MATTHEW 9:9-13: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” NKJV‬‬

OBSERVATION: Why did Jesus hang around sinners? What should our attitude be toward those who don’t know Jesus Christ? Can we really love the sinner and hate the sin? When do we cross the line from associating with sinners and participating with them?

It is popular today to say – “Jesus hung around sinners!” I don’t know what the motivation is behind isolating this phrase and using it as a badge of honor. Is it to justify our sin or excuse activities that we are involved in? Jesus indeed associated with sinners but this is much different than hanging around with them.

The fact that we are all sinners complicates this discussion. There is a difference between being a sinner and sinning. We are born with a sinful nature. By nature we are imperfect and we all have sinned. We all need a Savior. Our sins separate us from God. This is the reason Jesus came to this world. He came to pay the penalty for our sin and to offer the forgiveness of sin and eternal life to all who will believe.

Yet, Jesus never participated in sin. He was the perfect lamb of God. Neither did Jesus go and hang out at the local pub and throw down with the boys. In this portion of Scripture from Matthew, we see Jesus, after calling Matthew to become a disciple, enter into Matthew’s home to eat a meal. This is a far cry from participating in a drunken party!

It was such a shock to the religious leaders because they would not even cross paths with tax collectors and sinners. In their self -righteousness they walked with their noses in the air and regarded all such as the dregs of society. How could Jesus, if He was the Messiah, even be under the same roof as such men?

First, Jesus was invited to a meal, not a drunken party. Second, Jesus made it very clear why He was willing to cross the line that the religious leaders would not cross.

  • “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Jesus was calling His disciples to become fishers of men. If you are going to catch fish you need to be willing to go where the fish are. Yet, in going fishing, there is a difference between going where the fish are and hanging around with the alligators. One puts you in the position to catch a meal. The other puts you in peril of becoming a meal.

Paul was very aware of this when he wrote,

  • “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” I Corinthians 15:33-34 NKJV

We live in a sinful world. We all are sinners saved by grace. And we are called to reach out to sinners with the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. This involves reaching out to, interacting with, and investing time in the life of those who do not know Jesus Christ. We cannot live sheltered lives and fulfill the Great Commission.

However, we also cannot misunderstand the ministry of Jesus and use it as an excuse to participate with sinners. We need to walk in love and compassion toward all. Yet, we also need to walk in obedience to Jesus Christ and be on the pathway of righteousness. How do we maintain this balance?

I think the answer is simple. All we need to do is look at the life and ministry of Jesus. He did not avoid sinners like the religious leaders. He was not judgemental and shocked by their lives. Yet, He did not give a wink to sin. Rest assured, when He was eating at Matthew’s house, the conversation was changed. They were not exchanging crude stories and getting drunk. They were engaged by Jesus to talk about the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus did wherever He went.

One of the most misused stories in this regard is the woman caught in adultery. It is mere conjecture to say what Jesus was writing in the sand. Yet, Jesus did not approach this woman with disgust or contempt. He came to her with His offer of grace and forgiveness. It was an offer of redemption. To live a different life in the power of the Holy Spirit. To change her direction. Jesus did not simply refuse to condemn her – he refused to leave her in the state in which He found her!

  • “When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John‬ ‭8:10-12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Note the progression. Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of those who were accusing the woman. Jesus refused to pass final sentence upon the woman and condemn her. Jesus forgave her sin and called her to a new way of life in Him. Jesus called the woman caught in adultery to live in and walk in His light!

We cannot blur the lines of reaching out to the darkness and walking in the light. We are not to participate in sin to reach sinners. We are called to bring His light into the brokenness and darkness of this world. We do not come as spiritual authorities or those who have achieved some level of spiritual superiority. We come as sinners saved by grace to call other sinners to the grace that can set them free.

Jesus hung around sinners – but He never hung around sin! This is a huge distinction and one that we must understand and apply to our lives in the world in which we live. We must be about the Father’s business of making disciples. However, we must do it like Jesus did if our light is to shine and our salt is not to lose its savor!

Lord, grant me the wisdom and discernment to know the difference between engaging sinners in friendship and conversation and participating or condoning the sin they are engaged in. Help me to share the light of Christ in the love of Christ as one who was lost but now is found. Give me deeper compassion for the lost and greater discernment for my limitations.

In Jesus Name!

About Kirk's Devotional Journal

Kirk L. Zehnder is the Founder of Resurrection Christian Outreach. RCO is a ministry that promotes the growth and vitality of the local church through speaking engagements, seminars, various media tools, and written curriculum and books. This ministry was started over 35 years ago by Kirk as a means to strengthen the church that he was pastoring. It grew as Kirk began to share these tools with other churches. Today many of the materials are being used by local churches both nationally and internationally. Kirk's Devotional Journal is a result of struggling with Bible reading programs that never seemed to work. Kirk feels the Lord helped him discover an easy-to-follow program to Read, Reflect, Pray, and Journal through the Bible in one year. This program is called L.I.F.E. Unlike other programs there are no dates to follow. You can miss a day and still complete your reading. You never feel like the dates and verses you missed are chasing you. You are free to enjoy your daily Biblical journey and listen to the voice of The Lord. For more information on the L.I.F.E. plan, send an email to Kirk is also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats. With over 40 years of professional business and pastoral ministry experience, Kirk brings a unique combination of practical wisdom, humor, and Biblical insight. If you would like Kirk to speak at your church, school, or ministry, please send an email to and we will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your opportunity.
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