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By Rod Denton, Equipping The Next Generation

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You can know a person by the company they keep.

“As my class read the gospels and watched movies about Jesus’ life, we noticed a striking pattern. The more unsavoury (undesirable, outcast, disrespectable) the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. I remarked to the class how strange this pattern seemed, since the Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the people most suspicious of Jesus when He was on earth. What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus’ day. Why don’t sinners like being around us?”

— THE JESUS I NEVER KNEW by Philip Yancey

God’s purpose for each of us is that we would grow to become like Jesus.“For God knew His people in advance, and HE CHOSE THEM TO BECOME LIKE HIS SON, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:29

jesus crown silhouette pexels rodolfo clix 1615776But to grow like Jesus we first of all need to have a clear picture of how Jesus lived His life when He was on earth and in particular who were the people He attracted and mingled with. For could it be that somewhere along the way we have drifted from living the life that Jesus modelled for us.

Philip Yancey summarises his book...

“Somehow, we have created a community of respectability in the church. The down-and-outs who flocked to Jesus when He lived on earth, no longer feel welcome. How did Jesus, the only perfect person in history, manage to attract the notoriously imperfect? And what keeps us from following in His steps? What would it take for a church to become a place where prostitutes, tax collectors, and even guilt-tinged Pharisees would gladly gather?”

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were quick to superficially judge Jesus by the company that He kept. He was deemed guilty by association. They were not willing to believe that it was possible for a person to be in the world but not of the world.

And this is the challenge for each one of us whose goal in life it is to grow more like Jesus. For as we do, we can’t help but conclude that we will be taken on a journey that will be considered radical by some and will even challenge their idea of spirituality.

William Booth wikipediaConsider William Booth, a former Methodist minister, along with his wife, Catherine, who founded The Salvation Army in the slums of London during 1865. Booth wanted to make the church more accessible to the whole community at a time when many poor and working-class people were excluded from the established churches.

Initially Booth’s mission intended to gather the poverty-stricken multitudes of London’s East End and link them up with existing churches. However, such people were regarded as outcasts and not welcomed by the wealthy and respectable church members of the day. And so he gave birth to The Salvation Army.

So, who were the people that Jesus welcomed that caused religious people to draw unkind conclusions about Him? What titles did people attribute to Jesus regarding the company He kept?

1. Jesus was called a GLUTTON and a DRUNKARD because He came eating and drinking. (Matthew 11:19)

Jesus’ very first miracle was performed at a wedding where He turned water into wine. It was the practice of the day that weddings usually continued for eight days and included an excess of eating and drinking and celebrating. It was Jesus, who was accused by His detractors of being a glutton and a drunkard, who told His disciples to do two things to remember Him when He was gone, to eat and drink, the symbols of His broken body and shed blood.

And I have wondered how Jesus would have behaved at parties, and not just the sedate gatherings that dignified religious people held. It seemed that people enjoyed having Him as a guest. To be invited to a meal or a party in Jesus’ day meant that a person wanted to enter into friendship with you. On one occasion Jesus dined with a social outcast, Simon the Leper, and at that meal, a disreputable woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. On this occasion, according to Mark, Judas Iscariot left the meal in disgust and went straight to the Chief Priests to betray Him.

How amazing that Jesus could make sinners so comfortable in His presence, and yet make the religious people so uncomfortable.

Is it possible that with Jesus, you can know a person by the company they keep?

2. Jesus was called a FRIEND of TAX COLLECTORS and SINNERS. (Luke 7:34)

Here Jesus entered into friendship with people who were placed in the same categories as robbers and murderers. He was even executed and died alongside two criminals. And no more clearly was this insinuation that you can know a person by the company they keep displayed for us, than when Jesus called Levi (Matthew) the tax collector, of all people, to be a member of His discipleship team.

We read that Levi left everything and followed Him. But before he left, he brought his friends together to have a farewell party, “and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, ‘How do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Luke 5:29-30 Why? Because you can know a person by the company they keep.

“ ‘No’, said Jesus. ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners, to repent.’” — Luke 5:31-32

A little later in Luke, Jesus was enjoying a meal with a Pharisee named Simon. And we read another amazing encounter Jesus had with a woman who had lived a sinful life and had come to know that Jesus was eating at the house of a Pharisee. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. And that is not all. She wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. The very presence of Jesus had transformed the situation. Suddenly they were on holy ground.

But look at the response of the Pharisee who had invited Jesus. He said to himself,

“If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” — Luke 7:39

The Pharisee in Simon saw a disreputable sinner weeping at the feet of Jesus. The compassion in Jesus saw a woman with an outpouring of love and Jesus replies to Simon, “‘Do you see this woman? I came into your home. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” — Luke 7:44-48

And we can ask ourselves, “How much of the respectable Pharisee is in us and how much have we grown to be like Jesus?”

3. Jesus was called an AGENT of SATAN. (Luke 11:15)

“One day Jesus cast out a demon from a man who couldn’t speak, and when the demon was gone, the man began to speak. The crowds were amazed, but some of them said, ‘No wonder He cast out demons. He gets His power from Satan, the prince of demons.’ He knew their thoughts, so He said, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A family splintered by feuding will fall apart. You say I am empowered by Satan. But if Satan is divided and fighting against himself, how can his kingdom survive? ... But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then this kingdom of God has arrived among you.’” — Luke 11:14-18, 20

What an amazing picture of what it is like to be living in the kingdom of God. All through Jesus’ ministry he threatened the religious leaders, His motives were questioned, and He was judged by the company He kept.

Jesus challenged the political correctness of His day. He was at home with the outcasts of society. One leader once commented to me,

“If that is not a beautiful picture to us, then it is proof positive of how far we are removed from the real Jesus Christ. Jesus the party goer, Jesus the friend of sinners and Jesus an agent of Satan? One of the most radical things Jesus can do is to challenge our concept of friendship and the people we spend time with and the culture that has invaded our churches and our desire to be like Jesus who said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you (John 20:21)."

Key Takeaways

The following are some of the keys we can take away in our goal of wanting to be more like Jesus.


Jesus prayed for His disciples; “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” John 17:15-16

We are to be thermostats and not thermometers. A thermostat controls the temperature in a room whereas a thermometer reflects the temperature in a room. To illustrate this Jesus taught His disciples that they were to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Salt adds flavour and is a preservative, and light dispels darkness and exposes things that were previously unseen.


On the occasion of His baptism, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit and when He sent His disciples out He gave them two indispensables, “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases…..to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” — Luke 9:11-12 (See Wherever You Go... Take the Two Indispensables Jesus Gave His Disciples | Rod Denton (roddentoneng.com.au).)

Similarly, Jesus promised His followers that they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8It was the Holy Spirit that gave Jesus the power to be in the world but not of the world, to be a transforming presence amongst large gatherings of people wherever He went. And we can know that same power in our lives as we live like Jesus in the world where we live.


One of the church fathers, Iranaeus, explained that we are to look at people through “grace filled eyes”, we are to see people as Jesus saw people. When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion on them; He felt deeply for people and was moved to take action to help people. Everywhere He went He determined to add value to people. Jesus said He “did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 He was secure in who He was and free to live His life for others.

Jesus is calling us to follow Him out into the world to be in the world but not of the world, to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and to live compassionately and see people through grace filled eyes. We are to live courageously, selflessly and Christlike lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Rod Denton with boy in TaiwanAnd along the way there will be defining moments where we are set free from some of our preconceived ideas and become more Christlike. A memorable moment for me occurred when I travelled on a mission to Taiwan and one day walked into a leprosarium for the first time and reached out to a group of people badly scarred by the ravages of leprosy. It was a breakthrough moment when barriers were broken down and I could share the love of Jesus with these special people. I cannot forget Mr. Tsai, who radiated the love of Jesus from a leprosy scarred face as he embraced me and greeted me as a brother in Christ.

I want to become more and more like Jesus and continually ask, “What would Jesus do?” as I live out my life day by day in the world in which I live.

By the way, it is true that with Jesus you can know a person by the company they keep. But the religious leaders missed it because they had a superficial view of life. They saw Jesus as a drunkard and a glutton because He loved parties. They saw Jesus as a sinner because He loved being with sinners and outcasts. They thought Jesus was in league with demons because He had authority over demons and set people free from demons. Their problem was that they made judgements based on Jesus and the people with whom He connected, rather than the depth of His heart’s motives and His character.

So, in reality, it is true that in Jesus you can judge a person by the company He keeps. You can judge a person’s heart, for Jesus clearly demonstrated by the company He kept that He had a servant heart filled with compassion, for He saw people as lost and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

I love to sing the words of a Salvation Army song…..

“To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me,
In every thought and deed, this is my aim, my creed.
To be like Jesus, this hope possesses me.
His Spirit helping me, like Him I’ll be.”

— Words: John Gowans   — Music: John Larssen


This article is reposted with permission and was originally published on April 6, 2024 here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/like-jesus-2-you-can-know-person-company-keep-rod-denton-lbl6c/ 


Rod Denton has served as a pastor and as a teacher in the development of emerging leaders in Australia. As A3 Senior Faculty, he has taught leaders in nine countries across Asia. He is a consultant for Rod Denton Equipping The Next Generation and provides leadership development resources, mentoring, seminars, and EQUIP journal. Follow Rod on LinkedIn.

email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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