One topic that comes up from time to time is how much interaction and friendship we should have with people who are not believers like you. Let’s say they obviously are “part of this world” and its ways. Should you have friends among those people – or keep them at arm’s length? This comes up regularly among believers, partly because of various scriptures that seem to imply we should not be friends with unbelievers.
But can that possibly be true that we should not have friends among “worldly” unbelievers? For many of my “church friends,” this is the way it is: they just don’t ever hang out with people of the world. All their social activities are focused on just church brethren.
Let me ask the question another way: other than incidental contact you might have with unbelievers at work, or as you shop or go about your daily business, how many of the worldly acquaintances you have would you say are a good friend of yours? Do you invite work associates who are not part of your church fellowship to dinner from time to time, or go out to dinner with them?
Another question: would any of your friends “in the world” even know that you believe in Jesus/Yeshua and love him and your Father in heaven with everything you’ve got?
Besides outright atheists and unbelievers, let’s include now people who don’t believe exactly the same way you do, and don’t attend your church, though they may claim to be believers in Christ. Would some of those be close friends?
True, there’s a scripture that says whoever is a friend of this world is not a friend of God! Note it’s talking about being a friend of the world (it’s ways and philosophy)—not about having friends who are not part of God’s church. Let’s read it:
James 4:4 “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Being a “friend with the world” is when we are indulging in spiritual adultery – being too intimate and close to this world’s ways, recreation, movies, lifestyles, politics, and way of life way too much; like we’re a part of the world; like we’re immersed in Babylon instead of coming “out of her, my people” (Rev. 18:4).
Based on that verse, many have decided over the years that they will severely limit any social contacts and friendships with people of this world. But is being friends “with” the world the same as having friends who are a part of this world and its ways?
There are several principles at play here. What was Yeshua/Jesus’ own example? If Jesus had limited his friendships only to spirit-filled believers, guess what? He’d have had NO friends at all, for the Holy Spirit had not been given yet. That happens in Acts 2.
** Jesus’ own example was striking! Remember, He IS to be our pattern. The most holy and sinless person on the earth often hung around known “sinners.” Terrible sinners. Over and over. And somehow by his own manner, even such horrible sinners were somehow able to feel comfortable around him.
Remember Yeshua did say of one particular woman in Luke 7, that “her sins, which are many…” But these people were drawn to him, and he did not reject them. Tax collectors (publicans) were known cheats and thieves, and yet Jesus/Yeshua picked such a man –- Matthew, also called Levi -- to be one of the 12 apostles whose name will forever be emblazoned on the foundation stones of the walls around heavenly Jerusalem! (Revelation 21:14).
He even called Judas “friend” on the very night Judas betrayed him. (Matthew 26:50), an actual fulfillment of Psalm 41:9. Even his religious attackers --like the Pharisees – invited him to dinner and he had dinner with them as well (Luke 7:39; 11:37). Would you accept a dinner with a rabbi or catholic priest? I think Yeshua would. Yeshua DID – with the rabbis and religious leaders of his day.
It was this very criticism leveled at Yeshua -- that he had horrible sinners as his friends – that actually was the backdrop to the wonderful parables of God’s love and joy when we repent in Luke 15. Stories like the lost coin, lost sheep, the prodigal son. Look at the backdrop:
Luke 15:1-3 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying…” and then the parable of the lost sheep and the others come.
Do people ever say that about us? They did about our Savior! His example says to us that it’s great to have unbelieving friends.
** We are the light and salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). If our light is confined to areas and to people who are already full of light (where there are a lot of true believers), what benefit is your light? Even a small match in a room full of darkness will always defeat the darkness. Light always wins. Always.
Si if we’re never around people of the world, how can we shine the light of the gospel and of our living God and Savior around them, to lighten up their path? We are supposed to be a comfortable and much-appreciated light – not a spotlight blinding their eyes! “LET your light so shine…” Again, don’t hide your light.
Matthew 5:14-16 – “Your lives light up the world. For how can you hide a city that stands on a hilltop? And who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light! LET it shine brightly before others…”
When Matthew the tax collector was called to be a disciple, he threw a “Matthew party” inviting all his friends – who of course included many other cheating tax collectors. And Jesus was there. Please read Luke 5:27-32.
** Notice what Paul teaches us. He had told the Corinthian brethren in 1 Corinthians 5 to cast out the church brother who was openly and defiantly participating in ongoing sex sins. He explained we should not be close friends with someone called a brother or sister who is continuing in such sins. Paul later, by the way, in 2 Corinthians 2, told them to bring that disfellowshipped sinner back in to fellowship, as he had since repented and turned from his evil ways. Paul said show him some love (2 Cor. 2:6-10) and let him be restored to their fellowship and love. Don’t leave repentant brethren out there by themselves!
So then the question came up, “but what about sinful people in the world? Can we be friends with them – or should we treat them like we would brethren who continue to live a life of sin, and have nothing to do with them?”
Here is Paul’s response – and again, I remind you that Jesus had many friends in the world.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did NOT mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who IS sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside GOD judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."
He says – yes, have friends in the world, sinners or not.
And I add: how else could we shine our lights?
I’m not saying we go get drunk with them, or go to topless bars or Christmas parties. I’m not saying all that. But yes, be a friend to them. Sooner or later the opportunities come up where our conversations could lead them to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that part of our great commission? To make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).
So yes, I have good friends “in the world” from work, or in our neighborhood or with unconverted family members. I stop and talk with my neighbors. We invite them over for tea/muffins or a full dinner. I’ve played darts with them once or twice a week, though I may curtail that just for time’s sake for a while now. We’ve attended shows with people of the world. We mingle with various ones for outings and dinners. Yes, I’m talking about people who keep Christmas, Easter and pagan holidays and don’t know Christ – but I do not attend Christmas parties! I’m hoping I’ll be able to be used by God to help bring some to a close relationship with their Savior, and to learn the truths of the Bible. I want to introduce them to the workings of God’s Holy Spirit -- as our God loves to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
I don’t use those times to pester them about the Bible -- but Bible topics do come up. They know what I believe. I do mention my Savior and my God.
So I hope you understand: we are not to be friends of the world and its ways and its sins. Yeshua said his disciples, including us, “are not of the world” (John 15:19; 17:14-16). But like Jesus/Yeshua –we are friendly with the PEOPLE of the world. Even most Holy God himself loved the people so much that he let his own begotten son pay the penalty for all of our sins; for all who will accept his sacrifice. That’s a lot of love for some pretty awful people! He's our example. So we – like God -- love the people even while recognizing the evil many of them are involved in. So we pray for them, bless them, we even forgive them when they hurt us – and so yes, we have friends who are part of this world, just like Jesus/Yeshua did!