The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples: Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:11-12).
Paul said: Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible (1 Cor. 9:19).
One of the striking things about Jesus and His disciples was whom they chose to befriend. In short, they befriended those who needed God, and who knew they needed God. The basis of their friendships, as revealed in Scripture, was the spiritual quest to know God. Did Jesus have other interests in common with the “tax collectors and sinners” with whom He dined? Perhaps, but Scripture does not record chit-chat between Jesus and sinners, or between Paul and sinners. Jesus didn’t befriend people because of their common interest in the Jericho Juggernauts soccer team! Jesus befriended those who needed God, and we see the same in His disciples.
Amy Carmichael, the legendary missionary to India, wrote a little booklet titled God’s Missionary, in which she shares nuggets of experience and wisdom. One that I most remember is her discourse on friendship and the importance of extending true friendship to the people with whom you are sharing the gospel.
Carmichael said that the Indian people knew whether you loved them and cherished their friendship based on how you spent your “free time.” She said that missionaries who only spent time with Indians during “working hours,” and spent all of their non-working hours with other missionaries or westerners, sent the message that the Indians were not their true friends. Not only did they send this message, it was one that was easily read by the Indian people, who considered themselves the “projects” of these missionaries. They were the subject of their work, but not their true friends. Friends are those with whom you recreate and enjoy dinner and “after-hour conversations.” She further observed that missionaries who developed true friendships with the Indian people were better accepted and loved by the Indians, and their ministry was more fruitful.
As we help others discover Jesus we must ask ourselves, “Who are my friends? Are all of my friends followers of Jesus already? Are they all church members? Do I have meaningful friendships with unbelievers?” And related questions are, “How to I determine who my friends are? Do I seek to make friendships, true friendships, with people who don’t know Jesus?” And, “Is my friendship and love for my unbelieving friends unconditional, or is it conditioned on their coming to Jesus soon and very soon?”
Friendships are typically formed around shared interests and values, but for those who would help others discover Jesus, our ambition to make disciples must permeate every aspect of our lives, including our friendships. Friendship with a sinner puts you in a position to guide them to Jesus as life happens to them and to you.
Sociologist and historian Rodney Stark says that the growth of the early church to majority status by the 4th Century was largely aided by their friendships with sinners, especially during times of plague and disaster. The recent mudslide in Oso, WA, in which 43 people died, has resulted in many others coming to faith in Christ as Christian friends in the communities of Oso and Darrington ministered to their unbelieving friends and neighbors. One of the first people I helped come to know Jesus was my college roommate, a close friend. Currently I am building a friendship with a young man whose life has spiraled downward because of poor choices, and I’m praying that God will use our friendship to bring the prodigal home.
Do you have friends who have yet to reach Jesus on their spiritual journey of discovery? If not, let’s make some new friends!