“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)
Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.
There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.
I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.
Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.
If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.
Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.
This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.
If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.