It Matters Who Your Friends Are: Alignment, Allegiance, and Welcoming the Kingdom of God

The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple — I assure you: He will never lose his reward! (Matthew 10:40-42)

In this passage, Jesus closes the call and commission that has filled chapter 10 of the gospel of Matthew — a chapter that opened with the commission of twelve apostles to go out and preach the gospel to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6), bringing healing and deliverance along with them as a sign of their message.

From the start, Jesus charged the twelve not to go out bearing worldly power : they were to carry very little money or resources, and instead rely on the hospitality of the people to whom they were going. By the reception they did or did not offer, those people would prove “worthy” of the message or not.

Of course, given the political and religious climate of the time, to welcome Jesus’s apostles was not an act without consequence. People who chose to “receive” them also invited persecution, ostracization, and opposition toward themselves.

By treating Jesus’s followers as prophets, righteous men, and children of God, an individual publicly aligned himself with their message.

By receiving Jesus’s people, one received the kingdom of God.

The Polarizing Kingdom

As we have seen throughout this study, the kingdom message Jesus brought was polarizing. Jesus himself was polarizing. He demanded absolute allegiance and a total alignment of one’s life with his message. Fence-sitting might work for a little while, but the message was so strong and so total, and the consequences of receiving it were so extreme, that anyone who considered Jesus a speaker of truth would have to take a side sooner rather than later.

This is the upside of persecution: it forces a reckoning with our own motivation. It tends to discourage the false and the self-seeking, those who are only in it for themselves. It’s easy to accept a kingdom message that promises health, wealth, and long life; it’s harder to accept a kingdom message that promises a cross.

By nature of its eternal context, Jesus’s message promises both. But the cross generally comes first.

For the Jewish people, this was not really a new idea. Throughout their history, God had sent prophets to his people to proclaim his messages of warning, judgment, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Not everyone was a prophet, but everyone had to choose to align with the prophets or not — to receive them or not — to be a friend of God, by being a friend of the prophets, or not.

In Jesus’s day this old story was repeated, though on a grander scale, because Jesus claimed not just to be a prophet but to be the promised messianic King and also the divine Son of God. His message was that the kingdom of God had arrived, now, and the need to align with it was total.

Over the centuries the central New Testament concept of “faith,” and of “salvation by faith,” has been sliced, diced, and argued ad infinitum, but ultimately faith is about allegiance. It’s about choosing whom you are with, whom you will stand beside, whom you will believe.

We are called to put our faith in Jesus, and by doing so to align with him and to align with his people. We are in this together, and our faith will be validated by our faithfulness.

In This Together

Jesus promised, in these closing words of chapter 10, that those who received his messengers and their message would not be overlooked by God. In fact, the principle of allegiance was so strong within God’s kingdom that those who welcomed prophets would be rewarded as prophets; those who welcomed righteous men would be rewarded as righteous men.

In our highly individualistic society this might strike us as unfair. Should the widow who received Elijah into her home really by treated by God as though she were an Elijah herself — as though she had fought his battles and carried his burdens? Should Martha of Bethany, who rushed around her kitchen to feed Jesus and his disciples and sometimes lost sight of the point, be treated as though she were Jesus?

But the kingdom of God is not a highly individualistic kingdom. It is a community, where mutual sharing — of ourselves, of our lives — is the basis of our life together, and where faith in God is expressed in love of our brother.

Within the kingdom, those who help are equal to those who are helped. Those who listen and receive are equal to those who preach. Those who honor children of God, and help them and show them hospitality, are equal to the children themselves, and in fact become children themselves.

In the world we have career ladders, and “higher-ups,” and top dogs. In the kingdom we stand on level ground. We give and receive; we help and receive help; we speak and we listen. We see Jesus in one another, and we respond to Jesus in one another.

And God, who is generous, delights in this fellowship of ours and generously rewards it.

Polarization Again

There is an implied flip side to Jesus’s words here, which is that it also matters who our friends aren’t. If the “receiving” — the helping, welcoming, feeding, strengthening, loving — of a child of God is an action worthy of reward, there’s also a sense in which the “receiving” of God’s enemies is worthy of condemnation.

This does not mean that God’s enemies aren’t to be loved. The entire New Testament is clear that we are to love, bless, pray for, and show kindness to those who hate us and to those who hate God. Jesus died for his enemies, and we are his followers; his love is our standard.

But there’s a side to “receiving” that is allegiance and alignment, and we are not to ally or align with the enemies of God in the ways they practice that enmity. We are not to help oppressors oppress. We are not to aid in spreading destructive and deceptive messages. We are not to join our hearts and souls in an unequal yoking with people who do not yet belong to God.

It matters who are our friends are. It matters who we value, honor, and help with our resources, our strength, and our lives.

One of These Little Ones

In the end, the kingdom message is simple. We are meant to respond to the King with surrender and love. We are meant to love, help, and strengthen each other.

Jesus had a nickname for his followers; he called them “little ones,” or “children.” The name implies vulnerability, humility, simplicity, and dependence. These things are experienced in fellowship with God, but also in relationship with one another. The more we love God, the more we also need each other.

To ally and align with the kingdom is not complicated. It is a meal, an open door, a couch to crash on. It is loyalty in difficult times. It is a cup of cold water.

And its rewards are eternal. Jesus said it emphatically — “I assure you: you will never lose your reward!”


This is Part 157 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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One response to “It Matters Who Your Friends Are: Alignment, Allegiance, and Welcoming the Kingdom of God”

  1. […] Part 157: It Matters Who Your Friends Are: Alignment, Allegiance, and Welcoming the Kingdom of God (Matthew 10:40-42) […]

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