Is it okay to have friends from other faiths? I hope so! Given the increasing polarization of our culture, limiting our circle of friends to people who share our religious beliefs would just divide us even further! And if we’re to heed Jesus’ call for us to “make disciples as you’re going through life” (my paraphrase of Matthew 28:19), we can’t limit our contacts to people who already believe as we do!
Recently, I wrote an article called “Sharing Faith with Your Friends.” That post focused on ways that we share our faith – both in word and in actions. This post follows up on that, from the perspective that we are called to be “salt and light” in our world. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul calls us to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. In 2 Corinthians 6:14, he cautions us not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. So how do we balance that with the realities of life – and making friends – in a pluralistic culture?
There is a big difference between having friends from other faiths and being “conformed” to their way of thinking. Being “unequally yoked” means more than friendship. I have friends from a number of different circles in my life. Some of my friends have been part of my life for fifty years or more; others are newcomers. My faith and my religious activities provide a natural connection for people who believe as I do. However, there are other avenues for me to meet and develop friendships with people from other faiths. “Making disciples as I’m going,” means engaging with people who don’t already agree with me. That’s not frightening; it’s exciting!
We’re called to follow Jesus’ example. Jesus interacted with many people who did not “share his faith.” While they may have all came from the same religious cultural background, they did not practice that faith as he did. That’s why some of the religious establishment of his day complained about Jesus hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners” (for example, see Matthew 9:11, NASB). His response to comments like that was to point out that a doctor wants to help people who are sick, not those who are well. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). To do that, you have to be with them!
When the apostle Paul went on his missionary journeys, he started by going to Jewish synagogues, and then expanded his ministry to Gentiles. For a Jewish man to associate with Gentiles was unheard of! But God made it clear to Paul that he was to take the good news to everyone – so he did. He talked to kings and governors, to slaves and working people. He wrote to the Corinthians, “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23, NLT). He made friends with people from other faiths!
When I first moved to my current assignment 24 years ago, I soon joined a fitness center so I could try to stay in shape. I like to go early in the morning, and this particular center opened at 5:30. Nearly every morning, I would head to one of the elliptical trainers, and most mornings another man was there next to me. (There were only two ellipticals.). Over the years, I got to know him, and eventually he asked me if I would perform a wedding ceremony for his daughter. Not too long after that, I moved to a different fitness center, and I stopped seeing him.
Years later – on the first Sunday of 2020 – he and his wife walked into our church. I greeted them, and they told me that they felt it was time for them to “get back to church,” so they came to our church – not even knowing if I was still here. They didn’t “share my faith” when we first me, but over time, as we became friends, they came to know what I believe – and ultimately came to faith as well.
That’s an example of “making disciples as you’re going.” But there is a BIG caveat: we don’t make friends from other faiths in order to have “evangelistic targets.” We make friends with people that God leads into our lives because we love our neighbors, and we want to treat them the way we’d like to be treated. We find shared interests, and get to know them. We enjoy spending time with them. As we walk with them, they to see Christ in us; hopefully, they recognize the difference that he makes. We spend time with them, and take an interest in them and their lives. At some point, they may give us the honor of talking to them about Jesus. But even if they don’t, they will have seen his presence in us. Some day, that seed that we’ve planted may sprout and bear fruit.
That reminds us of another important fact: it’s not all up to us! As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6, NLT). If you’ve read my blog very much, you know that my focus is to do what God puts in front of me today, and to trust him with the long-range plan. If he leads someone into my life that I can be a friend to, God has a plan for that. I may or may not know the plan, but I don’t need to. I just need to be a friend to them today. If that plants a seed, God can make it grow. God may want me to be there to water it and tend to it to help it to grow – or he may not. I need to do each day what he reveals to me to do.
Be a friend. Love your neighbor as yourself. (And love your enemies, too. Between “neighbors” and “enemies,” we should understand that God wants us to love everyone.) Do for others what you would like them to do for you. Minister to them. Pray for them. And if they ask, always be ready to explain the reason for your faith. Tell them about Jesus, and how he saved you. Help them to understand that God loves them even more than you do. Trust that God will make that seed grow.
In other words, treat them like the children of God that they are – like God treats us!
Written by: OchriO