The Truth About Inward Focus

Have you ever heard anyone say that Christ will accept all of those who simply come? In Matthew’s Gospel so far, we have seen a few things about Christ’s teaching that contradict the idea that He is willing to accept all people. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount prefaces all His other teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. As Jesus preached, He said plainly that “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (7:21). Even many of those who suppose they are doing much work in Christ name will have to depart from Jesus (7:23). In today’s text, Jesus is going to get at something very particular regarding those who claim to be His disciples. It leads us to ask whether or not we are truly disciples of Christ. Will we truly enter the kingdom of Heaven?

Matthew 10:24-33

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

The purpose of evangelism and missions (v. 24-26)

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. 

In the context of this passage, who is the teacher? Who is the disciple? Who is the master? Who is the slave? Jesus is both the teacher and master. His apostles, whom He is sending on a short-term mission trip, are the disciples and slaves. Jesus is stating a general truth in order to describe the relationship His disciples have with Him. When Jesus tells His apostles that a disciple is not above His teacher, He emphasizes the fact that those who follow Him sit under the authoritative teaching of His word will never surpass Him or earn different results than He does through His own evangelistic and missions ministry on this earth. The disciple’s purpose is not different from Christ’s. His or her methods are not different from Christ’s. He or she will not be loved or accepted more than Christ or gain a bigger audience for themselves than Christ did, who will be rejected by even His closest disciples.

We often have thoughts of grandeur in ministry. We dream of large audiences, packed buildings, and masses of people listening intently to what we have to say. Like we saw last week, this is not normative for the Christian’s life or ministry. When Christians make as their goal big buildings, attractional methods, and large crowds, they have not striven to become like Christ but, instead, greater than Him. A disciple is not above his teacher nor a slave above his master. So, attracting many people is cannot be the purpose of evangelism or missions.

Second, Jesus teaches that it “is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher…” The explicit purpose Jesus gives His apostles for their short-term mission trip is their sanctification—their being conformed to the image of the teacher, Jesus Christ Himself. In this process, Christ is exalted and the Father is glorified. Popular evangelicalism, today, caricatures Biblical evangelism and missions by claiming our utmost responsibility before Christ is to win as many people as possible to His kingdom. That is blasphemy against the God who takes it upon Himself to work all things together and choose a people for Himself. We are not greater than Christ. Furthermore, that caricature causes us, who love Christ, to miss the central point of evangelism and missions—to glorify God, exalt Christ, and ourselves be conformed to Christ’s image. When no one responds, when local churches are not growing in number, and when we can’t report annual growth on our organizational profiles (which seem idolatrous to me), God has not lost and neither have we. See how God uses evangelism and missions to conform us to Christ’s image:

If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

In Matthew 9:34, the religious leaders responded to Jesus’s mission work by accusing Him of operating by the ruler of demons’s power. Here, Jesus does not tell His disciples that they will amass a great following, be respected as God’s representatives, build large churches, have prominent ministries, or win anyone to salvation. Jesus tells His apostles that they will be maligned like He has been maligned in response to the Gospel being preached. Don’t hear me claiming that God will never build a prominent healthy local church, ministry, or whatever. He will do that according to His will and for His glory. Leaders of those ministries will probably be maligned more than leaders who seem to seem less prominent from our perspective for the Father’s glory on this earth. What I am claiming is that large churches, ministries, and prominence in the world is not the norm for Christians who are truly following Jesus. That is the exception to the rule because we are not greater than Christ. When Christ does build a large local church or ministry, He does so for His own glory, not that of the pastor. It is His success, not ours.

Since Christ’s apostles are to expect to be maligned as Christ has been, Jesus instructs them not to fear those who do the maligning, the maligners. Christ will reveal everything they speak. He will make it known to their shame because He is the righteous judge. We don’t have to fear them or respond in kind. We don’t have to condemn the maligners. We don’t judge because that is God’s position and not ours. God is working together the false testimony of maligners for His children’s good—their sanctification, that we may be like our teacher. We stay about God’s affairs, marching onward in His evangelistic mission for the purpose of His glory, Christ’s exaltation, and our sanctification. 

The work of evangelism and missions (v. 27-31)

What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 

Remember, Jesus is teaching in the context of sending His apostles (missionaries) on a short-term mission trip. What Jesus teaches them personally, they are to go and teach in the public square. This is the primary content of evangelism and missions, as we have seen in this section of Matthew’s Gospel beginning with Christ’s own ministry. Missions provides the opportunity to share Christ’s message. Evangelism is sharing Christ’s message. Christ’s message is everything that He taught. That is why we preach through Scripture in a way that the world hears. What He has taught in His Bible, we proclaim in the public square. The preaching and teaching of the church is not to be private. It is a public exercise. That is why we take such pains to be sure what is taught here can be heard by the public for the exaltation of Christ and glory of the Father.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 

Jesus reminds His disciples not to fear haters, persecutors, or maligners. He repeats Himself (cf. v. 26) and instructs His apostles to fear God instead. God is more powerful. God is able to destroy a person more completely. Jesus attributes the authority over Hell to God. He reveals that God is the one who is able to destroy the soul and body in Hell. One test of a true disciple asks whether we care more about what others think or what God thinks.

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

These three verses are often presented out of context. Usually, I hear a preacher or teacher using these words to wax eloquent about how all people are treasured, loved, and cared for by God. God will provide all your needs. The problem is that Christians die of starvation everyday. Christians are martyred. Christ has just taught that His people will be hated, persecuted, and maligned. That sort of interpretation doesn’t match the surrounding text whatsoever. Again, don’t misread me. I am not claiming that God doesn’t treasure or care for any part of His creation, especially people. I am claiming that this verse cannot be correctly used to make that particular claim or describe the specifics of God’s affection for His creation.

The primary context is evangelism and missions. The secondary context is the persecution and maligning that is to be expected. Notice the focus of Jesus’s illustration. It is the death of the sparrow. Since people, particularly His apostles, are more valuable to Him than many sparrows, will He not also care over their deaths? They don’t have to fear people because they cannot fall to the ground apart from the working of the Father. Put simply, if it is not our time we will not go. If it is, we will. What are some ways you think we give in to fearing people rather than God today?

As one example, this last Sunday, many preachers in the United States stood up and said something about church security in response to both the New York and Texas shootings. violence is getting worse. We need to stay protected. We need armed security to make that happen. We’ve got a plan right? What is our response to this danger? It is good to be prudent. Our church does have a security team. Most of our people are armed. Still, we cannot act out of fear. We should never react in the way most of the nation’s religious organizations did. We cannot lose sight of the fact that God is in control of every situation. He cares over the way we die. When we die, we die for the exaltation of Christ to the glory of the Father. Our priority in spite of physical danger, then, is evangelism and missions to the glory of God. We are sanctified through that. We fear God, not people, because God is all-powerful and we really believe that. What are some other ways we give in to fearing people rather than God today?

The reciprocity of evangelism and missions (v. 32-33)

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Christ will deny those who do not publicly proclaim His explicit word as He has given it, who don’t love Him in such a way that they tell the world. How is this not works-based? From the Sermon on the Mount onward, Jesus’s anthropology has been root produces fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). False prophets and people who don’t really love Christ are revealed by their fruit. This refusal to practice missions and evangelism, to be outwardly focused, is fruit. There is necessarily a bad heart condition that produces this bad fruit. Jesus presents two evidences that can be observed to distinguish between real Christians and people who only claim to be Christians: 1) we become focused outward and desire to practice evangelism such that we cannot keep silent and 2) our confession is Christ’s word, not ours. Consider the apostles’ response in Acts 4:20 after being warned not to preach in Jesus’s name any longer, “…we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It’s a statement of ability, not willingness. It was impossible for them to stop because they feared God, not people.

We can infer from this text a juxtaposition between outward and inward focus. Outward focus is twofold. First, we are striving to reach people outside the church walls and not giving all of our attention, money, and time to the inward ministries of the church body. Everything is evangelistic and missional. Second, we are serving God’s glory, not ours. We are not self promoting but God promoting.

Inward focus is for people who are self-interested. So, the person who resolves only to fill a seat in a church, is more concerned about his or her own preferences or being served, or constantly complains because he or she believes things ought to be different is, according to Christ, either a very immature Christian or not a true Christian at all. He or she tries to earn glory for self rather than serve God’s glory by focusing on numbers, recognition, and how he or she might feel persecuted. It is hypocritical to be focused inwardly. It is Christlike to be focused outwardly to the glory of the Father. The only one who has the right to be inwardly focused is the Father because He is the one to receive all glory. Yet, He condescended in the person of Christ so that His people might know Him. So, local churches that are inwardly focused are not true local churches (at least not healthy ones). Let us go swiftly, humbly, and boldly. 

Questions:

  1. What is God’s purpose for missions and evangelism?
  2. How do we give in to fearing people rather than God, particularly concerning persecution?
  3. What is the difference between inward and outward focus, and why is it important?

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