Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can You Have Dinner with a Sinner?

Let's begin by giving the short and simple answer to that question: Yes.  You're a sinner and you eat.  But, with questions like this our minds normally go to different categories.  Sinners are "those people."  The people we categorize as extreme sinners and socially immoral.  Those are the ones Christians often shun, fearing that socializing will either be seen as approval or maybe even corrupting to their own morality.

Is this what 2 John 10-11 teaches us?

 "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works."

At first glance, someone could easily come to the conclusion that John is embracing "guilt by association."  If we greet them, we take part in their wicked works. Therefore, these sinners deserve nothing more than a cold shoulder and a door in their face lest we be condemned for taking part in their wicked works.  But, is that really what he's getting at?

If this is what John means, then when have a problem because this is exactly what Jesus did in Luke 15.  The tax collectors and sinners drew near to him, he received them, and ate with them.  Which, of course, didn't sit well with the Pharisees.  They couldn't believe Jesus would share a meal with such wicked people, the worst of the worst in their eyes.  So, is 2 John 10-11 backing up the Pharisees' indignation about the actions of Jesus?  Or, is it referring to something else?

First, we know the Bible would not condemn that which Jesus did, therefore it can't mean that it's wrong to have dinner with the worst of sinners.  Jesus did.  (I preached on this here)

So, what does this passage mean and who are we to refuse to greet and receive into our house according to 2 John 10-11?

John Stott, in his commentary on 2 John, offers three facts to keep in mind when considering this passage:

1.  John is referring to the teachers of false doctrine, not merely to believers in it.
2.  John's instructions may refer to an official visit of false teachers that were being received with an official (ceremonial) welcome.  In other words, private hospitality would be a different matter.  To have dinner with them in your home would not be the same as sitting at the table of honor at a public banquet that was meant to welcome these false teachers.
3.  John is referring specifically to teachers who get the incarnation wrong, not false teachers of all kinds.

In other words, John's concern is gospel-centered.  Be careful not to be seen approving the doctrine of those who get the gospel wrong because eternity is at stake.  And, in the same way Jesus shows us in Luke 15 to spend time with sinners because eternity is at stake.  And, if one sinner comes to saving knowledge of the gospel through the time you invest with them, including dinners, then the angels throw a party in heaven, just like the father of the prodigal son.

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