by Al Maxey

Issue #285 ------- January 25, 2007
The enmity of one's kindred is far more
bitter than the enmity of strangers.

Democritus {c. 460-370 B.C.}

I Bring A Sword
A Study of Matt. 10:34
Purpose or Effect?

The holy, inspired Scriptures are literally inundated with statements and events that seem, at least on the surface, to be enigmatic and paradoxical in nature. One such "problem passage" has long been a statement by our Prince of Peace; our meek, humble Lamb. In His instruction to the Twelve, prior to sending them out on an evangelistic mission, Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" [Matt. 10:34]. Wait a minute! Hold the horses! Didn't the angelic host proclaim to the shepherds, as the Christ-child was heralded, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men" [Luke 2:14, NKJV]? Didn't the apostle Paul clearly declare, "For He Himself is our peace" [Eph. 2:14], "and He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near" [vs. 17]? I also seem to recall this very same apostle of Christ saying "the kingdom of God ... is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" [Rom. 14:17]. Indeed, in the same breath he urges us all to "pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another" [vs. 19]. Yet, Jesus informs the Twelve that He did not come to bring peace upon earth, but rather a sword. How do we reconcile this apparent conflict?

Needless to say, this passage has puzzled disciples of Christ for centuries, and there are a number of interpretive particulars that have led to that sense of puzzlement. What is the nature of this "peace" of which Jesus speaks? What is the "sword" -- is it literal or figurative? Was His focus limited to just His immediate disciples, or was it global and timeless in scope? Perhaps most importantly, was Jesus referring to the purpose of His incarnation and mission to mankind, or just the effect of it? How we answer these questions will have tremendous impact upon our understanding and application of the passage in question. Some, for example, clearly perceive in the statement of our Lord a call to militancy, and history is filled with accounts of religious extremists who have "raised the sword" against those they regarded as heretics and infidels. In many cases this led to the actual shedding of innocent blood (as happened during the crusades and the inquisitions); in other cases it was far more figurative in nature -- the "severing" of the "undesirables" from the fellowship of the "faithful." That "sword of division" is certainly being frequently employed among militant disciples today. The One Body is being shamelessly dismembered by sword-swinging factionists and sectarians, and they don't hesitate in the least to appeal to Matt. 10:34 as their justification [NOTE: Some also appeal to 1 Cor. 11:19 as justification for division, a passage I dealt with in Reflections #18 -- Unity Through Division?]. Jesus didn't come to bring peace, but a sword, they insist. Therefore, they hasten to use it against any and all with whom they differ, with the inevitable result being a diminishing of peace within the family of God, not to mention lack of harmony and loss of unity.

In such cases, division has become the purpose of their preaching and teaching, rather than the effect of it, which I firmly believe completely misses the intent of our Lord's statement. A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a devoted reader in the state of Michigan who lamented that their new preacher "actually used Matthew 10:34 in a lesson to say that Jesus taught denominational division, and he singled out the Lutherans and Presbyterians." This reader took the minister aside and objected to that interpretation, but unfortunately was unable to alter his thinking on the matter. The sword of which Christ spoke in Matthew 10:34, therefore, is perceived to be an instrument of severing: slicing away all those who detract from the purity of the one true church. The latter, of course, would be us, whereas the former bunch would be all who differ with us, and who, by that lack of agreement, pollute our perceived party purity. In much the same spirit of militancy, the apostle John sought to hinder one who did "not follow along with us" [Luke 9:49; Mark 9:38], and then turned right around and desired to incinerate a Samaritan village because it would not accept them [Luke 9:51-56]. Jesus rebuked John, saying, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of!" [vs. 56]. John learned his lesson, coming to be known in later years as "the apostle of love."

Over the years I have encountered a few preachers, and heard of a good many more, who did not feel they had adequately "preached the Word" from the pulpit unless they had thoroughly "bashed the denominations." In their minds they were wielding the sword of the Spirit: slicing, slashing and slaying all those sinful sects who had arrayed themselves against their "one true church." In fact, just this past week I received a call from a group of church members in Tennessee seeking my advice on how to deal with their preacher/elder who was driving people away from their congregation because he refused to cease "bashing the denominations" in every sermon. They had met with the preacher, and with the other elders, but the defense was: Jesus did not come bringing peace, but a sword. His purpose, they insisted, was to engage the enemy, slicing and dicing these spiritual foes at every opportunity. This congregation, I fear, faces a very difficult road ahead.

There is absolutely no question that preaching the Word faithfully and forcefully will bring about a severing of relationships between those who accept the message, and seek to live by it, and those who do not. The disciples of Christ are to put on the full armor of God and then "take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" [Eph. 6:17]. And this sword is sharp. "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword" [Heb. 4:12]. The church is armed for the fight; it must indeed "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" [Jude 3]. But what is the focus of our warfare? Is it against our fellow believers who differ with us on matters of personal preference, perception and practice? Or is our battle against something else entirely? Perhaps the apostle Paul sheds some light on this just prior to urging us to take up the sword of the Spirit. He wrote, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" [Eph. 6:12]. In other words, we should be using the sword to cut through the darkness that threatens to overwhelm the people of God, not use it to slice through a disciple who does not happen to "follow along with us." When Paul said he had "fought the good fight" [2 Tim. 4:7], he was not talking about a family feud. Those disciples with differing opinions and traditions are not the enemy. Those who use multiple cups are not the enemies of those who observe the Lord's Supper with one cup. Those who enjoy a fellowship meal inside a church edifice are not the enemies of those who do not. Those who sing praises to their God from the depths of their hearts, and do so with instrumental accompaniment, are not the enemies of those who sing praises to their God from the depths of their hearts, and do so a cappella. For us to use the sword of the Spirit to eviscerate a fellow believer is not only a misuse and abuse of this weapon, it is murder in the sight of our God. "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" [1 John 3:15].

What exactly was our Lord's intent when He uttered those memorable words: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" [Matt. 10:34]? First, we should make it abundantly clear that the "peace" our Lord would bring with His teaching was not the kind of peace typically envisioned by the world. Jesus wanted the Twelve to understand this fact before they went out proclaiming His message. The effect of their proclamation would not be a radical reformation of human society resulting in a world filled with brotherly love, harmony and unity. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give unto you" [John 14:27]. "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" [John 16:33]. The peace that our Lord promised was an inward peace; a spiritual calmness and courage; a blessed assurance, even in the face of outward trials and afflictions. It was also a peace between God and man, not necessarily between man and man (although this too could, at times, be a positive effect of His teaching).

Jesus needed His disciples to understand the harsh realities of their mission. Their message would not always be well-received. Indeed, at times it would generate some very negative responses against them. Their lives would often be in jeopardy as a result of their commitment to Him. The ascended Jesus told Ananias, for example, when He sent him to find Saul of Tarsus, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" [Acts 9:15-16]. Peace, as the world understood that concept, would not be Paul's lot in life. Note carefully the list of experiences this man endured for his Lord, as enumerated in 2 Cor. 11:23-28, and you will see that his life was anything but peaceful (and this list reflected only the midway point of his ministry). Yet, with respect to being at peace with his heavenly Father, and possessing a peace "which surpasses all understanding" [Philp. 4:7], this faithful servant certainly had that in abundance. Yes, Jesus brought peace, but not as the world expected. It was this Jesus sought to impress upon the Twelve in Matt. 10:34. As He commissioned them for the mission ahead [cf. Matt. 10:5-33], all of which serves as the immediate context for His statement in vs. 34, He informed them of the trials and hardships they would face. If they went forth thinking their purpose was to bring an earthly peace, they needed to rid their hearts and minds of this illusion immediately. They would be "sheep in the midst of wolves" [vs. 16], they would be "delivered up" [vs. 19], they would be "hated" [vs. 22] and "persecuted" [vs. 23], yet they were not to be fearful [vs. 28, 31]. The Spirit would fill them with an inner sense of peace!

Although His disciples, through their deep and abiding faith and trust in Him, would know a personal, inward peace, our Lord also sought, as an integral part of His ultimate purpose, to eradicate the enmity that existed between various groups of men, thus establishing an outward peace as well. Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, master and slave, young and old, male and female, all needed to experience greater harmony. This wouldn't come easily, and it most certainly wouldn't come either quickly or effortlessly. But, it nevertheless was, and is, a peace attainable through acceptance of His message of grace, which, if received with sincerity of heart, would, with time and maturity, lead to acceptance of one another. "His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace" [Eph. 2:15, NIV]. In this universal One Body (the "church") there "is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" [Gal. 3:28]. Such glorious peace among men is only attainable when we stay focused on Jesus, rather than focusing on the differences, and even defects, we perceive in one another. "How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity" [Psalm 133:1], and yet how extremely difficult it is to achieve! Why? Because we are too quick to lose focus; too quick to take our eyes off the goal; too quick to elevate inconsequentials; too quick to devalue the worth of our fellow disciples. WE get in the way, and HIS purpose for ultimate peace suffers! The world's idea of peace, and the Word's idea of peace, are not even remotely the same! Jesus told the Twelve He did not come to bring the former, but rather the latter.

The far more immediate and visible reality of the preaching and teaching of our Lord's message would be "the sword." Although the ultimate purpose of Jesus was to bring men together, the actual effect that would be most evident would be the dividing of men from one another. When Jesus spoke of the "sword" in Matt. 10:34, He spoke figuratively. The meaning of this figure was/is: division. This is seen quite clearly in the parallel passage found in the gospel of Luke the physician. "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division" [Luke 12:51]. And this was to be a division of the most heart-wrenching kind -- it would divide the believer from those within his own household. This would be the ultimate test of discipleship, one about which Jesus frequently spoke. Choosing Jesus often meant (and still does) losing one's family. It was not uncommon for some Jews to even have a funeral for a son or daughter who embraced Christ, as they were regarded as "dead to them." Yes, Jesus brought a sword; he divided families. Notice the verses that immediately follow our text -- "For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me" [Matt. 10:35-38]. True commitment to Christ is not easy; it involves sacrifice, and frequently a sword.

Jesus Christ spoke, in our text for this study, of familial fracturing. Yes, there would be the sacrifice of other severed relationships as well. But the hardest enmity for anyone to endure would be that of one's very own beloved family. As Democritus {c. 460-370 B.C.} wisely observed, "The enmity of one's kindred is far more bitter than the enmity of strangers." In our text Jesus quoted Micah 7:6. Being severed from one's family because of one's faith is certainly not unique to Christianity. It is universal. Although such excruciating pain was not the purpose of His coming, it would clearly become one of the effects of that coming. The Twelve needed to know what would follow in the wake of their teaching. So also do we! Indeed, earlier in His commissioning dissertation, Jesus informed them, "Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death" [Matt. 10:21]. Yes, when Christ is preached, and when Christ is believed, and when Christ is received, a sword is never far behind. We must be aware of this, as must those we convert to Him, lest we buckle under the weight of affliction.

So, why did Jesus speak in terms of family division here, and not a broader scope of division? Most scholars believe it is because the Lord sought to deal with the separations that would hurt the most, and thus would be the greatest threat to a believer faithfully following Him. One might well be able to endure the ostracism of a co-worker, or a neighbor, or even of a friend. But the ultimate test would be the force of the sword within one's family. Also, it would be within one's own household that the effects of one's newfound belief would be initially evidenced. Thus, the first reaction to one's life-choice would come from this sector. "Those who rally round Christ are naturally opposed and hated by those who cleave to the old evil traditions. And the battle begins in the household" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 435]. Although the dividing asunder of relationships would obviously be felt elsewhere as well, "the battle of principles comes into closest quarters in the house; so a man's bitterest foes are those of his own household" [ibid, p. 436]. If one can endure this opposition for Jesus, one can endure anything.

Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann correctly observed that our Lord Jesus Christ "foresaw hostile opposition to His message. He knew, also, that the spiritual conflict which would be brought on by carnal enmity would find its expression in actual physical persecution. His disciples should not then imagine, as they were likely to do, that there would now be a reign of earthly quietness and peace, with all the blessings which the word implies. Division, contention, war, sudden, fierce calamities would follow the introduction of the Gospel. There is no more bitter hatred and strife than that due to religious differences. It estranges the very closest of friends, it disrupts families, it causes lasting enmity between members of the same household. To stand firmly on the side of Christ Jesus demands the utmost fearlessness" [Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 59].

It is significant to note that the purpose of Christ's teaching was NOT to divide men from one another, but to unify them. It was, however, often the effect of His teaching that men came to be divided from one another. It is critical to distinguish between purpose and effect, a distinction I fear many are not making today! We should not be preaching and teaching division, yet, sadly, this is exactly what too many are doing. When sermon after sermon is devoted to tearing down disciples, rather than lifting up Christ, we have ceased being "gospel" preachers. Yes, we must preach Truth, and we must do so boldly. When people accept that message of grace, embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, this will bring a sword into their lives and relationships. It is inevitable. We must prepare them for it. Yes, we must also oppose error, and expose those who maliciously and willfully promote it. We must do this fearlessly. This too will result in a separation between those disciples who are genuine sheep and those who only "wear the wool." When Truth is proclaimed and defended, a sword will follow. This sword must always be the effect of such faithful proclamation, however, and never the purpose of it.

"Truth must be spoken, errors must be exposed, sin must be denounced, and this must be done at any cost; and let the Christian be prepared for opposition. If all men speak well of him, let him search his conduct to see whether he has been faithful, or whether perchance he may have been speaking smooth things for the sake of ease and comfort" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 15, p. 428]. "To preach the gospel of purity and peace always arouses opposition. Evil has to be put down before peace can prevail. Hence, while the great end (purpose) that Christ proposes is peace, the immediate result (effect) of His coming, and of the preaching of the gospel, is opposition and bloodshed. This was not the Savior's object, but the effect" [B. W. Johnson, The People's NT with Explanatory Notes, p. 63]. If we are faithful to our individual callings, we shall experience opposition, which will likely include severing of relationships, perhaps even with those whom we dearly love. During my own 30+ years of ministry, for example, I have lost some dear friends as a direct result of my preaching and teaching God's grace. Brethren, it hurts.

I know firsthand the pain that David clearly felt when he wrote, "It is not my enemy who reproaches me, for then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, for then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend. We who had sweet fellowship together, walking in the house of God in the throng" [Psalm 55:12-14]. I am a realist. I know and understand the risk I take by boldly proclaiming my convictions. I realize that some, whom I love dearly, may well choose to turn from me ... and perhaps even turn upon me. It is a sword hovering above my head that I must ever be willing to accept ... as must each of you. Choosing Him often means losing them. It is painful, but the cause of Christ demands it. Indeed, we are unworthy of Him if we flee from the face of such separation. May we draw strength and courage from the conviction of Paul, who said from a prison cell, "Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him" [Philp. 3:7-9]. Brethren, if you follow the Savior, a sword will follow you! May He give us the strength to endure it.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Connecticut:

Bro. Al, This scripture came to my mind after reading your Reflections article on Daniel Coe -- "Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church" [3 John 9-10]. Looks like the yeast of the Pharisees never stops!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Al, Great article. I read it yesterday, and have now had some time to think about the things you said. You are right when you said not to confuse the teacher with the teaching. You are a great defender of the faith, Al. Thank you for all you have done.

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, For a "warped-view liberal" who has "no use for the Bible," I thought your last Reflections study was a very responsible refutation of Coe's insane article! God's blessings, my brother, from one of the "ilk."

From a Reader in South Dakota:

Dear Bro. Al, Thank you for your latest article titled "Sitting in the Seat of Moses." Keep up the good work, but keep one eye open. Daniel Coe's move to your community in New Mexico to start a "sound" congregation, and to counter your influence there, as he bragged to the CFTF bunch that he was doing, is bizarre!!

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I have known Dub McClish since our college days, when I was in a volleyball class with him. He thought he knew more about the rules of volleyball than anybody else, and he would frequently get into loud discussions about them! Then, about five years ago I heard him speak in San Antonio. He hadn't changed a bit! He used some obscure passage in one of the minor prophets, which condemned some prophet who would not prophesy without being paid, to condemn modern preachers who draw large salaries. From there, he moved on to condemn Rubel Shelly and Max Lucado. I wanted so badly to interrupt him and let him know that Max Lucado is paid nothing for his preaching! Sometimes I wonder if all these legalistic leaders possess these very same personality traits. Most of the ones I know do! Anyway, keep up the good work! I do believe progress is being made!

From a Reader in Arizona:

Good day, Al. That was an excellent study. One thing you did not address regarding those verses, though (and I understand why: it was outside the scope of the article), is how the Messianic Jews use Matt. 23:2-3 to support their contention that the Law of Moses is still to be followed by Christians. Jesus taught that they were to "observe and do" that which pertained to Moses' teachings, and that only the additional laws added by the scribes and Pharisees they were not obligated to observe and do. The Messianic Jews use this passage, along with Matt. 5:17 (and probably others also), to promote the keeping of the Law of Moses by Christians today. They say that the decrees that were nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14) and the dividing wall (Eph. 2:14) were simply these extra-Mosaic rules imposed by the scribes and Pharisees.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, Thank you for your excellent article. Few will probably realize just how timely it is. I have been shocked to hear members, and even a teacher, in our local church assert this Torah-keeping aspect of Covenantal Nomism. One teacher even said that Jesus was a Pharisee! Also, that Jesus didn't come to establish anything new, but to bring us to an enhanced form of Judaism, and that Jewish believers in the Messiah must keep the Law of Moses as well as their faith in the Messiah, since law-keeping was not done away with by the work of Jesus. This glorification of Judaism and Torah-keeping stems from the influence of N.T. Wright, Sanders, Dunn, and, in our fellowship, Joseph Shulam.

From a Minister in Missouri:

My dear beloved brother, I prayerfully plead that you will respond to as many of the teachings of the One Cup group as you can. While I know you are very busy, your work is needed, as these men enslave a whole segment of souls in our brotherhood that need to be liberated. Their conclusions, and their hard-line, legalistic teachings, are just as dangerous and deadly as those within all the other hard-nosed, ultra-conservative brotherhood journals you occasionally review. So please, Al, write against and expose the Pharisaic views of the Old Paths Advocate "bishop editors." Who knows but what you "have been called to the Kingdom for such a time as this." No one among us in the Churches of Christ writes quite like you!! You are getting results!

From a Minister in California:

Dear Brother in Christ, I am so grateful that I have been added to your email list for Reflections. I also want to give you a hearty thanks for giving my book a plug recently. I plan to spend much of the winter reading every one of your Reflections articles, beginning with your very first year. Each of them so far have been very interesting and informative. Keep in touch, and keep up the good work!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Bro. Al, Amen ... and Wow! Personally, I had never heard of such misguided and false interpretations of these passages before. How can someone like Daniel Coe misunderstand the words "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," and interpret the passages as a commendation rather than a condemnation?! Grace is what Jesus taught, not Law. And yet so many miss that point, thus preaching "another gospel." Again, well done. You were fair and firm with the words you used. The false teaching of these men must be confronted and identified as such, as you have done. Keep up the good work!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Bro. Al, Unfortunately, Coe and his fellow legalists are so steeped in hatred for anything or anybody who would dare challenge them to open their minds and think, that it is very doubtful they can ever be reached. The best we can hope for is that a few good souls under their legalistic control will be open to the gospel and the grace of our Lord, and that they will break away from the cult they are in. It must break our Lord's heart to see men corrupting His grace and binding His people to a system of legalistic do's and don't's!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

My Dear Bro. Maxey, Please be encouraged!! Don't let people like Daniel Coe discourage you. You are doing a really good work. Sadly, there seem to be a lot of people, like him, who call themselves children of God, but who seem not to be able to understand spiritual things. I think they are the ones the apostle Paul is writing of in 1 Cor. 2:14. These people really don't believe in the direct operation of the Holy Spirit today, and when one denies the Spirit, he does not have the Spirit, or is at least quenching the Spirit's fire. Thus, he is not able to understand, as seen in Coe's article. When I read such writings, I feel pity for these people because they can't understand. I think we should love them and pray that their hearts may be opened so they can know the Lord and His Word better. Bro. Al, I used to be one of them!! I can understand where they are coming from.

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