"He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." (Matthew 10:40-42)This scripture has always been a difficult scripture for me to understand. For example, what is a "prophet's reward" or a "righteous man's reward" and how do they differ? Should I prefer one over the other or are they both one and the same? Given that others have sought to explain this passage, I too will offer my thoughts.
The Greek word used here for "reward" does not mean a prize but rather a payment or wages. It is the same word Jesus uses for "wages" in the following verse: "the laborer is worthy of his wages." (Luke 10:7) A prophet's reward is the eternal rewards credited to his account for his service to God. Similarly, a righteous man's reward is the eternal rewards credited to his account because of his righteousness before God. These rewards are what Paul referred to in his letter to the church at Corinth.
"Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)Notice that these rewards are not necessarily immediate rewards but rather rewards to be given to us at the end of the age. Jesus confirms this when, referring to His own coming again, He says, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." (Revelation 22:12)
There are two lessons we can learn from these rewards. First, the one who ministers and the one who receives are the same. The same reward is given to the prophet as is given to the one who receives the prophet. The prophet is not greater than the one who receives him even though the one receiving him may not be a prophet himself. Those who minister are not greater than those who receive, they both receive the same reward from God. We sometimes believe that the great men and women of God are special, but the truth is that, in God's eyes, everyone who receives Him, either in service or in receiving those sent to server, are the same and are both worthy of the same reward. This should help us to not minimize our value before God just because we may not have a ministry of our own and also to keep us humble if we do have a ministry, remembering that we are not greater than the people we server.
The second lesson is, it does not matter who we are receiving if we are receiving them in the Lord. When we receive a person because they are sent by God or because they are God's, we are receiving God. When we receive the prophet sent by God we are receiving the one who sent Him. When we receive a disciple of God then we are receiving the God who is his master. What matters is not the stature or prominence of the one we are receiving, but the name in which we are receiving them; what matters is not man but God. No matter who it is, if we receive them in the Lord, then we have a reward. This is what Jesus meant when he told the parable of the sheep and the goats. At the end of the age the King of Glory will assign rewards to the sheep.
"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" (Matthew 25:37-40)When we receive someone in the name of the Lord, event though they be among the least, we receive the Lord and we have our rewards.
So how do we receive someone in the name of the Lord? Paul tells us,
"Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)The key is not to receive anyone according to the flesh; based on how they look, how smart they are, their position in the church or community, etc. Rather we should look with the eyes of the spirit to see the new creature they have become in Christ. Previously they may have been a thief or an immoral person but now they are the righteousness of God in Christ. In the flesh they may be lowly and of no esteem, but in Christ they are choice and precious in His site. To receive someone in the name of the Lord is to receive them with the eyes and heart of God; to see and receive them as God does. When we do this, our reward in heaven is sure.
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