Formations 07.27.2014: A Cup of Cold Water

Matthew 10:34-42

af23_3_072714_a_cropThis may come as news to some people, but it gets hot in central Georgia in the summer. Temperatures can hover in the 90s (or higher) for days on end, and the humidity can go through the roof. My heart goes out to all the fine folks who work outside in the Georgia heat doing sweaty, physical labor. As far as I’m concerned, farmers, groundskeepers, construction workers, and the like deserve hazard pay from June to August.

Having grown up in Michigan, I have come to treasure air conditioning as one the greatest inventions in history. That and refrigeration. A cold bottle of water makes yard work or a late afternoon stroll or a day at the zoo endurable.

The people of Jesus’ day understood working hard on a hot summer day when a cup of cold water would be cherished as a gift from heaven. For the disciples, to receive such hospitality from a stranger was a rare blessing. More often, Jesus said, they should expect hostility—not peace, but a sword—even from the members of their own families.

Although Jesus proclaimed a message of peace, it often provoked contention and hard feelings. His demands are absolute, however: disciples must love Jesus more than their families and even their lives. They must take up the cross and follow, despite the cost.

The life that Jesus demands does not always win friends or commendations. It does, however, have its rewards. Jesus speaks of the reward of a prophet and a righteous person. And not just for weary and maligned evangelists but for those who extend hospitality to them. Those who receive you, Jesus says, are also receiving me.

Serving Christ is not always glamorous. Sometimes it is a hard, sweaty, thankless job.

But every now and then, someone comes along and reminds us that it’s all worth it.


• When has serving Christ been difficult for you?
• When have you felt unappreciated for what you do for God?
• What does it mean to love Jesus more than anyone or anything else? How is that related to taking up the cross?
• Who has reminded you by their words or deeds that serving Christ is worth it?
• What are the rewards of which Jesus speaks?

Reference Shelf


The Greek word translated disciple (“learner”) could convey the idea that Christianity was simply a philosophical movement, but the notion of intellectual adherence without direct commitment is foreign to NT thinking. A disciple is one who “follows” his master. In the OT era the idea of following could bring to mind the procession of the devotees of pagan cults behind the images of the gods. The concept of following was avoided in describing what it meant to be devoted to Yahweh. The transcendent Yahweh cannot be “followed” in the sense that pagan gods can. In the NT the term “to follow” is used almost exclusively in the Gospels. Disciples leave all to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28; Luke 5: 11). To follow him is to participate in the salvation which he offers. To follow him also implies participation in the fate of Jesus (Matt 8:19ff.; John 12:25-26). Furthermore, following Jesus is not simply a private or individualistic attachment to Jesus; it is life in community with others who have heard the same call.

John A. Wood, “Disciple/Discipleship,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 215.

Allegiance to Christ

Verses 34-36 actually comport well with v. 21 and are in a sense an expansion of that saying. It may at first seem incongruous to say allegiance to the gospel of peace will lead to strife, but this is precisely what Jesus says here where the word “sword” is used metaphorically to describe the divisions caused in a family by some members becoming followers of Jesus and others refusing to do so. The first part of the saying suggests that Jesus understands why the disciples might expect that Jesus had come to bring peace. But in fact the disciples are told to expect hostility not only from strangers but even from members of their own families. It would appear that Jesus draws on Micah 7:6 for the description of the divisions in vv. 35-36. This is quite apt since the Micah passage is about times of strife and trouble, even internal strife in the family prior to the time of eschatological deliverance (cf. Jub 23:16-20; 1 En 10:02; 4 Ezra 6:24).

Verses 37-39 bring out even more clearly the implications of what Jesus has been saying, namely that allegiance to and love of Jesus must be one’s top priority. Anyone who loves one of their own family members more than they love Jesus is said to not be worthy of Jesus. It is also added that the one who doesn’t take up his cross and follow Jesus is also not worthy of him. The saying in v. 39 is something of an exposition of v. 38—the person who affirms and seeks after his own life, his own priorities, his own self- centered lifestyle, will in the end lose his life, but the person who gives up his life, both his life priorities and his life itself for the sake of Jesus and the good news, will discover that he has entered into the Dominion, into eternal life.

Verses 40-42 provide the last of these sayings, and the concept of agency clearly underlies what is said. The person who receives one of Jesus’ disciples has in effect welcomed Jesus, and the person who has welcomed Jesus has even welcomed the one who sent Jesus—the Father. Furthermore, there are rewards for such positive reception of God’s messengers. If anyone receives and honors someone as a prophet, that person will receive the same reward as a faithful prophet, and the same applies if one receives a person as a righteous man. Indeed, even giving one of Jesus’ disciples a cup of cold water will not go unrewarded. Notice that here and in Matthew 18:6-14, Jesus’ disciples are called “little ones.” This dis- course has had much to say early on about hospitality, and here it has something positive that the disciples can tell those who are offering them hospitality—namely that God will notice and they will be rewarded (cf. 1 Kgs 17:12-16; 2 Kgs 4:8-17). It is interesting that Jesus came to see his messengers as prophetic figures (cf. here to 5:11-12; 11:9; 13:17), and it may be that the First Evangelist uses the terms “prophet” and “righteous man” inter- changeably (cf. 13:17; 23:29). In any case, both disciples and those who treat them well are said to receive rewards for honoring and welcoming the good news and those who come to share it with them.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 225–26.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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