This passage makes it clear that Jesus had no problem breaking away from the Jews of the synagogue and hanging out among the rabble of Israel. They tended to be the tax-collectors (a group everyone hated), prostitutes, gluttons, drunks, the sick, and other assorted sinners of His day. Some followed Him around and got healed of their maladies and many followed Him-but at a distance. But if those sinners were around Him, they all were attracted to His love, yet confronted with His truth which caused many to be converted and to follow Him. Here is one particularly descriptive recount of the incident of Matthew or Levi the tax collector’s conversion:
Matthew 9:9-13: As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
While Jesus knew He would be misunderstood for being among the unrighteous and the disliked, He nevertheless made a choice and commitment to befriend, eat with, and hang out with these people, because they needed salvation and freedom from their sins. His priorities were clear: that He was to go after and spend time among the lost. But there was a method to his madness; an end game He was going for pursuing these priorities. His goal was to win and make disciples who would follow Him. He didn’t diminish His message because He was among them, but actually made it more stringent and specific the more He was among them. He felt no pressure and wasn’t trying to be relevant around them. He showed them the reality of the Kingdom, that there is another way of living.
Luke 14:12: Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
At the same time, having a friendship with sinners to win them to Jesus is not the same as being a friend of the world. A friend of the world loves worldly pleasures rather than God Himself and loves the world system more than the way of the Kingdom. What many churches are making themselves friends of the world thinking they are befriending sinners and this is wrong and leads to compromise. Enabling sinners to sin more and feel better about their sinning is not what any Christian should do among sinners.
James 4:4: Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Jesus somehow never compromised to accomplish His mission and you don’t have to either.
Here are 4 simple tips to keep us on the right path:
- Remember that we represent Jesus to the sinner so, more than anything, we need to live out a clear faith in front of them that is compassionate and has a love for the truth.
- Don’t be intentionally confrontational or controversial but don’t back down when it comes to standing up for the truth.
- Sinners shouldn’t feel bad being around us but they should feel peace and even be provoked to jealousy.
- Saying too little can be as bad as saying too much. There will be times you can impart truth and wisdom in a way that moves them to desire change as well as just being there for them.