What is our attitude towards bad people?
We want to be serious about holiness and at the same time we want to be people of compassion.
So how do we respond to someone who is clearly rebelling against God’s Word?
One reason why this is a difficult question is because we have so many bad examples.
The world’s approach is to ignore the sin.
Basically, the world is telling us, we are supposed to respond, by saying there isn’t anything, that is shameful.
Except maybe, saying there are things that are shameful.
It’s like, if this is honorable and this is shameful, they are saying, no, stop saying that, there is no such thing as shameful, everything is honorable.
And obviously sometimes people do that for bad motives, because they want to do whatever they want and, they want to get rid of the categories so they can do their own thing, and not feel badly about it. But other times people do that because they feel some compassion for people they think are being mistreated and abused and, they think, maybe if we get rid of the categories, they won’t be abused anymore.
But, we know, that’s an inadequate response.
We can’t take that approach as a church.
For one thing, because there are some things that are better than others.
There is good. There is bad.
There is right. There is wrong.
Being a father who takes care of his children is better than being a drunk who doesn’t. And being someone who is faithful to their spouse is better than being someone who spends their whole life cheating on them.
There’s a reason God calls sin, sin and part of the reason is because sin goes against the way, God designed the world to work, and so, if we just say there’s no such thing as bad or good, we will hurt people in the long run, because whether they like it or not, there is. And one day, they are going to stand before God and so even if they get away with their sin their whole lives, they aren’t going to get away with it forever.
As a church, we can’t just ignore the reality that some things are bad and some things are good, if we love people.
We have to come up with a better approach.
And we have to think about that approach, because there’s another way people have responded, that’s especially obvious, among religious people. There’s the world’s approach and then there’s the religious approach, which we see in Luke 15. Luke 15 is warning us of the danger of this approach.
Which is to ignore, to separate, to avoid, even to, despise.
If we listen to the world, we might think we are only allowed to approve, but if we listen to certain religious people, we might think, we are only allowed to do is, condemn.
Like here Luke says, the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled about Jesus associating with sinners, and they grumbled about him associating with sinners, because they thought, that was wrong.
That’s not what good people should do.
Good people shouldn’t be with bad people, in the Pharisees’ mind.
And, really, I hope you are starting to kind of see the problem because while it’s the Pharisees and so we know they are wrong, there are actually some things about this approach, that are attractive. It’s the way a lot of religious people still live and one reason they might give for living that way is because a lot of that stuff on the shameful, dishonorable list, is dangerous, spiritually, which means, it’s dangerous for us, because we are weak and so, it’s easier to avoid.
In fact, it feels risky, not to.
And, what’s more, you know that people don’t always want to be helped anyway, it’s not like they are asking and so it can be, like, well, ok, let me do my thing, and you do your thing, and we’ll try to stay out of each other’s way.
And besides, as we read our Bibles, we know God is holy, and so this stuff, that we are saying is bad and shameful, is bad, because it’s not just against people, it is against God.
And we can feel like, if we are not out there standing up, and saying this is wrong, all the time, are we, actually doing what God wants?
I mean, are you seeing, how this can feel somewhat confusing?
What’s our attitude towards people the world would say, are not like us? As a church, what’s our approach?
In Luke 15 we discover Jesus’ approach.
And it’s beautiful.
But it’s also pretty dangerous.
Because, it’s not like the world’s.
In the chapters leading up to this one, we definitely see Jesus’ approach isn’t like the world’s.
He didn’t ignore sin.
Jesus was straight up about what was required to have a relationship with Him.
In Luke 14:25ff Jesus turned to all these crowds who were following Him and said if they were going to follow Him any further they had to love Him more than anything else. In his mind, there was no room for compromise.
And, at the beginning of chapter 13, we see how some people came and asked Jesus a question and he looked at them and said, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” Sin according to Jesus had consequences.
And he let people know it. Back in 12:56, he looks at the crowd, and calls them, “Hypocrites.”
And in chapter 11, verse 29, it says when the crowds increased, he told them, this is a wicked generation.
Sometimes you will hear people who caricature Jesus’ approach as if he just opened up his arms and said nothing at all matters, but it did matter to him, and he was very clear about the seriousness of sin, he never minimized or compromised on that, he spoke about things like hell and judgment and yet at the same time we find the people who were taking his message most seriously, were the very people the world would have said were the absolute worse.
If you put the end of chapter 14 and the beginning of chapter 15 together.
You see that after Jesus has told the crowd to consider the cost of being his disciple, he says, he who has ears to hear, let him hear, and then Luke tells us, now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
The ones we might say were furthest from God were coming the closest to Jesus.
While Jesus approach wasn’t like the world’s, it is pretty obvious, it wasn’t like the religious people’s either.
Which, Luke tells us, is why they are getting so upset with him.
“And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”
And it’s like they are so angry, they can’t even say Jesus’ name, all they can say, is this man.
I’ve read sometimes people will say Jesus wasn’t really close to sinners, and what they are trying to avoid is this idea, that Jesus was always hanging out down at the bar, you know.
And so they’ll say, that, in all these passages, where Jesus is close to sinners, it’s repentant sinners, people that were changing, and there’s a little bit of force to that, because I am sure the sinners spending time with Jesus had to be ok with him confronting their sin.
And yet, the word receiving sinners, has to do with having a good will towards someone.
There was something in Jesus’ approach that made the Pharisees, say, you know what, he actually likes these people, he’s spending time with.
They could tell, He receives sinners.
If Jesus was around the tax collectors and sinners, and was always so obviously uncomfortable, I don’t think they would have wanted to be around him.
I think one of the reasons so many tax collectors and sinners were repenting was because there was something about Jesus’ attitude towards them that made them want to be with him.
Which is why he ate with them.
And, in Jesus’ day, that was significant.
He receives sinners, and he eats with them.
Eating with people now and days is maybe not such a big deal, but in Jesus’ day, it was huge because, eating a meal with someone was a way of saying, we are not strangers, we are friends.
Which actually, if you think about it, was the objection people were making to Jesus.
“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
And I am emphasizing that word, FRIEND!
I once heard somebody put it like this.
And it’s maybe not perfect.
But, he said, the people who were most unlike Jesus, liked Jesus, and maybe partly, because it was evident, Jesus liked them.
That’s part of what it means to be a friend.
It’s hard to think of a case, I can’t, in the gospels when Jesus interacted with someone who was an outcast, on the margins, and that interaction wasn’t warm, and spiritually positive in a way that his interactions with the religious, good Pharisees, so often weren’t.
And I know we are not Jesus and people are complicated, and there are lots of angry outcasts out there, to be honest, but I am just challenged.
As a church, what was true of Jesus’ individually, should be true of us, corporately.
There should be something about us, that even sinners, bad people, find attractive.
And we are going to mess this up, we aren’t going to do this perfectly, especially individually, and, yet as a church, as we are seeking to become more like Jesus, doing all these good things, becoming these good people, we can’t lose sight, of the fact that, part of becoming like Jesus involves our attitude towards people, who aren’t like Him at all.
We need to love them and they need to know it.
We should want the best for them, and be willing to spend time with them. They should know maybe we are not for everything they are doing, but we are for them.
And, you know.
I think we can make this complicated.
How do we show love to someone who is so different?
And, there are parts that are complicated.
I remember a group of us from the church visiting with someone in their home who was not a believer and had pornography up on the wall. It’s complicated to know how care about this person, who is not a Christian, and not look at that stuff, and yet not make it so obvious, that it’s offensive and you don’t have a chance to share the gospel.
And yet, I don’t know, it’s also not that complicated, because when people know you care about them, and you are not just preaching at them, that kind of love is pretty hard to resist, because, there aren’t a lot of people out there who listen, there aren’t a lot of people who care, and so even if you have to say hard things, if you have shown people you are for them, I’ve found so often, while they might not agree, they’ll listen.
And, let me tell you why this is so important.
Why it’s so vital, we don’t take the world’s approach and ignore sin or the merely religious approach and avoid sinners, either.
And that’s first and foremost because of what Jesus says about God.
This is not just ministry philosophy.
This is theology.
As Jesus sees these Pharisees grumbling he loves them enough, to prove why he pursued sinners the way he did.
“So Jesus told them this parable.”
And you’ll notice that’s parable.
Even though Jesus tells them three stories.
And that’s because, all three stories go together, to make one point.
About what brings God joy.
One reason we need to look at our attitude towards people is because our attitude towards people reveals what we believe about God.
And what it often reveals is that we believe.
God is hard.
We are so hard on people because we believe God is so hard, and Jesus tells three stories in a row in Luke 15, that explode that and reveal God as a God of pursuing, compassionate love, which we’ll look at next time.