When to call it quits
And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that men should repent. (Mark 6:7-12)
One of the hardest things for us as Christians is knowing when to ‘shake the dust off our feet’; when to give up on trying to persuade someone to obey the gospel. I will tell you from the outset, this is a difficult question to answer, mainly because individual circumstances vary so widely.
In looking at the ‘limited commission’ above, we get a clue. But let’s understand the context of this commission and who’s included. First, this was our Lord giving specific instructions to a very select group of men, the twelve apostles. This could be seen as a proving ground for what would come later, the ‘great commission’. In acknowledging this, we see a specific set of guidelines, for a specific group, for a specific timeframe. I think we do a disservice to ourselves if we only look here to determine our point of abandonment.
Second, these men were endowed with powers from Jesus to perform certain miraculous things, no doubt to confirm the message they were bringing (cf. similar circumstances when Jesus sent out seventy men under similar auspices Luke 10:9, 17). As disciples of Christ today, we do not have such powers. However, we do have the complete will of God revealed to us in the scriptures (1 Cor. 13:10), in which we can put our faith and point to as the ultimate source of truth.
Under the auspices of the ‘great commission’, we, as disciples of Christ, are to continue to spread the message of the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20). Mark 16:15 says, “…Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. And indeed this was accomplished in the known world in the first century by the apostles (Col. 1:23). In that our world is ever expanding, and people are born every day (thereby expanding ‘creation’), the gospel message must continue to go forth until the end of this world.
However, here’s a cold, hard fact: we are limited on time and resources. Even though there is enough work in the Kingdom to busy ourselves our entire lives, there is only so much we can do. So as we consider when to shake the dust off our feet, it comes down to allocating time and resources. If your spiritual life consists of only attending church services, then there is much room in your life to try to reach the lost. If your life is completely filled with service to the Lord, then consideration might be made to moving on from those who won’t hear the Word.
But always keep in mind the will of God: “who (God) desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).