Have you ever noticed that Jesus often spent time with people who were considered the lowest of the low in society? Whether it was the woman at the well (a Samaritan woman- John 4), Zacchaeus (a dishonest tax collector – Luke 19:1-10), or Paul (a persecutor of Christians – Acts 8:3), He often associated Himself with those who didn’t deserve it according to worldly standards.
“All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”” Luke 19:7 (NIV)
I have noticed that there are two different viewpoints among Christians in regards to Christians spending time with non-Christians. These two viewpoints are on opposite sides of the spectrum, yet I hear both sides often. I want to take a look at these two views and then discuss what the Bible says about them.
VIEW ONE: THE BUBBLE CHRISTIAN
I’ve noticed that many times it’s hard for Christians to spend time with non-Christians. People believe that it’s hard to be in the secular world but not be a part of the secular world. Christians often “judge” others who are hanging out with so-and-so or automatically assume that if you are friends with the non-believers, you must be of the non-believers. This results in Christians staying in their own church-bubble, never reaching out to the lost and spreading the Word of God to those who need to hear it most.
VIEW TWO: THE PARTY CHRISTIAN
On the flip side, there are those Christians who are fed up with the “judgmental” side of many and participate in activities that may not be pleasing to Christ. Whether it is to prove a point or if it is simply because it’s fun, they let their guard down and allow worldly standards to influence them too much. Instead of being a witness to the non-believers, they instead live like the non-believers and discard Biblical teachings altogether.
While neither of these viewpoints is completely Biblical, there are aspects of both that ring true. I think it is first important to remember that we are sinners ourselves. In God’s eyes, we are no better than anyone else.
“What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:9-10 (NIV)
Despite this, Christians often get the “Pharisees syndrome”, letting our Christianity puff us up with pride. Too often people subconsciously think, “We too good to hang out with them” (take a look at Matthew 23:1-11).
Yet Jesus, the only man who never sinned, hung out with them.
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Matthew 9:10-12 (NIV)
We are called to be a friend of sinners, but not a companion of fools. Whether we want to believe it or not, people influence us for the good or bad. We need to be careful and guard ourselves when it comes to associating with people who participate in things the Lord would not approve of. For example, if someone is a recovering alcoholic, I would not advise them to go to a bar to hang out with lost friends, even if their intention was to share the Gospel. People stumble even with the best intentions. We are called to be wise, not wreckless.
“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.” Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)
Guarding ourselves does not mean excluding ourselves from society. Associating with the lost is what Jesus did. He loved on them, cared for them and shared the Good News with them. But He didn’t let their sinful ways influence His decisions. We should be like Jesus and not get stuck in our own bubble. After all, the Lord calls all of us to share the Gospel to all non-believers.
“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15 (NIV)
Remember that Jesus takes worthless people and makes them wonderful. He takes sinners and makes them saints. After all, look at what He did for a wretch like me!