The phrase is biblical. "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matthew 11:19) So it must be true, right? And, so, if Jesus was the friend of sinners (I'm not so sure these days we'd be willing to extend that totax collectors), what are we doing bringing up the whole "sin issue" these days? We claim to be followers of Christ. Follow Christ. Be a glutton and a drunkard and hang out with sinners!
Of course, I'm making a leap, but so are those who don't make that leap and still call us to be "more like Christ" by being "less judgmental". It's true. Jesus Himself said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:13) And that was in response to the Pharisees complaining that He was spending time with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11). No question. Jesus spent time with sinners because that was why He came, He said. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31)
But here's the question. What did Jesus mean by calling Himself "a friend of sinners"? Does that mean He "buddied up", He hung around with them, shared their beer, encouraged the lifestyle and life choices of their choosing, and embraced them for who they were? That's the answer that many (most?) would give. That's not what the Bible says. First, Jesus was quoting His detractors. Shall we base what we ought to be on what His detractors were saying? But beyond that, Jesus was a friend to sinners in a different manner than "embrace all you are." When Jesus first started His ministry, He had a message. And it was not "Hey, can't we all just get along?" It was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) Not exactly the "friendly" message one would expect from a friend, is it? To the Samaritan woman, He called her out for her sin. "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true." (John 4:17-18) To the woman caught in adultery, He said, "Go, and from now on sin no more." (John 8:11) In fact, nowhere do we find Jesus saying, "It's alright. You can do whatever you want. I'll embrace you and your sin." Nothing like it.
I don't disagree that Jesus was a friend of sinners. He was the kind of friend that told them the truth. "You're sinners and you need help." He's the kind of friend most of us need and few of us have. A true friend. Not the false kind who tells you, "It's alright. Do what you want. I won't say anything about it." That kind of friend only gets you into trouble. And with friends like that ...
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