Some of my friends and acquaintances are agnostics, atheists, a few friends just do not know what they believe yet. A few friends are homosexual, and quite a few more are living in a cycle of habitual sin of various kinds. I did not grow up as a Christian, so a lot of my friendships dating back farther than 2011 are most likely not what I would call “God friends.” Does that make these friendships wrong?
YES. This side of the argument usually cites scriptures such as Ephesians 5 which explains that we are children of the light, and advises against participating in the darkness of others. Another popular verse I have heard is 2 Corinthians 6:14 which states that believers ought not to be yoked together with unbelievers (though this is usually applied to the marriage relationship, which I want to make clear: I am not discussing marriage; I am talking about friendships only) and asks what righteousness and wickedness have in common, what fellowship light has with darkness.
NO. On this side, I have found that Romans 3:23 tends to be the popular verse: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (NIV). In my opinion and assessment of the use of this verse in this debate is meant to humble the perceived self-righteousness of those that would side with the previous points, drawing attention to the fact that we are all sinners. Romans 5:8 states that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Another point I hear often on this side is that Jesus spent more time with sinners than He did with religious leaders, but we will get to that in a second. There is also the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 that calls all of the followers of Jesus to carry His name into all the corners of the world – which includes speaking to and associating ourselves with those who do not know Him.
If both supporting arguments are supported by the Bible, what is a girl to do?
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT)
I think when we are challenged regarding our friendships or associations with those outside of the Body of Christ; we should always come back to this: follow the example of Christ.
Mark 2:14-17 tells of Jesus being called out by the Pharisees for dining with tax collectors and sinners. But Jesus rebuts this by pointing out that those who are healthy (righteous) do not need a doctor, but those who are sick (bound by sin) do. In John 4:7-26, Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman. This was scandalous at the time because Jews simply did not talk to Samaritans, but He sat down beside her anyway, willing to meet her where she was and offered her grace and forgiveness.
These interactions did not equate to condoning sinful behavior, they were opportunities to share Himself.
How can we live this out?
Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2:4 NLT)
Jesus’ kindness and love for us is what drew us into repentance. So why do we assume that rejection and judgment will work on the non-believing world today? Rather, because Jesus loved us first, we are to love one another – not just other Christians, but love everyone. Enemies included. (1 John 4:19)
“I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know His master’s business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father, I have made known to you.” (John 15:13-15 NLT)
Just because Jesus interacted regularly with sinners does not mean He kept every one of these people close. He had followers numbering into the thousands, but He had a group that did life with Him and knew Him more personally. These of course were the twelve: Simon, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Matthew, Thomas, James the Lesser, Judas, Thaddeus, and Bartholomew.
These were conditional friendships; even though Christ’s love was unconditional and His invitations were broad, the conditions of these invitations narrowed them so greatly that only a few actually accepted them. No one was pushed away, but not all would accept His offer. In Matthew 8:19-22, two men miss the opportunity of friendship with Christ because they were unwilling to accept the conditions. There was a cost to following Jesus.
Then Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV)
Jesus’ sole purpose here on earth was to do the will of His Father. What set the twelve apart was that they were all moving together toward fulfilling the will of God.
So, how does this look in our lives?
Pray about it. At the Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30), Jesus prays over His friends, “Yours they were and you gave them to me.” His friendships were provided by God. If we are without “God friends” or are questioning which friendships to pursue, we should be seeking the Holy Spirit to reveal these to us.
Jesus’ Close Friends:
Within the twelve, Jesus had three with which He shared more intimate experiences and who knew Him better because of them: John, James, and Peter. They were shoulder to shoulder with Jesus in some of the highest and lowest moments.
In Mark 9:2-13, they were witness to the Transfiguration. They saw Him in glory with their own eyes as He shared a conversation with Elijah and Moses and God spoke an audible blessing over His Son.
Again in Mark 14, Peter, John, and James were invited into the garden of Gethsemane where they were asked to watch over Him as He prayed just before He was arrested and ultimately crucified. His soul was crushed and He openly wrestled with this:
“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of offering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:32 NLT)
What is our life application here?
Pray about this, too. God will give us friends to do life with, and likewise, He will help to cultivate friendships within that group that will naturally grow closer.
Jesus’ Best Friend:
Jesus had a BFF, called “the beloved disciple.” John did the most to bless the world with the love of Christ and is perhaps the disciple most like Jesus.
John calls himself “the disciple that Jesus loved” throughout the book of John which may sound a little proud, but it is actually an attempt to put the focus on Jesus. He knew the love of Christ so intimately that his own love for Jesus paled in comparison.
John was a faithful best friend, though. Nowhere is this display of devotion and trust between John and Jesus more evident that at the cross. The only disciple to have been at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified was John. And Jesus trusted John’s heart so much that He left His mother in John’s care.
Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple to her into his home. (John 19:25-27 NLT)
Jesus would have stepped right into the life of anybody. His love was and still is completely unconditional. But even though Jesus invited the masses to follow Him during His time on earth, only twelve were considered to be His friends and they were those that were willing to take up their crosses and work toward that common goal: to do the will of the Father. And within that twelve, three were the closest, and one was the most beloved and trusted.
So is it wrong to be friends with people outside of the church? No, not really. But when it comes to those who we confide in, share our most intimate moments and do life with, Christ’s example teaches us that we should be pursuing a shared mission – His mission – with these friends. Those closest to us should be those joining us at His feet to learn, grow, and be transformed as we work out our salvation. They should be those that encourage us and hold us accountable in our friendships outside of the Body as we move toward showing this broken world what love really looks like.