Jesus was a friend of sinners. I like how the New Living Translation puts it: “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1–2, NLT).
Jesus was a friend of “notorious sinners.” If Jesus cared for objectionable people, so should we.
But as Christians, we sometimes get caught up in our own little bubble. We watch Christian TV. We send our kids to private Christian school. We listen to Christian radio. We do business with Christians and have Christian friends—the whole time never associating with the world around us. We can get so caught up in the me-and-my-three syndrome that we fail to reach out to our neighbors, friends and co-workers.
Once, as I taught on this passage at a church, I asked the group, “Who in your city could be labeled a notorious sinner?” I wasn’t looking for a public response, but someone shouted out, “The mayor!” The county in this area had been a dry county and had just turned wet, and the mayor had played a big part in that decision. So I encouraged the church to become friends with the city officials!
There’s a scripture in Jude I like that illustrates how we are to respond to sinners: “Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives” (Jude 1:23, NLT). We are supposed to hate the sin, but not the sinner. We aren’t to condemn or judge sinners—we are to love them. John 3:17 says, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world but to save the world through him” (NLT).
I was speaking on this subject in a small town in Texas. After the teaching, teams of students and leaders went to the streets to apply what we had been learning. I had brought with me a few people from our ministry to help with the training, and one of our ladies rode with the associate pastor and his wife.
As they drove, this lady noticed a man digging in a dumpster. “Stop the car! Stop the car!” she called out. The pastor stopped, and the woman jumped out and ran over to this guy. She began to tell the man how much God loved him and that the Lord had a great plan for his life. She shared the Word of God with him—and that man prayed to receive Jesus.
When the teams came back to the church, I asked for testimonies. The associate pastor came forward and shared what he had seen. “Every day,” he concluded, “we see this guy walking down the street, digging in dumpsters.” Tears began to flow from his eyes. “But we’ve never even thought about where he might spend eternity.”
Let’s not be so caught up in our own world that we lose sight of those whom Jesus came to save.