I have been thinking about the phrase, “friend of sinners” again.
I have heard for most of my 40 years of being a Christian that Christ Jesus is a friend of sinners. Is He?
I don’t think Jesus is a friend of sinners. Jesus is a sinner’s Savior. But friend, I don’t think so. If Jesus befriends a sinner it is to save Him from his sin and lead him to his ultimate place of divine purpose, not just be his friend.
We will see how Jesus defines friendship later in this blog.
Now, if you want to say that Jesus was, and is friendly toward sinners I will wholeheartedly agree with you. Jesus is not mean spirited toward those who live a life of sin, or who take advantage of others for the sake of increasing their wealth. But to insinuate that Jesus would ever be “in league with,” or, “to be an associate or companion of” sinners is a misuse of Jesus’ character, nature, mission, mandate, and message.
Jesus never refers to Himself as a friend of sinners. Never!
There are two texts where Jesus brings up what other people say about Him as it pertains to being a friend of sinners. Both of those texts include tax collectors.
“16 But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, 17 and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
“31 To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Did you notice how Jesus said that His generation said things that were not correct about John or Himself? Things have not necessarily changed have they? People are still saying wrong things about John and Jesus. Both John and Jesus came preaching leave your life of sin behind, and reach out and receive the kingdom of heaven [God].
Wisdom is vindicated by all her deeds [children]! What does that even mean? One thing it means is just because the crowd [generation] says something is true does not make it true. We must look at the life and ministry of Jesus in what He did and what He said to discover truth.
When we misunderstand what John’s mission was – to prepare a people for the Lord Jesus Christ, and what Jesus’ mission was [is] – to prepare God’s people to discover the place of purpose God saves them to find – we mistake our purpose as being one day getting into a place called heaven instead of everyday getting heaven into earth.
Here are several more references where Jesus coupled tax collectors and sinners [Gentiles] together.
Be Like Dad
“43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.“
This text has to do with representing the Father as mature sons by not responding in like manner to those who are mistreating you. This is about operating out of the Spirit of the Father not the spirit of the world. This is about mature love, and not about befriending those who are evil and or just unrighteous.
Keep Corruption out of My Community
“15 If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
‘The church’ may be the entire body, or it may be those who are the overseers and who are ultimately responsible before Jesus, the Chief Shepherd and Head of the church.
Binding and loosing here refers to stewarding the culture within the community in a local church based on what heaven allows or disallows.
Being in agreement means keeping the community of covenant keepers free of those who want to corrupt that community. Unity with heaven is a prerequisite to maintaining purity in God’s people.
The authentic church is not necessarily found in large numbers, but in the several covenant keepers who are synergizing with Him by the Holy Spirit! “Keep the unity of the Spirit” [it is the Spirit’s unity we are to protect].
Jesus’ presence is predicated on purity, not performance!
We see from Jesus that an unrepentant “brother” is to be treated [viewed, regarded as] a pagan [someone who worships false gods], and a tax collector. This means they must be treated like they are unsaved, because their soul is in danger.
Gentiles [non-Jews] were viewed as subhuman and even as animals [dogs] by the Jews! Racism is not about some modern fake white privilege. It is about the darkness of someone’s heart, regardless of their ethnicity.
Tax collectors were Jews who sold their souls to Rome in order to pad their pockets by adding additional fees or taxes to the taxes Rome required them to collect from the Jews. This was lower than low and in some circles they were worse than a Gentile.
Matthew 18 is about ex-communication and disassociation in hopes that the unrepentant brother would eventually respond in a way that protects the community he or she was once involved in, and claimed to love being in. If they refuse then the community must reject them because of their behavior. [See 1 Corinthians 5 where this process was not followed so Paul, as the spiritual father over the work, had to step in as judge].
Jesus never associated with sinners just for the sake of association, and He does not call us to do that either. Every contact Jesus made with those who did not know or love Him was redemptive, and in some cases resulted in a rebuke. This means Jesus had, and still has an agenda – to save sinners, even tax collectors!
He called Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of His original disciples. We will see later what Matthew heard about friendship with Jesus. We must learn that salvation is not about where God delivers us from, but who we become so that He can deliver us into the very place of purpose He saved us.
“14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him. 15 And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners ?’ 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”
Do you remember the Matthew 11 and Luke 7 texts above. Mark says the scribes and Pharisees [representing the generation Matthew and Luke wrote about] asked the twelve about Jesus’ eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners.
This text clearly reveals Jesus’ heart for and purpose for being with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus’ spending time with them was “to call” them, and in His calling them He calls them “sick”. Jesus references Himself as a physician. This Greek word is iatrós / ee-at-ros’ and it means: to cure; heal; to make whole; to free from errors and sins; to bring about one’s salvation.
Nothing in this text indicates Jesus was palling around or fellowshipping with these tax collectors and sinners [who by the way were friends of Matthew’s], just for the sake of spending time with them. Jesus redeemed His time in hopes of redeeming those He deemed sick.
Additionally, Jesus connects righteous living with health, and sinful living with sickness. So, Jesus does not come to initially call those who are healthy [in right relationship with Him]. He comes to initially call those who don’t have a right relationship with Him to give them a chance to get and remain healthy and whole [right with Him].
Mark says of these friends of Matthew, “there were many of them, and they were following Him.” The word follow is the Greek word akolouthéō / ak-ol-oo-theh’-o which means: to join one as a disciple; become or be a disciple; side with; attend to; walk the same path or way.
This a different Greek word than what is used for those who are disciples of Jesus. That word is mathētḗs / math-ay-tes’ which means among other things: to understand what you are learning.
So, these sinners and tax collectors were being called into discipleship but had not yet chosen to be Jesus’ disciples. They may have been following Jesus but had not yet committed to what Jesus requires of all of His disciples.
How long did they follow we do not know? We do not know whether they gave up their lifestyle as sinners and tax collectors. What we do know is that Jesus called them, not to be His friend, but to be healed of their sinful behavior so they could be whole, to become His disciple, and to continue to grow in their relationship to Him as they let go of and leave behind their past life.
We get more information on Jesus’s requirements to be His disciple when He said this to the Jews in Judah who had believed Him, – “31 If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [John 8]
John said the Jews “believed Him,” not “just believed in Him.”
Do you believe Jesus?
What does your belief produce?
So many modern Christians have no idea what it means to believe God. When it was used in the first century it meant: trust in and fidelity to. Fidelity means the quality of being faithful to; to be accurate in all the details.
To “continue in My word” does not mean commit to continually reading the word. It means commit to becoming what the word requires of all those who say they have committed their life to Christ.
I tell people often, my mandate from Jesus is to go and make disciples [to Him]. My mandate is not to go and make converts, church members or even friends. I am commissioned to make disciples and to teach them everything Jesus commanded His original disciples. If ‘we’ happen to be friends during or after that, praise the Lord. If not, praise the Lord. I will not allow ‘friendship’ to get in the way of my personal discipleship to Jesus, or my discipleship of others to Jesus.
I have lost a lot of ‘friends’ over this stance! Have you? By the way, Jesus, because of His stance did too, and still does!
Jesus, speaking to His original disciples, including Matthew the ex-tax collector, said this about being His friend. “You are My friends if you do what I command you.“ [John 15:14]
Hmmm! So, even Jesus’ disciples are not His friends if they refuse to obey what He commands.
So much for hanging out ‘for hanging out’ sakes! For heaven’s sake!
“Friend!” That is an endearing term is it not? Yet, Jesus told a parable in Matthew 22 that should shock us all into a different reality if we believe friendship with God is whatever we want it to be or define it to be.
“11 But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Now, we can discuss the theological aspects of who this “friend” was and how he came to be in the wedding celebration dinner, or we can simply look at what Jesus is communicating here – and that is this – He determines who remains in His celebration.
In other words, accepting His invitation to attend, and entering His celebration is not His goal. His goal is, is the person worthy to remain in His celebration. Something else that jumps out at me in this text – Jesus commanded His slaves to bind His friend, and not just throw him or her out of the celebration, but to throw him or her into outer darkness.
So, who was the authentic friend of Jesus, the “friend” or the slaves who obeyed Jesus?
It is time for you and me to stop lowering the standard to what we can handle, and start rightly handling the word of truth. Jesus is not everyone’s Friend! And Jesus does not have friends who do not obey Him. The first test is usually, “You must be born again.” Or, you must undergo an authentic spiritual conversion. That is what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. In fact, one cannot even see to enter the kingdom without that experience.
Look at what Matthew, the ex-tax collector wrote about conversion – “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3]
Remember, conversion [being spiritually born again] is required for anyone to see to enter the spiritual kingdom John the Baptist and Jesus preached.
Have you been converted? Great! What are you becoming?
I am not going down the road of the revelation of this statement either but suffice it to say Jesus revealed here that conversion is not the goal. Growing up, maturing, and becoming responsible is the goal. Apparently, according to Matthew, Jesus said conversion alone does not qualify a person to enter the kingdom God.
Those who do not, will not, or refuse to obey Jesus regardless of what it costs them are NOT His friends!
Receive and steward God’s passion, power, presence, priority, process, promises, protection, provision, pruning, purging, purity and purpose!
Dr. Kevin M. Drury, DMin
A radical spiritual revolutionary
Revolution Movement Co-Founder
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