Today will be one of those days where I jump the queue and go out of order and use a text from the NT.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Mt. 11:19 & Lk. 7:34)
Friend of sinners is a title modern believers place upon Jesus yet I doubt many modern Christians actually know what that title actually means. In fact, if we did know at all, that meaning has been lost because the church has put the cart before the horse and placed evangelism ahead of all other Christian duties to be performed by believers in Jesus.
This is not a knock on evangelism or evangelists but a look at the insecurity and fear of the church itself. Somehow, since the second century, the church has lost its confidence in Jesus and have adopted the idea that if we are not preaching a salvation message, witnessing about our faith or having revival meetings we are not practicing true Christianity. In that process we have lost the ability to care.
We no longer see people as lost creations of God or people being led to destruction by the forces of evil but we see them as ‘the enemy’ and while, like God, evil will use people to attack the church, we must remember that God’s creation is not our true enemy but the forces that imprison those unbelievers and alternative believers.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.(Eph. 6:12)
In our haste to win souls for Christ and look like we are doing something for him, e have lost a vital element of our practical faith. We see people solely as notches on our gun handles, a number to fill the empty pew seat, but we do not see them as people with needs, troubles, concerns and so on. We no longer care. We withhold good works and make them a reward for accepting Jesus as their savior instead of how they were meant to be used in planting seeds, watering those seeds and preparing souls for the harvest.
Or we use them like a carrot on a stick, making the people jump through hoops before pulling the carrot away and declaring that their jump was either not good enough or that there are still more hoops to jump through and they cannot receive the carrot just yet, if they ever do. As I write this I am reminded of some other verses that apply to this situation
For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. (Jn. 15:20)
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. (Jn. 14:12)
Yes Jesus spoke of being born again, of repenting of one’s sins, but he did not make those acts conditions to receiving good works. In other words, he did not relieve people of their concerns and problems only after they listened to a salvation message and came forward to repent of their sins. They came forward because of the good works they had done unto them even as Jesus taught them.
I have used the feeding of the crowds to demonstrate that Jesus stopped preaching to meet needs before but it is a good example to us showing us what we are to do. The gospel and salvation are not to be used as extortion or blackmail where we manipulate people’s behavior in order to get our desired results. Instead salvation works hand in hand with good deeds and does not force itself to be the priority of that work but a result of the partnership.
I can cite biblical example after biblical example, the story of the ten lepers comes to mind as Jesus had compassion upon all ten even though 9 were using him to be whole again, but I am sure you are well aware of those examples and have heard them since you were young. We know that compassion and good works work in bringing people to salvation but somehow we have let fear take over. Whether it is a fear that we can only please Go din this one activity or not I do not know but it is a fear which cripples the church and lets evil win the day.
Another fear is the fear of protection. This idea comes when we want to protect our church members from unbelievers and keep them safe yet unlike Jesus we isolate them instead of properly teaching them and putting them to work correctly. This isolation ends up making the church and its members vulnerable to false teaching, to attacks by evil, it makes them afraid and incapable of meeting the challenges of the Christian life nor doe sit help them behave the correct way when they are under persecution.
Instead of following Jesus’ example of how to train believers we opt for a more human way, one closer to our own understanding than God’s and because of this strategy we lose members make no impact for Jesus and wonder where God is when trouble comes or no new people enter the church to worship Him. Or we do the next human thing and start to water down the biblical message. Or we change it to appease the thinking of those who do not believe because we are afraid we won’t be pleasing God if we stick to his truth and not gain new believers.
But Jesus faced this problem as well as many left following him when he spoke certain things. Yet Jesus did not alter his message, did not change the OT or God’s message nor did he alter anything about what he was teaching. He and his message remained the same. Numbers do not please God over obedience and faithfulness and if we say we love God then we need to be faithful to his message to the world and not change it in order to get more rear ends into the church pew. We are not caring for the unbeliever when we change God’s message or his words to them.
God already knows that people will leave their faith so we should not be focused upon numbers but the quality of the faith of those who remain. The church should not be aiding and abetting the broad way to destruction. Instead it needs to be helping people find and remain on the narrow path so that as many as want to can have eternal life.
But it begins with caring, not evangelism. We care to give the people the truth, we care to help them in their troubles and we care when we talk to them about the gospel and salvation. We do not sacrifice or prioritize one over the other, they all work together; good works is not a sledge-hammer to get people to believe but the nutrition people need to either repent or grow in the Lord and their faith. They should be free and done out of compassion, love and genuine caring.
The unbelieving world cannot provide what they desire so it is up to the church to bring in what is available to them from God and they need to do it correctly, humbly and with compassion.