Answering a question about eating with non-Christians

Answering a question about eating with non-Christians

In Matthew 9, Jesus decided to eat at a party with some less-than-respectable people, the friends of Matthew, who had become his disciple. An implication of this is that Christians should not restrict our meals and friendships to other Christians; we need to be prepared to spend time with people who are not believers. I wrote about this in an earlier blog post here.

This raised a question that was put in the question box at church:

If we are to eat with all sinners, including those who are not only unrepentant but actually revel in sin, are we not opening ourselves to temptation? Is there not a specific warning for us in 1 Corinthians 5 to not eat with unrepentant sinners who call themselves Christian? Do we not exercise some judgement and awareness that we are not Jesus?

As you can see, this is actually a series of questions, so it seemed best to deal with this in a blog post where I can explain things a little clearer. Let’s break it down by looking at three issues.

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When we spend time with non-Christian people with different values and lifestyles, we run the risk of influence running both ways. We can influence them in a positive way (most of the time!) while they can influence us in a negative way. This is a wisdom call for each of us. There may be situations it is unwise for us to be in, such as those tempted by drunkenness to spend time with friends in pubs and clubs.

However, I do think that many Christians are so afraid of the world influencing them that they no longer have any real contact with non-Christian people. We can withdraw into our churches and Christian schools and have no more than superficial relationships with those who are not Christian. If we feel the great need of our world that needs Jesus, that cannot be the answer. We need to know people to have the opportunity to share the gospel well (the logic we see in Romans 10:14-16). So yes, there is a risk we can be influenced, but we cannot let that make us withdraw from friendships with non-Christian people. Else how will those who are not Christian ever come to know Jesus?

Issue #2              Christian unrepentant sinners vs those who are not Christian

It is true that there is a warning not to associate with Christian people who live a life of unrepentant sin in 1 Corinthians 5:11. If you follow Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, you must strive to be obedient to your Master. It is a most serious thing to say you are a believer then live the same as someone who is not a believer. We are instructed not to befriend someone like that; they should be expelled from the church.

However, note the context of that instruction. Paul does tell the church that he is not speaking about not associating with non-Christian people who are immoral and obvious sinners (1 Cor 5:10). People who are not Christian either don’t know about sin or don’t care about it, so we cannot expect them to live as Christians do. If we don’t associate with non-Christians because we disapprove of their lifestyle, that gets grace all mixed up. We need to present the gospel to them first; only after they come to Jesus should we expect them to live like a follower of Jesus. Paul himself was all things to all people to try to save some; he mixed with people in the marketplace, in the synagogue, in the Aeropagus. Paul’s example and teaching encourage us to influence our society and mix with people who are not believers; we cannot use 1 Corinthians 5 as an instruction to avoid eating with non-Christian people.

Issue #3              We shouldn’t try to do everything Jesus did

We are not Jesus. We are not to try to turn water into wine, to walk on water, or to be crucified for the sins of the world. Jesus is unique. It is true that we should not try to do everything Jesus did, and just because Jesus did something doesn’t mean we should do it.

However, Jesus’ explanation of his behaviour in Matthew 9 should encourage us to befriend and associate with non-Christian people. They are sick and need a doctor. We shouldn’t be like the Pharisees, who Jesus berated, who would never associate with such people. Those who are not Christian need to know the hope we have. We are different in that we cannot save them ourselves and we are not their Doctor; but we know the One who is. If we don’t tell the people in our workplace or our family about Jesus, who will? Maybe God has placed you in a network of non-Christian friends for such a time as this.

Perth has a tiny proportion of Christians. So many people need to know about Jesus. For that to happen, Christians need to associate with non-Christians! The logic is compelling. Our church has seen quite a number come to know Jesus after first coming to church when invited by a friend. Don’t be so fearful of your purity that you lose sight of the need of so many dying people around us.