Matthew 10:32-39: Priorities and the Gospel

Read: Matthew 10:32-39

Everyone has seen the emails “Forward this to 10 people, or else…” or the social media posts that say “share” then these emails proceed to (mis)quote Matthew 10:32-33. Taken out of context, one might get the impression that Jesus will deny anyone who denies him before the Father, such that that person would be condemned to hell for doing so. This, however, stands in contrast to what Jesus says concerning salvation: those who are saved can’t be snatched away (John 10:27-29, Romans 8:33-39). In the context, Jesus is talking about the process of disciple making and the persecution one endures while proclaiming the gospel, not justification. Jesus had just reminded the disciples of the value that each one of them had to the Father. The “denial” before the Father here is concerned with the rewards for faithfulness that one receives for being obedient to the call of God.

Verses 32-33 come right before another difficult passage where Jesus uses some rather harsh language. Jesus proclaims that he didn’t come to bring peace, rather to bring a sword. This is another text that, if read out of context, could be construed to imply that Jesus wants people to hate their mother and father.  He quotes from Micah 7:6, which is set in the middle of a prophesy concerning a tumultuous time when several long-established institutions will be turned on their head. One’s family will be his or her enemy and one’s former foes will be his family.  This proverbial sword, which is the gospel, will cause dissention in families. Those living in places with intense persecution of Christians understand this: families will reject the one who chooses to follow Christ. When one chooses to follow Christ – his or her allegiance is to Christ in spite of everything. The division isn’t because a Christian doesn’t want to love his or her mother or father, rather it’s the other way around. Jesus includes many other paradoxical statements here as well: one who doesn’t carry a cross –the despicable act of a criminal — isn’t “worthy” of Christ and one who loses his life will find it.

Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus command his followers to hate people for his sake, but he does give ample warning that those who do follow Christ will be hated on his account. The call to live for Christ comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is high – including family. The promise here is that those that find Christ will find a new family in other believers and a new life in Christ. For this reason, it is important to be meaningfully connected to a body of believers so that when persecution does come – and it will – one can endure it with others rather than try to go through it alone and be encouraged (Hebrews 10:24-26).

Lord, help me to be faithful!