“Freely you* have received, freely give.”

Copyright © 2004, 2006, 2015 by Larry G. Overton[1]

freely give

That title is a direct quote of Jesus Christ. He spoke these words to His disciples (the apostles) as He was sending them on ahead to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of the heavens in Jewish towns and villages. The quote is the last clause in Matthew 10:8. Here is the whole verse.

“Heal the sick, raise the dead; cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you* have received, freely give.”[2]

The miraculous abilities mentioned in the first part of the verse were not for show, but for service, i.e., for ministry. Jesus imparted to His apostles these miraculous abilities.

And having called to Himself His twelve disciples, He gave to them authority over unclean spirits, thus to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness. [Matthew 10:1]

So, having given them such authority over the natural and even the supernatural realm, He then commissioned them to go out and serve the people with these newly acquired miraculous capabilities. And they were to do so following the principle of giving and receiving that He articulates for them, the principle that is found in the last clause of our text: “Freely you* have received, freely give.”

In the first verse of the chapter, Matthew records that Jesus “gave”[3] to the Twelve authority over unclean spirits or demons. This tracks with what we learn in verse 8. Jesus reminds the apostles that what they have “received” has been given “without cost” to them, the meaning underlying the word “freely.”[4] He then instructs them to give just as freely, in keeping with the fact that they are ministering according to His gift, and not their own native abilities.

What did all of this mean for the Twelve? How were their needs to be met if they were supposed to offer their services without charge? Jesus addressed that point, and He did so immediately after speaking out this “free of charge” principle. In the next three verses, Matthew 10:9-11, Christ addresses the issue of how their needs would be met.

“Take no money for yourselves,[5] neither gold, nor silver, nor copper in your money belts, 10 not a bag for the journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staff; for the workman is worthy of his food. 11 But into whatever city or town you* may enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and remain there until you* should leave.”

Jesus, in giving the apostles this limited commission, stated that they were not to take (or possible “acquire”) money for their journey. They were not to take along a “bag”[6] for the journey. He also instructs them not to carry along extra items. Jesus was not telling the apostles to go on these brief journeys with no change of clothes, barefoot and without a walking stick. Rather, He was saying that they were not to take with them extra items to provide for their journey.

Why did Jesus put these restrictions upon the twelve? What reason did He have for telling them to make no provision for their own needs on these trips? The answer is found in the last clause of verse 10: “for the workman is worthy of his food.” Instead of making provisions for their trip and their stay in the towns, the apostles were to remain with someone who was worthy, thus having their needs met. Implied in these instructions was a trust factor.

More than anything else, the last sentence of Matthew 10:8 is a statement of principle. Jesus had given His disciples a task to perform. He equipped them for that task. He made their purpose clear, and He gave them clear instructions as to how to perform their duties. And then He instructed them to not make provisions for their own needs while they were fulfilling this limited commission, but to trust that others would be raised up for that purpose. And that’s what it came down to for the apostles: trust. They had to trust that the One who was commissioning them on this occasion was going to provide for their needs as they fulfilled this commission.

And in applying this principle to our lives, we find that we are no different than the twelve men Jesus commissioned two millennia ago. What was good for them in the first century is good for us in the twenty-first. We are called to minister from out of the grace gifts that Christ has given to us. He has equipped us, called us, made our purpose clear, and given us instruction as to how He wants us to perform our duties.

 “Freely giving” can certainly apply to giving financially, particularly if that is your spiritual gift. But t