Q&A: Sinners or Wicked Persons?

QAre the sinners in Mark 2:15-17 different from “wicked people” put away from the fellowship of the assembly?
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AThe short answer to this question is “yes”. There is a difference between the “publicans and sinners” in Mark 2 and the “wicked person” in 1 Corinthians 5. Let’s examine each passage.

Difference Between Mark 2 and 1 Corinthians 5

“And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his [Levi’s] house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mark 2:15-17

“But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” 1 Corinthians 5:11-13

It is clear from Mark 2 that these ones the Lord was eating with were “sinners” in need of repentance. That is, they were unsaved persons being sought by the Savior. The scribes and Pharisees were accusing the Lord of being guilty by association with these persons. The Lord has instructed us to be fishers of men, and so it is right and proper for us to draw alongside sinners and present the gospel to them. However, we do need to beware of defilement, which we will speak more about later. In 1 Corinthians 5, the individuals to be put out were those whose lives had become characterized by unrepented sin. The important difference to notice here is that it says “if any man be called a brother be a …” It is a very marked distinction from looking at what comes previously in verses 9-10. Paul had instructed them not to keep company “altogether with the fornicators of this world” it would not have been feasible for them to continue life on earth, “for then must ye needs go out of the world.” Therefore, we can see that Paul is emphasizing their being at least professing Christians who are fornicators, etc. that must be put away.

However, we must remember that the “publicans and sinners” that Jesus ate with were seeking His company. They were those who had the stigma of sin on them because of their background. We never read of the Lord Jesus having unrestricted fellowship with a person going on in sin. Neither should we. We are permitted to keep company with unbelievers only when necessary, and we are to show love to the world, but we are not to be friends with the world. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).

Excuses for the Assembly to not Judge Evil

Paul goes on to say, “do not ye judge them that are within?” and “therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” God puts the responsibility to put away wicked persons squarely at the feet of the local assembly. The Corinthians were actually responsible to make the judgment themselves but had been slow to do it, so Paul had “judged already.” They were “not to company” with the wicked person. Paul says, “no, not to eat.” That is, don’t socialize with them, not even for a meal. Some people take a legal approach to this and will do any and everything with the excommunicated person except eat with them. But the intention is clear. Once a person has been put away, contact should be limited.

There is no excuse for the assembly to not judge sin, although we are often guilty of it. Some people try to use the passage in Mark 2 to say that because the Lord was associating with wicked persons, we can too. Jesus ate with them for the purpose of bringing them to repentance. The Lord’s eating with publicans and sinners in no way absolves the assembly’s responsibility to judge evil.

But what about Judas? Another argument some might raise is that the Lord broke bread (instituted His supper) with Judas, an unbeliever and a betrayer. If Jesus broke bread with Judas, why is it such a problem for the assembly to associate with wicked persons? If we read carefully, it says in John 13 that Satan entered into Judas after supper when he had received the sop. It was after the Passover supper that Judas slipped out into the night. Therefore, we can see that Judas was absent when the Lord, “supper being ended“, took break, etc.

If the Lord did it, why can’t I?

Is the fact of what Jesus did in Mark 2 licence for us to be unconcerned about evil associations, especially when we are giving the gospel? No. It flies in the face of many New Testament exhortations. There is a difference between Jesus and the Christian. The Lord Jesus was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). He did not have a sin nature. He could not be “tempted by evil things” (James 1:13). Not only was His Divine nature sinless, but His humanity was sinless as well, demonstrated in the forty days of temptation in the wilderness. But we Christians do a sinful nature (Rom. 7). We need to “flee fornication” (1 Cor. 6:18). We need to “make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14).

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