Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Company He Chooses

When I was a child, I heard my mother recite the poem by an unknown author, entitled “Judged by the Company One Keeps”.  It goes:

One night in late October, 
When I was far from sober, 
Returning from the bar with manly pride, 
My feet began to stutter 
So I lay down in the gutter 
And a pig came near and lay down by my side. 
A lady passing by was heard to say: 
"You can tell a man who boozes 
By the company he chooses," 
And the pig got up, and slowly walked away. 
This recitation often came accompanied by a lesson on choosing friends wisely, and a warning about something called Guilt by Association.  We teenagers were cautioned that if we were ever caught in the same vehicle with a friend who was in possession of alcohol or cigarettes, then we could be considered guilty as well, whether or not we were actually in the wrong.  An extension of this for adults might be the tendency for a wife to think that her husband is cheating on her, if all of his friends have cheated on their wives.  Rightly or wrongly, you are judged by the company you keep.
No one knew the truth of this statement more than Jesus, who was judged by the company He kept.  Luke 5.27-29 (ESV) says:

“…He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, ‘Follow me.’  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  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?’”

Jesus knew that He would be criticized for the attention he gave to “sinners,” and the lack of visits that he made to “righteous” people.  Yet, He was willing to bear the labels “glutton and drunkard” for the sake of ministering to their souls.  That’s because He knew that Guilt by Association is a logical fallacy.  Alex Knapp[i] demonstrates this logical fallacy as follows:

The typical structure of an argument that incorporates the guilt-by-association fallacy is something along the lines of:
·         Person X supports idea I.
·         Person X is bad (or believes bad things).
·         Therefore, idea I is bad.

A more real world example of this might be:

·         Social security is a state funded old age pension.
·         Nazis supported state funded old age pensions.
·         Therefore, social security is bad.

People are illogical creatures, and are going to jump to fallacious conclusions no matter what.  If people want to believe something, they are going to find reasons to support what they already believe.  Jesus’ critics were looking for reasons to claim that he was an unfit teacher.  They found their reasons in the company that Jesus kept.  They said, “Tax collectors and prostitutes are immoral; Jesus spends a lot of time with these people; therefore, Jesus must be immoral.” 
But Jesus had a better answer to their logical problem.  “…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 (Luke 5:31-32 ESV).’”  In order to heal, doctors need to spend time with their patients.  The Physician of Souls was willing to risk social infection in order to heal the sick.  The Friend of Sinners was prepared to lose social influence in order to care for the broken.  He calls us to do the same.  To be like Jesus, we must befriend the “sinners,” not because we’re better than they are or because we arrogantly enjoy turning sow’s ears into silk purses, but because Jesus loves them just as much as He loves us.
Now, I can see some wise old saints of the church cringing at the thought of encouraging our children to make friends with the “bad kids” at school.  “Watch out for their influence,” they’d say—and they’d be right.  We always have to watch out for wrong influences.  But we have to remember that we’re the “bad kids,” too—we are no better than they are.  The only difference is that we’ve found a Savior.  We also are the “sick” who need the Physician.  Just like Levi, we want to share Him with those who need Him. 
The way to navigate the minefield of evangelizing the “sinners” is that we realize our true position in this story.  We’re Levi—the one who invites people to Christ.  We’re not the Physician.  The minute we start thinking that we’re the Healer, we fall into pride and our witness is destroyed.  Yes—watch out for negative influences from the “bad kids.”  But spend time with them all the same.  Risk losing social standing for their sakes.  Remember that what matters is not whether other people see you with them—but whether God sees you with them.  And when He does, like Levi, He’ll call you His disciple.

[i] Knapp, Alex.  “The Fallacy of Guilt by Association.”  February 12, 2008.  http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/logic_101_the_fallacy_of_guilt_by_association/.  July 5, 2014.

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