Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:11 “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples,
Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”
Matthew’s feast was evidently served in his courtyard. People passing by were able to observe the festivities. When the Pharisees saw what was happening, they were horrified. To them, a religious leader eating with sinners was a public violation of common decency. This scandalous affair shocked all their bigotries.
The Pharisees, “great at grumbling” (Glover), were more concerned with criticism than with encouragement. Jesus could do nothing right; they found fault with all He did. Beware a critical spirit. Some brag, “At least people always know where I stand.” Yes, they know you’re in vinegar up to your knees, you sour puss.
The Pharisees wanted to grumble, but dared not address Jesus directly. Still smarting from their humiliation in the paralytic incident (9:4), they decided they might fare better by doing an end-run around Jesus and accosting His disciples.
The Pharisees tried to undercut Jesus’ base of support. Opting for a divide and conquer strategy, they tried to drive a wedge between Him and His followers.
We can hear the sneer in their voice, “Your” Master, as if to say, shame on you for following such a scoundrel. What an underhanded tactic to use. Few things are more despicable than a mole. “A perverse man spreads strife” (PR 16:28 NAS). Our Lord said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (MT 5:9). Strive to build up relationships, not destroy them.
The Pharisees assumed Jesus wanted to mix with sinners in order to share in their sins. “Birds of a feather flock together.” They could not imagine someone wanting to help sinners change their ways. The Pharisees felt the best policy was to leave publicans and sinners alone, to let them die in their sins, to leave them to their fate. They wished sinners no good, and wanted them to receive no benefits.
The Pharisees did welcome a sinner after he had changed his ways. Their bone of contention with Jesus was that He sought out sinners before they repented.
Where are we in this debate? Even the least caring church invites alcoholics after they are sober a while, embraces convicts after they pay their debt to society and become respectable, and welcomes prostitutes after they clean up their act.
Here is the issue confronting the North American church. Jesus orders us to be fishers of men. At what point do we intend to step into this fishing process?
I fear too many of us prefer to do our fishing in the frozen foods section at the grocery store. My favorite fish are those which have already been deboned, processed, and packaged. Everybody likes clean fish, but Jesus, our Master and Example, sought fish in dirty waters while they were still nasty and smelled bad.
I readily acknowledge, meeting sinners where they are is dangerous activity. Many Christians fall in their walk due to close association with the lost. There are valid reasons why “Birds of a feather flock together” became one of our proverbs.
There is an interacting with sinners that keeps them in their sin and draws us into it; avoid this. There is an interacting with sinners that draws them out of their sin; practice this. Unspiritual people enter the company of sinners for gratification. This interaction is useless and ungodly. Spiritual people enter the company of sinners to do them good, to uplift them. We do have to be careful and take safeguards–for instance, meet them at your house rather than at a bar–but if we are to be like our Master, running the risk of interacting with sinners will be essential.
The Pharisees chose to play it safe. They stayed to themselves, concerned more with preserving their own reputation than with helping improve someone else’s reputation. To this day, the name of their sect, Pharisees, continues to be the ultimate defaming slur used against religious snobs. The Pharisees obeyed commandments, but never showed love. They forgot that orthodox piety, unaccompanied with a hand stretched down to help lift others, does not please God.
A Pharisee mind-set remains alive and well among us. For many believers, this is the one deplorable blot that stains an otherwise noble character. Those who seem most successful at Christian living are often most condemning of sinners.
Every generation has its own “politically incorrect” sins, evils deemed more grievous than others. The danger with this thinking is, once we overcome these “big” sins, the ones everyone is talking about and preachers are railing against, we feel we are okay, for our sins are considered to be only “little” ones. We often forget we are all sinners. “All have sinned” (RM 3:23) does not apply only to others.
All of us never did, never have, and never will deserve salvation. In and of ourselves, none of us is more desirable or loved than anyone else in the eyes of God. This is a hard lesson to learn. It required a vision and revelation direct from God for Peter to finally concede, “God is no respecter of persons” (AC 10:34).
Ever guard against a pharisaical spirit toward others. Our hardest test may often be keeping a right spirit toward those who fail in areas where we are most successful. One who succeeds at being disciplined in a given behavior often has trouble understanding how someone else can be undisciplined in the same area.
I am weak in personal soulwinning, but strong in bold preaching. Thus, if someone shares with me their struggles with witnessing, I am able to offer comfort to them. But if a preacher is cowardly in the pulpit, my instinct is to tie him to his pulpit and keep kicking him in the shin till he says something which upsets somebody. Therefore, maybe I had better leave this latter task to someone else.
I know depression, and can speak tenderly to any who battle it. Having never doubted my salvation, I’m probably not sympathetic enough with those who do.
I know about worry, and can commiserate with others who fight it. I never tasted alcohol or took illicit drugs. Thus, I don’t understand the pain of addiction.
I struggle with daily prayer, and can relate to others in the same situation. I relish reading the whole Bible annually, and when I hear of others who do not do this, I want to take their Bible out of their hand, and hit them over the head with it.
In my effort at humor here, do not miss the serious lesson. We all have people in our lives who are weak where we are strong. If we handle them carelessly and callously, we may destroy the relationship. Be extremely gentle with these people, for nothing leaves more devastation in its wake than a pharisaical spirit. God bestowed in our words the awesome power to either crush or bless people.
Moms and dads, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters–heed a word of warning. If you are strong in an area where a family member is weak, this could become the very issue that will destroy your household. Hold your tongue. Avoid quick decisions and rash pronouncements. Take time to pray. Solicit input from others who at one time shared the weakness of your loved one.
Be careful. The stakes are high. In driving a loved one farther from us, we run the danger of driving them farther into their sin. We want to keep them close by, where we can lovingly influence them if and when teachable moments come.
Our Master, strong in every area of life, stayed close to people weak in every area. Let’s commit to learning how to do the same, how to reject the sin, yet receive the sinner. Only God can enable us to keep these two properly balanced.