Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city! (Matthew 10:11-15, N.K.J.V.)
Jesus sent His chosen 12 apostles out to minister on their own. His instructions to them were as follows:
- They weren’t to preach to any Gentiles or Samaritans, only to Jews (Matthew 10:5-6). Preaching to the Gentiles and Samaritans would come later.
- They were to preach the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 10:7). It was at hand because Jesus, the King of the kingdom, was on the scene.
- They were to accompany their preaching with miracles (healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons, raising the dead) (Matthew 10:8). The miracles would verify their ministries and lend credence to their message.
- They weren’t to take any money or extra supplies with them (Matthew 10:9-10).
- When they came into a city or a town, they were to find out which citizens there had the reputation of being “worthy” and stay in the homes of those citizens for the duration of the visit, allowing those citizens to provide them with food, shelter, and whatever other needs arose.
The Greek word that is translated as “worthy” in this passage is axios. It means “of weight” or “of worth.” It’s used in a good sense to describe a person who has value to them. A person who is axios is not a rogue, a scoundrel, a liar, a thief, or a con artist. To the contrary, the person has the reputation of being honest, upstanding, and trustworthy.
However, the context of the passage makes it clear that a person can be axios and yet still be a spiritually lost unbeliever. This raised the possibility that someone who had the reputation of being “worthy” might actually refuse to allow an apostle to take temporary lodging in his or her home. That’s why Jesus gave the apostles two possible courses of action in regards to how the “worthy” people treated them. Option #1: If the house proved its worthiness by allowing the apostle to not only abide in the home but also find food and supplies there, the apostle was to pronounce peace upon the house. Option #2: If the house failed to prove its worthiness by refusing to allow the apostle to not only abide in the home but also find food and supplies there, the apostle was not to pronounce peace upon the house.
Taking the matter even further, Jesus said that if a house or a city would not receive an apostle or listen to the apostle’s message, that apostle should literally shake off the dust from his feet as a symbolic judgment against that house or city. And how serious would the judgment be? Jesus said, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”
The usual takeaway from this passage is that it is a spiritually dangerous thing to reject God’s messenger and God’s message through that messenger. When you do that, you might not get another chance to make things right. At that point, all that will be left for you is judgment.
As I recently read this passage, though, another takeaway jumped off the page at me. I noticed that even “worthy” people can reject Jesus and His messengers. If this isn’t the case Jesus wouldn’t have mentioned that second option to His apostles. You see, it’s not just the lowlifes, the riffraff, the drunks, the drug addicts, or the criminals who reject Jesus; it’s also the high-society types, the pillars-of-the community types, the salt-of-the-earth types, and the so-called “good” people.
I can just see one of the chosen 12 apostles walking into a city and asking a local, “Is there anyone around here who might provide me with free lodging and food for a day or two?” The local says, “Well, you might try a guy named Jeremiah. He lives in that big house on the right at the end of this street. He’s a good man who has the reputation of being hospitable and charitable.” The apostle then takes the local’s advice and knocks on Jeremiah’s door. Jeremiah answers the door, and the apostle launches into his explanation of why he is there and what he needs. Now Jeremiah has a decision to make. Will he allow the apostle to stay in his home for a few days and take care of him while the apostle evangelizes the city? Or will he refuse the request because he doesn’t believe in the cause? What Jeremiah doesn’t know is that his eternal destiny might very well be riding on his decision.
Let this be a warning to anyone out there who thinks that human goodness has anything to do with salvation. Frankly, hell is filled with the souls of people who were axios folks in life. According to the Bible, criminals whose deeds have earned them the death penalty can be saved (Luke 23:39-43), as can scandalous women (Luke 7:36-50; John 4:1-42), tax collectors with bad reputations (Luke 19:1-10), and religious zealots who have innocent people imprisoned and put to death (Acts 8:1-3; 9:1-19). On the other hand, religious leaders can be lost (Matthew 23:1-39), as can rich people (Luke 16:19-31), young people who live moral lives (Mark 10:17-22), and people who go to church (Jude verses 12-13). The deciding factor, of course, is the person’s relationship or lack of it with Jesus. That’s the same Jesus those 12 apostles preached when they went around to those cities and towns some 2,000 years ago, and it’s the same Jesus who still offers salvation to any and all today who will believe in Him as Savior.