After the Jews returned to the Promised Land following their exile in Babylon they had to be taught an important lesson: holiness is not contagious, but unholiness is. They believed two lies:
- Doing holy things like rebuilding the temple or offering sacrifices would make them holy.
- Being in the Holy Land made them holy.
They thought this would make them holy without actually having to be holy. God corrected them by asking two questions through Haggai the prophet. The first question:
“If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?” (Hag 2:12a).
Holiness is not contagious!
Haggai asked, what happens when something holy touches something unholy? Does the unholy object become holy? The priests correctly answered, “No” (Hag 2:12b). Holiness doesn’t rub off on unholy things. Just as…
- Healthy people can’t walk through a hospital and touch sick people and make them healthy.
- Non-spoiled food can’t come into contact with spoiled food and make it non-spoiled.
The second question:
“If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?” (Hag 2:13a).
This question presents the opposite situation of the first. What happens when something unholy touches something holy? Does the holy object become unholy? The priests correctly answered, “Yes” (Hag 2:13b).
Unholiness is contagious!
If something unholy comes into contact with something holy, can it make the holy object unholy? The priests correctly answered, “No” (Hag 2:12b). Unholiness does rub off on holy things.
- Sick people can spread sickness to healthy people.
- Spoiled food can spread mold or bacteria to non-spoiled food.
The first question reveals holiness can’t be transferred, but the second question reveals unholiness can be transferred.
Even though people understand this physically, there seems to be a tougher time understanding it spiritually. People will say they’re going to take something from the world and sanctify, redeem, or make it holy, but if it’s unholy in the world, it’s unholy in your life. We can’t bring unholy things from the world into our homes or churches and make them holy or sanctified, but they can make us unholy and affect our sanctification. Jerry Bridges said:
“Holiness begins in our minds and works out in our actions. That being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important. The television programs we watch, the movies we attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these true? Are they pure? Lovely? Admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?”
The Principle Applies to Relationships
The Old and New Testaments discuss the negative affect people can have on others:
- Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Pro 22:24-25). The angry person learns to control himself by spending time with a patient person. Instead, the patient person learns to become angry.
- The companion of fools will be destroyed (Pro 13:20b). The companion of fools doesn’t save fools through their relationship.
- Go from the presence of a foolish man (Pro 14:7a). You don’t spend time with fools so you can teach them knowledge and wisdom.
- Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor 15:33). Good company doesn’t fix bad habits. Instead, we can be deceived into believing associating with the wrong people won’t hurt us. We can believe their poor behavior isn’t “contagious.”
- Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14).
What are Christians supposed to do?
Christians are supposed to be “holy people” (1 Pet 2:5, 9). How are they supposed to engage unholy (or unbelieving) people without “catching” unholiness? Preach the Gospel! Believers don’t have the power to change other believers, say nothing about unbelievers. But the Gospel can. When people embrace Christ, the Holy Spirit can accomplish the saving and sanctifying work that’s necessary.
Follow Jesus’ Example
Was Jesus close friends with sinners and tax collectors? We know He associated with them, but Scripture reveals He wanted to be their Physician. After Jesus called Levi (Matthew) to follow Him, Luke 5:29-32 records:
Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Jesus knew people were desperately sick spiritually, and in need of spiritual healing. He is a Physician for sinners:
- Earthly physicians heal physical sickness, but Jesus heals spiritual sickness.
- Earthly physicians work on the body, but Jesus works on the soul.
Before Jesus physically healed the paralytic, He first healed him spiritually: “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” (see Luke 5:17-26). Despite how terrible the man looked physically, He looked even worse spiritually. Jesus dealt with the man’s greatest need.
A Physician Desires to See Healing Take Place
Thinking about the relationship between physicians and patients reveals why Jesus’ analogy is perfect. A physician doesn’t walk in to a patient’s room, give the patient a hug, or chitchat for a few hours. Instead:
- A physician investigates. He comes in with a clipboard, asks questions, takes notes, finds out what’s wrong, and diagnoses the problem.
- A physician will get close to his patients, but he makes every effort to ensure he isn’t infected by them. He puts on gloves and possibly a mask.
- A physician has a very specific purpose and desire: to help. He wants to see healing take place.
Likewise, patients don’t say, “I’m going to call my physician and see if he wants to catch a football game.” Instead, the sick say, “I need to see a physician. I want him to tell me what’s wrong and provide me with a prescription.”
What is the prescription for sinners? Jesus mentioned that in His response to the religious leaders: “I have come to call sinners to repentance.” Repentance is becoming an ugly word in the church today, but in Scripture it’s the cure for sinners.
A Physician Who Seeks the Sick
1 Timothy 1:15 Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
This was Jesus’ purpose. The religious leaders criticized Him for being with tax collectors and sinners, but considering who He was and what He wanted to do, any other behavior wouldn’t have made sense:
- Pediatricians help children.
- Veterinarians help animals.
- Physicians help sick people.
If Jesus would’ve stayed away from sinners like the religious leaders wanted, He would’ve looked like a pediatrician staying away from children or a veterinarian staying away from animals.
The religious leaders couldn’t be more different than Jesus. They tried to stay as far away from sinners as possible. The sad irony is if they were as righteous – or spiritually healthy – as they thought they were, they should’ve been the most concerned with the sick. They’re the ones who should’ve been with sinners and tax collectors, trying to help them. Imagine doctors that avoid sick people because they think they’re too healthy for them.
One reason Jesus might have chosen Matthew (Levi) is he was a tax collector. This made Jesus look sensitive to sinners. When people saw Jesus with him, they knew He wouldn’t turn them away.
Jesus was going to die for sinners, and He manifested His love for them by seeking them out. But He sought them out not to be close friends with them. Instead, He desired to be their Physician and see them spiritually healed.
Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section
- Do you see other fitting examples from Jesus or the disciples? What application does this have for us?
- Have you ever found yourself learning “bad habits” when you became too close to someone?
- Have you shared the Gospel with someone and seen the Holy Spirit introduce holiness into that person’s life?