Would we judge Jesus guilty by association today? I dare say many would.
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”
And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. (Matthew 9–Luke 15–Luke 19)
Guilt by association means that one passes judgment on another based upon outward appearance or without all the facts, due to one’s association with someone about whom the one passing judgment has formed an unfavorable opinion. That is exactly what the enemies of Jesus did as above. But guilt by association can also have reference to one’s attempt to discredit ideas because of who is supporting that idea. Again, the example of Jesus comes to mind. Because Jesus associated with “sinners and tax collectors” whom they had judged as unworthy, then His ideas were equally corrupt (of course they were ideas that they didn’t like or want to accept in the first place).
Consider this: Do we base our acceptance or rejection of some teaching upon who we hear saying it or who the author of a particular book is? In other words, are there some people whose words we always accept and others whom we always reject simply because of who they are?
For example: Have you ever read anything *that a teacher from a different denomination* has said that is the truth? I have. But that does not mean that if I quote a particular statement from *that* author, and give him credit, that I support all *his* doctrine or everything that he is writing. But there are some who would say that to quote *that* author (in a positive light) is to approve of all that they teach. In other words, you are guilty by association.
But in reality, the only reason one might quote that author on that particular subject is because he sees it as truth expressed in an excellent fashion. His agreement with that author is only limited to the quote. Furthermore, his convictions are probably based upon much more than just that quote. I would hope that an appeal to what the Bible actually says about the subject was the first and primary source considered in formulating his convictions. To assume anything more than that is to be guilty of pronouncing one guilty by association.
Why is guilt by association wrong?
1. It is a product of prejudice. Prejudice means that one prejudges another without knowing all the facts or based upon outward appearance alone. Prejudice is a sin. In James 2:1-4 says, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” This is one of many passages that condemns the sin of prejudice. Note how one pronounces one as worthy or unworthy based upon appearance alone and without all the facts.
2. It is judging with evil motives. Let it be understood that a part of being godly is making judgments. In spite of what many say about not being judges, if we are to obey God we have to pass judgments. Even in Matthew 7:1-5 where Jesus said, “Judge not that you be not judged” (vs. 1) He clarified by noting that there IS a time to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. This requires judgment. Furthermore, in vs. 6 He said that we are not to cast our pearls (i.e. the truth) before swine which also calls for us to make a judgment. In John 7:24 Jesus said very clearly, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Note how He says there is a time AND a need for judgment, BUT it must be righteous and “not according to appearance” which is what guilty by association involves. In almost every situation where one pronounces guilt by association on another, they have assumed the worst in a given situation and they have done so without all the facts. And that is judging with evil thoughts. Often times, their judgment is also based upon someone or something they didn’t like in the first place. Just like the scribes and Pharisees judged Jesus, whom they did not like, and His associating with sinners, whom they had prejudged.
3. It often divides where division is not needed. Sadly, I understand that there comes a time when division is necessary. Because not all are willing to abide by the truth we have to draw lines for the sake of purity (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6, 2 John 9-11). In addition to this, we must understand that we need to be careful whom we associate with (1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 13:20). But sometimes guilt by association divides people, even brethren, unnecessarily. The one who has made the judgment demands that everyone agree with him about those whom he has judged to be false. If you don’t agree with the one making the demands then you are assumed to be in agreement with his enemy and therefore you are just as guilty.
For these reasons and perhaps others, guilt by association is something we ought to strive to avoid as Christians. What about you? Do you ever find yourself making judgments against others simply because of whom you see them with or perhaps who they are related to? Do you jump to conclusions without gathering all the facts about someone else.
If so, be warned that it was that attitude that caused the enemies of Jesus to crucify Him.
by Thomas a Thornhill Jr