Was Jesus Really A “Friend” Of Sinners?

friend of sinners

Matthew 11:19 – A “Friend” of sinners?



In his second epistle, Peter laments those who distort the word of God making note that, “untaught and unstable people twist [it] to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)  As it was in Peter’s day, so it is in ours as the “untaught and unstable” have increased and the remnant  “Berean” has become something of a novelty. We hear often that Jesus was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Error is proliferated by mangling an element of truth. Pawning of an absolute lie is quite difficult, but subtly twisting the truth is precisely the business of the devil — “It is written….,” he said. Yes, but we must always be prepared with, “It is written AGAIN…” that we might withstand his wiles. Was Jesus really a “friend” of tax collectors and sinners?

As our above text shows, it is plainly stated that Jesus is a friend of tax collectors and sinners, but lest we cast ourselves off the pinnacle of the temple, as it were, in our simple-mindedness, let us examine this passage more closely. Two chapters previous to this, in Matthew 9, Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Him. Later on, Jesus and His disciples are eating in a home (presumably Matthew’s) and many sinners and tax collectors came and sat down with them. The pharisees, always lying in wait, objected immediately and asked why he would eat with such people. Jesus says to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…… For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:12-13) So then, Jesus acknowledges that they were “sick”, that they were “sinners” and they were in need of “repentance”. These were his reasons for allowing them in with Him, namely for evangelism.

Now, let’s return to Matthew 11. After hearing of John the Baptist’s imprisonment, Jesus lauds John to the multitudes even calling him, “…more than a prophet.” (Matthew 11:9)  Jesus notes that “they” were slanderers of John and likewise slanderers of Himself. “They” was immediately referencing “this generation” (Matthew 11:16), but it stands to reason that “they” were exemplified by the religious hypocrites; the pharisees and scribes as we see them doing precisely this only two chapters prior. Jesus says that “THEY” say John has a demon, and “THEY” say the Son of Man is a “glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” THEY said this about Jesus but He never said this. Those who claim that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners are leveling the same false accusation that the pharisees leveled against Jesus, only usually for a different motive. Notice the other false accusations in the same line-up:

1. John has a demon
2. Jesus is a glutton
3. Jesus is a winebibber (a drunk)
4. Jesus is a friend of sinners and tax collectors

If Jesus was truly a “friend” of tax collectors and sinners as was claimed by His enemies, then the other accusations must also be true as we cannot arbitrarily separate them. When one validates the claim that Jesus was a “friend” of sinners (in the sense that they were implying), they unwittingly validate the claim that He was also a winebibber and that John the Baptist had a demon. God forbid!

While “they” were falsely accusing Jesus of being a “friend” of tax collectors and sinners to discredit Him, those who bear this false witness today are usually doing so to justify their wicked behavior in keeping evil company. Whatever “they” meant by “friend” is not what Jesus meant by “friend”. It is true that Jesus was in their midst for the purposes of evangelizing them, but when these same sinners refused to repent Jesus rebuked them. It is astounding to me that those who make these twisted claims on the basis of this passage in Matthew 11, fail to read just a few verses further to see Jesus rebuking the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because after He had done many mighty works in their midst as an act of mercy toward them, they refused to repent. These were not His “friends”. How do we know this?


What Is A “Friend”?

Jesus tells us the characteristics of his “friends” saying, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14)  The “friends” of Jesus are they that obey Him, nor can anyone be considered His friend if they do not. By “friend” is meant a companion and one with whom we keep intimate and meaningful communion, not those of the world we may have to work with or those whom we may be witnessing to at any given time. We can and should be friendly and peaceable toward sinners where it is possible, but to keep intimate companionship with enemies of Christ is forbidden.
We are told that, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20). It is the “walking” with and the companionship that we speak of; a habitual keeping of company. Psalm 1:1 tells us the mark of a blessed man is that he is not a friend of sinners in this sense for he, “… walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”

We are commanded to keep good company and to forsake evil company as they can and will corrupt good morals or habits. (1 Corinthians 15:33). The Amplified Classic has an insightful expounding upon this verse: “Do not be so deceived and misled! Evil companionships, (communion, associations) corrupt and deprave good manners and morals and character.” After noting the worldly mindset of the sinner; “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” Philip Doddridge in his notable work, “The Family Expositor” commentary renders the same verse thus:

Be not deceived, brethren, but be upon your guard against such pernicious maxims and reasonings as these; and if you value either faith or a good conscience, do not converse familiarly with those that teach them; for, as the poet Meander well express it, Good manners are debauched by talk profane. Awake, therefore, as becomes righteous and good men from the intoxications of such wild and delusive dreams as these; and sin not in supporting or countenancing doctrines so subversive of the christian faith and hope…”

Moreover, to have “friendship” with anyone is to be “yoked” with them in that sense. We are expressly forbidden to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). While this certainly applies to marriage, it also certainly applies to any intimate companionship, friendship or fellowship in religious duties. What fellowship has light with darkness? The rhetorical answer is this: NONE… EVER! Evangelism and fellowship are two entirely different endeavors. Living at peace with all men as much as depends on you, does not entail keeping intimate company with those who malign God’s word in any sense. There can be no true friendship with those who are themselves enemies of Christ, lest we prove to be his enemies as well. In his commentary on 2 Corinthians 6:14, Doddridge again says,

…Let us therefore cultivate such friendships, and be very careful that we do not form others which may properly be called, being unequally yoked. We profess to be pursuing righteousness, to be light in the Lord, to be united to Christ, to be consecrated to God: let us not then have an intimate converse with the slaves of unrighteousness, the children of darkness, the sons of Belial, the votaries of idols. Far from subjecting ourselves to such dangerous snares, let us rather be earnestly seeking every advantage for making the noblest improvements in religion.”

We have been amply warned in God’s word to keep ourselves from the influence of the world and the devil. How then could we maintain proper friendships with children of the devil and heed these commands? It is impossible. And to suggest that Jesus was a “friend” of those who were themselves yoked to Satan, is to mangle the word of God and to make Jesus a polluter of Holy things. Those who were seeking truth and intimating at repentance, He heartily obliged that He might call them to repentance and make them sons and daughters of righteousness, but those who refused in obstinance were rebuked. Neither did Paul keep “friends” who were not themselves true friends of his Master, Jesus.

Friendship is reserved for those who are themselves friends of Christ. And to be a friend of Christ, one must be obedient to Him. 1 Corinthians 5 reminds us to purge the leaven of those who are disobedient lest they leaven the whole lump of the body, and that presupposes that they actually believe in Jesus and have even made a sound profession of faith. How much more, then, ought we to dissociate ourselves, in any intimate sense, from those who are habitual sinners and enemies of the cross? Does Jesus love sinners? Yes. Does He want them to repent? Yes. Was Jesus a “friend” and “companion” in intimate fellowship with sinners and tax collectors? NO! This was a false accusation against Him. Those who maintain this erroneous position in an attempt to justify their own bad company prove themselves to be “unlearned” and “unstable”, carelessly twisting God’s word for their own perceived benefit, but who, in reality, are working to their own destruction and the destruction of others. Evangelize the lost; witness to sinners with love; share Christ, by all means, but do NOT be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. Jesus was not a “friend” of sinners and tax collectors any more than John the Baptist had a demon. The next time someone tells you Jesus was a “friend” of sinners, ask them who said that and what else “they” said.


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Joshua Chavez

A slave of Christ. My name is Joshua Chavez.

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32 Responses

  1. Helen bogard says:

    You hit the nail on the head there young Joshua, very well said.

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      I pray you are encouraged by it in truth. God bless. Be a friend and companion to Jesus and those who love Him.


      • Helen bogard says:

        This teaching is something I had been sharing before you were born Joshua, and it is encouraging to me that a young child of God, understands this revelation. Jesus would never be a boozer nor hang with the ungodly, for mere socializing purposes ever.

        • Joshua Chavez says:

          I am grateful that the Lord has used it to confirm this and hopefully encourage you in truth. God bless.


  2. Marquita Martin says:

    What about family members who live with you who are not Christians and have no love for the things of God? I live with two adult children. The unbelieving one lives with me because he is unable to live on his own due to mental health problems and substance abuse issues.

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      It is a good question. This is your family and you, as a mother, have an obligation to them and it is obvious you love them. As he is under your care both as a parent and as a guardian in this case, the dynamic is different. It is not a “friendship” based dynamic, but a parental dynamic. Do your best to witness to him in love and share Christ with him. Pray that the Lord would be revealed to him and heal his waywardness. This article is speaking about those who willingly take for themselves friends who are enemies of Christ as their companions in leisurely activities and even religious activities. Familial relationships are not voluntary in this regard, nor would I consider your children “friends”. I pray that clarifies and is of some help to you. God bless.


      • Marquita Martin says:

        Thank you. I do consider my kids friends within limits,but if I didn’t feel obligated and love my son I wouldn’t be willing to share a house with him. I have another son with similar issues but I was finally able to convince him to go live with his dad until he could get his life (if he ever does) together. But this son I mentioned in the comments has no where else to go and can’t live on his own. He tried for over 15 years and kept ending up on the street and starving, so I convinced him to come home. He at least has food to eat and a roof over his head and a consistent witness from me that the Lord can help him and make him a new creation.

  3. Hi Josh, I love too hard and too easily. Often accused of being used or being an ambulance chaser. My beautiful young friend Renee is one that I love. She is an addict, and I have sat with her during her worst times, merely being good company and bringing comfort. I don’t partake of her sin and I constantly point out to her that if she does not change, I will one day turn up to find her cold, having been murdered by her own addiction. I have laid down my life for her in order to throw a lifeline out of that muck and mire. Greater love hath no man than this! It has not tainted me in terms of my own personal righteousness, but it has, at times, been very emotional. To choose to love someone whilst they are in the throes of their own personal bondage and darkness is not easy. But I have hope for her. And I have hope that my own example to her will bring her to a moment of choice and redemption. That is all I can hope for. Anyway, just sharing.

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      Spending time with someone for the purpose of evangelizing them and sharing truth is certainly a good thing. We are speaking about condoning the actions of a person or group by being with them in the midst of their debauchery while not making it abundantly clear that you cannot and will not partake with them in their activities. Love people, but do not “converse familiarly” as if to lend credence to their life-style or the like. Love your neighbor as yourself, but do not make it a habit of being immersed with them in such a way as will corrupt your good habits or morals. Many exploit this verse as a pretext to justify unjustifiable partnerships in ministry and so forth saying that Jesus was a “friend” to sinners, as if He wasn’t too concerned with their life-style. If we want to be like Jesus we will speak like He did with statements such as, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” and “sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” Hopefully that helps to clarify.


  4. Rick says:

    Well said Joshua I have had this experience my whole entire walk with the Lord. I find that it at times can be a very lonely walk, And if you desire to continue on with God you sometimes have to make difficult decisions in relationships.To walk the narrow road requires oneTo seek out like minded people and unfortunately avoid or separate yourselves from those that walk contrary to the gospel, it sounds mean and cruel to some but it is a necessary road that 1 needs to walk to be in fellowship with our savior. 2 can not walk together unless they be agreed, I have been seeking this Kind of intimate friendship and in the past 30 years have yet to find such a one. In doing the will of God and going to Calvary Jesus was all alone, Everyone deserted him because he was in the perfect will of God. and this comforts me in this world knowing that I may not have any friends to speak of but I have a friend that sticks closer than a brother and hes always with me and he’ll never leave me for this I am eternally grateful. To all those other believers looking for that special friend I encourage you to cling to Jesus he is truly all that we need.

  5. Stephen Anderson says:

    And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, FRIEND, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. (Mat 22:11-14 KJV)
    And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, FRIEND, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. (Mat 26:49-50 KJV)
    Clearly, you need to read and understand the Scriptures before you “exposit” them. If Jesus called Judas “friend” in the very act of betrayal, your whole article is refuted.
    “Friend” does not imply approval, only association. The reason Jesus was accused (correctly) of being a “friend of tax-collectors and sinners” is because He associated with them. After all He came into the world to save sinners. Of course, had you lived in the days of His earthly ministry you also would have condemned Him as a heretic for His association with sinners.

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      The word “friend” used in Matthew 22 is “hetairos” and not “philos”, which is what I was speaking of in the article. One is a colloquial phrase that can be used in any informal sense, and philos denotes an intimacy in companionship. Moreover, the context of the verse you cited proves this. The king in the parable tells servant to bind his “friend” and cast him into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is not the kind of “friendship” we are speaking of, but one of approbation or approval. When people say Jesus was a “friend” of sinners, they falsely accuse him as the pharisees did, which was clearly demonstrated in this article. He did not maintain intimate relationships with overtly wicked people. Incidentally, when Jesus spoke to Judas He used the same word the king did, “hetairos” NOT “philos”. The association Jesus had with tax collectors and sinners was embellished by the pharisees to make it seem as if he were closer to them than He actually was. People today make the same error to justify their evil company. You seem to be sorely confused, Mr. Anderson. You are the one, ironically, defending the false accusations of the pharisees, not me. He was falsely accused and you are now bearing the same false witness against Jesus. He was not “correctly” accused, and if He was, then John the Baptist also had a demon. Please re-think your thinking, Mr. Anderson.


  6. Chris says:

    Thanks Joshua. For helping me to more rightly divide the Word of Truth. Iron sharpens iron. Praise God.

  7. Stephen says:

    Hey Josh:

    I have messed up
    So much in this area. I just wanted to be around people that accepted me, because at church I felt like people didn’t really care but tolerated me as a “brother”. So I found friends that were more accepting but partook in some of their lifestyle. I’m trying to come around and just accept myself, whether or not others do. Still, some of my friends are extremely struggling Christians. Please pray and any feedback welcome.

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      The desire for community or family is a god-given one. We are made in His image and likeness and therefore because He is in community as a triune being, we also have an innate desire for this. God said it is not good for man to be alone. However, we must not accept any company. First and foremost, we must cultivate a true and meaningful relationship with our God. If any other relationship hinders progress in this area with Him, it should be forsaken at once. Seek only that intimate company which will stir your affections for Christ and discard any such company that will stifle those affections in any way. Be compassionate to those who need the truth, but do not be unequally yoked with them to the extent that you are in jeopardy of mimicking their lifestyle or giving the impression that you are one with them. The idea of Holiness denotes a separation from wickedness and unto the Lord. Let us be the property of our God and act in accord with His desires. Bad company can and does corrupt good habits. Be a friend to God by obeying His commands and find those who will encourage you in holiness; yes, with such people cultivate intimate friendships, but never with the world. God bless.


  8. Cornell says:

    Joshua my name is Cornell I wanted to encourage you brother to keep on doing what you’re doing God is using you in a mighty way and I know that the world may throw things at you and Satan may try to discourage you! But keep on doing the work of the Lord I know you’re making a difference and I know that you are a defender of the Faith !!!!

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      Blessings to you, my friend. I believe I received an email from this name as well. Bear with delays as there are many messages to tend to. I pray the Lord continues to build you up in truth through whatever you find here. God bless.

  9. Jim Jones says:

    Hay Joshua God Bless you brother, I had forwarded your expose on Ravi Z. to a former Pastor his response was a bit startling to say the least he lambasted you pretty good and then ended with Jesus was a friend of sinners. I replied as best I could in opposition of that. Your doing a great work. Jacob P. and yourself I have gleaned much .

    • Joshua Chavez says:

      I pray the video was of some help to you and will be an eventual conviction to your friend. May the Lord, likewise, use this article to bring clarification to the matter of this false accusation leveled against Jesus far too often. Ravi is embracing error and it is undeniable. I will send your blessings to Jacob as well. God bless.

  10. kenneth says:

    “unstable and unlearned”, we learn fully of these things as we are stabilized in the Spirit, as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling doing as commanded and not merely hearing the word, anyways, very good dissertation//sermon, love always, kk

  11. Jonathan says:

    Hey Josh!

    I wanted to ask you something. What do we do if we find ourselves alone as a Christian in this life? How do we find other brothers and sisters if they are not found in these denominations?

  12. Jonathan says:

    It seems my previous comment with questions was just deleted and unaanswered. I don’t really know what happened.

    Joshua, you seem to have a lot of ‘power’ in your hands right now, Christians can read your articles and watch your videos for instruction. But there is something that bothers me a lot about these youtubers who do nothing more but complain and gather more information on how bad denominations are. And I agree with what you do but when you have this many Christians coming to you, you should be using this ‘power’ to gather these brothers and sisters together so they can meet each other.

    It’s very easy to say that we are not to have close relationships with unbelievers and we all agree with you. But where do we go then? There are brothers and sisters out there who must feel all alone in this world and there is noone to help them to find these brothers and sisters. So, why not use your youtube videos and website to help them find each other? Hasn’t that idea crossed your mind yet??

    I wish I had that influence on people so I could do this for you.

    • kenneth ketchum says:

      i don’t kno if you’ll ever see this but uhhhhhhhh, go to facebook, love always, kk

    • Kathy Lozano says:

      Jonathan: I agree with you about meeting each other, because I am one of those you talked feeling alone in this world with none to help me. I appreciate a lot this you has thought, thanks for thinking not just about you, but about all of us, I felt like that was a comfort to me.

  13. Delana says:

    Great teaching! I have learned a lot by reading the scriptures and listening to you . Thank you for your godly insight and inspiration Josh. Glory to God 🙏🏽

  14. Christie says:

    This was good. I have been realizing more and more lately how many verses I have always heard taken out of context. Now, when I see a verse quoted in a verse or article, I try to take the time to get my Bible and read what the whole context says. I had heard, “Jesus is a friend of sinners” in many messages and songs. NO ONE I heard say that ever read or discussed the whole passage (context).
    After reading your article, I did a little “context” test with the children in our evening Bible reading time. I asked them if Jesus was a friend of sinners. Then we read the whole passage there. I asked them who was saying that Jesus was a friend of sinners. They were all able to answer that. I then asked, if what those people were saying was true, what else did that make Jesus. They answered, “a glutton and a wine bibber”. They got it! We talked about what Jesus; relationship to sinners was, according to scripture; and who Jesus said his friends were. They were able to answer that question too. My husband and I talk to them about context a lot. This was another example we could take to them about the importance of studying scripture, and not just believing what you hear because it sounds nice, and someone tagged a verse to it. Thank you for sharing what the Lord teaches you through His word.

  15. Brent says:

    I am very troubled right now in my life/relationship and have been seeking guidance. So here goes 7 yrs ago I came into a relationship thru sin and impurity. I am still with this girl and now have two children with her. We are not married so I know they are illegitimate in the eyes of God. What does that mean for them? Our relationship is now turn for the worst. I am now desperately seeking Jesus and he has broken me so so much and I’ve seen the errors of my way. I am asking everyday for his forgiveness and want him to be the Lord of my life. My girlfriend and I are now separated but still living together as she has moved from Ok to live here in Ga my hometown. She wants to take the children and go back to Ok. I know we are unequally yoked. I know that Jesus said to count the cost of following him. I am not wanting to let her take our children away from me so in order to keep them in my life I offered to let her stay here as roommates we can raise our children and they can stay in my life. I am heartbroken that she has not shown interest in knowing Jesus. So I guess my question is do I need to let her go away with my kids “forsake all for Christ”?? Or can I let her stay here not participating in her sinfulness though we are unequally yoked. I am at a loss i want to do what is righteous. I want to grow closer to Jesus. But I am hung up on this. I am also starting to share Jesus with my daughters. One is 6 one is 6 months. And I know if I let her take them there will be no initiative to seek Jesus where she goes. I think my coming to repent and follow Christ is distasteful to her. I know this is a difficult situation and I pray for wisdom everyday. There is much more I want to say but the message is already growing very long. Please let me know what you think. Thank you so much for your wisdom and insight.

  16. maria quaglieri says:

    Joshua, I’m sure that you are aware of the fact that none of the pastors, preachers, teachers on the internet like you. Well I do. I’ve been studying, not reading, the bible for thirty six years. You know and understand the scriptures my friend. I have not been in the best of health the past three years, therefore I no longer attend church. When I did my church did not have a pastor, the men took turns at the pulpit. When we had the Lords supper we ate real bread, not crackers and drank real wine out of the same cup no one ever got sick from sharing this cup. Please don’t let the lovers of self get you down. Keep spreading the truth. My prayers are with you. God bless

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