How Should We Treat Tax Collectors (And Others Like Them)?

There is a passage in the Bible that I think I’ve misunderstood for years.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

I’ve always thought that this meant, you excommunicate the one who wronged you. You cut them off. They are now dead to you!

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, tax collectors were considered the lowest of the low. Not only did they come to collect the taxes due, they often demanded more than was required. They were unscrupulous, evil, and corrupt. Why would anyone want to have anything to do with them?!?

That cannot possibly be what he meant.

We should always interpret the Scriptures with the Scriptures.

This message from Jesus was retold by Matthew who was a tax collector. Matthew chose to follow Jesus. He changed his ways but not his friendships throwing parties in which he hosted other tax collectors and prostitutes so that Jesus could meet them and help them find life.

Matthew included these other passages in his Gospel:

“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” – Matthew 9:11

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19

If Jesus told us to treat the person who has wronged us like tax collectors then I think He means we need to love them, serve them, invite them into our own homes. We need to win them back.

Other passages written by Paul indicate this same idea about our enemies:
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” – Romans 12:20

How can we truly learn to love our enemies? When have you seen this work in your life?

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About Eric Bryant

*Eric Michael Bryant* serves with Gateway Church in Austin and as part of the The Origins Project , a movement of people committed to Jesus, Humanity, and Innovation. Eric helped with a church plant in Seattle and as a navigator at Mosaic in Los Angeles for 12 years. Eric's book, *Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World*, is a guide for overcoming the negative Christian stereotype by embracing the people Christians “love to hate.”

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