Hanging Out With Tax Collectors and Sinners? A Word of Caution

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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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:

I’ll never forget the time when Susan shared her testimony in the weekly meeting of my college Christian fellowship. She was a new believer and almost glowed with her excitement for Jesus. One Friday evening, she shared with the group how she had come to meet the Lord and how much she was happy to share his love and grace with others.

“I found a great way to share the Gospel with my roommates,” Susan said. “When they get drunk, I get drunk with them. They really open up when they are loaded, so we can have a great conversation about God.”

As a new Christian, Susan did not yet know that Scripture tells us to avoid drunkenness (see, for example, Eph 5:18). She was not aware that in her zeal to share Christ with her roommates, she was engaging in behavior that she should avoid. Susan’s heart was in the right place, to be sure. She just needed to grow in her understanding of how best to live as a Christian.

The example of Jesus challenges us to hang out with tax collectors and sinners. But this does not mean we should join in sinful behavior. Our challenge is to be with people in a loving, gracious way, yet, at the same time, refrain from doing things with them that are not right. It may be good to hang out with bank robbers. But it’s never good to rob a bank with them.

Sometimes, Christians who know what’s right get into trouble because they have fellowship with people who are engaging in wrong behavior that they themselves find to be tempting. If, for example, you are inclined to gossip about people, you may not want to be with people when they are indulging in gossip. If you have a weakness in the area of materialism, you might not join your friends when they go shopping.

The example of Jesus challenges and encourages us to have genuine relationships with “tax collectors and sinners.” But it does not give us permission to engage in sinful behavior. We are to be in the world, but not of it.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever find yourself drawn into sin because of your relationships? How can you follow the example of Jesus in his inclusiveness without engaging in or endorsing sin?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I seek to imitate your example of hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners,” help me to avoid participating in sinful behavior. Help me to be honest about my weaknesses and wise about my temptations. By your Spirit, teach me to be in the world, in relationship with all kinds of “sinners,” but not of the world, joining the world in its sin.

Help me, dear Lord, to be more and more like you each day. Amen.