Tuesday, August 21, 2007

hanging out ... how does one decide?

Because of some recent conversations with various people and musings of my own, I dug into the Gospels for some answers to a question I have discussed over and over: How does one decide with whom to spend leisure time? We are given clear directives in Scripture that it is important to maintain close fellowship with fellow Believers, but what about keeping company with non-believers? Upon examination of the circumstances and reasons Jesus found for "hanging out with the wrong crowd," it is up to the individual to decide whether or not to befriend and fraternize with those who do not share one's same Faith.

Luke 19:5-10 "Zacchaeus... I must stay at your house today..." (says Jesus) All the people [muttered]: "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner." (At some point in their visit, Zacchaeus makes it clear to Jesus that he has repented of his swindling and will repay those whom he has cheated with interest.) Jesus said: "Today Salvation has come to this house... For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost."

Luke 5:27-32 After [Jesus had healed a cripple, he] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi (Matthew)... "Follow me," Jesus said... and Levi got up and left everything and followed Him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees complained to his disciples: "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered them: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

As illustrated in Luke 14:1-14, Jesus is once again invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee. This is another opportunity to glorify himself and the Father and at the same time teach a lesson to the dinner party by presenting a parable. Continuing in versus 15-23 of the same chapter, Jesus further illustrates Salvation by describing a rich man who invites his friends to a feast; the friends refuse the offer, so the man goes into the countryside and invites any and all who will come to his table to come.

In John 4:1-26, Jesus requests a Samaritan woman to draw him a drink of water from the well, despite the stigma of a man talking with a woman, and in particular this woman who has "known" many men. The verse illustrates how Jesus reveals to this woman knowledge of her sin (and yet he is still talking to her) and a charge to leave this shameful life and tell others about Him. In verse 39, John recalls: "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman's testimony."

Now that we have seen Scriptural evidence of Jesus' unlikely choices of company on more than one occasion, let us further examine those things that qualify Jesus to put himself into the company of the "wrong crowd" as well as His motivations for doing so:

1. The Son of God- perfect and sinless, though tempted in every way
2. Close company of devoted friends who supported him (the 12 apostles)
3. A strong relationship with God the Father, illustrated by: a) clear and continuous communication with the Father and b) a strong knowledge of the Scriptures
4. A clear understanding of His purpose on earth (Salvation for the lost)
5. Control of his own situation and his own decisions.

1. Salvation for all mankind-- including undesirable individuals (e.g. Prostitutes, tax collectors)
2. Conveyance of God's truth and principles to all who were willing and able to listen
3. Glorification of Himself and therefore also God the Father

Having examined the above qualifications and purposes behind Jesus' often odd choices of company, let us examine ourselves with regard to our ability to fraternize with people whose beliefs and principles may be different if not entirely contradictory to our own:

1. Am I running the race set before me to press on to receive the prize set forth by Christ Jesus the author and perfecter of my faith?
2. Do I have at least a couple close friends who are strong believers, willing to hold me accountable and lift me up in prayer?
3. Am I walking out a strong relationship with God reinforced with frequent and detailed study of Scripture reinforced with continuous and purposeful prayer?
4. Do I have a clear understanding of my purpose here on earth? (and no, I do not believe this requires a career choice, life partner selected, etc)
5. Am I in control of my life, and do I make decisions without being unduly influenced by others?

1. Salvation for my fellow man: When keeping the company of nonbelievers, am I careful to "shine as the stars in the universe" as I "hold out the Word of Life" to all I encounter?
2. Does my life demonstrate by its Fruits that I am actively applying God's principles and guidance to my everyday life?
3. Do I strive in all my actions and words to glorify the Savior?

Obviously anyone can answer all of the above questions "Yes! of course," but the final question to ask is: Am I examining my heart and motivations honestly?