“Be friendly with everyone. Don't be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.” (Romans 12:16 CEV)
In The Message paraphrase, 2 Corinthians 5:20b is rendered: “Become friends with God; he's already a friend with you.” That’s the message we’re to take to the world, yet often we limit our influence by seeking and maintaining friendships exclusively among other believers.
Jesus, on the other hand, sought out the lost, deliberately becoming friends with those who needed a friend in God.
The Bible says that when the Pharisees saw Jesus keeping company with the community’s great unwashed, “they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. ‘What kind of example is this from your teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?’ Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: “I’m after mercy, not religion.” I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders’” (Matthew 9:10-13 MSG).
Jesus knew who he was, according to God’s design; Jesus knew whose he was, according to God’s truth; and Jesus knew his purpose for being here on Earth. All this allowed him to relax and ignore what others thought or said about him.
It meant Jesus wasn’t worried when others accused him of being a friend of sinners (Luke 19:7) because he was doing exactly what the Father sent him to do: persuade men and women to make peace with God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Likewise, we’re to represent Jesus, speaking on his behalf to those still on the “outside.” Yet some of us are so isolated and disconnected from unbelievers that we rarely have any meaningful conversations with them. The tendency is that the longer we’re believers, the more insulated we become from unbelievers and perhaps the more uncomfortable we become with them.
The result: We no longer have friends who are non-believers.
Jesus’ actions suggest that our witness to a non-believer starts with friendship: We earn the right to share the Gospel through relationship. The old cliché is a cliché because it’s true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Those who have yet to become friends with God are just like you and me, looking for deep, true, supportive friendships, sometimes especially during the Christmas season.
The Apostle Paul encourages us to find common ground with non-believers: “I do this to get the Gospel to them and also for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 LB). Finding common ground is an act of friendship; it guides us to look for the positive instead of the negative in those outside the faith.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he pointed to what they had in common rather than the things he could condemn (John 4). As a result, she not only became friends with God; she also brought her friends and family into the presence of Jesus.
What does this mean?
- Do you know who you are? This is critical for you to become friends with non-believers. Otherwise, you may overly worry about what others believers think of you, or you may drift into sinful behaviors because you become concerned about what non-believers think about you. Jesus knew who he was and whose he was, and Jesus knew God’s purpose for his life. This allowed him to relax and ignore what others thought or said about him.
- Love people, not their values. God loves people (John 3:16), but that doesn’t mean he loves the values of the world. The Apostle John warns us not to “love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father” (1 John 2:15 MSG).
- Building friendships requires:
- Courtesy: “Always talk pleasantly and with a flavor of wit but be sensitive to the kind of answer each one requires.” (Colossians 4:6 NJB)
- Frequency: You have to spend time with non-believers in order to become friends with them.
- Authenticity: “Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it.” (Romans 12:9a MSG)
- Be friendly with everyone: “Don't be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people.” (Romans 12:16 CEV)
Jon Walker is managing editor of Rick Warren’s Daily Hope Devotionals and senior editor at Pastors.com. He was vice president of communications at Purpose Driven Ministries.
Jon’s new book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer's Classic Work “Life Together’’, explains why every believer needs to be involved in a small group and why small groups put flesh on the Body of Christ.