Evangelism.

At the end of their first day, someone, somewhere, from some unreached city would need to open their home to the disciples. Whether solo or two-by-two, they would need someplace to eat supper, someplace to sleep, someplace to wash their face, and have breakfast in the morning. It would not be long before they would need their clothes washed. Soon they would need a new pair of sandals and perhaps an outer garment for change of weather.

In other words, the people to whom they were sharing the gospel had to serve them—“Reverse Servant Evangelism”—much like Elijah relied on the widow of Zarephath.

Truly, the disciples would adopt indigenous practices very quickly. They would be eating local food and wearing the local clothing. Because in this context they were going only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” language would not be an obstacle.

In fact, Jesus pronounced a blessing on the households of those who took in these evangelists

“He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matt 10:40-42).

For the sake of proper interpretation, Jesus did alter two of His teachings in Matthew 10 later in His ministry:

  1. Jesus changed the restriction of preaching to Israel only in the Great Commission, where He said, “Go, make disciples of all nations” in Matt 28:19.
  2. Jesus also removed the command against taking a moneybag in Luke 22:36.

Yet, of interest is that in Matthew 10 Jesus required His disciples to rely solely on divine providence for their daily basic needs. Thereby His disciples experienced “Reverse Servant Evangelism”!


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