What does it look like to sit with sinners?
Earlier today on our Facebook and Instagram page, I posted a quote that said, "Jesus sat with sinners. He didn't sin with them. Know the difference". I didn't expect to get the reaction on this post that it had because I thought thought I might even step on some toes when I posted it! But because so many people felt like this quote spoke truth I wanted to elaborate on that in tonight's blog post and talk about what it can look like to sit with sinners but not sin.
We know from so many stories in the Bible that Jesus sat with sinners. He surrounded Himself with people who were imperfect, sinful, and countercultural for Him to be around during this time period. Jesus loved and cared for the broken & sinful BUT He didn't begin to sin with them.
Often when we use the example of Jesus sitting with sinners we forget that just because He sat with them, doesn't mean that He partook in sinful behavior. To answer the questions of what it should look like to sit with sinners, you can check yourself with a few simple questions.
1. Am I sinning with them?
It's our job to know the difference and make sure we don't slip into sin. I want to look at one of my favorite passages in Luke chapter 22 starting in verse 23.
23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
In this example, we see that Jesus doesn't chime in on this prideful conversation (pride being a sin). Instead, He gently corrects the disciples and shows them what true greatness looks like. It is important that if we are sitting amongst sin that first and foremost we aren't sinning with the group.
2. Am I just sitting in the presence of sin or am I sharing truth? What is my motivation for wanting to sit at a table of sinners?
Take the above story about Jesus and the 12 disciples at the Last Supper. The disciples starting to have a prideful discussion and instead of topping them and Jesus declaring that HE is the true King and obviously the greatest of them all (which He is and would have been correct), He gently reprimands them out of love. Jesus explains to the disciples that they don't need to argue and that to love and serve one another is to be the greatest leader.
We need to make sure that if we are at the table amongst sinners that we are sharing God's truths at that table. And when I say amongst sinners, that could even mean just with friends! We are all sinful in nature and none of us are perfect. You don't have to be in a truly sinful and raunchy environment to be able to recognize a conversation going down a sinful path and then speak truth at the table.
In Mark chapter 2:13, we have a great example of a time that Jesus ate with sinners.
13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Note verse 17 here. Jesus compares sinners to the sick and himself to a doctor who is calling on them. Jesus wasn't seeking to eat with sinners just for fun, He was there to heal them of their sinful ways.
3. Am I confident that I am not falling into temptation and do I still feel secure in my moral compass of which way is right and wrong?
Earlier I touched on the fact that sitting with sinners could be anyone, even a group of friends because we are all sinful by nature and are not perfect. But this section is about a deeper type of sin, it is about sitting with a group of nonbelievers, those actively sinning and maybe not seeing any of the faults of their sins. This territory is dangerous for us as believers.
The more we are around sin and subjected to it, the more it starts to seem like there are grey areas of sin. Do you know what I mean? You start believing something straightforward, like killing someone is cut and dry but then we get into a topic like abortion and suddenly there are all these grey areas about what murder actually means and when life begins. This blog post is not about abortion and whether you are pro-life or pro-choice so I'll stop while we are ahead...
What I am trying to say is that when you are part of a sinful and broken world, you start to become desensitized to sin and how wrong some of the things in our current climate are in fact, sins. It suddenly seems like there are all these shades of grey in what is sinful but really, God makes it black and white for us in the Bible. Our own emotions and sensitive have played into what we think is right and have made us soft to sin. And when you become desensitized to sin, it is awfully easy to fall victim to it.
One of my friends used to always say (regarding sinners), "you can't clean a fish you haven't caught". Well, yes, this is so true and it is a phrase I love and still say to this day! But, you have to be careful while catching the fish that you don't fall into the lake.
Jesus could sit amongst sinners because He was the son of God and is perfect. Even Jesus, in all His perfection, experienced temptation that was difficult to overcome in His flesh. You and I are not perfect and as much as we would love to be like Jesus, we are subject to sinful nature and temptation.
You aren't helping anyone if you are loving a sinner but not caring about them enough to share the loving truths of God's word with them. Note I said loving here. There is a difference between telling someone they are in the wrong and sharing with them out of love the truths of what God has told us in the right time & tone. And this doesn't mean it is your job to save them! It is your job to love others and share God's word with them and it is God's job to change hearts.
We also cannot turn a blind eye to the other parts of scripture that warns us about sitting with sinners or falling victim to temptation. We have to take the gospel as a whole and not leave any parts out! Here are a couple verses that warn us about associating to closely with those who are not seeking to change their own sinful ways:
1 Corinthians 5:11-12
11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[a] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
2 Corinthians 15:33
33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
Psalm 26: 4-5
4 I do not sit with the deceitful,
nor do I associate with hypocrites.
5 I abhor the assembly of evildoers
and refuse to sit with the wicked.
In my opinion, these seem to be speaking in scenarios where the person is actively sinning, choosing to do evil, and almost sounds like it is someone who has denounced the faith. The Bible warns us about being influenced by darkness and to stay away from these people for our own good.
Sitting amongst sinners looks like loving them where they are at AND loving them enough to want to share with them the truths of the gospel. Sit with the sinner, love the sinner. Just don't start to grow lenient on your distaste for the sin.
Next time you want to love that sinner and sit with them in their brokenness, go for it! We are supposed to love people like Jesus would have, even in difficult moments. Just make sure that you aren't slipping into sin with them and that you are still speaking truth and life into them as a woman of God.