And Levi made him a great feast in his house: and there was a great multitude of publicans and of others that were sitting at meat with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with the publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick. I am not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, (Lk. 5:29-32).
The description, “friend of sinners” was intended as an insult by the self-righteous Pharisees and religious leaders of that day. They viewed people like the publicans (Roman tax collectors) as irredeemable, beyond hope. In so doing, they set themselves up as judges over others, and denigrated the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was a “friend” to sinners in the sense that he did not shy away from bringing the saving gospel to them. He knew they were sick, that they needed a physician, but he visited with them anyway. He did not allow the hypocritical religious leaders of his day to keep him from going even to the “vilest offenders” that they might obey.
Jesus did not condone their sin. He did not simply “hang out” with them, acting like everything was fine. He knew they were sick, and he knew he had what they needed to be well. The “Balm of Gilead” is in him alone.
Some Christians struggle with their working conditions, or other life situations because they are in the company of sinful people. They seem to be alone in living the Christian life, and it is difficult for them to maintain focus and faithfulness. Sometimes they feel guilty because they see the hypocrisy in their own actions. In the more serious cases, they become discouraged and lose their faithfulness in the church.
Yet, it is possible to, in the words of Kipling, “talk with crowds, yet keep your virtue.” It is not necessary to give up your Christianity while reaching the lost around you. Jesus showed how this can be done.
- Remember that sinners have souls too. Although those tax collectors had a job which the Jews despised, and even though most of them were deceitful and dishonest, Jesus knew they were people. He knew that within each of them was an eternal soul. And he recognized that in the depths of their soul, there was the hope of life and salvation. We need to remember that what we see on the surface is not the whole of the person. Usually, if we look hard enough, we will find redeeming features which were not at first apparent. Try to remember that every scoundrel is some mother’s precious son. And every human being has a God-given soul!
- Focus on your purpose in life. Judgmentalism is a deadly habit because it deceives us into forgetting why we are here on this earth anyway. We get caught up in measuring others by our own standards, rather than allowing God to be the judge. We are not on this earth to make judgments or measurements, or moral calculations about others. If God needed more judges, he would have made some. We are here because Jesus Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works, (Titus 2:14).”God has no hands but our hands,” and if the people around us are ever going to be saved, we are going to have be friendly and show concern for them.
- Don’t forget that God sees all. We may think we can slide into an immoral lifestyle when we are surrounded by immoral people. We may think no one sees, and we are simply trying to “fit in.” But the Christian who is trying to blend in with the crowd while away, must still face himself in the mirror when he comes home. And he must ultimately face God in judgment. Remember that God knows all and sees all. He expects us to live for him even when no other Christians are watching!
Envision the possibilities. Try to imagine what that sinner could become if they were converted to Christ. Think about how someone went out of their way to teach you, and remember how your life has changed as a result.Ponder the changes which have occurred in your life because someone took the time to be a friend of sinners — to you!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.