Giving a Cup of cold water

By Steven Chan

1. The Bible teaches us that acts of kindness, generosity and hospitality ought to characterize the disciples of Christ. “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (1 Pet 4:9; Rom 12:13). “For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36; 2 Cor 9:13).

2. In Matt 10:42, Jesus revealed that even the offering of a cup of cold water will be rewarded by God: “And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

The above statement was made in the context of the commission given by Jesus to His 12 disciples to go and preach to the lost sheep of the house of Israel that the kingdom was at hand (often referred to as the “limited” commission as it was restricted to the house of Israel, in contrast with the great commission of Matt 28:18-20 which was to the entire world). They were told not to bring provisions with them. They were to depend on the generosity and hospitality of those to whom they preached: “for a worker is worthy of his food” (Matt 10:5-10)

Jesus said to them: “And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Matt 10:14-15). 

Failure to receive these preachers or extend hospitality to them or to hear their words, would incur condemnation that is worse than the fire and brimstones that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah – when? – “in the day of judgement”.

Those who extended support and hospitality to the preachers were to be rewarded for extending hospitality to them as disciples of Christ. These disciples were dependent on them for their livelihood as they devoted themselves to the preaching of the Word and were exposed to persecutions and rejections (Matt 10:16-23)

So, in the context of receiving and supporting the preachers of the Word, Jesus said that whoever gives a cup of cold water to them (the preachers are referred to as “one of these little ones”) honoring them as “disciples” of Christ (“in the name of a disciple”), that person who gave the cup of cold water will be rewarded. The same is taught in Mark 9:41:” For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

More importantly, it should be noted that in this context Jesus was not addressing the giving of a cup of water to all and sundry – even those who do not belong to Christ. Of course, we are to do good to all and therefore ought to extend help all and sundry (Luke 6:35-36): “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). But in the immediate context, Jesus was emphasizing the doing of good especially to the household of faith (i.e. the church of God – 1 Tim 3:15).

3. In Matt 25:34-36, 40, Jesus revealed what will happen when the Son of Man will come and judge the nations: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’…And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Some have misunderstood the above passage. They incorrectly inferred from that passage that the church ought to be engaged in social programs for the alleviation of poverty and health issues as well as campaigning for the freedom of those unjustly held in prisons.  

While one ought to do good to all men as opportunity provides (Gal 6:10), the immediate context clarifies that the acts of hospitality and charity were done to “His brethren” – those who belong to Christ (Mark 9:41) – Matt 12:49-50: “ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Heb 2:11: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren

4. Those who belong to Christ, who are doing the will of God (especially those who are devoted to preaching the Word – 1 Cor 9; 1 Tim 5:18) and who are sanctified, are brethren and ought to be received and shown hospitality.  Those who are devoted to preaching the Word ought to be provided financial support for the labourer is worthy of his wages. 

The apostle John wrote in 3 John 5-8: “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth.”

5. Preachers of the Word deserve to be well received and supported. In Matt 9:37-38: “Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” 

We ought to do our part to encourage more brethren to devote themselves to the preaching of the Word by supporting them so that we may be “fellow workers for the truth” and be rewarded by our Lord – even if we offer them only a cup of cold water.