“And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’”
My parents were Christians. So, from a very young age I sat in church with them. As I sat in the service, I learned what I was supposed to be doing as a good Christian. I didn’t question things back then, partly because I didn’t understand the whole of scripture, and even more so because questioning what I was taught was discouraged.
I, therefore, accepted most of what I was taught by the Christians in my life. I learned to honor my parents, not to lie, not to steal. I learned I was not to murder, or to even have hatred or murder in my heart. These were the overriding principles of being a good Christian. You could not do these things and be in good standing with other Christians.
I then learned more life application types of things. I learned things like “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33). This lead to me closing off my circle of friends to pretty much just those people I went to church with. Sure I went to school with others, and I was polite, but I did not associate with them much. They were worldly. They lied, and gossiped. They took God’s name in vain sometimes. I feared that they could corrupt me and I couldn’t have my life connected with them in any way.
What puzzled me years later was realizing Jesus associated with sinners. Shockingly, he went to big parties with them and spent time with them. I get the sense that the sinners liked being with Jesus, and perhaps even more shocking, Jesus really cared about them.
This created a paradigm shift in my understanding. I came to realize I had inadvertently become a Pharisee in my heart by safeguarding my image of righteousness rather than loving my God and loving those He loved. I kept unbelievers at a distance and made sure I only shared my table with righteous believers. That is not what Jesus did. That is not what followers of Christ do.
Now there is likely a balance in this. I probably should not get involved with unbelievers in an area where I know I am weak. The Corinthians had some issues with some of their associations that Paul told them they needed to leave behind. There will likely be some that are not good associations for us.
But Christians are to share the good news of the gospel by spending time with others that don’t know the truth. We are to reflect the light of Jesus Christ in us, by being loving to those that Jesus said are in need of a physician. We are to love everyone. Certainly we are to love those who believe as we do, but we are also to love those who do not understand and live the gospel. Like Christ, we are to eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners.
Who sits at our table?