The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.
I think the greatest weakness in the American church today is that we are not good at being a friend to sinners. I have lived in a few different parts of the country (California, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey, South Dakota) and it seems that getting outside of our church walls and loving the unchurched is what we struggle with most.
Here are a few reasons I believe we are not so good about being a friend of sinners.
- Poor understanding of holiness. I think we primarily see holiness as abstaining from things we believe to be wrong. Drugs, watching trashy movies, adultery, lying, etc… The problem is that abstaining from sin is only one aspect of what it means to be holy. Holiness ultimately means to be like God. In 1 Peter 1:16 God tells us to “be holy as I am holy.” If we are to pursue being holy like God it means first and foremost that we look like his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a scandalous life because he loved the unlovely. He spent time with the most hated, despised and marginalized people of his day. Tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers…sinners. Does this reflect the way we live day to day life?
- Apathy. Perhaps the issue starts here. We simply will not care about the lost all around us unless our heart is broken over them. The best way to overcome apathy is to spend time immersing our heart and mind in the truths of the gospel. It is impossible to truly study the life of Christ and spend time with him without developing a love for those who are lost. Are we studying God’s Word? Are we asking God to soften and break our heart?
- In-house fighting. Are you complementarian or egalitarian? Are you pre-trib or mid-trib? Are you Reformed or Anabaptist? Are you Republican or Democrat? Do you support gay rights or not? Christians love to argue about their beliefs on social media. Arguing online is easy. We can type out our thoughts and be done for the night. Building relationships with the people outside of the church walls is messy and time consuming. What would happen if we invested the time we spend on social media, TV and entertainment on building relationships with people all around us?
- Busyness. I think for many of us we get so busy in everyday life that we simply have stopped asking the question, “what am I working so hard for?” When we fail to slow down we may wrongly assume that our priorities are pleasing to God. When was the last time we seriously reflected on what we are truly pursuing in life?
- We prioritize programs over relationships. Did Jesus ever run a “program”? We want something to sign up for. A project. A short-term commitment. Too often we are waiting for someone else to come up with an idea for evangelism and then we think we will jump on board. It’s time to own up to our responsibility to live as salt and light right were God has placed us. What opportunities has God brought into your everyday life to serve him and love others?
So what is the answer?
Someone asked me the other day what our response should be to the fact that there are hurting and broken people all around us. They felt overwhelmed and did not know where to begin. The best way to answer that question is to look at Jesus. Reforming the church is best done by studying the life of Christ. How did Jesus live? What was important to Jesus? Here is what we know. Jesus built relationships with sinners. So, we do what Jesus did. We build relationships. We spend time with people. We love them. We share the gospel with them. We refuse to wait for someone else to lead the way. We set the pace for others. We make our house a place of hospitality. We look at the brokenness in our city and move towards it. We love others when they don’t deserve it because that is what Jesus has done for us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:6-8
*Above photo taken from Huffington Post.