Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Matthew 9:10-13 NKJV
When the Pharisees saw what the dinner at Matthew’s house looked like, they immediately judged the quality of the people present. The Pharisees had spiritually written off these “tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees focused on the people that Jesus was eating with, but Jesus was focused on how He could impact those around Him.
For us, our relationships can drain us, leave us angry, or cause us stress. This mindset can be a trap. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of our relationships, we should remember that our relationships are ministry opportunities. We can keep ourselves in check by asking ourselves, “Have I been my best spiritual self? Have I demonstrated enough Jesus for them to want Him?”
There are more than seven billion people on this earth, and God has specifically chosen everyone that is in our lives, even those that we wish weren’t in it. It’s easy to think that life would be great if we could trade in those around us for new and improved people. However, this is the wrong mindset. We shouldn’t think of our relationships as one-for-one exchanges.
For some of our relationships, we’re never going to get anything back. That person will never say “thank you,” they will never take us out to dinner, and they will never invite us on vacation. Despite all of this, God put them in our lives and has given us gifts so that they can see Jesus through us.
When we look at our relationships as ministry, they won’t stress us out, and we won’t carry unrealistic expectations.
Our placement and purpose are defined by our connections and the people around us. We can find our purpose, placement, and ministry by discerning God’s intentional connections in our lives. We are not connected to anyone by accident. Our purpose is to transfer the Jesus in us to those around us.
Our connections define our placements and priorities. Just like Jesus, when we find ourselves placed among tax collectors and sinners, our priority ought to be to heal those who are sick and bring about mercy.
“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Luke 7:33-35
Meeting and knowing Jesus is to bring celebration into our lives. We did not accept Jesus into our lives just to be able to cope with misery. Instead, Christ brings us joy and abundant life. In Christ we have true freedom.
To live in this joy, we must not allow criticism from others to stop us from walking in our faith. The Pharisees in the passage above brought criticism to both John the Baptist and Jesus. John was called demon possessed, and Christ was called a glutton.
John the Baptist and Jesus, however, did not let this criticism interfere with their missions. It is important that we, too, do not allow criticism to stop us from living the faith that God has for us.
Faith is not God saving us from hurt, it is God granting us favor we don’t deserve to come out on the other side of that hurt. In our faith, we must persist even when persisting is hard. We must trust in God that our trials are for our benefit. When we are being criticized, made fun of, or insulted for our faith in God, we must keep walking in our faith.
Walking in our faith also helps us to grow. We cannot look to our church, family, or friends to solve our problems for us. When we persist in our faith and continue to walk in it, that is where the true joy of the Lord is found–even if things don’t always work out.
Even when doors aren’t opening and our lives are hard, we cannot stop following Christ. We must continue in our faith, always moving forward. We are not always going to get our way, but God is still a good God and a faithful provider. As long as we are continuing on, even if we are bleeding out, we can rejoice in the fact that God is sustaining us in our trials.
Because of our relationship with Jesus, we are stronger than the things that life is hitting us with because “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4 KJV). Christ is in us, so we are strong, and obligated to be strong, in the Lord.
When life comes against you and the criticisms, hurt, and trials of this world show their teeth, say to yourself: “I am stronger.”
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the LORD's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "LORD, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the LORD answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:38-42 NIV).
Martha, like Mary, had a choice to make a value judgement between what was necessary in the kitchen and what is absolutely essential in the living room. She became confused about what true devotion looked like.
This passage raises the following question: How do we determine the greater purpose in our lives when we are saturated with pressing priorities?
Everything that is a priority is not equal to everything that is purposeful in the moment. Priorities that pull us from our purpose become spiritual distractions. Priorities were distracting Martha. Even though the priorities in the kitchen were pressing, Jesus’ response implies that Mary had remained seated in the higher purpose.
Here Jesus warns against priorities that become distractions until we forget to remain centered in God’s purpose.
Jesus wasn’t in the house to eat or enjoy a meal. He was there to shine a light, and that light was in the living room, not the kitchen. Jesus wanted to light purpose in Martha and Mary, but Martha let wood gathering become stronger than fire starting.
The kitchen was not all about Jesus for Martha, and we see that when she comes out of the kitchen. Martha’s disappointment in Mary shows us that the kitchen turned out to be nothing more than a busy offering to calm the distractions swelling inside of her.
It is important that we can separate our purpose and our priorities, even when those priorities are deeply spiritual. Every one of us lives with these tensions and pressing priorities, and these priorities can be good, healthy, and even spiritual. However, they can create a distraction from our purpose.
Martha should have discerned that if being in the kitchen caused her to become angry, even though Jesus was in the living room, then something is wrong.
We cannot be mad because someone else is in their purpose and we are stuck in our priorities. It is important that we never define our purpose by comparing ourselves to what is a priority to other people. We will never discover our purpose by comparing what we are thinking or doing with what someone else is doing or what someone else has. When we discern what is our purpose, we can do no greater harm than trying to compare our purpose to someone else’s.
It is impossible to be where God wants us to be if we are angry, distracted, or anxious. Our emotional state will reflect where we are in the Lord. Our tasks and responsibilities will become rewarding and fulfilling when we are flowing in purpose and not just focusing on the completion of our tasks and priorities.
(Luke 14:1-6 NIV)
“One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, "If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?" And they had nothing to say”
It is rumored that John McNaughton, a Canadian Investment Banker, said this: “Maturity always begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.” We can see this idea lived out when Jesus chooses to go to eat at the house of a Pharisee.
Jesus knew the trap that was set for him at this Pharisee’s house, but his concern for the suffering man there outweighed his concern for himself. Sabbath law restricted Jesus from doing any work. The Pharisees had fallen in love with the Sabbath but had forgotten the spirit of the Sabbath. That made them forget that there is no law or practice that outweighs what God wants from us: We cannot ever be in the presence of human need, have what it takes to help, and not intervene.
Jesus perceives this plot and lays a trap of his own. He replied to their question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” with his own question, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” Jesus makes it clear that if there is a provision for an animal on the Sabbath, how much more should we help a fellow human being?
This question was a trap, because if the Pharisees answered “Yes,” then their argument would fail because it would be lawful to heal on the Sabbath. If they answer “No,” then they must admit that they grossly misinterpreted God’s character. So, they decide to remain silent, showing their true motives.
Their silence, by consequence, brought a man before Jesus who may not have otherwise met him. In that silence, Jesus healed him and sent him on his way.
This text reveals that the Lord’s work in and through you must be inspired by a spiritual and healthy opinion of the person that you are ministering to. This is clear because Jesus did not believe this man deserved to have his disease. To Jesus, he was simply a man who needed help.
When you have faith in Christ, you can’t help but be concerned with what happens to other people. You learn to empathize and sympathize with those around you. This is because faith connects you to people on a higher level. It goes beyond physical appearance and makes you care about them in every way.
We ought to minister to everyone like Jesus ministered to this man: regardless of this man’s choices in life, Jesus viewed him as a candidate to be saved.
1 Corinthian 13:6-8, NIV
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
What if God told you that you couldn’t leave the place He’s put you in? How would that change your mindset?
If God wouldn’t let you leave a place, a job, or a relationship, what would you do?
Would you endure the trial because He’s asked you to endure this season, or would you walk away from Him?
That’s a tough question, but it’s an important question. It’s a question that God asks His people at some point in their lives.
What would you do if you couldn’t walk away?
You do have a choice in the matter. That’s a gift from God. He gives you a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7) and freewill to make your own choices (Romans 10:9-10).
So, would you endure or get bitter? Those are your only real options as a child of God.
God wants you to choose “endure.”
Why? It’s because “you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36, NIV).
How do you make the choice to endure when things are hard and when relationships are hard?
Paul says, “It requires a love that endures all things.”
Here are five practical tips on how to love with endurance:
- Recognize that God is allowing this for your good. Sometimes it feels like we’ve got too much on our shoulders. The burdens are too big. The relationships are too hard. But could you be right where you are for “such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Just like Esther, you don’t know what your risk to stand by and “endure” could mean for someone else’s future in God’s Kingdom.
- You have a helper in the Holy Spirit. When you don’t feel like loving someone, your first instinct may be to leave, to not call, or to avoid them completely. However, God calls us out of our comfort zones. He wants us to find comfort in His strength and love our neighbors even when they are unlovable. That’s why He gave us His helper in the Holy Spirit – to strengthen us and push us forward.
- Take courage. Your mindset is a powerful weapon when times and people are hard. When you choose to grab courage by the throat and declare you are staying where God put you, He will bless you with the spiritual endurance to love even when you are under siege. The Spirit will give you the courage you lack.
- Recognize that God believes in you. One of the greatest gifts we can share with someone else is our faith. We can believe that they are precious to God. We can see past what we see now. Did you know God believes that of you? Think about how much He trusts you with His prickly people.
- Make hard choices. Pray when you want to fight. Stay put when you want to quit. Trust when you want to doubt. Stand when you want to run. Forgive when you want to fight back.
If God has ordained certain difficult and imperfect relationships in this season, accept that fleeing is not an option. Stop imagining life without it. Declare before the Lord that fleeing is not an option, but loving is. And remember if He brings you to it, He will bring you through it.