Is it possible for a person to be on their guard against a very real threat without fearing that threat? In Matthew 10:17, Jesus tells His disciples to “beware of men” because they will hate you and will seek to kill you. But then later in the chapter, He says three times for His disciples not to fear (10:26, 28, 31). Isn’t this a contradiction? How can you beware of a person without also fearing that person?
In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking as King to all His armies of all the ages and telling them about the battle conditions that His disciples will face. What is striking about the passage from 10:16-39 is the number and the constancy of the threats facing Christ’s would-be disciples. Before our Lord even begins recruiting, He clearly tells of the high cost of being one of His followers, and of how you will be hated by all because of His name (10:22), yet Jesus does not appear to mention a single offsetting benefit. This is a most unconventional means of collecting an army of followers!
In this study, we will look at Jesus’ charge to His troops in 10:16, and at the commands He issues to “beware of men” (10:17), but not to fear men (10:26, 28, 31). Our purpose is to understand these instructions from Jesus, and then see how they apply to us in our lives.
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” – Matthew 10:16
First, then, we want to study Jesus’ charge to us as His soldiers. In Matthew 10:16, our Lord deploys His troops. “Behold, I send you out.” As disciples of Jesus, we need to be aware that we have been called into His army to be sent out. Sent out to do what? To be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). To be His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). To be fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). So, we see that the King has sent us out.
Second, we are sheep in the midst of wolves. There can hardly be a greater mismatch. Sheep are utterly defenseless, and wolves are notoriously deadly. In Romans 8:36, Paul says, “We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” The disciple needs to understand that his is a dangerous calling of total commitment. To follow Jesus is to be a sheep among wolves. We are the hated and the hunted.
Therefore, since we are sent out as sheep among wolves, we must be shrewd (wise) as serpents and innocent as doves. Knowing that he has been sent out by his King into a dangerous combat, the disciple must be very wise. What you lack in ferocity and power you must make up for with shrewdness, with canniness. With wisdom we elude the enemy while loudly proclaiming Jesus.
APPLICATION: Although our “battle conditions” here in America still seem fairly benign, we must remember that we are called to be wise as serpents. We are still sheep in the midst of wolves and must advance the Kingdom and proclaim the gospel with shrewdness and cunning. We operate as innocent as doves as we scheme for the gospel. We use ingenuity and craft to “stay under the radar” while advancing the gospel deeper into enemy territory.
“But beware of men.” – Matthew 10:17
BEWARE OF MEN
Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say that His disciples are to be frightened of men and, therefore, to run away from men. He does not say that His disciples are to avoid conflict by avoiding confrontation and proclamation. He simply tells them that they should “beware of men.” This is a tactical command from the King to His soldiers. When you go out under the banner of Jesus, realize you will be hated (John 15:18ff). Therefore, as a practical consideration, you need to be wary of those who hate you and seek your destruction. We are sheep among wolves, so we remain physically vulnerable to death. Jesus commands us to beware of men because He knows that, on our gospel mission, men will try to kill us (Psalm 37:32).
So, do not be naïve! “He who is not with you is against you” (Matthew 12:30). Do not trust those who speak peace with their mouths while they plot to kill you. “There are many who fight proudly against me” (Psalm 56:2). As Jesus’ soldiers, we have a boldness and a zeal for the work of the Kingdom that is tempered by a holy wisdom. We are to beware with boldness.
THEREFORE, DO NOT FEAR MEN
26 “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known.” – Matthew 10:26
28 “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.”
– Matthew 10:28
31 “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:31
Now the King gives His soldiers the supreme command: “Do not fear men.” Three times in this brief section, the Lord tells us not to fear. As a tactical consideration, it is wise to beware of men, but our wariness of men must never cross over into fear of men. The only one who is worthy of our fear is the Lord Himself (Matthew 10:28). Negatively, the Lord is the One who can throw soul and body into hell (10:28), so He should be feared, but positively, the Lord is the One who has bought us at the price of His own Son on the cross. Therefore, we serve Him and worship Him in reverential fear because we have experienced His power. If we fear the Lord, we need to fear nothing else (see Luke 12:4-5). Again, only the Lord is worthy of our fear.
In Old Testament and New, the Lord displays His power and His faithfulness so that His people will trust Him and love Him with a reverential fear.
In Psalm 56:4, the psalmist asks, “What can mere man do to me?”
In Psalm 27:1, “the LORD is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear?”
In Isaiah 43:1, the LORD says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.” If we are redeemed by the LORD, what is there to fear?
In Psalm 103:11, the psalmist declares, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is the LORD’s lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.”
In Romans 8:31, Paul testifies, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
1 John 4:18 proclaims, “Perfect love casts out fear.”
To fear man when the Lord has called us to salvation and has promised He will never leave us or forsake us is to call the Lord’s power into question. Therefore, the professing Christian must be very aware of where he places his fear. The author of Hebrews writes,
“But my righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. – Hebrews 10:38-39
The main teaching of Matthew 10, then, is that we are to faithfully proclaim the gospel with wisdom and with fearlessness. Wisdom, because we are vulnerable sheep in the midst of ravenous wolves, but fearlessness, because no threat of man can take away our eternal reward.
APPLICATION: One of the goals of our sanctification and our discipleship is to arrive at that state of mind, that settledness of soul, where we are so convinced of the truths of God’s Word and of the power of our God that no threat of man would cause us to tremble. For the disciple of Jesus, we aim for ability to say, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), without hesitation and with full conviction. We long for that place where our grip on the Resurrection is so tight that it is as if we were already glorified (Romans 8:30). We overcome fear by the power of the gospel.
Here are ways that I strive to reach that place of fearlessness:
- Meditate on and study the Resurrection passages in the Bible until you are convinced that you personally will rise with the saints on the Last Day. The certainty of the Resurrection will drive away fear of death.
- Spend time deeply considering the power of God as displayed in creation and as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. From the earliest chapters of Genesis, God makes promises, and then He keeps those promises. This requires ultimate sovereignty over all the affairs of His universe. And God has made promises to His people which He will certainly keep. Meditate on these truths until you fully believe the unlimited power of the living God. When you grasp God’s power and believe that He loves you as His child, the fear of man and the fear of death and the fear of the future will lose their hold on you.
SDG rmb 10/7/2021 #439