In Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sends the Twelve out on their own for the first time to do “evangelism.” He instructs them to go out two by two and travel from village to village declaring to those who would listen that they were to repent. The kingdom of God was to be inaugurated on the earth. It was time to turn and surrender, to embrace God’s rule and reign. It’s a passage I’ve read on a number of occasions. I’ve preached it before. Probably for most us it contains no profound truth but simply records a step forward in the discipleship process for the Twelve. It was time to be stretched, to push out on their own without Jesus. There is probably some truth to that, but recently I’ve come to see a pretty profound principle related to the evangelistic witness of the church contained in these few verses.
In verse 8 Jesus instructs the Twelve to “take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts – but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” Why would Jesus want them to take nothing with them? For the specific purpose of requiring the Twelve to not simply serve and care for others through the proclamation of the truth, but to also be served by those they were entreating, to require care and service as well as offering it.
Daniel Niles, a theologian from Sri Lanka, in his book This Jesus…Whereof We Are Witnesses, discusses how the church often times, even in the midst of its service and witness to the world, can damage its potential influence and effectiveness by creating a sense of superiority over others. Niles posits:
“One of the features of the life of the Christian community in the lands of Asia is the number of institutions of service which belong to this community. We run schools, hospitals, orphanages, agricultural farms, etc. But, what we do not adequately realize is that these institutions are not only avenues of Christian service but are also sources of secular strength. Because of them, we can offer patronage, control employment, and sometimes make money. The result is that the rest of the community learn to look on the Church with jealousy, sometimes with fear, and sometimes even with suspicion…The only way to build love between two people or two groups of people is to be related to each other as to stand in need of each other. The Christian community must serve. It must also be in a position where it needs to be served…Let me say it as an aside, that, in my view one of the biggest problems to be solved in the years that lie ahead is how, Inter-Church Aid can be given and received without destroying that weakness of the churches in which lies their inherent strength…The glory of the Lion is the glory of the Lamb.”
Niles is here writing with a broad, corporate perspective on the cumulative effect of the church’s service to the broader unbelieving community through various institutions. Nevertheless, the same principle can be established, I believe, regarding individual local churches as well as individual believers. Maybe, without realizing it, by showing no weakness or lacking of our own, we inadvertently create a relational dynamic in which we sit in a position of power and superiority that can potentially create an attitude of jealousy and hostility from those who are not a part of the community of faith. That we inadvertently display an arrogance that turns the world off to our message before we even have the opportunity to offer it.
Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes observes that the very life and incarnation of Jesus demonstrates this principle of mutual service and care:
“A babe in a manger is an ultimate example of one who comes in need of those to whom he or she comes…Jesus understands profoundly the need to be a receiver. His initial contact with Peter (Luke 5:1-3) was to request his help. There was a crowd on the seashore and Jesus needed a boat for a pulpit. Peter’s boat and his skills in controlling it were required. Jesus needed Peter and asked for his help – the rest is history. Jesus was ready to serve, and His self-emptying was so total that He needed to be served.”
Like the rest of us, God in the flesh was hungry, thirsty, tired, weary, and needed to learn and grow. Bailey explains that an emphasis on the strength of the giver along with the weakness of the receiver will tend to produce pride in the giver and humiliation in the receiver.
In Mark 6: 7-13 Jesus is teaching the Twelve to go in need of the people to whom they are going. They will depend on them for shelter, food, and possibly even additional clothing needs. In so doing they will establish a dynamic of mutual need and equality with their fellow man. One can see humility in such a perspective (and strategy).
Maybe one of the reasons we see little evangelistic fruit in our communities of faith is a lack of understanding of the principle Jesus is establishing in Mark 6, a principle that he demonstrated with His own life. Certainly the church must understand its role as light in a dark world, as those who bring sight to the spiritually blind, those who offer, through the gospel, life for those who are spiritually dead. We see and know the truth in a way that the unbelieving world does not. But this is a result of grace, not any kind of physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual superiority. Maybe we have demonstrated an arrogance and air of superiority to the world we didn’t intend, but is understandable in light of a passage like Mark 6. Maybe a greater demonstration of weakness and mutual service to one another is in order if we are to be faithful to go out into the world as Jesus intends us to.