Not so long ago, I would never have written this:
Being able to have a good time at a *party is an essential skill for disciple makers to develop.
Yep. If you are not good at it already, I strongly encourage you to learn to *party.
I say that as someone who is really not very good at *parties. For most of my growing up years, I was really uncomfortable at *parties. I got a little better at it in college, but I am still learning to walk into a room of people, relax, and then have a good time at the *party.
So, what’s with the asterisk? I’m excluding church parties. I have done church parties all my life. But put me in a room where people are doing their best to relax and have fun in an uninhibited way, and I’m unsure of myself in that kind of environment. Sometimes that can send the wrong message – but I have been getting better. And if we want to make disciples like Jesus, we need to figure out how.
Maybe you know the story that begins in Matthew 9:9. Jesus calls Levi (aka Matthew) to follow him – and Levi leaves his tax-collecting life immediately and begins to follow Jesus. The first thing he does is throw a big *party for his fellow tax-gatherers and their unruly crowd of friends and he invites Jesus and his disciples. In that gathering were people people with loose morals, who drank too much, who cussed too much, and who told embarrassing jokes. And Jesus and his disciples apparently knew how to be at ease at a party with people who party like that. It became known. It raised questions. Some of the more respected religious people got upset. But when they raised questions, Jesus put them in their place. Read all about it in Matthew, Mark or Luke. (Evidently the gospel writers sensed the importance of the occasion.)
Maybe you know the cliché: “bad company corrupts good character.” That’s not a Ben Franklin quote. That’s from the Word of God, the Bible, I Corinthians 15:33. I don’t know how you define “bad company”, but evidently, they weren’t Levi’s party goers. Apparently Jesus was not concerned they would corrupt. Jesus was far more concerned about the corrupting influence of those respected religious folk. Matthew 16:33 makes it clear: to beware of their teaching.
Their teaching encouraged religious people to be absolutely separate from Levi and his crowd.
It’s not too hard to see why Jesus disagreed. We can’t keep what Jesus called “the second greatest commandment” which is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, if we aren’t willing to be with neighbors at *parties.
Now, if we accept that Jesus is the example we are to follow when it comes to loving our neighbors and making disciples, then paying attention to how Jesus handled things at Levi’s *party can be very instructive.
Here are a few observations:
1) Jesus attended the *party and had a good time. Our neighbors won’t be convinced we love them if we refuse to go to their parties or if we are in anyway awkward wet blankets needing accommodation.
2) Jesus attended *parties rather publically. We should not try to convince our neighbors we love them if we are embarrassed to be seen at their party.
3) Jesus wasn’t worried about his reputation. We can’t have fun at a *party if we are worried about our reputations being damaged in the least.
4) Jesus brought his disciples with him. He wasn’t worried about their reputations, their safety, or that the *party might corrupt him or them. If we are unduly concerned for the people we bring with us, that could make it hard for us to enjoy ourselves.
5) Jesus had an answer for those religious types who criticized his party going ways. We should recognize that we bring the presence of Christ when we show up at *parties.
6) But Jesus didn’t try to convince his critics of anything other than their hypocrisy. He didn’t say, “come on to the *party and you’ll have fun.” No. He just gave them something to think about – and (though the text doesn’t say so) probably went back into the *party.
7) And this is huge! Jesus was delighted to go. He wanted to go because he liked being around Levi. The best way to enjoy yourself at a *party is to actually like being around the people at the party. And that can require an internal adjustment in the area of our hearts.
None of this is easy, though, if you are like me? It is not easy for people who have always enjoyed relatively safe church parties. I have a wife. I have a family. I have kids. Some people really cross the line at parties. There are things I don’t want to have to deal with. Maybe you feel the same way.
But if we want to see more people like Levi following Jesus, then, well, we know what to do, don’t we? We need to….