Too often, I feel, the church has stopped short at just associating with those on the outside. Yes, we’ll reach out to them by inviting them to our events and programs…or creating a new scheme to stand outside our church on a Friday night…or invite the foreigners into our church once a year for a meal…

But Jesus didn’t just associate with sinners or make them projects. He didn’t start any new programmes or speak to them so he could bring God into the story within 2 minutes.

Jesus was a friend of sinners.

A mate.

And so if we are to take up the call of being like Jesus, then we need to hang out with people who don’t respect Jesus. We talk about being like Jesus but how many of us have friends who are prostitutes?

Go on…ask yourself.

Jesus did.

But that was okay for Jesus I hear you cry. It’s different for us.

But is it?

Is it too low for us to stoop? Too risky? Too potentially damaging to our reputation?

Are you a friend of sinners? Or do you just associate with them?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
 Jesus in Matthew 5:10-12

Jesus walked a hard road in life as well as in death. Slandered, abused, mistreated and misrepresented. Lonely, frustrated, misunderstood and laughed at. When He claimed to be the Son of God. But in the face of it all, Jesus knew His purpose and His calling, and He kept going, often without even a response.

What we forget sometimes is that Jesus faced all the same questions. In fact, his reputation was tarnished as someone who ate and dined with sinners.

And this reputation wasn’t gained by standing with them for 10 minutes, just long enough to get a tract into their grasp so He could tell people about His evangelism efforts to boost His reputation. He actually befriended them.

I was once told that if you were talking with someone for the first time and the conversation hadn’t come around to Jesus within 6 minutes that you had failed evangelistically.

What a load of rubbish.

6 minutes?

I thank God that He didn’t just associate with sinners. But He was called the friend of sinners. Prostitutes. Gamblers. Homosexuals. Tax men. Political revolutionaries. Fishermen. Teachers. Me. You.

And I thank God today that He still befriends sinners. And He does that through other sinners like me and you.

Unfortunately when we talk about befriending sinners it’s so easy to look at the perceived drop outs of society like the addict or the drunkard. But everywhere I look there are people who need someone to journey alongside them. Someone to love them. Someone to value them. Someone to model out a lifestyle that is different. Someone to be Jesus in their life if they don’t know Him for themselves. Someone to be a friend to them….someone to befriend them.

And not as some project. Not as some mere number for the church statistics. Not to inflate our egos. But to live out the command of Jesus to “love our neighbours as we love ourselves.”

For me, too much of my life is about associating with people rather than befriending. Too much of my life is spent talking about this stuff rather than doing it.

And why is that?

Because it costs us something. It’s costly to invest your time and energy into someone. It’s draining. It’s sacrificial.

It’s easier to talk the talk than walk the walk.

It’s easier to go on a 2 week mission trip to Africa than it is to model a life of Christ to someone for 50.

It’s easier to associate with a homeless man as part of a church program at Christmas time than it is to take him to lunch every Monday.

It’s easier to organise a youth event than sit at Starbucks with a 16 year old bloke who shares with you about how he’s being bullied at school for being a Christian.

It’s easier to relax with your wife and get to bed early rather than leave your door open and your phone on awaiting yet another young person to call on you in their hour of need.