A nationwide Christian radio station produced a two-minute drama. On it, a nonChristian told his Christian friend that one of his other friends had just become a Christian. The new Christian told him that he couldn't hang around his old friends since being converted. The Christian he was speaking with said that was terribly foolish and certainly not Christian behavior.
What Kind of Fellowship Jesus
had with Publicans & Sinners
The attack demonstrated in that radio message has become very common. It's so common that a radio station, one which avoids broadcasting things that upset segments of the Christian population, felt it perfectly in order to broadcast that message. One that heaped scorn on Christians such as myself.
That position is touted with the famous, "Jesus ate with publicans and sinners, didn't He?" slogan. Some major assumptions are carried through with that trumpet blast. False ones! I quote a lot of scripture in this article because I want us to read what God's Word describes as the proper way to live with the ungodly.
The Bible shows us we aren't to cast off unbelievers like trash, but we're also not to embrace them as bosom buddies. That will undoubtedly sound hideous to such as the producers of that radio drama, but let's quit quibbling and take a good look at what the Bible says, starting with Jesus and the publicans and sinners:
29 And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. 30 But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? 31 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. 32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:29-32
Those who teach this shows we're to continue hanging out with the old crowd ignore what's going on. Look closely. Jesus doesn't start "hanging around" with this crowd. He goes to them as a doctor and specifically ministers. With many issues there are two extremes people go to. The truth is usually somewhere between the two. We find that with this issue. Jesus isn't reveling in their lifestyle, but neither is He refusing to approach them. The Pharisees and Sadducees took the second extreme. They considered themselves defiled if they even touched them. Jesus took the Kingdom to them, showing there was a way to enter the Kingdom themselves. With all their filth, God had come to meet them and save them. The key theme could be quoted from Proverbs:
6 By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.
Look at that! There we see what Jesus was up to. Mercy must go out, but never without truth. Too many have the concept that those who hold rigidly to truth are "dogmatic", intolerant, bitter people without any mercy. God's word shows the truth is the very opposite. The only way people can genuinely be converted, "iniquity is purged", is through hearing the truth. This truth must be presented so "the fear of the Lord" is able to work its needed results. It is then that God's mercy can be applied.
Scriptural Guidance For Spiritual Physicians
We aren't told the conversations Jesus had in the above account, but we can have a pretty good idea. First, we do have the thorough account of a similar incident and the conversation. Jesus's talk with the woman at the well, found in John chapter 4. From that account, there is no honest way anyone could say Jesus was hanging around as her good buddy. What a twist that would be! Second, we can also know that what was in Jesus's "fellowship" would have conformed to the Old Testaments writings. From this, we're able to learn that being a doctor to the sick cannot be presented in the midst of standard worldly friendships. To be a faithful physician requires examining sickness. Standard worldly friendships don't tolerate discussing your "friend's faults" with them too often. At least, if the need to repent is brought up very often, the friendship won't last long with all but a very few unique individuals.
Let's take our dive into God's Word:
22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? 23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
From the Proverbs we can see that the wisdom of God faithfully warns, calls for correction and holds in contempt those spurning the call to change. Notice that the sinners are addressed by the name of the sin they indulge in. There is no attempt to deny what the person is. We do not find it saying something akin to, "Now sir, it really isn't a good idea to take pleasure in doubting the sincerity of the preacher." "Mam, you know it wouldn't be a bad idea to hear what the preacher is calling for us to change." It openly called scorners such and the fools "fools". It isn't embarrassed to declare the truth.
25 Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.
This verse outlines the treatment spiritual physicians need to give. Do you know the reason Jesus often spoke harshly to the Pharisees and the Sadducees? The answer is right here. They were scorning Jesus and He smote them. Not as much for their sake, since He already knew their hearts would not receive correction, but for the sake of others who would watch and learn.
The publicans and sinners were not noted for their scorning. They knew they were sinners. They knew that by approaching Jesus, they could not approach Him on terms of personal virtue. All they could bring was shame. Hence, they came to Him from a humbled position. If they were willing to listen, He was willing to talk of their needed mercy.
5 Open rebuke is better than secret love.
Real love rebukes, it doesn't just smile and overlook the sin. It doesn't fail to warn of the need to repent.
6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
A true friend will not just overlook sinful behavior. It's the enemy who flatters and pretends nothing is wrong. This is the kind of physician's work Jesus would have done with publicans and sinners. You might say, "the wounds of a skilled surgeon". Necessary wounds for the purpose of ultimate healing.
14 He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.
False pretensions of friendliness are wicked. True friendship to sinners means saying some things they may not want to hear.
4 They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.
The lawless flatter with praise. Being the physician to sinners doesn't mean failing to contend with their iniquity.
23 He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue.
Something to notice here in our mixed up churches. It's not the noble thing to keep silent when we see sin. Too many tell us, "Just overlook it, be tolerant." That is the shameful thing! As far as being physicians to the world, it's just one more verse piling up to make the point that I hope some radio script writers will begin listening to.
5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
This is repeated so frequently, I can't but wonder how the majority of American Christians today can be blind to the fact the Bible calls for this. Many actually condemn whoever lives in obedience to such verses.
11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. 12 And when ye come into an house, salute it. 13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15 Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
This passage shows a very definite stance of unfriendly behavior to those who harden their hearts. There isn't a good buddy friendship that continues in the hope of their eventually softening and turning.
Paul gives us numerous examples of good Christian responses to various people. First, we see his response to officers of the law who didn't exactly follow the law themselves:
35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. 36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace 37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.
Acts 16: 35-37
You might say Paul put them under the iron. He didn't just play gentle, ‘lets be friends now.' Their crime was akin to the Pharisees scorning Jesus insomuch that they were literally scorning Paul's message by unlawfully imprisoning him for preaching the truth.
In another passage we see Paul insulting the Jews who refused to accept his message:
5 And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. 6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.
Again, this is a biblical response.
23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. 24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. 25 And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, 26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: 27 For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 28 Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
This pattern of harsh rebukes is consistently shown to be a biblical Christian response.
The gospels are filled with the pattern of Jesus' reproving His enemies:
12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? 13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Jesus was offensive where He needed to be. New Testament Christianity doesn't mean being bosom buddies with everyone. For that matter, it doesn't even mean being nice to everyone. There are different ways to deal with different sinners, but there is never the failure to call to repentance.
2 I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: 3 Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.
2 Corinthians 13:2,3
This specifically addresses Christians, but it shows that the common description of Christians as "gentle things" which never speak a blunt rebuke, is outlandish nonsense.
Beware of Evil Company
I saved the most poignant passages for last. These show instructions to stay away from the kind of friendships we used to have:
10 My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. 11 If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: 12 Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: 13 We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: 14 Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: 15 My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:
14 Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. 15 Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
Notice the urgency carried in the words of these proverbs. The danger is very real.
20 He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.
Look at these scriptures! There is no messing with these to make them sound like they condone keeping the same old friendships with those who refuse to accept Jesus. Those who teach that, have to ignore or greatly twist such passages as these.
29 A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way that is not good.
Proverbs 16: 29
This word "enticeth" is very significant. It warns of a real danger to everyone else. It also warns that the evil man scores some successes!
27 Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
If we hang out with the world, they will counsel us in the wrong way. This verse tells us to not listen to such talk. What kind of friendships will be maintained where we faithfully refuse to listen to worldly counsel? Those friends will become ‘not so friendly' when they see us always scorn their worldly advice. When they see us hold our distance in such conversations, they will either want to learn what has happened to us, or they will attack our new position in Christ.
19 He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
"Meddle not" and being good friends are opposites. As Christians, we're told to stay away from involvement with "flatterers" and gossips.
24 Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: 25 Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.
How clear these words are, but do we listen to them? Do we have such confidence we won't be pulled into that same sin of anger? We ignore these words to our own peril!
1 Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.
What kind of friendships are maintained with people we don't desire to be with? None.
21 My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: 22 For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?
Those "given to change" are revolutionaries of some sort. This passage is referring to political discontents. DON'T hang around these people! That would also mean to cease from reading their magazines and listening to their radio programs!
33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
1 Corinthians 15:33
If we took this at face value, how do you think we would respond to the idea of always hanging around people of corrupt lives? We would fear and tremble if we placed any value on our souls.
14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
2 Thessalonians 3:14
3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
1 Timothy 6:3-5
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good. 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
The New Testament continually makes the same calls that are not in current vogue.
In Memory of a Lost Sister
I knew a woman who began hanging around the ungodly and even invited them to live with her, so she could minister to them. She was a woman who was on fire for God and eager for weekly Bible study. Shortly after mixing so with the wicked, she dropped out of Bible study. We pursued her, but to no avail. My wife saw her again, much later, and asked if she had been reading her Bible. Her answer: she hadn't read it since she had moved, it had been misplaced. It had been two years! She asked my wife, "is that bad?" Such a falling that directly tied to an overconfidence she could win her wicked acquaintances. Instead, they won her!
Copyright 2004 Darrell Farkas
Free to Copy under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND3.0 License by Darrell Farkas
All quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible