Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 11: friend of sinners

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29 NASB)

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!' (Luke 7:34 NASB)

We have looked at this passage from Luke 7 before, but it is so important that it bears repeating, especially in light of loving our neighbors. One of the criticisms spoken about Jesus was that He was "a glutton and a drunk and a friend to sinners". Jesus was nice to EVERYONE. He was remarkably nice to the Pharisees. He might have been blunt with them, but He was God made flesh and He had the power to do something about the Pharisees and their attitudes toward Him. He could have annihilated everyone who came against Him, but He chose restraint. He chose love.

Even more remarkable is that God, who left heaven, wrapped Himself in the fragile flesh of mankind, and lived in the midst of fallen, sinful man, loved us all. He spent more time with "sinners" than with church people. He attended meals and parties with "sinners". He ate and drank with "sinners", laughed and rejoiced with "sinners". He loved "sinners" and He was their friend. He still is a friend to sinners, and we should be, too.  

The problem becomes one of "us" and "them". Those of us who have been in the church for a while (myself the chief sinner among us) tend to consider ourselves the "us" and those outside the church, living a riotous lifestyle of eating, drinking, and partying, the "them". Perish the thought that "us" should befriend "them". What foolishness is bound up in that attitude! Dear ones, Jesus is the friend of sinners, and it's a good thing, because every one of us falls into that category. Were He not a friend of sinners, He certainly would not have befriended me. He certainly would not have befriended you. If we are to be like Jesus, we must be the friend of sinners, as well. 

Selah. Pause and consider.  

The easy thing is to consider "sinners" as nothing more than a ministry opportunity. How offensive to the One who loved us and intends for us to love others! I am ashamed to admit how many times I have done this very thing. We are not to congratulate ourselves for "ministering" to those who don't know Jesus. We are supposed to love them, spend time with them, befriend them. This does not, of course, mean that you participate in all their lifestyle choices. Jesus was a friend to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to Matthew. He spent time with them, ate and drank with them, laughed and had fun with them. He did not participate in their sexual sin, profanity and anger, or financial shenanigans. Instead, He showed them a new way, God's way, and they were drawn to it like bees to honey. 

Oh, dear ones, this loving of our fellow sinners is not optional. We don't actually have a choice about it if we intend to be obedient to our Lord. Jesus didn't say, "Love your neighbor as yourself if you like them, if you feel like it, or if you want to love them." What He said was, "Do it!" Being a friend to sinners is not a one-time ministry opportunity. It is a lifestyle that is breathtaking in its expanse and, though likely to include a few tears and heartaches along the way, is also filled with laughter and joy. 

What do you think would happen if those of us who say we know Jesus actually acted like Him? What if those of us who have been befriended by Christ became a friend to sinners, too? What if we treated people the way He treats us? I believe we would see an explosion of people drawn to Christ, an outpouring of His Spirit, the fire of God burning among us. We could experience the abundant life in ways too marvelous to imagine. We could, but it will never happen if we simply stay the same. We must choose the path of the cross, the path of Christ, the path of love. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, and we must love the least lovely as well as the most. We, accomplished sinners in our own right, must befriend our fellow sinners and, along the way, introduce them to the Friend that changed our lives.