When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" ~~Matthew 9:11 NIV
When Jesus saw Matthew, a tax collector, working in his booth, He commanded Matthew to follow Him. Jesus then ate dinner at Matthew's house. Nobody wanted to be associated with a tax collector because they were sinners. Tax collectors commonly took more than what was owed so they could pocket the excess.
The Pharisees criticized Jesus for this act. According to Harper's Bible Dictionary, Pharisee in Hebrew means "separate ones." Also, "The Pharisees were zealous observers of the law, prominent among the people and especially concerned with ritual purity, tithing, food according to OT [Old Testament] law, and correct observance of Sabbath." Therefore, the Pharisees were deemed self-righteous hypocrites.
What do Pharisees have to do with Christians? Last week, I listened to a recording of a well-known public speaker and author. When he described his faith, he described it as "a follower of Jesus who believes the Bible reveals the Truth." Then he went on to say that he does not call himself a Christian.
Why? Isn't a Christian one who believes in the teachings of Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life and the only means to the Father? His explanation, unfortunately, did not shock me but took my mind to a place it hadn't thought of before. He stated:
"The term 'Christian' means different things to many different people, and lots of them are bad. These negative connotations have been rightly earned. Some of the greatest atrocities ever visited upon mankind have been done so by so-called 'Christians' and in the name of Jesus. So, when you say the word 'Christian,' there is no telling what it means to the particular person you are talking to."
What does "Christian" mean to the person we're talking to? Unfortunately, the truth is lots of people, including myself, have been hurt by well-meaning Christians. As a fellow believer, I feel like I have judged other Christians rather easily if they did not think like me or held the same doctrinal beliefs. And other Christians have judged me for my views not lining up with theirs.
Beth Moore explains there are spine issues, such as Jesus Christ born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, crucified for our sins, and resurrected and lives today. Then there are the rib issues that we need not argue over, such as music.
If there is much disunity among the believers, how do the unbelievers see Christians? I read an article on the internet by a homosexual who felt judged and condemned by the Christian community. How often do we preach "love the sinner, but hate the sin" but we don’t live it out. The message my pastor shared yesterday was not to treat the person any differently than you want to be treated. We ALL sin.
Jesus enjoyed his dinner with Matthew, the tax collector and the Pharisees criticized him for it. Here's how he replied:
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." ~~ Matthew 9:12-13 NIV
The Lord desires us to be merciful, gracious and kind to others no matter what their status. Love draws people to Christ, not condemnation and criticism. I do not intend to imply that all Christians have turned into Pharisees, but looking at the broader scope do Christians appear to others like self-righteous hypocrites? Then we are Pharisaical Christians.
Whether you use the term "Jesus follower" or "Christian," join me this week in loving others like Jesus loves. He sat down with the sinners without criticizing them. Let's be merciful and gracious to one another--believers and unbelievers.
Note: To listen to the recording I referred to in the text above, click this link.