Following The Footsteps Of Jesus In Being A Friend Of Sinners And Tax Collectors

(All Bible quotations, except otherwise stated, are from the New International Version).

Ecclesiastes 7:16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise — why destroy yourself?

As Christians, our zeal for God and for righteousness should make us hate sin and contend for righteousness wherever we find ourselves. However, sometimes we fail to separate the sinner from his sins, and we end up hating and attacking both in our misguided zeal for God. While we must hate and abhor sin at all times, we must be careful not to hate the sinner. While we must separate ourselves from sin, we must be careful not to alienate ourselves from the sinner. We’re called and commissioned to go after the lost sheep and recover them, not to recluse ourselves as hermits who are so afraid to be contaminated by the world that we give up on the world and on our mission, in our bid to preserve our ‘holiness’. That would be falling into the trap of self-righteousness. Too many Christians there are who refuse to associate with sinners. We see many church people who cannot be friends with sinners and unbelievers. There is so much physical and social distancing between most Christians and their unbelieving neighbours that both end up living in two different and parallel worlds that hardly intersect. Communication and opportunity for real conversation and evangelism become lost.

We should follow the example of our Lord Jesus who was so focused on his mission that he was always with his target population (sinners and lost sheep). Jesus spent so much time with sinners that he was rightly accused by the self-righteous Pharisees of being a friend of sinners and publicans. He wasn’t ashamed to identify with those he came to save. His love for them forced him out of his comfort zone and into theirs, in order to be able to access them and minister to them. He would gladly attend their parties when invited, to eat and to drink with them. He would gladly visit their homes when invited, to rejoice and to feast with them. Sometimes, he would not even wait for an invitation to go to their homes- he’d invite himself! Jesus wasn’t a hermit ! Yes, he was the Son of God. Yes, he was the great prophet! Yes, he was sinless and perfect and undefiled. But he was also a socialite who mixed freely with sinners!

St. Matthew 9:10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.

St. Matthew 9:11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

St. Matthew 9:12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

St. Matthew 9:13 But go and learn what this means: ’I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

St. Matthew 11:16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

St. Matthew 11:17 “’We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

St. Matthew 11:18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ’He has a demon.’

St. Matthew 11:19 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.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

St. Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.

St. Luke 19:2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

St. Luke 19:3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.

St. Luke 19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

St. Luke 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

St. Luke 19:6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

St. Luke 19:7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

St. Luke 19:8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

St. Luke 19:9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

St. Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

To accomplish the great commission, we need to go after the lost. We need to go hunting for sinners wherever they are. We’re not to wait for them to come to church, but we’re to go after them into the highways and byways of society (their comfort zones) and persuade them to come to the Lord. We’re to befriend them in our neighbourhoods, places of work, schools, etc, so as to soften them up for evangelism and soul-winning. We’re to love sinners because God loves them! God loves them so much that he sacrificed his only begotten Son to get them saved. We should love them so much that we sacrifice our comfort and self-righteousness to reach out to them and show them the love of God. It’s not sinners the Bible warns us to keep away from, otherwise we would need to leave the world! It’s actually fellow believers who are living disgraceful lifestyles which bring the Lord’s name to disrepute that we’re supposed to avoid, not unbelievers!

1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people —

1 Corinthians 5:10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.

1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

1 Corinthians 5:12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?

1 Corinthians 5:13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

St. Luke 15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.

St. Luke 15:2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

St. Luke 15:3 Then Jesus told them this parable:

St. Luke 15:4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

St. Luke 15:5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders

St. Luke 15:6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ’Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

St. Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

The Pharisees adopted a holier-than-thou attitude towards sinners and publicans, and socially distanced themselves from them, to avoid being “contaminated”. By so doing, they ended up alienating sinners from the kingdom of God. The Pharisees literally locked the sinners away from the kingdom of God, by refusing to interact with them and engage them. To them, the sinner’s cause was a lost cause not worth pursuing. Their public image and self-righteousness were more important to them than the fate of hell-bound sinners!

St. Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:

St. Matthew 23:2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.

St. Matthew 23:3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

St. Matthew 23:4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

St. Matthew 23:13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

It may be okay for the self-righteous and hypocritical Pharisees to act like some ascetic monks and isolate themselves in some monasteries located in the desert, but not so for the Lord! You can’t be a fisherman and not be mixed up with muddy water and dirt! You can’t be in the business of catching fish and not get wet and messed up while mingling with water and fish. In the same vein, you can’t be a fisher of men and not be ready to reach out and be friendly with the men to be caught! You have to go into the world of sinners to catch sinners! You have to relate with the sinner, love him, be his friend, have compassion on him and be concerned about his destination to be able to reach out to him and win him for heaven. He that wins a soul must be wise! Winning souls requires a deliberate and strategic effort targeted at them. You can’t hate the sinner and distance yourself from him and expect to win him for Christ! Any sinner you fail to love and befriend is a sinner unavailable to you for soul-winning!

St. Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

St. Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

St. Matthew 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ’The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.

St. Matthew 22:9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’

St. Matthew 22:10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

1 Corinthians 9:19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

1 Corinthians 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

1 Corinthians 9:21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.

1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

1 Corinthians 9:23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son to a world of sinners to rescue them. Having been rescued ourselves and filled with the Spirit of God, we should so love the world that we would go after sinful men to try and rescue them from destruction. When the Bible said we should not love the world nor the things that are in the world, it was referring, not to the men of the world, but to the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life. These are the things we should not love, for these works of the flesh are in opposition to the Spirit. However, we’re to love all men of the world, like our heavenly Father, including those who hate us because we’re Christians. We should not interact only with people of like precious faith, nor should we relate only with those in our spiritual caucus. Loving only those in our comfort zone and our familiar friends isn’t the God kind of love. The God kind of love reaches out to the unlovely, the sinful, the immoral and even to those who hate us and persecute us. We must become friends of sinners and tax collectors and harlots like our Lord and Master, in order to win them for Christ. As disciples, we’re to follow the Master’s footsteps. And, if we do that, it will lead us to sinners and immoral people who need God’s love and mercy, not just to the assembly of the righteous.

St. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

St. John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

1 John 2:16 For everything in the world —the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life —comes not from the Father but from the world.

1 John 2:17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Romans 10:11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Romans 10:12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile —the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

Romans 10:13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Romans 10:15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

St. Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ’Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

St. Matthew 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

St. Matthew 5:45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

St. Matthew 5:46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

St. Matthew 5:47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

St. Matthew 5:48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus was a retail and compassionate soul-winner who wasn’t afraid to break religious norms in order to save men. He would touch the leper who was an outcast and bring him close as he ministered to him. He had so much compassion for the people that he would wear himself out to see their needs met. That included doing good on the Sabbath day, refusing to condemn sinners caught in the act, and conversing with prostitutes and allowing them to touch and anoint him. As the perfect physician, he wasn’t afraid to reach out and touch the sick as he ministered to them. Jesus, the good shepherd, would readily leave 99 sheep that were safe, to go after one lost in the wilderness of sin. And he would so rejoice when that one lost sheep was found! The sick sinner needs our compassionate and friendly touch. Let’s love them with the love of Jesus and win them back to God!

St. Matthew 8:1 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.

St. Matthew 8:2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

St. Matthew 8:3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.

St. Matthew 8:4 Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

St. Matthew 15:32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

St. Mark 3:1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.

St. Mark 3:2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

St. Mark 3:3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

St. Mark 3:4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

St. Mark 3:5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

St. John 8:1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

St. John 8:2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.

St. John 8:3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group

St. John 8:4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.

St. John 8:5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

St. John 8:6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.

St. John 8:7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

St. John 8:8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

St. John 8:9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

St. John 8:10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

St. John 8:11 “No one, sir,” she said.“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

St. John 4:5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

St. John 4:6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

St. John 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”

St. John 4:8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

St. John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

St. John 4:27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

St. Luke 7:36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

St. Luke 7:37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.

St. Luke 7:38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

St. Luke 7:39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is —that she is a sinner.”

St. Luke 7:40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

St. Luke 7:41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

St. Luke 7:42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

St. Luke 7:43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

St. Luke 7:44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

St. Luke 7:45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.

St. Luke 7:46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.

St. Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven —as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

St. Luke 7:48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

In conclusion, a holier-than-thou attitude and disposition towards sinners is counterproductive to the preaching of the gospel and the winning of lost souls for God. While we should hate sin and abstain from every form of evil, we should not hate sinners. Not only should we not hate them, we should also love them and be friendly with them! Our Lord was ridiculed and derided as a friend of sinners, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be so labelled by self-righteous people! It’s only as we become friends with sinners (while distancing ourselves from their sins) that we can win their confidence and trust to minister the gospel to them. Physically and socially distancing ourselves from sinners in our environment will only alienate them and create a communication gap which will hinder evangelism. May we be wise to use every opportunity to win souls like our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

Thank you so much for visiting this blog. We appreciate you and the precious time you spared to read through this lengthy post. If you were blessed by this message, kindly like, drop a comment and share with others (with due acknowledgement of the source). You can also follow us to have subsequent posts sent directly to you through your email. God bless you abundantly in Jesus name! Amen!

Published by Dr. Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Dr Ojo is a Biblical scholar and teacher who believes firmly in the original Apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian doctrine and conduct.

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