By George W. Sarris
When was the last time you had lunch with a real “sinner?”
I don’t mean someone who disagrees with you on a theological issue, or is a member of a different church or denomination, or smokes and drinks beer or wine (assuming you don’t), or has an attitude you don’t like. I mean someone whose lifestyle and value system are clearly in conflict with the standards of Scripture.
I ask that question because Jesus had meals with “sinners” quite often!
He was maligned by those who opposed Him as a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
When Matthew answered the call to follow Jesus, he held a great banquet for Jesus at his house – at which time many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
As He told the parable of the lost sheep, the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him – to which the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So, why would Jesus want to eat and spend time with those whose beliefs and lifestyles were clearly opposed to Him and His truth? Why would God ever want us to have lunch . . . or dinner . . . or coffee . . . or tea with “sinners?” The answer is actually quite easy – so we can get to know them well enough to be able to minister to them!
Who Are They?
“Sinners” are not the problem. They are the opportunity. And, not just an opportunity for us to witness to them so we can boast to our friends that we won another convert. “Sinners” are created beings of inestimable worth who need to be rescued from pursuing wasted, meaningless lives.
The gospel is more than just the message of salvation. Biblical truth relates to all areas of life – marriage, family, work, health, finances, government and many other areas. It’s God’s perspective on life. In an effort to win converts, Christians have focused for far too long on winning arguments instead of building relationships. But, it is as we build relationships that opportunities will arise where we have the privilege of sharing with others how God’s truth relates to the issues and difficulties that they experience in life.
“Sinners” actually enjoy talking about meaningful things if they know that we will not be offended if they disagree with us.
I had an opportunity this past week to talk with a man over coffee. In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he believed abortion is okay in certain circumstances. As those who have read my blogs know, I am strongly opposed to abortion. In March of this year and again in June, I posted articles addressing that specific issue. However, as we talked, I didn’t get offended or defensive about what he said. I simply listened and shared some of my reasons why I disagreed. Then, we moved on to talk about other things – many of which we agreed on.
My goal was not to win an argument or try to convince him in one conversation that I am right and he is wrong. My goal was to establish a relationship with this man so that at some point in the future – when he is open and willing to listen – God will provide an opportunity where I can share with him the truths of God’s Word as they relate to specific needs in his life.
A number of years ago, I began to build a relationship with a “sinner” who had views on various issues that were almost the complete opposite of mine. He considered himself very “spiritual,” and we often had significant conversations about our beliefs. He listened to me, and I listened to him.
On one occasion as my friend began to wax eloquent about a particular issue, I saw an opportunity to ask him if he had ever asked God to reveal Himself in a way that he would understand. He said he had not, and I encouraged him to do so. “But,” I said, “don’t do it unless you are serious. If God is real, and if He does reveal Himself to you, it will probably mean that you will have to make some changes in your lifestyle. So, don’t do it unless you mean it.”
I saw him again about two weeks later and asked if he had prayed as we had discussed. To my surprise, he said that he did.
The next time I saw my friend was the night before he died. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer sometime after our conversation. I went to see him in the hospital and asked if he knew who I was. He nodded, “Yes”. I asked if he wanted me to leave, and he shook his head, “No.” I then commented about the significance of our conversation a few months before and asked if I could pray for him. Again, he nodded, “Yes.”
I don’t know what transpired in my friend’s life over the months between when we spoke and when he died. But, I do know that the relationship we had developed opened up an opportunity for me to share very specifically with him at an opportune moment.
God loves “sinners.” His love for them was demonstrated by the fact that while we were still “sinners” Christ died for us. God wants us to genuinely love them, too.
People inherently know whether our interest in them is real or fake. So, why would “sinners” ever want to come with us to an event at church or listen to us share the gospel with them or follow our advice about some issue in their lives if we’ve never taken the time to get to know them as people?
As Jesus explained to those who questioned His practice, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”