Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
July 27, 2014
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
— Matthew 10:34-42, ESV
Jesus would make a bad guest at most family dinners. He would bring up matters of politics and religion, especially religion. He would divide the table and pit family members against one another. He would question their love and loyalty and wish that they were all dead. He would render their lives meaningless, save for whatever they may have done for Him and His followers. So don’t go inviting Jesus to dinner, unless you want to run the risk of a frightening food fight or a full-scale family feud.
All of this is to say that a first reading of the end of Christ’s first commission to His disciples seems a bit harsh. Indeed, they form a sword wielded by, of all people, the Prince of Peace. They cut and divide at the deepest level. They, like the gospel they convey, are words of division, for the gospel divides. It divides believers from unbelievers, followers from the uncommitted, sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost.
But to say the gospel is mostly about division would be wrong. Look more closely at Jesus’ words. The gospel is mostly about love. There is so much written in the Gospels about God’s love for us. Jesus speaks here, however, of our love for Him. It is demanding, it is divisive, but most of all, it is the highest love.
Higher than the World
The sword of the Lord, which is the gospel, is meant to cut you off from the world. But not in a negative, absolute sense. Genuine acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ simply but profoundly means your love for Him will be higher than any love for anything on earth (see also Christ’s words in John 15 and the Apostle John’s in 1 John 2).
Christians should love the planet and love people. We should appreciate and conserve our natural resources. We should be kind and helpful to all people. We must, as God Himself, love the world by especially loving the people of the world.
But we must love Christ more, with a much higher love.
If any of this world’s resources or possessions would prevent us from giving our all for Christ, we must forgo or surrender those possessions. If fishing or golf or shopping makes your forsake the public worship of Christ, seek a higher love. If working to obtain material things crowds out all the hours you could spend in fellowship and service with God, God’s word, and God’s people, seek a higher love. Take care of the planet, obtain all the possessions you rightly can, but love Christ more.
If any of this world’s people, whether it be the Chinese government or the American government, tell us to keep our faith in Christ to ourselves and out of the public square, we must proclaim Christ all the more. If people threaten our jobs, our place in society, or withdraw their friendship if our lips and lives bear witness of Jesus Christ, then we must seek a higher love. We must love all people, but the best way to love people is by sharing Christ with them, inviting them to Christian worship, and showing them a lifestyle that is in step with the word and will of God.
So go ahead, enjoy your life on earth, but let your love for Jesus be higher than the world.
Higher than the Family
The family described by Jesus in this passage is obviously not the Corleone family, the head of which infamously warned, “Never go against the family.” Here we find in-laws fighting like outlaws even to the point of becoming personal enemies. Is Jesus promoting a gospel kind of “Family Feud?”
Again, there are plenty of admonitions in the Old and New Testaments that teach us to love and honor our parents, our brothers and sisters, even our in-laws. It honors God to honor and love our family members. But, it is actually a dishonor to God to love your family members more than you love Him.
Accepting the gospel assumes risk, and one of the risks of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is being alienated from your family. This happened in severe ways with most of the first followers of Jesus, who were rejected by their Jewish families for accepting Jesus as the Messiah. This is happening in countries hostile to the gospel today, where family members turn in other family members for professing and practicing Christianity. And, this happens in the gold old USA, even in the Bible Belt, if you take your faith in Jesus seriously and seek His higher love.
I have witnessed people being forsaken by their own family because of their witness for Christ. More often, I have watched as church members and professing Christians put family matters far above the cause of Christ. Neither sight is pleasant to observe. But given the choice of disappointing your family members in some way or falling short of your commitment to Christ, which would you choose? Read Jesus’ words again carefully before you decide.
So go ahead, love your family, please, but let your love for Jesus be higher than the family.
Higher than the Self
Now comes the hard part. The biggest love affair that keeps people from loving Jesus with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength is the love affair people have with themselves. This depravity is no doubt the root of all evil. Such self love is why people love the things of the world, to get such things for themselves. Such love is why people, who would never sacrifice family for Christ, sacrifice family for themselves. And the only remedy for such self love is the cross.
Carrying the cross is not self loathing. The cross is central to the gospel and the word of God, whose second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Once the highest loge is given to God, and proper love and respect is shown for people, one is free to love oneself. So, a cross carrying Christian is not someone with a negative self image or no self esteem.
Carrying the cross is not self deprivation. As already established, having a higher love for God does not preclude a proper love for nature, material blessings, family, and friends. A cross carrying Christian is not only free from the penalty and power of sin, but free to enjoy every good and perfect gift God gives on this earth to the fullest.
Carrying the cross is self denying, a losing of one’s life to find a higher life, because one has found a higher love. Carrying the cross is an expression of love for the One who carried the cross on Calvary for us. Carrying the cross is an express of love for family, friend, and neighbor who needs the sin killing, salvation giving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Carrying the cross is putting Christ first, in all things, and then using all things for the glory of God and good of all people. It is a higher love.
Higher than any Worldly, Family, or Personal Reward
With the highest love comes the highest reward. Jesus closes His commission (which encompasses the entirety of Matthew 10) with a commitment to reward those who receive and reciprocate the higher love found in the gospel. It is a reward higher and greater than any compensation or commodity this world, family ties, or self advancement has to offer.
To receive Christ’s reward you have to be Christian, Christ-like in this world, and steadfastly offer Christ to others in the world, in hour family, in your sphere of influence. Not all people will trust in Jesus just because you have, as a matter of fact most will not. But the reward gained for even an attempted witness cannot be lost.
To receive Christ’s reward you have to embrace and embody truth — prophetic, biblical, absolute truth. Such truth is under attack in our age like no age before us. Higher love and its higher reward requires such truth to be believed, spoken, and lived. The added reward is that sometimes other people will listen.
To receive Christ’s reward requires righteousness. The imputed righteousness of Christ saves the soul, and the exhibited righteousness of Christ in your life attracts other people to Him. There is not salvation apart from the grace of God, and there is no salvation apart from proven faithfulness on the part of the follower.
But just what is this reward? Is it merely the great glory we will experience and share when we come into the presence of the eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? No, although such a great reward does await all recipients of saving grace. Apparently, though, there are other, singular, indescribable rewards to be given to certain Christians for certain acts upon the earth, rewards that can never be lost.
Let me illustrate Jesus’ cold water illustration. Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men, has given millions from his fortune to fight polio, hunger, ignorance, and other ills affecting the world’s population. Bully for him, sincerely. He is rewarded with admiration and tax relief. But, he will receive no reward from the God in whom he has said he does not believe. He will enjoy his riches and rewards for a short season of life, then unless he repents and believes he will stand condemned for eternity by the true and living God.
On the other hand, there is a widow who gave two cents to the offering. There is a missionary who dug a well in Africa. There is a parent who brought their child and a neighbor’s child to Bible study and worship. There is a senior adult who said a prayer for her pastor. There is a teenager who abstained from sex and drugs in the name of Christ. There is, well, you get the idea. There are millions of true believers doing billions of little things, one by one, because they are disciples of Jesus, because they have a higher love for Him and people in the world. And even little things done in the name of higher love will receive a higher reward than anything this present world has to offer.
So love your life in the world. Love your family and friends very much. But love God more. It is a higher love that will take you to the highest place for the highest rewards you will ever know.