God is a big believer in the whole concept of ‘Go’. Jesus put aside all his position and privilege in order to come alongside us, to love us and to reach out to us - And now he asks us to ‘Go’ and do the same to others. While it’s true that some people are called to leave their own country and go to another land and another people, for the vast majority of us, God calls us to GO right where we are. He positions us right where we are to come alongside others and love them and reach out to them. Your ministry is where your life intersects the life of those who don’t know Jesus or need encouragement from the Holy Spirit.
The problem is, however, that often in our desire to be good Christians; and in our desire to live righteous lives that are holy and set apart; and in the busyness of our Church and family life; we often don’t engage with those who don’t know Jesus.
Sometimes it’s because unchurched people make us feel uncomfortable and it’s awkward. It’s like we’ve been living in “Christian-land” for so long and speaking “Christian-ese” for so many years that we’ve forgotten how to speak normal “Aussie”. Often, we don’t have any common ground with unchurched people – we simply don’t know how to speak the same language.
Sometimes it’s because people who aren’t Christ followers have bad habits that some of us find offensive: maybe they swear too much; or smoke too much; or go out and get wasted on weekends; or sleep around; or are in relationships that we believe to be immoral. Maybe they’re involved in things that we don’t approve of, we think to ourselves, “I don’t like that behaviour/attitude and I don’t want to be around that.”
Or maybe it’s got nothing to do with not wanting to hang out with those who don’t know Jesus, maybe it’s simply an issue of being too busy with our friendships and responsibilities inside Christian-land to find time to engage with anyone outside the church.
Only trouble is, for those of us who call ourselves Christ-followers that poses a bit of a problem, because if we want to follow Jesus and live as he lived, we simply can’t keep to ourselves BECAUSE JESUS LIKED TO EAT WITH SINNERS! Jesus modelled a life that was committed to hanging out and forming relationships with those who didn’t know God. In fact, Jesus loved hanging out with sinners so much that it eventually got him killed. Instead of spending time with the reputable religious leaders and the upstanding, well behaved members of society, Jesus instead chose to be friends with those who were marginalised and looked-down-upon by those who claimed to know God. Jesus chose fishermen, and law breakers and Roman collaborators as disciples and invited other notorious sinners into his close circle of friends. HE CHOSE TO EAT WITH SINNERS.
In Matthew 11:19, Jesus says “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners".
At the end of the day we are all sinners – sin is just another word for when we act in a way that is contrary to the heart and character of God. Unfortunately, the Pharisees were too proud to see that they were sinners. They thought all the good things they had done made them acceptable to God and they criticised others who weren’t like them.
Read Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus said “I hang out with these sinners because these are the people who need me.” Jesus came to restore broken relationships back to God; He came to heal hearts and bind up wounds of fear and rejection and insecurity and jealousy and shame. He said ‘I SEE YOU and I LOVE YOU”. Jesus stills wants to eat with sinners and he wants to do it through us. He wants to use our hands, our feet, our mouths and our hearts to minister to others. He can’t do it without us. We are the carriers of his Holy Spirit …he touches others through us.
Read Luke 15:1-7
In this passage Jesus is asking us to move outside our comfort zones – to leave Christian-land and engage with people who are outside our tribe. Verse 2 says, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law muttered….” They didn’t join in the dinner; they didn’t applaud Jesus’ desire to reach out. Instead, they muttered and undermined and criticised and gossiped.
It’s possible that we might sometimes have a strong resistance to forming close relationships with those who hold different values and beliefs to us. Maybe we don’t want to be seen to be condoning their behaviour; or maybe we’re worried that people will think we are also sinning; or maybe we’re concerned that their negative behaviour will ‘rub off on us”.
Whilst some of these ‘mutterings’ seem to have merit, Jesus still demonstrated a life where he lived, and loved, and walked, and ate, with sinners. He did this because he had a strong and vital relationship with God. He had more faith in His Father to lead and guide him into truth than in the enemy to lead him astray. Sometimes we are so afraid of the devil that we don’t step out into the power and anointing of the Spirit and we miss the opportunity to reach out to those who desperately need to encounter God. Jesus ate with sinners, so we should too.
1. As follower of Jesus, do I actually model this message with integrity? Do I leave the ninety-nine in order to spend time with the ‘one’? Is Jesus comfortable with the number of sinners I have at my table? Am I giving him enough opportunity to reach those outside the fold?
2. Which of the following ‘mutterings’ can I most relate to in regard to “eating with sinners”?
a) I’m afraid people might think I’m a sinner if I hang out with sinners?
b) I’m worried that my unconditional acceptance of those with different values/beliefs might lead them to believe that I condone or approve of their behaviour?
c) I’m afraid that their negative behaviour might ‘rub off’ on me?
3. How did Jesus handle these ‘mutterings’? (Try and think of specific examples of how Jesus reacted/responded when people accused him of a), b), or c)).
4. In John 17:15, Jesus prays for his disciples and says “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” How does this prayer of Jesus for his disciples relate to the topic of ‘Eating with sinners”? (Consider the encouragement of Hebrews 10:24-25)
5. What do you think of the idea that we should encourage people to: “Belong” before they “Believe” or “Behave”? Can you think of any specific examples where we have insisted that people “Behave” the right way, before they “Believe” what we believe, or “Belong” to our community of faith?
6. In the movie clip from “The Princess Diaries” the Princess ‘saw’ the little girl, stopped her royal carriage and walked over to give her a tiara. She spoke gently to the little girl and the Princess walked alongside her until eventually she stopped sucking her thumb and began to walk and wave like a princess. What does this illustration teach us about how to ‘eat with sinners’?
7. If you had to write “A Guide to Eating with Sinners”, what would some of your chapters be?