Last week Andy asked me an interesting question: “How far should we go in getting involved with non-Christians?” Andy and I are in a men’s group together and we were sitting in a coffee shop talking about people we meet in coffee shops, among other places, co-workers, and others we come in contact with.
My response sprung from my lips: “Exactly as far as Jesus would go.” Andy seemed satisfied with that answer.
Jesus came onto our turf. Take a moment and think about this: A holy, perfect God took on human flesh and entered a very corrupt, sin-full, unholy environment. He came onto our turf to save us. Then, once here, he never backed down from an opportunity to get involved with messy people–people he wasn’t “supposed to” associate with: a Samaritan woman, a tax collector, an adulterous woman, a government ruler, just to name a few. In fact, he became known to many as a “glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners'” (Matthew 11:19).
I can think of two main reasons Christians shy away from getting too close with non-Christians: (1) fear that we’ll ruin our reputations and (2) fear that the ungodly will persuade us to compromise our faith in some way.
As I read the gospels, I don’t see Jesus ever worried about his reputation; that is, what others thought of him. The Pharisees certainly were concerned about this, so much so that Jesus often called them out on this. Jesus ate and drank with the people whom the religious leaders detested and rejected. After calling the tax-collector Matthew to be one of his followers, Jesus had dinner with his new ministry partner and a bunch of his “sinner” friends. The Pharisees were beside themselves: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” they asked.
Jesus’ response is classic. It sums up what he was and is all about: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. … For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
But what about compromise? This is the one we are often warned to be very careful about.
Jesus never changed his way of ministering to the downcast because he was afraid of his position being compromised. (As God himself, it seems his reputation was much more at stake than ours!)
The Bible doesn’t say Jesus merely ministered to messed-up people or talked to them once in a while – he was their friend! Yet he did not enter into their sinful ways. You and I need to follow the model of Christ and be a friend to the very same kind of people – regardless of what people might think.
Don’t forget that we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us. We are called to be an influence on the world around us. We can choose to be an influence, to be influenced, or to hide out in our comfy, safe living rooms and do nothing. The latter option would be to purposely disobey the commission Jesus gave us to go and, like him, to enter the turf of those who God loves so much.
Jesus compromised nothing. In fact, it is we who compromise the gospel when we hide in our churches and homes afraid to reach out to the “sinners” in our world. We compromise when we won’t go onto their turf. We cannot expect them to come to us at first – we must go where they are, just as Jesus did.