A Hard Question: Should Christians be Friends with Unbelievers?

I realize that the content of this particular post may be confusing and easily misunderstood. Read through it fully before you come to any conclusions about what I am saying. For more on this theme, I wrote a follow up post that should clear up any misunderstandings. Blessings. 

This isn’t a hard question in the sense that it took me much time to mull over and find a good answer to. It’s a hard question because the answer I will give you will likely be different than the one you’re thinking I will give.

“Christians shouldn’t be friends with non-Christians.”

That was the statement my roommate at Ellerslie made once, and it stuck with me. Of course, at the time, I disagreed with him; how else is a Christian to impact the world aside from being friends with those in it? However, it recently came to mind again, and, after some study, I think I agree with him.

In our American society, we have defiled and degraded the real meaning of friendship. Pause a moment, and think about it: how many Facebook “friends” do you have? How many of those do you actually see on a regular basis? How many do you talk to outside of Facebook? Yet we still consider them our “friends” when, in reality, they’re practically strangers to us. Dr. Baarendse, one of my brother’s professors, said in an essay, “Facebook has inflated the definition of friendship and thus devalued it. A friend used to be solid currency you could bank on: David and Jonathan, John Newton and William Cowper, John and Abigail Adams, Lewis and Tolkien. Diana is Anne Shirley’s bosom friend; Hopeful comforts Christian in Doubting Castle and lifts his face above the icy waters of the Jordan. In Facebook’s world, friend has come to mean casual acquaintance.”

But what is a friend, and why was my roommate convinced that Christians should not be friends with unbelievers (this has nothing to do with who’s your “friend” on Facebook, by the way)? Looking into scripture, I found a much more powerful definition of what it means to be a friend.

Friends share intimate council with one another:

In Exodus 33:11, it says that “the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” Abraham is called “the friend of God”, not because God shared a meal with him, but because God shared intimate knowledge with Abraham, even giving Abraham an opportunity to object to God’s plans (Gen. 18:23-33). If a friend is one with whom we can share intimate council with and receive advice from them, that should not be an unbeliever, because their counsel wouldn’t come from God’s Word, but from their own ideas, which may not be right.

Friends love one another at all times:

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Some commentators have said that this verse could be translated in this fashion: “A friend loves at all times and becomes as a brother in adversity.” Proverbs 18:24 goes even further in saying that “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” Through thick and thin, friends band together, as allies in war. We are in a war, between the powers of darkness and light. You want allies around you who will not draw you towards the enemy, but towards the King’s side; how can someone not on the King’s side help you do that?

Friends sharpen countenances:

The phrase, “Iron sharpens iron” is very well known, and comes from Proverbs 27:17, which states, “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” When two friends meet and talk, at the end of the night, they both ought to be better off than they were an hour before. This goes back to sharing intimate counsel with your friends. Whether it’s a discussion on scripture, or simply life issues, friends always strive to better the other where they are lacking. Tolkien and Lewis, who were good friends, critiqued one another on their books, essays, stories, and thoughts, and because of it, they were that much better. Some even speculate that the character Treebeard in Lord of the Rings is the way Tolkien pictured Lewis. As a question, if we are turning to unbelievers to sharpen us, particularly spiritually, the result will more than often be a dulling of the spirit. Unbelievers don’t think spiritually; how then can we expect them to refresh our spirits?

Friends are willing to say and do things that hurt the other:

Proverbs 27:6 tells us that, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” So often the enemy slays us spiritually with comfort and ease; but God pushes us onward with discomfort and hardship. I can attest to the fact that being rebuked by a friend hurts. You don’t want to be hurt, but in order to grow you know there must be pain. They sit you down, and say, “Listen we need to talk about something…” and then they proceed to tell you something you don’t want to hear. But it’s exactly what you need to hear. They are willing to tell you when you’ve messed up and when you need to fix something. Only a true friend will do that. Can you find that in the world, which so often laughs at our standards instead of reinforcing them?

Friends lay down their lives for each other:

Christ said to His disciples in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” It is one thing to call someone your friend; the ultimate test is when it comes down to your life or theirs. Paul tells us in Romans 5:7, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. (NIV)” It is a rare thing to find the type of man or woman who would literally give their lives that you might live. If you have such a friend, you are very blessed. Such a friend will stand beside you through thick and thin. Would a person, living in the world and in selfishness, be willing to do such a thing as that?

We have degraded friendship to mean something very small, when Scripture calls it something grand. I do not think a Christian should have an unbeliever in their intimate counsel, as those that help them along life’s way. Do not think that I am saying a Christian should never associate with unbelievers. That would be silly and erroneous. What I mean to ask you is, who is your intimate counsel? Who loves you at all times? Who sharpens your countenance? Who is willing to wound and rebuke you when necessary? Who is willing to lay down their life for yours? Are you that type of friend?

There truly is only one friend who can and will stand by you forever. Circumstances may separate you from your earthly friends; even if they are the type of man or woman as described above, there will come a day when you are all alone. What then? Who shall you stand by? The only Faithful Friend, Jesus Christ. He said that “Greater love has no man than this”; and He meant it, proved it by giving His own life that we may live eternally. When there are none to guide you, let Him be your Counselor. When there are none to love you, let Him show you His everlasting love. When there are none to purify you, let His consuming fire burn you. When there are none to rebuke you, let Him search you and try you. And know that He has laid down His life that you might live. Let Him be your Friend, First in your heart; He shall stick closer than a brother, forevermore.

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  1. #1 by Cathie on February 7, 2012 - 8:04 am

    Actually, I think it goes beyond whether Christians should be friends with unbelievers, or not. Unfortunately, too many people mis-use too many words. “Friends”, as you accurately illustrated, are not always “friends”, especially on Facebook – though it has been a good marketing term for that business. Just as “normal” is not always an accurate word for much of the way people behave on a daily basis. I think the word that best describes such would be “usual”. “Normal” implies “acceptable”. All this comes from where? I believe it comes from parents not teaching their children the true definitions of words so that they may use them appropriately – both in speaking as well as in action. When the children don’t get the proper guidance at home, then go out into the world mis-using words – nobody there corrects them either – hence a society or generation that ends up believing that it is acceptable to do “whatever” simply because “everyone” is doing it / saying it – (this is where much of our “slang” comes from). (Think about derogatory words, too.) Now that doesn’t mean I advocate for imposing judgement on others, but I do think many times people mis-using a word such as friend, acquaintance, normal, usual, gay, fag, etc., or any other descriptive word (even as slang – as opposed to being hateful) can be very unfortunate and even sometimes sad.

    All that said, I think your endeavor to honor Christ with your own close relationship to Him as well as taking the time to reflect on your human relationships is admirable. It’s not always easy to walk the fine line of being a true friend (as well as someone who can be open to nurturing relationships that could become deeper) verses keeping in mind that we are all called to love (not necessarily “like”) as we try to Honor Thy Neighbor (not always easy to do this either).

    : )

    • #2 by Nik E. on February 8, 2012 - 1:09 am

      Thank you for your comments. I agree with you. We should be careful how we throw around words with deeper meanings, or even simply using a word improperly. I think there should be evidence in our lives of there being deeper circles as well. What I mean is, certain people have access to you that others don’t. Your children come before your acquaintances, and your spouse before them. All in all, I know I’ve been convicted by what I’ve studied, and how I’ve misused the word “friend”, among other things. Thank you for your encouragement! Blessings!

  1. The Temple Pattern: Friendship Pt. 2 « Oratio Sanctus

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