Further thoughts on Christian friendships
"You are the light of the world...let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:14a, 16 - NIV)
In response to some great questions following last week’s devotional on Christian friendships, allow me to respond to some of the feedback.
Some have wondered, "If I remove myself from friendship with non-Christians, won’t I be cutting off the opportunity to be ‘light and salt’ to them?"
The nerve we touched seems to involve the fine line between our need to be a Christian influence with unbelievers while still maintaining the integrity of a strong walk with Christ.
First, it helps to understand the three basic levels of friendship: acquaintance, casual and intimate (best friends).
Acquaintances are people with whom we have only occasional contact people at PTA meetings, tennis classes, Bible studies and so on.
Casual friendships are based on common interests.
Activities may be planned together, occasional phone calls made and fairly superficial things are discussed.
These first two kinds rarely hold much commitment or emotional depth.
Yet both of these levels of friendship are necessary to emotional health and witnessing for Christ.
Intimate friendships, on the other hand, are both rare and powerful in their influence.
As they say, if you reach the end of life with two best, intimate friendships, you are rich.
Intimate friendship is the closest thing to a sibling bond on the planet.
Your best friend knows your deepest secrets and holds them safely in the vault of loyalty.
You know that no matter what you say or do, your best friend will be there to hold your hand and love you unconditionally.
A best friend will pick you up after a fall, bandage up your skinned knees, smile and take you out for a cup of coffee.
Keeping these distinctions in mind, when I discussed the need to avoid being "unequally yoked" to those who do not share the Christian faith, I was not suggesting Christians become isolationists living on some kind of spiritual island waiting for the return of Christ.
Rather, I was issuing the warning echoed throughout scri pture about becoming too closely yoked to people whose lives are in direct opposition to Christ and His teachings.
"Do not be yoked together [tied, knitted] with unbelievers." (2 Cor. 6:14, NIV)
God’s reason for this warning has always remained the same. Intermingling with the lost on an intimate level could prove to be a snare.
Hence Paul quotes God Himself: "Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself," says God. (2 Cor. 6:17-18, The Message)
But there is also a flip side to this coin.
Paul knew Christians simply could not function in society if they removed themselves from acquaintances and casual friendships.
And this is where I think God intended for the proverbial line in the sand to be drawn.
We must and should have acquaintance and casual level relationships with unbelievers of every stripe.
Let’s look at how the Apostle Paul made this crucial distinction with the Corinthian church.
"I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn’t make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous."
Nestled in the above verse is a key phrase that speaks to the whole issue.
We’re not to "make ourselves at home" among certain individuals. This is speaking about emotional intimacy, of spending lots and lots of time with those not walking with Christ.
(I’m not talking about marriage here. That’s another topic for another day).
Paul then balances the issue by stating what he didn’t mean.
"I didn’t mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort.
"Or with crooks, whether blue or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter.
"You’d have to leave the world entirely to do that!" (1 Cor. 5:9, 10, The Message)
According to this passage, Christians should regularly interact with unbelievers on the acquaintance and casual level.
But there is a line that is unwise to cross.
It has to do with that deepest level of friendships—the "best friends" kind.
Think about the life Jesus led.
We read in the gospels that He regularly interacted with the lost.
"But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’." (Luke 15:2, NIV)
Jesus enjoyed lots of acquaintance and casual level friendships. But do we ever see these same people as His primary traveling companions?
Were they the ones with whom He spent the majority of His time?
Do we see Him pouring His heart out to them like He did His disciples?
Jesus exercised wise discrimination in His acquaintance, casual and intimate friendships.
Christ is our best example.
We should be wise in who we choose as close friends.
And we shouldn’t exclude the lost from the lesser levels.
May God help us to know the difference!
Jeff Wickwire is the pastor of TurningPoint Church in Fort Worth and the author of "Friendships: Avoiding the Ones That Hurt, Finding the Ones That Heal."
Discern between your "casual" and "intimate" friends. Ask the Lord to make you "salt" and "light" to your casual friends while giving you Godly, intimate friends.
"Father, I ask for Your wisdom in my friendships. Allow me to be close to those who will bring me closer to You while impacting those casual friends with Your love."