How can Christians be choosy about their friends, and still maintain a mission heart for lost people? In yesterday’s sermon I mentioned that God warns His people that “bad company” ruins good morals” (1 Cor.15:33). But aren’t bad company kinds of folks in need Jesus too? How can you take the gospel to anybody that you keep your distance from?
When Betty and I pray for our grandchildren, we ask that their closest friends will either be Christians, moving that direction, or least come from Christian homes. We want the peers with the most clout in their lives to endorse God’s call to faith in Jesus Christ, or since some of those peers are still too young to have faith, at least influence them to good morals. But we also pray that they will show concern for, and be kind to, peers and fellow students who need Jesus.
Without rigorously embracing and maintaining this tension–which seems to me to be biblical, we inevitably end up tacking to one extreme or the other. Well-meaning parents cling to the notion that if they limit who their children interact with, they will turn out a certain way. They might…, or might not. Children are people and not machines so even a precise formula tried five time could produce 5 different results. Although the Bible is full of promises, sometimes we make up ones that aren’t there.
But let’s say that it works as hoped and parents do successfully keep away all evil influence. If they’re never around lost people, what are the chances that these children will obediently adopt God’s missionary heart for lost people–either in their youth, or adulthood?
There is also a danger in the other direction if this tension is not maintained. A person can so immerse himself in the world of lost sinners that he gets tarnished by the corruption. In my sermon I mentioned Samson–one of Israel’s judges, a man who ended up nearly indistinguishable from the pagan Philistines–at least when it came to his morals. Elimilech and Naomi’s sons went ahead and married idol-worshiping women who–after all, were the only women around since Dad and Mom had the bad judgment to move the family into a pagan land. Lot was able to keep his head on straight despite living in Sodom (2 Peter 2:7-8), but his wife was not unaffected (Gen.19:26).
On a related note, over the last 10 years one of the factors that appears to have led some Christian leaders to abandon biblical truth on matters like homosexuality and hell, is a desirable missionary instinct to see lost people be more receptive to the gospel. There is no doubt that when we get to know lost people, first concern and then love makes us want them to know our Savior; a love only eclipsed by love for the One who got dirtier by sinners than anyone ever did, yet never once compromised His Father’s love or holiness.
For best friends we need strong, solid Christians who will refresh and check our faith. We also need to frequently check if we have so rid ourselves of lost people that we don’t even feel the Father’s pain at their lost condition anymore.