Updated: Oct 17
By Drew Zuverink
"Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Parents often tell their children to choose their friends wisely. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:33 "Bad company corrupts good morals." And Proverbs 13:20 says "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise." And it's true, we tend to become like the people we are around most often.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons the Pharisees were against Jesus eating with sinners. Perhaps they assumed that hanging around people who were living sinful lifestyles would rub off on them. Perhaps their solution to this was to avoid any kind of a relationship with them. Because after all, God wants us to live holy and godly lives, so shouldn't we avoid people who are living in sin? Won't their sin entice us into sin ourselves?
It very well could and we shouldn't be naive about that. We all have sinful passions and desires inside of us that can be tempted and we should always be aware of situations that could lead us into sin. This is especially true for younger or newer Christians who might be more vulnerable. But do we really believe that the best solution to avoiding sin is to avoid friendships with unbelievers? In our pursuit of a godly lifestyle should we treat people who aren't Christians as the enemy? Are they sinful "lepers" who will infect us with their sin if we get too close? Absolutely not!
Jesus wants his Church to play offense. Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it." Gates are defensive measures. Jesus intends for his church to storm the gates of hell and overpower it. This world is filled with evil and darkness and Christ wants us to bring goodness and light into it. He also uniquely equips us with power to do this. 1 John 4:4 says "You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." With the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit we are no longer an underdog in our fight against sin.
So like Jesus we ought to seek friendships with unbelievers. And if you already have a good friendship with someone who isn't a Christian, great! Enjoy that friendship. Love them deeply and care for them genuinely - in all aspects of life. Invite them over for dinner and enjoy hobbies you have in common. Don't just invite them to church things, that isn't genuine friendship. It might even be helpful to let them know, "Hey, I'd love nothing more than for you to become a Christian because I care for you and I think that's the most important thing in the world. But even if you never end up becoming a Christian, I still love you and that will never change."
Jesus viewed sinners as spiritually sick people who needed a doctor and so he spent time with them. He did not view them as spiritually sick people whose contagions might infect him. We ought to view unbelievers the same way. They are not people to be avoided, they're people to show the love of God to and a great way to do that is by becoming a great friend to them.
Tragically not every Christian is equipped to do this. Some Christians are too immature in their faith and if their main friends were unbelievers living in sin, they too would participate. Immature Christians are more likely to be influenced by others than to be a good influence on others. It would be best for these kinds of Christians to focus on maturing in Christ before seeking to influence others for Christ. This is one of the many reasons why laziness in our Christian walk is so egregious. It affects more than just us as individuals.
But nevertheless, the ideal is for mature Christians to enjoy friendships with believers and unbelievers alike with the simple goal of caring for people holistically. Ultimately we would love nothing more than for all of our friends to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, but even if they don't, we should continue to love them just the same. And who knows, maybe that kind of unconditional love might be what opens the door for the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts.
So friends who are not Christians, hear us loud and clear. WE LOVE YOU!