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Guilt by Association


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

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3 comments on “Guilt by Association

  1. The article “Guilt by Association” is a very sound and spot-on reminder of one of the ways the devil can destroy the work of God. While the fallen has effectively used this tool to divide and to destroy good works it has also been used to prevent the work of God from ever getting off the ground because of the mistrust a misconception may present.

    America thrives on appearance and no matter what is promoted the eye will only accept the image that justifies their individual concept of truth, pleasure or righteousness. As a result advertising, politics and even religion invest a lot of time cultivating the image of truth, pleasure or trust based upon repetitive stimulation that bears little in the way of substance but is designed to leave the heart pleased in its promise.

    Judgment of others then becomes based upon a perception of truth that has already been programmed ahead of time to produce a practiced response to a given situation. Once human behavior becomes predictable it can be maintained, bent, changed or manipulated as driven by those whom direct its course.

    But of course in a ‘free society’ like America one does not recognize that they could possibly be a victim of a shadowy evil and will fight tooth and nail to uphold their innocence. But that is precisely what the enemy intends for us to do. Rather than consider our ways before the LORD we may tend to ignore Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it!”

    After all this is a country that can validate every lifestyle, religion or political call and so long as we are able to craft our own self-image we become too busy to hear the One Voice we need because we may have already confused His Voice with our own. Guilt by association is a false judgment practiced upon others but ‘righteous association’ can also be a practice by which we may condemn ourselves to a life of perceived innocence when we are guilty.
    Proverbs 16:2 says that “All the ways of man are clean in his own eyes, but the LORD shall judge the spirits!” Those spirits are the things that we trust, the motivation that moves us and the justification that keep us going.

    Unfortunately, “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world!” (James 1: 27)
    How many personally practice caring for widows and the fatherless? How many feed the hungry, visit the sick, the imprisoned or cared for strangers as Jesus Christ taught in Matthew 25? Are these things left for the church, the government or to be done by others? Are we not taught to love? Am I also a victim of ‘Righteous association’ because I don’t have quite enough love in my heart to do as Christ asked? Perhaps I’m just too busy living the American dream to have compassion or just too distracted to spend time with God so that He may provide His love for others in my heart.

    Obviously it appears that I am also condemning the church, Christians and calling many guilty by association because I feel that there are not enough servants of God working His will, of which, I have no right to do. Rather I would encourage that we consider our ways before the LORD to allow our Savior to finish His work in us to make us ready as His bride. Revelations 19:7 says: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready!”

    As any wife would, she is willing to choose to give herself in marriage to her husband. To submit to their union and to do the things that brings happiness and peace to their marriage. No marriage can last if one or the other refuses to share their time, life and work with their love. The bride must MAKE HERSELF READY. Now is that time. Please be ready by becoming a servant first like the wise virgin. Amen.

  2. I agree brother. Maybe it would be best when quoting from someone who holds a spurious christianity that we clarify our quoting of them by possibly saying something like, “Well though so and so is usually wrong about most things, nevertheless they did get it right on this point” Maybe something to that effect.

  3. Thank you both for the positive comments guys…i expected a negative response to this post. :-)

    Does anyone believe this ugly habit we’ve acquired of guilt by association, not only stopped us from accepting truth when its found, but has become an even worse habit due to the internet?

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