Difficult Bible Passages: Matthew 11:19

This is another one of those biblical texts which is not so difficult as it is one which is so widely and so often misused and misunderstood. Perhaps I may need to rename this series and call it something like “Twisted and Abused Bible Passages”.

But I refer to the words of Jesus in Matthew 11, beginning with verse 18: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” See also the parallel passage in Luke 7:33-34.

It is specifically the phrase ‘friend of sinners’ which I want to address here. We hear it all the time, and it is tossed around so very cavalierly and sloppily. It is used time and time again to cover a multitude of sins. How often, for example, are we told to embrace homosexuality and homosexual marriage because this is somehow something Jesus would do.

‘After all, he was a friend of sinners you know.’ The idea by so many clueless believers and ‘progressive Christians’ is that all lifestyles must be accepted and embraced because Jesus was a ‘friend of sinners’. After all, he hung around with prostitutes and so on, so we should stop being so judgmental and just accept everyone just as they are.

So how might we reply to this sort of thinking? Well the first and most obvious thing to say is this: Of course Jesus was a friend of, and hung around with, sinners. There were – and are – no other sorts of people on the planet! Unless he just holed up in a cave all his life, it was impossible for him not to mingle and associate with sinners.

That is the only kind of people we find on planet earth: sinners. There are no other sorts of people to be found in a fallen world. So, duh – of course he was always with sinners. That is a no-brainer. But it is the faulty implication of all this which must be challenged.

The idea presented by so many lefty-trendy Christians and those with little biblical awareness and knowledge is that Jesus accepted these people just as they are – end of story. That of course is complete rubbish, as anyone who actually reads the gospel accounts fully understands.

He accepted everyone in the sense of wanting all to come to new life in himself. But he loved people enough never to leave them in the condition they were in. As he told the adulterous woman, “go and sin no more”. He reached out in love to everyone, but with the express purpose of seeing them turn from their sins, be freed from their bondages, and find newness of life.

Jesus loves people too much to simply leave them as they are. He wants them to be radically transformed. He came to set the captives free, and to undo the works of the devil. He certainly did not come to affirm people in their sinful and hell-bound lifestyles.

So in one sense this text is easy enough to disabuse of all its faulty understanding. But we still need some practical application of all this. And this is where it can be a bit more difficult. There can be some degrees of opinion as to how all this works out in practice.

For example, some Christians, with this dodgy understanding of what ‘friend of sinners’ entails will tell you they have no problems whatsoever going into sleazy nightclubs or maybe even into sex clubs or other places of some pretty hard core sinful activity.

Test case: attend a homosexual wedding?

But leave aside that debate for the moment. One that often comes up is this: ‘Of course I would attend my child’s (or my friend’s) homosexual wedding.’ This might be a tough one for some folks. Let’s say your son or daughter announces that he or she is a homosexual, or a loved one does this. Then they tell you they are marrying, and they invite you to attend the wedding. What should you do?

While each individual Christian might have to really prayerfully and carefully consider all this, I know where I stand. And I think we can make it more or less a general principle here as well. I would not attend. I would have to explain it carefully to my friends or whoever it is of course.

I would have to make it clear that while I love them, I cannot in any way countenance, condone or approve of their sinful behaviour. And as such, I cannot attend a wedding which is all about celebrating such a sinful and ungodly union.

Not only is homosexuality a sin that must be forsaken and repented of, but a homosexual marriage is a complete sham and mockery of God’s holy institution of heterosexual marriage. So everything about this is offensive to God, and should be offensive to his people.

Again, I would try as hard as I can to express my love and concern to the individual, and explain as fully as possible why I have had to make this painful decision. But it seems the alternative would be far worse: to actually show up and effectively endorse, affirm and even celebrate such sinful activity.

But I am not alone in thinking this. One of the world’s greatest experts and scholars on all things homosexual is New Testament Professor Robert Gagnon. His invaluable volume The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon, 2002), should be on the shelf of every single concerned Christian.

He has recently written about this very matter. I have not been able to find the original article, but another person offers a good summary of it so I will quote from that. As Sam Storms writes this in his article, “Is It Ok To Attend A ‘Gay Wedding’?”:

Robert Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, recently addressed this question (The Hope Update, an official publication of Restored Hope Network, July 2014, Vol. 2, No. 3). He finds what he believes is biblical precedent for his conclusion in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Paul’s counsel regarding whether it is permissible for Christians to visit pagan temples where idols are worshipped. The apostle’s response is, No. “First, such actions could ‘stumble’ (i.e., precipitate the spiritual downfall of) others with a weak conscience by sending the message that idol worship wasn’t such a big deal (ch. 8). Second, those attending such rituals, at which sacrifices would be made to an idol, were actually offending God by aligning themselves unknowingly with demonic powers (10:14-22).”
Gagnon also points out that whereas “Jesus reached out to sexual sinners” he did not at any time “attend a ritual that celebrated immorality.” He doesn’t believe Jesus would ever have attended such an event “unless the purpose in attending was to call people to repentance.” Gagnon then asks: “What good would I be at a ‘gay wedding’ anyway since I would be visibly weeping my heart out at a ceremony that solemnizes a behavior that puts a loved one at risk of not inheriting God’s kingdom?”
I completely agree with Gagnon’s position on this question. And let me add one more consideration to the mix. Simply put, there is no such thing as a “gay wedding”. I’m not saying that gay people aren’t in fact hosting a ceremony in which they formally commit themselves one to another. I’m simply saying that what they are not doing is getting married. The reason is that marriage, on its biblical definition, is the lifelong covenantal commitment of a man and a woman. No commitment, no covenant, no vow or pledge or promise that involves two people of the same gender qualifies as a “marriage”. Call it a civil ceremony or whatever you will. But it’s not a marriage.
And that is why I would never attend such an event.

Me neither.


[1344 words]

14 Replies to “Difficult Bible Passages: Matthew 11:19”

  1. I wouldn’t help my family traffic women and children, start a drug cartel, or store stolen equipment…even if they really loved to do it and had made the choice to pursue these kinds of lifestyles.

    And if my family decided to purge Christians from the lands because of their love for Allah, I wouldn’t attend that either, even if they loved doing it and we’re proud to be seen wearing the black standard.

    In the same way I imagine most homosexuals and those lobbying for redefining marriage would refuse to sign up to a theology seminar that biblically demonstrates what real marriage is and why homosexuality can never constitute real marriage.

  2. Me too neither!

    Attending such things gives the impression of approval. Unless of course you’re there with a banner calling them to repentance.

  3. There have been two lesbian ceremonies amongst my relatives (one of the relationships has long since collapsed, the other is on-going). The first, I probably would have attended, as my main purpose in life at the time was the alehouse rather than the Gospel, and I didn’t attend simply because it took place in San Francisco and, well, it seemed a bit of a trek from my local bars. In the case of the second ‘couple’, over a decade later, I sent a polite letter explaining that I would not attend as I did not feel what they were doing was consistent with biblical teaching on adult unions. I’m happy to visit that couple at their home for lunch when I’m in their town (as one of them is a close relative), but, as Gagnon says, to attend a ritual celebrating immorality would be a very different matter.

  4. What they are forgetting that these are accusation made at Jesus and Jesus was repeating what he had heard about himself. It certainly isn’t a good report of what people were saying about Jesus, yet he said all this point out the hypocrisy of those people. They said that John had a demon in him because he fasted, but Jesus was a drunk and a glutton because he did the exact opposite of John. So them saying Jesus was a friend of publicans and sinners, it was a taunt at him since he was with the undesirables of society and thus worthy of being mocked. Typical of those who take passages out of their context.

  5. Messiah could no more violate His Law than a star could reverse its course across the universe of its own accord. I for one am sick of hearing how bad Christians are for telling these people that they are living in open rebellion against the Living God.

    The TRUTH of the matter is that such people are God-haters and want to do what THEY want to do. When the people of God tell them ‘no’, they react with the same disdain that they show God.

  6. I would let them know I loved them and would love them as much as I could within GOD’S WILL but I would not be at the ceremonies. After the ceremonies, I would have them over to my house or go to their house. I would do things with them as much as I could within GOD’S WILL.

  7. Of course all those sinners that Jesus was friends with (other than Judas) repented of their sins. He was clearly not friends with those who were unwilling to repent and who would not use His help to set their life straight.

    Isn’t that Barronelle Stutzman woman an inspiration though. As far as I can see she has acted exactly as Jesus would have had her behave. An absolute rock.

  8. Unfortunately I would not atttend anything that involes immorality issues, nor would I politely refuse to attend, but I would be immediately zealously calling them to Repentance. There is no such thing as offending those so seeped in Sin, but there is such a thing in Honest Love calling them to Repentance.

    I am sorry to say that when the Lord calls Men to Repentance He does so in a very strong but Loving Way. Like the Woman caught in Sin and bought unto Him and after Her Accusers had slunk away caught out in their own Sins, He did not say to Her go away and try not to Sin any more. He sad “Go your Way and Sin no More” There is no Pusssyfooting around there but a straight and Direct Admonishment. There was no Honeyed Toungue or Gushing over the Woman just a “Straight Foward and Direct Command to Go Her way and Sin no More”

    Leigh D Stebbins

  9. It’s rather an alarming situation when we have to spell out why Christians shouldn’t attend, of all things, a homosexual wedding. But when there are plenty of professing Christians turning a blind eye, moreover, supporting and even taking a pregnant spouse, girlfriend, daughter or friend to an an abortion clinic — under the banner of being “loving”, so she can have her child torn to pieces, what do we expect!

  10. We are not to support sinful behaviour and immoral lifestyle. Whether it be homosexual or adulterous lifestyle, these are not Godly.
    Go back to the beginning. God created and designed marriage as one man with one wife for LIFE.

  11. I agree with this article. While Jesus is a friend of sinners, doesn’t mean that he will condone their actions. While Jesus loves us, He does not allow us to continue going on sinning. He is calling sinners to repentance. His Kindness leads us to repentance and seek Him for salvation alone. Only JESUS can save sinners.

  12. After all, he hung around with prostitutes and so on

    Well, yes, but he also “hung around” with wealthy people, Sadducees, Pharisees (had lunch with a lot of them). /sarc

    However, that phrase “hung around with” is being deliberately made to imply that Jesus went to seek out these “terrible sinners” and outcasts of society, and spend a lot of His time with them (thus accepting their behaviour, etc).

    In fact He had work to do: he was training His disciples, sending them out, preaching the Kingdom, healing the sick, raising the dead. He was also fulfilling all righteousness by observing the Old Testament laws, attending synagogue and observing the festivals.

    But the Gospel record never says that He sought out the sinners, only that they were drawn to Him. When they got to Him, they discovered that He did not reject them out of hand as the rest of society did, but He was friend enough to expect them to change. (“A real friend won’t let you stay in sin” maybe?)

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