Lately I’ve had quite a few conversations with people where I’ve heard this phrase repeated, “we’re supposed to be “friends” with unbelievers, but not close friends…and if we are friends with them then our main purpose in that friendship should be to lead them to Jesus”. The first time I heard this it perked my “spiritual ears” a bit and really made me stop and think about whether I even agreed with them. Something in me just didn’t really resonate with something that was being said there. Even deeper than that, there was almost a sense of fear behind that statement, as if they were really worried that hanging out with them too much might have a negative impact on their own lives as well.
I will be the first one to admit that you always need to be careful who you are hanging around with, because those people do have an influence over your life, you tend to do what your good friends are doing. Also, if you are following God and trying to live your life a certain way, you are bound to take certain activities out of your lifestyle altogether, and if your friends are still doing those activities then it does make it hard to hang out with them.
I have to say, for myself, that I don’t agree with that statement about who our friends are to be as believers, everything in me cries out “no”! In my heart, I truly feel that we are called to be salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-14), and how can we possibly do that if we aren’t loving people and being their real friend? If we are closing ourselves off to “outsiders”, then we’ve lost our reason for being here on this earth. Jesus says “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35 NIV) We can always say that our lifestyle should be showing Jesus to them, but Jesus always intended the gospel to be so much more interactive than that!
If we are constantly building up our walls against others and pointing out their flaws before we even show them how much we care, then how will they ever see the love that Jesus wants us to show them? Statistics say that within the first 2 years of a person becoming a believer in Jesus, they have completely separated themselves from their old friends and now only associate with believers. The reasons for this are very simple: 1) This is who they are around more often now, and 2) They are trying to move forward and cut out old habits, and in doing so cut out the friends who are still participating in those habits.
I get this, I really do! But sisters and brothers, there needs to be a time when we’re so confident in our faith that we’re no longer afraid of the world outside our homes and church doors. There has to be a day when we decide to “show up” to all that’s going on in the world (even if it’s not entirely “Christian” in nature) and meet some people that might shake up our comfort zones a little. My heart is breaking for a lost world that doesn’t even know it’s lost, and we – the people of Jesus – have forgotten how to interact with them. We have to get to a place where we can live out those commandments to love God and love each other (not just the easy ones).
Recently I had a conversation with my pastor, Joe Canal, about this, and this is what he had to say:
“It’s just very important that we respond to the Holy Spirit when He opens those doors for us. And I don’t think that we should love people just to get them ‘saved’. I think most people are smart enough to sense whether we sincerely care about them or just see them as a ‘project’. But I do think that the most valuable thing I bring to any relationship is my love for and knowledge of Jesus Christ and I should always be ready to share His love with others.”
What do you think about this topic? Do you find it hard to be friends with unbelievers if you’re a Christian? Please feel free to share in the comments below!
Remember, conversations are open, but only in a respectful manner.