Jesus commissioned his disciples on their very first assignment with these words: “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
The North American church has been big on the “go, proclaim” part of his instructions: so big, in fact, that in our haste we’ve sometimes failed to grasp his words, “Freely you have received; freely give.” One of the secrets to ministry lies in discovering what you have received before you rush off to give.
These words come from Matthew, chapter 10. It was the first time Jesus sent his disciples out into the field of ministry. Apparently, the Lord considered them prepared--or prepared enough to begin to put their lessons into practice. The disciples had left everything behind to follow Jesus: their businesses as fishermen, their roles as tax collectors, zealots, or whatever had occupied their time before they heard the call, “Come, follow me.”
The difference between giving what you have and giving what you’ve received is the difference between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of the age to come. What the disciples received from Jesus was a new way of life. It was the vision of God’s Kingdom breaking into the here and now. Consider these three points:
“Give what you have” focuses on our talents, our abilities, and our wealth. The starting point is what we have. We bring our not only our resources to the party but also our understanding, our methods and our values. One of the telltales of lifeless religion is people working hard to serve God, bringing the sacrifice of their time, energy and money. A sign of the Kingdom is people who joyfully share what they’ve received.
The disciples listened in amazement when Jesus suggested that a rich young ruler should “sell everything you have . . . then come, follow me.” The logic of the world would suggest that a rich man is already poised to serve the King: he need only redirect his wealth toward God, as if God would benefit from deep pockets. In my imagination I see the rich young ruler walking away, shaking his head, thinking, “Jesus missed the boat. I have a lot to offer.” Meanwhile Peter speaks up: “we’ve left everything to follow you.” Jesus tells Peter that those who serve him will receive “many times over” what they have given up. I’ve learned that we not only receive more, but we receive resurrected relationships, resurrected perspective, and resurrected resources.
“Give what you’ve received” focuses on what God does in us and through us instead of our own abilities. Jesus’ instructions to the disciples were simple, and simply impossible: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Easy, right? In reality, Jesus gave them a commission that required them to figure out a way to take the Master’s presence and power along with them, even when Jesus stayed behind.
A parable: Jesus sent out the twelve to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. When they returned the first ten said, “Master, in your name we established hospitals, consoled the grieving, developed a leprosy research institute, and a psychiatric hospital.” The other two returned and Jesus asked, “Where are the buildings? How did the fund-raising go?” They answered, “Master, we have none, but we healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed the lepers, and drove out demons. But we have nothing to show for it.”
What have we received? Some will dismiss these words as simplistic yearning for signs and wonders, for flash and dazzle. But no: the essence of our calling is to first receive from him--whatever he has to give--and then share his life with others.
Have we ever taken time to sit in silence and reflect on what he has given us? What abilities, insights, anointings or empowerments can we confidently say we have received from Jesus? The passage from Matthew 10 highlights the supernatural, but Jesus has more to give than we imagine. For example, he also said to his friends, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Is this a reality for any of us? Then we should share the peace of Jesus with others.
Can you imagine yourself standing next to someone filled with fear, placing your hands upon them, and imparting the peace of Christ? If you’ve received any measure of peace from him, then it’s yours to give. He is the giver of supernatural gifts. He also gives us the fruit of the Spirit: do we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Then these, too, we should give.
Let’s use our imagination one more time: what if each follower of Jesus determined to receive from him each morning, and returned home empty each night. What would the Master say when we returned?