Are We Supposed To Hang Around Sinners?
As a minister, I get the question about whether Christians are supposed to hang around sinners in one form or another every week. Some ask because they want to be able to “hang around their old friends and still have some fun” and others feel torn because they want to get away from toxic family or friends but read that Jesus engaged sinners of every description and feel guilty if they don’t do the same.
Before providing any commentary, let me first list out what I think are some relevant scriptures on the subject, which by themselves explain a great deal. I will start in the Old Testament with verses from the Hebrew Wisdom Literature and end with some New Testament verses from the Apostle Paul.
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; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1: 1 – 2 [ESV]
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13: 20 [ESV]
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. Proverbs 22: 24 – 25 [ESV]
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. II Timothy 3: 2 – 5 [ESV]
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6: 1 [ESV]
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” I Corinthians 15: 33 [ESV]
But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ Luke 10: 10 – 11 [ESV]
Though we may be Christians will a full saving faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are still subject to all the temptations of the flesh and must be careful the company that we keep. It is possible to pull people up (IF they are willing – which is a key point in this conversation) but easier still for them to pull us down.
We are required to love people (in the biblical sense of wanting what is best for them) and to forgive them (meaning not to attempt or even desire to personally inflict the harm on them they inflicted on us) and we should be active ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5: 20) whenever and wherever possible, especially if people have any interest in hearing the message, seeing an example and changing accordingly. But we are not required to stay in fellowship or friendship with those who actively harm us – spiritually, emotionally or physically – yet display no remorse or life modifications.
But what about all those examples of Jesus hanging out with sinners and societal outcasts in the Bible? Are we not required to do the same? Here is where we key in on the verse above from Luke chapter 10. As we examine the life of Christ described in the Gospels, we see He eagerly engaged folks of all (sinful) backgrounds when they were showing any measurable receptivity to the Gospel message (and the associated change required) He came to bring.
And that is exactly how Jesus instructed His Disciples in Luke 10 when He first sent them out to various towns to prepare the people for the coming Kingdom of God. If the people were receptive, they should stay with them but if not, they should shake the dust off and move on. We should not abandon people just because they have made mistakes (even if the mistakes hurt us in some way) but we should move on and cut them out of our lives if they are not open to Christian growth and change.
Living in a fallen world, we cannot allow ourselves to be influenced by people who will repeatedly entice us to sin. And though some former friends and family will attempt to make us feel guilty about removing them from our lives, if they are not willing to grow in Christ, it may be best to put up boundaries.
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Luke 8: 19 – 21 [ESV]
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.