Many Christians struggle with finding a balance between friendships within the church and those outside. We all have friends and family members who are either Christians or are living a worldly lifestyle, and we might wonder, how can we influence those who are living in the world without becoming like the world?
When talking about balancing Christian and non-Christian friendships, we are really speaking of balancing two responsibilities we have as followers of God: surrounding ourselves with spiritually strong people and reaching out to those in the world who are lost. Through Christ, God has given us a pattern in His Word to follow when interacting with those of the world. Let’s look to our ultimate Example – Jesus Christ – and draw some points that will help us to cultivate spiritually influential relationships.
First of all, in everything we do, we must keep the purpose of Jesus alive. He sums up His purpose while on earth in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” If we profess to follow Christ, we too must take on this mission, and it must influence every aspect of our lives. We can apply this purpose in godly relationships by encouraging fellow Christians in their walk with the Lord, continually pointing them to Him (Hebrews 10:24; 1 John 1:7). In reaching out to our lost friends, we apply this purpose by showing them the Way to salvation (John 14:6). In our relationships with others, we must always keep our mission in mind: can we, while in this relationship, stay faithful to God? Can we effectively obey Christ’s command to go into all the world? If not, we must reconsider the purpose of that relationship.
Second, we must surround ourselves with those of a “like precious faith” (2 Peter 1:1). These are those who hold their faith precious to them, a faith of the same foundation as our own (Matthew 16:16-18). Jesus also surrounded Himself with faithful people. He was not popular with many; rather, He chose twelve men who would be the closest people to Him during His three short years of ministry (Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19). John notes that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (11:5), and also speaks of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (19:26; 21:20), whom we assume to be the apostle and writer John himself. We, like Christ, must surround ourselves with those who will encourage us spiritually. 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” It is only when we have a firm foundation of godly relationships can we then stand firm in our faith regarding friendships with those outside of Christ and effectively influence them for Him.
Third, we must reach out to our friends and family who are lost in sin. Every action Jesus took held the purpose of bringing the lost to God, and that meant spending time with them (Matthew 11:19; John 9:4). This is why He was often criticized for befriending tax collectors and sinners, two of the most frowned-upon classes of society in that day (Matthew 9:9-13). Jesus influenced Zacchaeus, a rich man with a poor reputation, by eating and staying with him (Luke 19:1-10). Even to Judas, an apostle turned traitor, was Jesus loving and kind (Matthew 26:25; Luke 22:48). Jesus stressed the importance of seeking out the lost because He had what they needed: salvation.
We can approach the world in the same way: aware of the danger of sin, yet even more aware of what sinners need: His salvation. We don’t have to separate ourselves from the world in order to avoid becoming like the world; in fact, we are commanded to do the exact opposite. Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men”, but we cannot become fishers of men unless we are out in the water (Matthew 4:19; 28:19; John 17:15). We can do this in two ways:
- Gently warn others about unhealthy friendships. Haven’t we seen how one under the world’s influence can weaken a Christian’s faith? We know that “evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33), so we must be sure to stand firm in our faith.
- Reach out together. Often as Jesus reached out to the world, He took his friends and apostles with Him. Our influence can be doubly effective when we take our godly companions with us, rather than reaching out alone.
How can we balance our godly friendships and our responsibility to reach out to the lost? By taking control of our sphere of influence. We can reach our friends and family in the world by eagerly receiving the godly influence from our Christian relationships and extending that influence to the world.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).