Tax Collectors and Sinners Draw Near to Jesus Luke 15 and Haggai 2

Tax Collectors and Sinners Draw Near to Jesus (Luke 15:1 and Haggai 2:10-13)

Luke 15:1 says, “Tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to Jesus.” The end of the previous chapter contains the strongest verses in all of Scripture regarding discipleship. Jesus preached them because the crowds were bloated. They were filled with people who weren’t true disciples. Jesus wanted to thin the ranks. The tax collectors and sinners not only remained but drew closer to him. They were tired of their spiritual sickness, and wanted to be made well.

Are you spiritually sick? There is a Physician who wants to make you well. Jesus wouldn’t turn away the tax collectors and sinners in his day and he doesn’t turn them away in our day.

Jesus was able to deal with tax collectors and sinners while remaining holy. He sets a good example for us, because we should ask how we can be evangelistic and reach out to unholy people without becoming unholy ourselves. Let’s briefly consider verses that reveal that unholy people pose a threat to us.

Holiness Can’t Be Transferred

Here’s the context. After the Jews returned to the Promised Land following their exile in Babylon, they wrongly believed two things about holiness. First, they believed doing holy things like rebuilding the temple or offering sacrifices made them holy. Second, they believed being in the Holy Land made them holy.

They didn’t understand these things wouldn’t make them holy if they were living unholy lives. God sent the prophet Haggai to correct their understanding. Haggai asked the priests two questions about the law, and considering they are the experts in the law, they would know the answers better than anyone else:

On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” (Haggai 2:10-12).

The first question was essentially, “What happens when something holy touches something unholy? Does what is unholy become holy?” The priests correctly answered, “No.”

Healthy people can’t walk through a hospital and touch sick people and make them healthy. We can’t take non-spoiled food and touch spoiled food and make it non-spoiled. Similarly, holy people can’t touch unholy people and make them holy. Holiness isn’t contagious. It doesn’t rub off on others.

Unholiness Can Be Transferred

The second question: “Then Haggai said, ‘If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?’ The priests answered and said, ‘It does become unclean.’” (Haggai 2:13). Unclean is synonymous with unholy, so now Haggai asked, “What happens when something unholy touches something holy? Does whatever is unholy cause whatever is holy to become unholy?” The priests correctly answered, yes.

The first question was about whether something holy can touch something unholy and make it holy. This second question is about whether something unholy can touch something holy and make it unholy, and it can!

Maybe you’ve heard people say, “We’re going to take this unholy thing from the world— such as this movie, book, or music—and sanctify it or make it holy.” But this isn’t possible. If it’s unholy in the world, it’s unholy in our lives, families, homes, or churches. And if we introduce anything unholy from the world into our lives, families, homes, or churches, it makes our lives, families, homes, or churches unholy:

Holiness begins in our minds and works out in our actions. That being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important. The television programs we watch, the movies we attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these true? Are they pure? Lovely? Admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?

Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, page 92

Unholy People Rub Off on Us

What about when we are talking not about unholy things, but unholy people, such as tax collectors and sinners? Can they pose a threat to our holiness? Absolutely! This is why 2 Corinthians 6:14 warns, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

Consider these verses about the dangers of unholy people rubbing off on us:

Proverbs 22:24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, 25 lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.

The angry person doesn’t learn to control himself by being with the believer. But the believer learns to be like the angry man and gets himself entangled in a trap.

Proverbs 13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

The companion of fools doesn’t save fools through their relationship. But the companion of fools suffers because the fool’s foolishness rubs off on him.

Proverbs 14:7 Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.

Notice people are told to leave the presence of fools versus spend time with them to make them wise. One reason is because fools don’t listen. The other reason is so their foolishness doesn’t rub off on us.

Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.

Why is he blessed? Wouldn’t it be because he avoids the counsel of the wicked and influence of sinners?

1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”

Good company doesn’t fix bad morals, but bad company ruins good morals. Paul says do not be deceived because we can be deceived into thinking associating with the wrong people won’t hurt us. We can believe their poor behavior isn’t contagious, but it is.

How Do We Keep Unholiness Out Of Our Lives?

So how can we be evangelistic and reach out to unholy people, without becoming unholy ourselves? Let me give you two recommendations that are rooted in Scripture.

First, Keep Unholiness Out of Your Life by Evangelizing Versus Compromising.

Consider these two verses:

  • Galatians 5:13—You were called to freedom, brothers. only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • 1 Peter 2:16—Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

One of the most common times people might use “[their] freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” and “as a cover up for evil” is in evangelism. They spend time with unsaved people and do unholy things. They might say something like, “Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners, so:

  • “I am going to this bar because I want to share the Gospel.”
  • “I’m close friends with these ungodly people because I want to see them become Christians.”
  • “I go to this club, because I want to witness to the people going with me.”

Is this true, or are these just sinful ways to feed the flesh? James 1:27  is a fitting verse that can apply to our evangelism: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I know this is primarily about caring for the less fortunate, but a secondary point is that when we engage in religious activity we must keep ourselves unstained from the world. We are not to let the world’s unholiness rub off on us.

In relationships we generally connect regarding our commonalities. If you think about the people you are closest with you probably have things in common that are important to both of you sports, books, movies, automobiles, or school. If you’re a Christian with another Christian, then you have Christ in common.

But what does a Christian and a non-Christian have in common? They don’t have the New Man, or a love for Christ in common. But they do have the Old Man, or the flesh in common. Believers and unbelievers are not going to connect spiritually. They’re going to connect along the basest level: the flesh:

God wants you to rub off on non-Christians friends, but Satan wants them to rub off on you. So remember: you can have friends outside the faith, but for your deepest comrades you should look to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Hang out with the holy. Get in with the godly. Spend time with the saved. Know who your real family is – the one where the Father is God.

J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College, page 37

Thomas Brooks wrote, “Let your closest companions be those who have made Christ their closest companion.”

Second, Keep Unholiness Out of Your Life by Pointing Tax Collectors and Sinners to the Physician

Consider Jesus’s approach:

Luke 5:27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

The religious leaders didn’t like Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and sinners: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2). This is what sets up the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son.

Think about when a prostitute washed Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears, and then kissed his feet and anointed them with oil. Luke 7:39 records: “When the Pharisee who had invited [Jesus] saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, ‘This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.’” When we think we are too good to be around certain people, we are acting like the religious leaders. And whenever we act like the religious leaders it is almost always bad.

Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). Jesus is a Physician for sinners. He knew people were desperately sick and in need of healing. Earthly physicians heal physical sickness and work on the body. Jesus heals spiritual sickness and works on the soul.

A few verses earlier Jesus physically healed the paralytic, but first he healed him spiritually: “Man, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). Despite how terrible the man looked physically he looked even worse spiritually. Jesus dealt with his greatest need, which was his spiritual sickness.

The word “physician” helps us understand Jesus’s relationship with tax collectors and sinners, and it is a good example for us in our interaction with “tax collectors and sinners.” Think about what physicians do. First, they get close to their patients, but they make every effort to ensure they aren’t contaminated or infected by them. They sanitize their hands, put on gloves, and wear masks. Second, physicians help. They diagnose, carry a clipboard because they’re investigating, try to figure out what’s wrong, and then they prescribe a cure and tell people what to do or not to do. They have a specific purpose: they want to see healing take place.

Nobody ever says, “Hey, I’m going to go hang out with my physician” or “My physician just called and he wants to go catch a football game.” Instead, people say, “I’m sick. I need to go see my physician. I need help. I’m going to go to the doctor.” Think about when you’re at the hospital and the doctor enters. He doesn’t give you a hug and chit-chat with you for 45 minutes. He doesn’t ask you to come over later for dinner.

Jesus’s ministry is similar. Notice the balance. He spent time with tax collectors and sinners. He socialized with them. But He wasn’t buddies or close friends with them. And it’s a good example to follow. We should have unbelievers in our lives, but the relationship should be deliberate like Jesus modeled. We look for opportunities to share the Gospel.

Instead of being close friends, we point them to the Great Physician because only he can take away their sickness. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Lord, grant that whenever I am found in the company of sinners, it may be with the design of healing them, and may I never become myself infected with their disease!”

By God’s grace, one of the greatest blessings in my life took place in my early twenties. I had some Christian friends who were deliberate in their relationships with me. Their greatest desire was sharing the Gospel and directing me to the Physician. I hope I can be as intentional with others as these believers were with me.

Repentance Is the Physician’s Prescription

Continuing the physician analogy, what does the Physician prescribe? Luke 5:31-32 records, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Repentance is the prescription for the spiritually sick.

There are no righteous people: “none is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Jesus is only talking about people who think they are righteous.

Jesus didn’t come to call the self-righteous to repentance, because they don’t think they are sick. He came to call sinners to repentance because they know they are sick.

First Timothy 1:15 says, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This was Jesus’s purpose. The religious leaders criticized him for being with tax collectors and sinners, but considering who He was and what He was supposed to do, any other behavior wouldn’t have made sense:

  • If you’re a pediatrician, you’re going to help children.
  • If you’re a veterinarian you’re going to help animals.
  • If you’re a physician, you’re going to help the sick.

And if you’re a Savior, you’re going to help sinners. One reason Jesus might have chosen Matthew, a tax collector, so early in his ministry, was to make himself look sensitive to sinners. When people found out Jesus called a tax collector, they would know he wouldn’t turn anyone away.

The religious leaders on the other hand couldn’t be more different than Jesus. They tried to stay as far away from sinners as possible. What’s ironic (and sad) is if the religious leaders were as righteous, or as spiritually healthy as they thought they were, then they should’ve been the most concerned with sinners, or the spiritually sick.

Imagine doctors who never went around sick people because they thought they were too healthy for them. The fact is if you’re spiritually healthy, you should try to help those who are spiritually sick. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression (which is to say is spiritually sick), you who are spiritual (this mean spiritually healthy) should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Or lest you become spiritually sick too. In other words, their unholiness rubs off on you.

Tax Collectors and Sinners Who Know They Are Sick Draw Near to Jesus

Luke 14:25 says, “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them.” Jesus knew these crowds were bloated. They were filled with people who weren’t true disciples. He wanted to trim the fat and thin the ranks, so he preaches some of the strongest verses in all of Scripture regarding discipleship:

  • Luke 14:26 teaches if anyone wants to follow Jesus but doesn’t hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even their own life, they can’t be his disciple.
  • Luke 14:27 teaches whoever won’t carry their cross can’t be Jesus’s disciple.
  • Luke 14:28-32 teaches everyone must count the cost before deciding to follow Jesus.
  • Luke 14:33 teaches people who aren’t willing to give up their possessions can’t be Jesus’s disciple.
  • Finally, Luke 14:34-35 teaches that if salt has lost its taste, or become worthless, illustrating worthless disciples, it is good for nothing but being thrown out.

And after laying down this challenging charge to those following him, guess who’s going to turn away and guess who’s going to remain? The following verse, Luke 15:1, records, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.” Can you believe that? Jesus preached some of the most challenging verses on discipleship in all of Scripture and the tax collectors and sinners not only remained, but drew closer to him.

The great crowds were gone, but the tax collectors and sinners were left. Why is that? Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 5:32). These people knew they were sinners, and they were tired of their sin. They didn’t want to be spiritually sick any longer. They wanted to be made well.

Even in the secular world there’s an understanding that people often must reach rock bottom before they change. This is also often the case spiritually. People must be tired of being spiritually sick. They must want to be made well.

As we will see in the next chapter, not everyone (in particular the religious leaders) was happy about Jesus helping these people. He responds to their criticisms by teaching some of the most endearing parables in the Gospels: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons. Each parable reveals the Lord’s heart for the tax collectors and sinners (the spiritually sick) of the world to be made well.

The beautiful truth is if you’re spiritually sick, there is a Physician who wants to make you well. Jesus wouldn’t turn away tax collectors and sinners in his day and he doesn’t turn them away in our day.

30 Responses

  1. Holiness is contagious. This is why a believer can sanctify an unbelieving spouse. Just as a child learns most by modeling through activation of their mirror neurons. (Monkey see monkey do). Just yawn and watch other people then yawn. This is the power of mirror neurons! Adults do the same thing. Kids do that which is modeled to them. When an unbelieving spouse is around their believing spouse who has Jesus in them the unbeliever will be witnessing Jesus and this will most certainly have an effect on them. I have seen it time and time again as long as the believer is firmly anchored in Christ and has fruit of the spirit and 1 Corinthians 13 mature love. But at the same time one should absolutely be cautious being around unbelievers because it goes both ways. This does not mean we don’t associate with them though. If it wasn’t for believers spending time with me having a tremendous influence on me, I wonder how my conversion story would have differed. These people didn’t fear being contaminated by me and my influence. We are disciples by more of what we do than what we say. It’s our everyday influence and it does have an effect either good or bad.

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      Nice to hear from you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate that you referenced your conversion testimony. The same is true for me. I came to Christ because believers invested in me when I was an unbeliever. I’m thankful they didn’t write me off or avoid me completely. God bless!

  2. Great lesson! As far as holiness being transferable, I notice that there are significant translation differences across the English versions in Exodus 29:37, Leviticus 6:27 , and Ezekiel 44:19. For example, “shall be” holy (as a mandate), versus “shall become” holy (giving the idea of “contagion”). Sorry I haven’t dived into the Hebrew, but my guess is that there are *not* actually any cases of holiness being transferred.

  3. Hi Pastor Scott,

    Thanks for the article. I appreciate your thoughts. Great application also. It is very relevant for every day and age.

    I would just like to make one comment for you to consider, perhaps for nuance. There are (at least) three verses in the Old Testament that imply/state that holiness is transferable (Exodus 29:37, Leviticus 6:27, and Ezekiel 44:19). However, I am still thinking through the implications of these verses.

    1. Caleb,
      That is really fascinating. I hadn’t thought about before.

      I copied the verses below for other people’s benefit:
      • Exodus 29:37 Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.
      • Leviticus 6:27 Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place.
      • Ezekiel 44:19 And when they go out into the outer court to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers. And they shall put on other garments, lest they transmit holiness to the people with their garments.

      These verses definitely discuss transmitting holiness. Very interesting.

      How do you reconcile these verses with the verses in Haggai that seemed to indicate holiness is not transferable?

    2. Hello again Pastor Scott. I’m posting here since I can’t reply directly to you.

      I’ve found two more verses that are relevant to this discussion. Exodus 30:29 and Leviticus 6:18.

      Here are my current thoughts to reconcile Haggai 2:10-14 with these other passages regarding the transfer of holiness (Well actually they are others’ thoughts which I am adopting):

      1. In one of the notes in the NET Bible, they suggest that “this is probably not an appeal to the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch) as such, but to a priestly ruling (known in postbiblical Judaism as a ‘pesaq din’).” I have not yet researched into the “pesaq din,” but the Hebrew does not have the definite article before “Law” or “Torah,” so (while not necessary) it is legitimate to translate verse 11: “ask the priests a judgement/decision.” Torah can refer to the entire Old Testament, the Pentateuch, or simply mean “teaching” or “instruction.” Here is the takeaway from this. The priests are not referring to any specific teaching in the Pentateuch, but making a judgement based on the general direction and teaching of Scripture.

      2. Mark Boda in his Haggai/Zechariah commentary in the NIV Application Commentary (NIVAC) series writes “the concern here [in Haggai 2:10-14] is the ability of holiness to be transferred to the third level.” My partially formed thoughts are suggesting that holiness is transferable, meaning that when one comes into contact with something which is the first level of holiness (the altar/priestly robes/holy meat, etc) it becomes holy as well. However, it is holy in a secondary level, and cannot transfer holiness on to something else it contacts. Meaning the holy meat in Haggai 2 made the garment it was carried in holy, but because only the garment touched other food, that other food was not made holy.

      What does this mean for Haggai 2:10-14? I think it means that God is telling his people they are not holy based on the construction of the temple or their presence in the Holy Land. The temple derived its holiness from being the dwelling place of the LORD and the people should remember that they must trust in the LORD, not the temple (Cf. Jeremiah 7:4). The temple did not make them holy. Fellowship with the LORD, being dedicated to his glory as his special people made them holy. As such, this is a strong warning against “covenant automatism” (the idea that if I am part of God’s people and go to church I will be saved). We are only Christ’s holy people when we put our faith and trust in him as our Lord and Saviour. Then we become the holy people of God described in 1 Peter 2.

      On the flipside, uncleanliness/unholiness is much much more contagious. It’s defiling fingers get into everything and we must be strongly on guard against all that will corrupt and defile us as Christ’s bride, bought and paid for with his precious blood.

      Furthermore, I think this can speak to one of the past conversations. We must be careful who we spend our time with, because we will be affected by ungodly character and being present in ungodly atmospheres. Also, since we are indirectly holy, we cannot make anyone we come into contact with holy. We simply can’t do that. But we can point them to Christ, who is able to purify even the worst of sinners, myself being the foremost in Paul’s words.

      Sorry. I was rambling. I appreciate your interaction. This has been helpful for myself, since I am preparing to preach on Haggai 2:10-19 on July 4th, Lord willing.

      1. Caleb,
        Here are the two verses you mentioned:

        • Exodus 30:29 You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy.
        • Leviticus 6:18 Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the Lord’s food offerings. Whatever touches them shall become holy.”

        You’re right, that these also seem to make the same point that holiness can be transferred.

        I agree with your interpretation of Haggai 2:10-14. I think the point is the Jews could not be holy simply by being religious. Their sacrifices, offerings, and religious activity didn’t make them holy when they were so far from God. Their sin and unrighteousness made them unholy regardless of any righteous things they were doing.

        Yes, unrighteousness and sinfulness is easily transferable. I don’t want to repeat back much of what I wrote in the post, but 1 Corinthians 15:33 as well as other verses warn us about association with sinful people because of the potential to be like them.

        Will your message on Haggai 2 be recorded? If so, I’d love to hear it.

        On the subject, can you tell me a little more about yourself? Do you have a website or blog? Which church do you attend and what is your service there look like?

        I’ve appreciated the dialogue and sharpening. God bless!

    3. Shalom!

      I’ve been preparing a Study on the Holiness of God, and came across this article (it’s been super helpful!) Caleb’s comments, and your replies, were really interesting to me! I’m not sure what translation you’re using, and I’m by no means an expert scholar and translation genius, but the NKJ, in each instance, translates it as “ Whatever touches the altar must be holy,” and so on, paraphrasing, since the references aren’t all addressing the altar. Which means that the altar wouldn’t “shed” it’s holiness on whatever touched it, but that whatever touched it needed to itself be holy; otherwise, an unholy “contagion” would putrefy the altar (as it’s clearly shown in Haggai and as you fleshed it out in your article). Something amazing, to me at least, is, disregarding which translation might be “correct” in those other passages, that we do see a similar relationship between the Holy and unholy in 1 Cor. 7:14 when it comes to marriage. That deeper reality that we, as Christ’s Bride, have been made Holy in our relationship with Him, which always gives me chills. He indeed makes us Holy, because that authority has been given to Him, and I personally don’t think that the altar (to refer to a specific instance) was given this same type of “authority” (in the way that it could’ve been if it was God’s Will to give an “object” that ability).

      Thanks again for the awesome article!!


      1. Gabe,
        Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m blessed that the post and comments ministered to you.

        If you tell me what verses your referring to, I can tell you which translation I used; typically, I use New King James or ESV. Or you could simply copy the verse and paste it in Google and the translation will probably come up.

        You’re correct in what you wrote about the altar. Well said.

        I’d love to see your study when you’re finished with it!

  4. Scott, I agree with most of what you write until the conclusion. Imagine if you found out one of your friends was only your friend because he wanted to change you, because he wanted to convert you to another religion. i have friends because i share some commonality with them which draws us together and makes us appreciate each other. Certainly i’m concerned about their spiritual health and pray for them and will talk about Jesus as opportunity is presented, but to say that the only reason i have them in my life is to change them – that makes me very uncomfortable. All of us need spiritual healing, whether believers or not. Is that our only or highest purpose in our friendships? Can i not be a close friend and a ‘physician’? Can i even be an effective ‘physician’ if i am not a close friend? I find your title and conclusion very disturbing. In fact, I am not posting this on facebook because I would cringe if my nonbelieveing friends would see and read this. They might question whether I was really their friend! They might question the motives of any Christian who tried to befriend them. My 2 cents worth Scott. I suspect it was not your intent to have your words understood this way, but some will get this meaning.

    1. Hi Tammy,
      Thanks for the comment, but I think you read some things into my post. For example, I didn’t say “the only reason I have [unbelievers] in my life is to change them.” I simply said if we have unbelievers in our lives, it should be with the desire to see their spiritual sickness healed, or in other words, see them saved.

      I’ll try to answer your questions in order…

      “Is that our only or highest purpose in our friendships?”

      No it’s not our only purpose, but yes it is our highest purpose. Spurgeon said, “Lord, grant that whenever I am found in the company of sinners, it may be with the design of healing them, and may I never become myself infected with their disease!”

      Can “I not be a close friend and a ‘physician’?

      If you check out Part I of this post (which I suspect maybe you didn’t based on this question), you’ll see me discuss this. Here’s part of what I wrote…

      The Bible is very clear about the dangers of having close relationships with the wrong people:

      Proverbs 13:20 The companion of fools will be destroyed.
      Proverbs 14:7 Go from the presence of a foolish man.
      1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
      2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.

      So yes you can – and should – be friends with unbelievers, but not “close” friends.

      Can I even be an effective ‘physician’ if I am not a close friend?

      I’m surprised you asked this; of course you can be an effective ‘physician’ w/o being a close friend! Look at Jesus’ example! He was “a friend of sinners”, but I wouldn’t say He was a “close friend” of sinners.

      Thanks again for your comment Tammy; hope you and David are doing well.

      In Christ,

      P.S. Carl forwarded me the e-mail you sent out on September 19th titled, “Need for prayer” regarding the opposition you’ve been facing and I wanted you to know I prayed for you and your ministry.

  5. Thanks for your reply Scott.
    I recognize you didn’t say “only” but it seemed implied in your statement. So I guess I read into it.

    Oh my, that quote from Charles Spurgeon makes me shudder. I’m so glad Jesus never said that. I know Spurgeon means he prays that he won’t succumb to temptations, but his imagery would offend an unbeliever. It seems arrogant.

    I know the verses you listed and quite agree with them, but I don’t see my non believing friends as either evil or foolish, no more so than my Christian friends. (But you are right -I did not go back to part 1. Somehow I thought it was all together on the one page. )

    Few people share their areas of neediness with someone who is not a close friend. Hence my question “how can I be a physician”. Certainly God can and does use the words and actions of strangers and acquaintances to convict and cause spiritual growth. But a lot of healing and opportunities come through relationship, being with people.

    Jesus certainly was a close friend of sinners -he poured 3 years of his life into 12 men in particular and one of them betrayed him while another denied him and the others simply disappeared when he was arrested. Few of them really believed or understood until He was raised from the dead and appeared to them in person. None of them had much courage or spiritual fortitude until Pentecost.

    So I still think refusing to have close friendships with unbelievers is cutting us off from possible blessings to both us and them. I guess we’re looking at this from very different perspectives.

    Thank you for your prayers! That is very encouraging to us. We eagerly wait to see what He will do. May God continue to bless you and the Woodland church.

    Warmly, Tammy

  6. This is great! Mind if I reblog? Part one and two together are so clear and helpful in an area so many have trouble with (friendships, and of course once in the relationship, the activities that go along with it).

  7. So well put. I have long felt this, but have been unable to articulate this so well. When we hang around unbelievers or believers that could have a negative impact on us, we should take Jesus’ example and point them to Jesus.

  8. My first thought was what about Jesus? Didn’t he hang out with the un-holy? But then as I really analyzed what I was thinking I realized that Jesus did not spend his time with people who had no desire to be transformed and made holy. These people wanted what Jesus was offering. He didn’t spend his time in unholy ways with people doing unholy things. He spent his time in holy ways with people who understood their own unholiness and wanted to follow Him. The self-righteous religious leaders of the day who did not recognize their own unholiness/Un-cleaness considered the people Jesus spent time with as “unclean” or “not holy” but they were basing those judgements on the wrong things. Jesus knew each man’s heart. He did not spend time with the unholy religious leaders, and instead spent time with people who wanted to become holy. In my modern day application I would apply it to my life by thinking about the difference of going out and joining a gay pride parade to show my love for gay people (unholy), vs. reaching out in love to a gay person and telling them the truth in love, giving them the hope of the gospel, and sharing about God’s forgiveness and showing them they have the option go and sin no more (holy). The gay pride parade example would start to rub off on me, change my thinking, pervert my views on Christianity and make me less like Jesus (un-holy) whereas the sharing the truth with a person is confirming my faith, and making me closer to Jesus as I emulate Him (Holy). Correct me in any area where I am off base please.

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      It is an interesting situation that clearly requires some balance: the bible warns against the danger of associating with people who can negatively influence, but we know we should have relationships with unbelievers or else how would we share the Gospel? I wrote a post discussing this exact topic. I hope you’ll check it out:

      I’d like to respond more fully, but I feel like I’ll be simply repeating the info I put in that post.

      No, I don’t think you’re off base at all. I think your conclusion is perfect!

  9. I should clarify: Jesus’ ministry suggests that holiness is contagious and he demonstrated this by being with the unholy in unholy places. However, it does not suggest that we should participate in the patterns of life of the unholy.

    1. Hello Keith,
      I understand what you’re saying.

      There’s a balance that needs to be struck regarding how far we go when it comes to being like Jesus. For example:

      1 Peter 2:19 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

      22 “Who committed no sin,
      Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
      23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

      Peter gives a few ways we should be like Jesus: experience suffering like He did, don’t sin with our mouths when suffering, don’t take vengeance, etc.

      So yes, we should be like Jesus. But do we think we can (or should try) to feed thousands with a few loaves? Heal everyone that comes near us? Walk on water? Raise people from the dead? Die on a cross?

      There’s only one Son of God. Yes, He could “spread holiness” you might say, but we’re not Him. He could reach out and touch the leper (sinner), and not only not get leprosy in the process, but heal the leprosy (sin). We can’t do that. Trying would be foolish.

      Instead, we spread the Gospel. We let the Lord do His work. But we don’t think we can do that work ourselves.

      Thank you for your thoughts!

      In Christ,

  10. Hi Pastor Scott, came across this post while working on a presentation. Jesus’ ministry seems to demonstrate a contrary understanding to the one you have portrayed here: Jesus specifically acted in contrast to the holiness movements of 2nd Temple Judaism and intentionally put himself among the unclean of society. You should check out Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament by Brower & Johnson or Holiness in the Gospels by Kent Brower

    1. You’re absolutely right, Keith! That’s exactly what Jesus did.

      The question is, should we do that? Many verses in Scripture encourage us to limit our exposure and closeness to sinful people. I didn’t say we don’t share the Gospel, but we consider how close we are. Please see my previous post regarding how much of Jesus’ life is descriptive versus prescriptive for us.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  11. I am little confused on this:
    Haggai 2:13 Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?”

    Kandie 🙂

    1. Hi Kandie,
      Good question. Let me know if this is what you’re asking…

      Haggai basically asked, “If someone becomes unclean by touching a dead body and then touches food, does it make the food unclean as well?” and the answer is, “Yes.”

      “Clean” and “unclean” in the Old Testament related to ceremony or being able to take part in the religious life of the nation. There were various ways to become unclean, and therefore unable to participate until you were clean; one of those ways was through touching a dead body.

      Please let me know if this answers your question and/or if you’re wondering anything else Kandie!

      1. I didn’t know that one became unclean by touching a dead body. Seems like somewhere I was reading about that, that a person had to wait until sundown or the next day to be clean again. Might of read it wrong.

        1. Right, I should’ve put the locations in Scripture where that’s discussed. Here you go Kandie:
          Leviticus 5:2 ‘Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty.
          Numbers 19:11 ‘He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean.

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