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. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “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.”
The Pharisees ask the disciples – not Jesus – why they are eating and drinking with sinners. What is the implied characteristic of a disciple? “Don’t mess with sinners! Stay away from sinners! Keep yourself pure!”
Clearly Jesus doesn’t agree with their judgment. But is there truth in this characteristic? If we just change two words in my paraphrase – indeed, if we just drop eight letters – we would have a true statement: “Don’t mess with sin! Stay away from sin! Keep yourself pure!”
We know this from other Scriptures. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:14) and, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). He instructs Timothy, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). We are to run away from sin.
Furthermore, clearly fleeing sin sometimes means fleeing from sinners or avoiding sinners: Joseph tried to avoid Potiphar’s wife and then ran away from her when he couldn’t avoid her. Similarly, if you are tempted by gambling, you know you are not called to witness in casinos. You are to stay away from those particular sinners, for they will draw you into their sin.
But the fact that you avoid some sinners does not imply that you stay away from all sinners. In verse 32 Jesus says,
“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
We can’t serve as His ambassadors, His disciples, unless we do the same. A disciple does not avoid sinners. A disciple is cognizant of his areas of weakness, and so avoids tempting situations. But like Jesus, a disciple is engaged. A disciple goes out. A disciple seeks the lost. A disciple lives a holy life before those who need Jesus.