ADeveloping a Contagious Relationship
Jesus chose a unique group of men and women to be in relationship with. He picked some interesting men to follow Him. Let me quickly highlight a few of them:
- Andrew and Peter were fishermen – they came from a family of fishermen. They had a small business venture going on. Andrew was a quiet leader and Peter was the impetuous leader a bull in a pottery shop.
- James and John, the sons of Zebedee or better known as the “sons of thunder.” They too were fishermen – probably working for their father and his business and by their name they may have been a little wild – maybe they had leather robes with lightning bolts on the back and would have driven Harleys.
- There was Simon a Zealot – he was in terrorist group that was trying to rid Israel of Roman influence.
- Of course there was Judas who betrayed Jesus and he was the treasurer of the group. Who chose him anyway? Jesus did.
- One of the most interesting men that he had a relationship with was Matthew / Levi who in his pre-Christian day was a tax collector at best and a scoundrel at worst. He would send out your tax bill based on what Rome wanted and then add his take maybe 20 to 100% increase to pad his pocket. The tax collector was the one of the least liked people in the territory. Listen as Maria reads about Matthew’s calling.
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
We can learn from Matthew’s calling – so let’s look at a sinner per excel lance who drops everything to follow Christ. Let’s take a look at some highlights in this story and how we might apply the principles in our lives.
- The first highlight: Jesus handpicked Matthew and personally challenged him to follow him. We don’t know what Jesus saw in Matthew, but Jesus wanted him to be his disciple. What does Jesus see in us because He calls us too.
- It is my guess that Matthew had heard about Jesus or may have even been following Him and listening to what He had been saying. Through the Holy Spirit which was working on Him when Christ said, “Follow me,” Matthew got up and followed.
- There was no debating or bargaining. He didn’t ask, “Why me?” or “What for?” or “To where?” or “For how long?”
- Obviously, Matthew’s heart had already been prepared. Luke 5:28 says in one sentence that Matthew left everything to follow Christ.
- That word everything to a tax collector was a whole lot of money, land, and material possessions.
- It’s widely believed that Matthew paid a higher financial price than any of the other disciples of Jesus.
- He walked away from a fortune to obey Jesus’ call; it cost him everything.
- The very next verse, Luke 5:29, tells us that right after he accepts the challenge to be a follower of Christ, he throws a major party, a big banquet, the text says, for his fellow tax collectors and friends.
- I think that he was throwing this as a kind of good-bye celebration to his colleagues
- And also to introduce his friends and cohorts to Jesus and some of his other disciples that Matthew would be teaming up with in the future.
- If you think about it, what Matthew was doing was throwing an evangelistic mixer – it is actually called today a “Matthew Party,” hoping and praying that Jesus and his followers would be able to influence some of his tax-collecting buddies by just rubbing shoulders with them in a social setting.
- Maybe they would be able to build some bridges. Maybe they would even have some spiritual conversations that could be followed up on later.
- By doing this Matthew took a risk and crawled out of his comfort zone and brought these two groups together. And he prayed fervently that something significant might happen in the midst of his Matthew Party.
- Matthew’s party says an awful lot about Matthew. His party shows us that Matthew had a tender heart toward those he knew who were headed in the wrong direction - hell.
- He figured that since he was following the Master just maybe a few of his friends might be influenced to follow with him.
- He knew he was now heaven bound, but he wanted to hang on to as many of his buddies as he could and bring them along.
- The next aspects that I want to mention come from the negative side which comes from the Pharisees reaction to having a party with a bunch of sinners. They have a major problem with evangelistic Matthew Parties.
- Their primary objection is the guest list. The so called religious leaders of the day don’t feel comfortable with the fact that Jesus is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Matthew’s tax-collecting buddies.
- You see, in their eyes, tax gatherers and other irreligious riffraff did not deserve time and attention from Jesus or from any respectable religious leader or teacher.
- Certainly no God-fearing person had any business rubbing shoulders with the likes of “them.” They were lost causes worthy of the damnation that was awaiting them.
- The attitude of the Pharisees tells us something about the heart of the Pharisees. All they saw in Matthew’s buddies were profane, greedy, immoral, worthless sinners. They didn’t see the possibility of having them part of the family of God. The hearts of the Pharisees were stone-cold toward them.
- Jesus’ responds to the Pharisees’ concerns by comparing himself to a doctor. Jesus appeals to the Pharisees’ logic by asking them how smart it is for a doctor to surround himself with only healthy people. It’s a quick way to ruin a potentially good medical practice, isn’t it?
- Smart doctors, Jesus says, surround themselves with people who need their services. They apply their skills and services to those who are actually ill.
- Similarly Jesus said this about himself and his own mission, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Just like a doctor would surround himself with the ill, I surround myself with the sinful.”
- Now, Jesus isn’t for a minute suggesting that the Pharisees are sin-free. He’s not suggesting that they don’t need His intervention. Romans 3:10 tells us that there’s none who are righteous, not even one. And Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”— including these Pharisees!
- Jesus is saying that some people are more aware of their sinfulness and their spiritual neediness than others. Jesus is merely announcing that he will always make time for those who come to Him with their sickness of sin. He focused His attention on those who were sick, and wanted treatment.
- But those who steadfastly refuse to admit their sickness, their sin, and their need, don’t need a doctor at least by their thinking. So what’s a doctor to do? He treats those that realize their need.
- This is a shot at the self-righteousness and pride of the Pharisees.
- The bigger picture was that the Pharisees and religious leaders of the day had forgotten what they were to be doing. Jesus was teaching the Pharisees that lost people really do matter to the Father. Irreligious “riffraff” the common folk, matter to God, they matter to Jesus and, he is saying, they ought to matter to you Pharisees, as well! This story is dripping in irony. Think about it.
- Here’s Matthew, a mere rookie Christian who has only been a believer for a matter of days; and yet he is so concerned about the condition of his tax-collecting buddies that he takes a risk and throws an evangelistic party, trying to create some spiritual interactions that might just lead to a few of them finding God’s forgiveness and leadership for their lives.
- Matthew wasn’t concerned about alienating himself from the religious leaders. He would take the scorn of the Pharisees. It didn’t bother him. He was more concerned about his buddies.
- Contrast the rookie Matthew with the veteran spiritual leaders of the day, the lofty Pharisees—those highly educated, thoroughly trained, well-seasoned epitomes of spiritual strength— who had just missed the entire point of what Matthew and Jesus and the other disciples were trying to do at Matthew’s party.
- The Pharisees had become so obsessed with impressing each other with their righteousness that their hearts had become calloused and cold toward those who needed spiritual help. They had reduced their faith to a self-improvement contest where they would score themselves and others in a competition toward higher and higher levels of superficial religious performance.
- Here is what I think Jesus is saying to us:
- Be careful that you don’t get to busy with trying to be perfect and lose sight that we have a mission beyond the door of the church. It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of looking at ourselves as being better than those who are not part of the church. If we are not careful we can become like the Pharisees without a lot of effort.
- Jesus is saying, “Be careful that you don’t get so wrapped up in the doing side of the Christian life that you neglect the loving side of the faith—especially the loving of lost people.”
- Don’t let your heart grow cold. Be careful as you mature in knowledge and in character and worship and repentance and giving and serving; be careful that you are also mature in compassion for those who are on the fast track toward destruction.”
- According to what Jesus is saying here, if a Christian is growing properly, he or she will continually grow in compassion for spiritually off-track people. If you think we are growing spiritually then let me ask you a few questions:
- Are we growing in tenderness toward pre-Christians (lost people) and in our desire to do something about it?
- Does your heart ache because you have family members and friends and colleagues who are headed for a Christ less eternity?
- Are we devoting quality thought to how we can keep mixing with non-Christian people in the hopes that by rubbing shoulders with them we’ll be able to share Christ with them somehow? Or as is far too often the case, are we becoming increasingly isolated and cut off from the very people we’ve been called to reach?
- When was the last time you had a meal with a non-Christian or went out with some one that hasn’t been in church since they got married?
- I pastored a church in Peters Township – south of Pgh. that had for years a “church” softball team that had the notoriety that none of the team members ever went to church. So when I came I changed a few rules like you had to be in worship at least 2 times a month.
- Then I told them that I wanted on the team – they hadn’t had a new member in years. That might have been worse than going to church. But they did discover that I was worth having on the team – I hit for a real high average and I could pitch the 10 ft arc.
- They agreed to the rules I made with one concessions I had to go with them to their favorite bar after the games or to one of their homes to have a drink. So I went had a Pepsi and got to know some really neat guys. Within 3 years more than half the team had made commitments to Christ or had renewed their commitments.
- And I had fun doing that and made some friends.
- If we are only being with Christians then the church is in trouble. The kingdom of God is not going to grow without us stepping out from the confines of the church.
- Some of you have a wonderful privilege of working in environments where you might be the only Christian or going to school with only a few believers. You’re the only Bible some people read. You’re the only replica of Jesus they ever lay eyes on. Look at that as a wonderful opportunity to share Christ. This is an opportunity to advance the kingdom – to fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples. I will trade you places – I get to be with you guys most of the time and I am getting rusty in sharing my faith.
- We have to strike a balance in our lives between contacts with Christians—which is very important because we need to be in spiritually supportive relationships; but we also have to have contact with people outside the family of God.
- Without a proper balance of contact with believers and unbelievers, it’s only a matter of time until our hearts start growing cold toward people outside of God’s family.\
- We all need to take steps to develop and deepen contagious relationships in our lives—ones through which we can infectiously communicate God’s love and truth.
- What is the temperature in your heart toward spiritually wayward people right now? Is it where it needs to be?
- Becoming a Contagious Christian suggests a few ideas of how we can build relationships with spiritually off track individuals that might give us opportunities to share about Christ.
- First, let’s become contagious consumers. All of us buy gasoline; go to restaurants; grocery stores; and other places for the necessities of life, right? With just a little forethought, those mundane errands can become evangelistic opportunities and adventures!
- If you’d be strategic about going back to the same gas stations, restaurants, and stores enough to establish a rapport with the personnel there, it might just lead naturally to a spiritual conversation.
- And that might eventually lead to your bringing them to church and sharing the gospel with them—and one day leading them to faith in Christ!
- Sandy was a cashier that I got to know when I would go in and get my Pepsi every morning – when she ended up going through a difficult time in her life she called me – I ended up talking to her about Christ – who she had accepted in her life as a child but had been on a major detour from. She didn’t make a whopping change but gradually came back to the Lord.
- Paul tells us in Colossians 4:5 to act with wisdom toward outsiders and make the most of every opportunity?
- Friends and Co-Workers are an excellent avenue to share our faith. I’m guessing that some of you are thinking, “I’m around non-Christians all of the time, but how do you mention spiritual topics?” Well, what kind of things do you and your friends talk about at work or when you just see each other in public?
- If you are in a business setting maybe you can talk about what is going on there. You might be asked “What kind of year are you having?” If so, maybe you could answer with something like this: “Well, financially, my year has been lousy like so many others; family-wise, great; and spiritually, fantastic. Which of the three would you like to talk about?” That might get a conversation going!
- Maybe you run into a friend and you strike up a conversation by asking the typical, “How’s it going?” They’ll reflexively say, “Oh, fine.” Then get a bit closer to them, and sincerely say, “You can tell me the truth. It can’t always be fine. How’s it really going? Is everything really good?” Just that little line can open all kinds of doors. It lets the person know that you care about whatever is not going fine, that you have a listening ear and a sensitive heart. This can lead to incredible witnessing opportunities.
- The workplace is a wonderful place to encounter pre-Christians. I am sad when I hear sincere Christians bemoan the fact that they’re surrounded by non-Christians. I’m afraid they’re losing the biblical perspective on what it means to be salt and light. Salt has to have something to flavor. Light needs to be around darkness or it doesn’t make much of a difference.
- I can sympathize with those of you who get tired of the deceit or perhaps the profanity, but what a fertile environment in which a Christian can make a difference.
- Recreation, fishing, or target shooting may give us an opportunity to share our faith . If you invite someone too quickly to a Bible study they might just get nervous and run; but if you invite them to go fishing with you or to go to the girls’ volleyball or the football game, or maybe to join you for a round of golf, they’ll probably say, “Hey, why not?”
- Then, as you spend time together and as God leads, you can move conversations deeper into personal matters, and finally into spiritual matters.
- Recreation and exercise can form natural settings in which to engage and encourage your friends. So why not get a little more strategic about these activities?
- Coaching provided many opportunities to talk about my faith.
- Civic, community, school, or political involvements can produce wide-open doors for developing contagious relationships and conversations.
- For too long many Christians have shied away from civic or political involvements, and the results have been unfortunate on a couple of levels:
- First, because when Christians stay away from these kinds of activities, the Christian value system and perspective are often not represented well in education or in government. So many of these groups are becoming increasingly secularized because Christians have pulled out of them and huddled in churches.
- I know that many times Christians are not welcome in areas like government – it should never stop us – we need to be the salt and light in these areas – but we need to gently in shaking out the salt shaker.
- We could talk about the opportunities that we have with people in our neighborhoods or in our extended families or among professional groups. Friends, there are opportunities galore. There’s no shortage of people we can reach out to. It is just a matter of getting out of the recliner and move into the community.
Let us be reminded of a spiritual rookie named Matthew. Remember this despised tax collector who, upon his conversion, threw an evangelistic party in order to get Jesus and His disciples in there rubbing shoulders with his not-so-spiritual friends.
I’d love for us to develop more of the heart of Matthew. I’d love for there to be Matthew Parties springing up as the Holy Spirit gives you boldness and creativity!
And remember Jesus’ words that a doctor ought to be strategic with the use of his time. He ought to spend plenty of it with the sick. We should be strategic and balanced with the limited hours that we have to invest in the kingdom, and a portion of our time needs to be spent rubbing shoulders with people outside of God’s family.
“Contagious Relationships” was adapted from the message “Rubbing Shoulders with Irreligious People,” by Bill Hybels.
Please click here for slides to accompany the sermon.