In this five-session video Bible study (DVD/digital videos sold separately), pastor and author Rich Wilkerson, Jr. reveals how one of their nicknames for Jesus was true: “Here is a . . . friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). In the religious leaders’ minds this was one of the greatest indictments imaginable, but for Jesus it was a sign of success because it was the very definition of his mission. Today, Jesus still calls us “friends,” not because of who we are or what we have done but because of who he is. While he was on earth, he knew that people needed to feel as if they belonged before they would want to behave.
Rich shows that by following his example, we can have the same clear conviction and compassion for the lost that Jesus did. When we embrace the truth that we all need Jesus equally, and when we trust him to bring transformation in people’s hearts, we will walk as Jesus walked, experiencing the glory of God in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
The Friend of Sinners Study Guide includes video discussion questions, Bible exploration, and personal study and reflection materials for in-between sessions.
- Missed Message
- Weight Shift
- Lost and Found
- Comfortably Uncomfortable
- How to Be Great
Designed for use with the Friend of Sinners Video Study (sold separately).
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Have you ever missed the point of a rhetorical question? You genuinely thought the person wanted answers, but he or she was actually trying to send you a message. And when you, oblivious and innocent, offered your opinion, you only made things worse.
Nowhere is this clearer than in marriage. I wish someone would have sat me down prior to getting married and said, "Rich, your wife is going to ask you questions sometimes, but she won't be looking for information. Don't answer those questions, Rich. Trust me on this. Don't answer those questions!"
I had to learn this the hard way. For example, if DawnCheré says, "Why is there a wet towel in the corner of the closet?" she isn't really asking why it's there. She doesn't want me to explain the thought process behind leaving a towel to mildew in our closet, no matter how convinced I might be that my lack of showering etiquette was justified.
"Well, you see, babe, I was in a hurry, and I wasn't thinking about towels, I was thinking about Jesus and God and people and church ..."
She'll interrupt me mid-explanation, because I'm missing the message she's trying to communicate. There is only one appropriate response: "I did it, I'm sorry, and I'll never do it again." Gentlemen, memorize those words. They could save your life.
To be fair, I ask rhetorical questions too. Except my wife is mostly perfect, so my pointed questions aren't pointed at her but at the universe in general.
"What is up with the traffic today? This is ridiculous!" I'll say. But I don't really want an answer. If you are ever my copilot, don't respond to that question by explaining local traffic patterns. I'm just going to get mad. And definitely don't tell me traffic wouldn't be an issue if we had left on time. I'll probably make you get out of the car and walk. I don't want answers. I want pity, I want empathy, and I want you to be as indignant as I am.
Missing the message is never a good thing. Not in marriage, not in friendship, and certainly not when it comes to God. Now, I'm not saying God communicates his message to us via rhetorical questions (although there are a few of those in the Bible). God has expressed himself to us very clearly through the Bible.
The problem is, we humans tend to be a little hard to communicate with sometimes. We can get so distracted, so busy, so flustered, so guilty, so self-righteous, or so set in our ways that we don't accurately interpret what the Bible says. I've done this many times, and maybe you have too. We tend to look at God through the lens of our own experience. We assume God has a certain attitude toward us because that's the attitude we would have if we were God. Or maybe we think he will react to our failure a particular way because that's how an authority figure in our lives would have reacted.
That's why Jesus came and lived among us. He wanted to show us — in living color — God's heart for humanity. Think about it for a moment. He didn't have to hang out with messy, broken, hurting humans. He could have lived in a hermit's hut on a hillside somewhere, preached a few good sermons from a distance, and died for our sins. But instead, he spent three and a half years walking, talking, teaching, preaching, laughing, healing, forgiving, guiding, praying, pleading, correcting, calling, and comforting people just like you and me. Why? So we could get the message. So we could understand what God is trying to tell us.
What is that message? That God is a friend of sinners. That's what the idea of "grace" means. We don't deserve God's love, because we have all failed him. But he seeks us out, he calls us to himself, and he covers our sins with his righteousness.
Jesus' relationship with Matthew the tax collector is a clear example of this (see Matthew 9:9-13). Keep in mind that tax collectors in that day were considered traitors and thieves. They took money from their fellow Jewish citizens and turned it over to the hated Roman empire. And they collected quite a bit extra for themselves as well.
Jesus found Matthew seated at his tax booth. That means he was doing exactly what had made him infamous in the first place: selling out his countrymen to make a quick buck. Jesus said, "Follow me." And Matthew got up and followed him. Just like that, he became a disciple of Jesus.
Notice what Jesus did not do. He didn't rebuke Matthew publicly. He didn't force him to give all the money back he had stolen. He didn't put him on a lower level than the other disciples. He didn't make him promise to never steal again. He simply showed Matthew grace and invited him to become his follower.
If we think Jesus came to bring about behavior modification, we have missed the message. His top priority in life is not to get us to stop using bad words. It's not to convince us to give our money to people in need. It's not even to fix our marriages or restore our families. Those things are good, and if you follow Jesus, you'll notice improvement in your character, your thought life, and your actions. But behavioral change is not the point.
The point is relationship. Jesus is befriending us. He is calling us to himself, and his grace has made friendship possible. No matter who we are or how badly we've messed up, grace, forgiveness, and love are available in Jesus.
Video Teaching Notes
Here are a few key points to note as you watch this week's video. Use the space provided to write down any observations or applications that come to mind as you watch.
If you miss the message of Jesus, you can find yourself in the wrong place and space in your faith journey and relationship to others. The message of Jesus is much more than good versus bad. Jesus didn't come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive.
The story of Matthew (Levi) the tax collector in Matthew 9 is a clear illustration that Jesus is a friend of sinners. Matthew was a traitor and a thief, yet Jesus befriended him and called him.
Jesus came for everyone, but he can only save those who acknowledge their need for salvation. This includes both the obvious sinners and the self-righteous (like the Pharisees).
When we enter a relationship with Jesus, a transformation begins on the inside that eventually affects our outside life.
Many people reduce Jesus' message to a morality lesson. That is what the rich young ruler in Mark 10 did. He called Jesus "good," as if he were only a rabbi, and asked for a list of laws to keep in order to have eternal life.
It's not about what we do but about what he's done. It's about receiving his grace and living in faith. Religion makes us proud of ourselves. Grace makes us proud of Jesus.
Jesus isn't just a good teacher; he's the Savior of the world. He deserves much more than our morality, church attendance, rituals, and customs. He deserves our lives.
Take a few minutes with your group members to discuss what you just watched and explore these concepts in Scripture.
1. How would you describe the message of Jesus? What was the main thing he came to teach and demonstrate?
2. How does the story of Matthew the tax collector illustrate that with Jesus, we can belong before we believe?
3. How do you think the Pharisees would have compared themselves to the tax collectors and sinners? Do you think God shared that opinion? What does their question about Jesus being a friend of sinners reveal about their attitude toward those who did not meet their standards?
4. The rich young ruler viewed Jesus as a "good teacher" and asked him, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17 NLT). What was the problem with this approach to Jesus and his message?
5. Why do you think people so often reduce Jesus' message to mere behavior modification? Why is that underestimating the message?
6. How has Jesus' message of grace and friendship changed you personally?
Close your time together in prayer. Here are a few ideas of what you could pray about based on the topic of this session:
Thank God for the gift of salvation through Jesus.
Acknowledge Jesus' incredible gift of acceptance and friendship to you.
Pray for a clearer understanding of his grace in your life.
Invite Jesus to be Lord of your entire life, not just your behavior.
Ask him to help you show grace and acceptance to others around you.
Review chapters 1 and 2 in the book Friend of Sinners. Use the space provided to write down any key points or questions you want to bring to the next group meeting. If you'd like to read ahead for the following week, read chapters 3 and 4.
The following pages provide an opportunity for you to reflect personally on the topics you covered this week in the Friend of Sinners video and discussion. Feel free to engage with any or all of these three activities during the week. There are no right or wrong answers, and no one will see your responses unless you choose to share them. These moments alone with God are a time to allow his love, peace, and wisdom to fill your heart and mind.
The Message Matters
Missing the message another person is trying to communicate is never a good thing. That's why we try so hard to understand what other people are saying — especially when a relationship is important to us. The same holds true with Jesus. It's vital we understand what his life and teachings are meant to communicate.
1. Jesus' message can be summed up in the word grace. That's not an easy word to define, though, because it is such a beautiful, all-encompassing term. What does grace mean to you?
2. In Romans 3:23-24, Paul writes, "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins" (NLT). According to this passage, what does it mean that you are saved by grace?
3. In Luke 19:10, Jesus says, "For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost" (NLT). What are some of the ways Jesus sought to fulfill this mission?
4. Take a few moments to write down a brief prayer of gratitude for the difference Jesus' grace has made in your life.
Leveling the Playing Field
The beautiful thing about grace is that it works the same for everyone. It levels the playing field, so to speak. None of us can claim to be perfect, so we all need to receive grace. And those around us are also imperfect human beings, so we all need to show grace. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we kept those two things in mind? There would be no room for judgment, selfishness, insecurity, or comparison. Instead, we would be able celebrate God's acceptance of us and extend that acceptance to others.
1. Are there areas of your life where you need help? Where do you need God's grace in your life?
2. Is it hard for you to admit you need help, either from God or from others? Why or why not?
3. In Luke 18:10–14, Jesus told this story to those who had confidence in their righteousness and scorned others around them:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: "Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not like other people — cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I'm certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'
"But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted" (NLT).
What does this say about the attitude God values in us?
Who did the Pharisee trust in for his righteousness? Who did the tax collector trust in?
4. Are there people in your life to whom you have trouble showing grace and mercy? What makes it difficult to show grace to these people?
5. Do you tend to compare yourself to those around you? What are some negative effects of comparison?
Good or God
Like the rich young leader in Mark 10:17–22, sometimes we might think our walk with God is primarily about behavior, and if we do enough good things, we can gain God's acceptance. We reduce Jesus' message to a self-help program, and in so doing, we underestimate what he came to do. Remember, Jesus didn't come to help good people get better. He came to bring spiritually dead people back to life.
1. Why do you think people so often focus on behavior when they think about religion, God, or spirituality?
2. Paul writes the following in Ephesians 2:4–10:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Why isn't it possible to be "good enough" to please God on our own? What does this passage say about grace?
3. Think about how you tend to relate to God. Is it more about fear or trust? Is it more about rules or rest? Is it more about behavior or friendship? Explain.
4. Why do you think you relate to God this way? Have any authority figures in your past or present affected your view of God? Explain.
Take a few moments and ask God to reset your view of him. If you'd like, you can pray something like this:
Jesus, thank you for accepting me by grace. I don't trust in my own goodness or my own efforts. I have faith in you. I believe you died for my sins and rose again, and now I can have friendship with God. Help me keep my focus on you, not on myself. Help me know and believe how much you love me. I pray this in your name, amen.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Have you ever had a small child offer to help you unload the car, make a meal, or carry a heavy object? The ensuing experience always involves a lot of enthusiasm but very little efficiency. During the whole process, you are aware you could accomplish the task a lot easier on your own. But where's the fun in that?
I'm pretty sure God looks at our "help" the same way. It's cute, it's noble, it's awww-inspiring, and it's a little bit laughable, all at the same time. Remember, God spoke worlds into existence in a matter of days. He invented time, gravity, and light. He doesn't just understand quantum physics — he created it. He clearly is not dependent on our energy, our efforts, or our plans. And yet, he loves to involve us in the process. He puts real responsibility in our hands, and he lets us make a lot of decisions. Even though he is sovereign, he invites us to help him.
The problem, though, is that sometimes we think we are doing it all on our own. We forget that he is carrying the bulk of the load. We develop a lifestyle of being stressed out, overwhelmed, and overburdened. That is not the life God created us to lead. Just as our physical bodies can be harmed by carrying too much weight, so our inner selves — our thoughts, our emotions, our decisions — can be hurt if we carry burdens that only God can carry.
Jesus was referring to this in Matthew 11:28–30, when he told the people in the large crowd that had gathered to come to him, and he would give them rest. If we find ourselves worn out and stressed out, maybe the problem isn't that God is asking too much, but that we are insisting on carrying too much. God wants to carry the weight that is too heavy for us.
Nowhere is this clearer than in how God deals with our sin. The word sin refers to the things in our lives that don't measure up to the standard of righteousness and holiness that God created us to enjoy. Sin is the greatest weight of all. Sin separates from God, hurts our lives, affects our relationships with others, and brings us under a cloud of guilt and shame. On our own, we could never carry the weight of sin.
Excerpted from "Friend of Sinners Study Guide"
Copyright © 2018 Rich Wilkerson, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Guide, 11,
SESSION 1: Missed Message, 15,
SESSION 2: Weight Shift, 33,
SESSION 3: Lost and Found, 47,
SESSION 4: Comfortably Uncomfortable, 63,
SESSION 5: How to Be Great, 81,
Leader's Guide, 103,