What does the Bible say about friendship with unbelievers?

Steve Lenk

Is it possible for a Christian to have close friendships with unbelievers and be pleasing to God at the same time? This is an important question, especially if you give your life to God and your close friends or family members do not, or you want to win an unbeliever to Christ.

When you choose to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, He offers you the way to overcome sin as He did and become free and filled with joy. (John 10:10) When you are faithful, you will become His bride and coworker throughout all of eternity. (Revelation 3:21) But are there human relationships that can jeopardize this highly exalted calling?

What do I value?

When Jesus spoke to people, this was often one of the topics He addressed: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:37. Sometimes such relationships can prevent you from doing what you know to be God’s will for your life. Maybe others will be offended by decisions you make, or tell you that serving God or doing His will is not so important, or that it is outdated or misunderstood, but to maintain a good relationship with them you deny what you deep down know is right. It was these considerations for human relationships and opinions that Jesus was referring to.

Jesus valued the will of God above all earthly bonds

One time, Jesus’ own mother and brothers wanted to speak with Him amid a gathering of people and He replied: “Who is My mother, or My brothers? … For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” Mark 3:33-35. Jesus valued the will of God above all earthly bonds. For the sake of preserving an earthly relationship, we do not want to be found as the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:12, “without Christ, … having no hope and without God in the world.” This will be of eternal loss for ourselves and maybe even for those we care about.

Unequally yoked

Paul also writes, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers… for what part has a believer with an unbeliever?” 2 Corinthians 6:13-15. In the Old Testament, God commanded Israel not to use two different types of animals to plow the same field because on of them would hinder the other from doing its work. Paul uses this example as a comparison to trying to preserve a close relationship with people who have not made the same commitment to God that we have, who do not have the same goal to become Jesus’ pure and spotless bride.

How can the friendship be dangerous?

Jesus said it was a narrow way that only few would find. (Matthew 7:13-14) We are very easily drawn away from our calling to overcome as Jesus Himself overcame. By nature we are very prone to seeking the approval of our friends. Yet Jesus says of Himself: “I do not receive honor from men.” John 5:41. Paul writes straight out—without a shadow of doubt: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33. Why does he take this so seriously? It is in the nature of things that believers and unbelievers have different goals, interests and values. We people all have our own will that is contrary to God’s will, and are very weak. We are also easily influenced by each other, and our own human will is easily swayed to find “the way of least resistance”, which almost always means another way than God’s will. Spending time with unbelievers and their influence can make it hard to do Gods will, cloud your vision for victory, and even drain you of your desire to live for God.

Spending time with unbelievers… can make it hard to do Gods will, cloud your vision for victory, and even drain you of your desire to live for God

Can’t I win them for Christ?

“But what if I want to win them for Christ?” you may wonder. “How can I do that if I break off my relationship with them?” Paul’s testimony can help clarify this: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all that I might win the more…” 1 Corinthians 9:19. Paul had to first become free from people before he could then be strong enough to try to lead them to Christ. It is important that we are honest with ourselves in such matters because it will often have a disastrous effect if we try to help those we are not truly free from. As we see in the case of Solomon who married foreign wives: “For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.” 1 Kings 11:4.
If, for the sake of preserving our relationship with God, we break off, limit or prevent a human relationship in our lives, God will more than compensate for this faithfulness. “So Jesus answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time…’” Mark 10:29-30.

It is important that we are honest with ourselves

We can also become an example to all those we care for in hopes that they too can receive the blessings of a life in God. There is no greater love we can show them than this, even though they may interpret our actions as just the opposite. But if we bear this misunderstanding and remain faithful to God, these verses will be fulfilled in our lives: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål

You might also be interested in our theme page about Overcoming sin.

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