Jesus was called a friend of sinners (Mat 11:19). It was meant as a put down, but I think he took it as a compliment. Of course his closest friends were the men and women following him, but in the Gospels we read that he was a friend to many lost people. Jesus spent time with sinners – he reached out to them, talked with them, ate with them (Mat. 9:9-10).
We too are called to be a friend to sinners; a friend to those who do not know God; a friend to the lost. Not just as some kind of ministry duty, but as part of regular life. Like Jesus, our closest friends will likely be (and probably should be) those following God, but that doesn’t mean disconnecting from those outside of Christ. In fact, the apostle Paul makes it clear we should not disassociate from nonbelievers in the world, “since then you would need to go out of the world” (1Cor. 5:10). After all, it is the sick who need a physician (Mat. 9:11-12) and we can introduce them to the only one who can heal them.
Friendship with nonbelievers is a crucial part of spreading the Gospel. Of course you can tell someone you just met about God’s love and grace, but how much more someone you call a friend?
So, what does it mean to be a F.R.I.E.N.D to someone who doesn’t know Jesus? Consider this acrostic:
Find – You may feel that life is already full with family, work, and church and that you don’t have any natural connections with non-Christians. So, be intentional to look for nonbelievers in your existing circles of relationship – neighbors, coworkers, classmates, etc. You may need to consider making new circles of relationships. Maybe get involved in a new club at school, a mom’s playgroup, a sports league, or a social group at work.
Relate – Be the type of person that others want to get to know. Be kind and loving. Ask good questions and listen. Be a person of character and integrity, but also be real and open about your struggles. Discover what you have in common with others and connect about it. It could be something light like a sports team or gardening, or something deep like a marriage struggle or health problem. Don’t make-up a connection, be authentic.
Intercede – As you find a new friend, and begin to relate with him or her, start praying. Pray for their needs – big and small. If you don’t know what to pray for, ask them! Ask God to help you to be a good friend. Pray that God would give you grace to serve them well. And pray that God would open their heart when you share about the good news of Jesus.
Enjoy – Remember, this is not an evangelism project – this is a friendship! Friends enjoy being together. They have fun and laugh together. They don’t pretend to like each other, they actually do! And don’t have a secret agenda; be genuine in your relationship. Be thankful for your friend and how God is blessing you through them.
Nurture – Building a friendship takes time. Be intentional to nurture trust and respect. Look for practical ways you can serve them, and don’t be afraid to ask them to serve you! Asking them for advice about something they know well, or for help with a practical need, can go a long way toward nurturing the relationship. Another great way to build a friendship is to include them in activities or social gatherings you might already be doing with family or Christian friends. Friendship is often a communal endeavor. Be a faithful friend, and be patient.
Declare – Being a true friend means that you speak the truth in love, and you share what is important to you. Declaring the truth about Christ to your friend will be a lot more natural if you’ve been open all along about how much Christ means to you. Having a true friendship should lay the groundwork for spiritual conversations. Ask them questions about their hopes, struggles, and beliefs. Share your story of faith. Share what you are learning in Scripture. Declaring the truth of the Gospel with a friend is not about that “one awkward moment,” but about sharing eternal truths and the hope of your life in an ongoing way.
Being a friend to a nonbeliever shouldn’t be a burden, but it likely won’t happen unless you are intentional. If we have experienced God’s love, forgiveness, and the hope of eternal life, let’s live so that it spills out of us to those around us! Hear the admonition of God’s Word:
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
– Colossians 4:2-6