When you grow up in Christian culture—attending church, Bible study, youth group or even a Christian school—you spend the majority of your life surrounded by people who share your values and beliefs. Sharing life with fellow Christians equips and encourages us in our own walk of faith. But are we meant to be friends only with Christians?
Our world is full of diverse views. Regardless of how much time we spend in Christian culture, we will one day encounter people in college or the workplace who don’t share our values and beliefs. As Christians, this brings us to a very valid question: Should we be friends with people of other religions? How close should we grow to those who don’t share our Christian faith?
The best way to answer this question is to look to our example. Jesus showed us the perfect balance of love and truth in His interactions with people during His ministry on earth!
What Did Jesus Do?
- He welcomed all, but changed His message for none. Jesus regularly interacted with unbelievers, and not only unbelievers, but people who lived lifestyles directly contrary to His holiness and commands. He spoke with prostitutes (Luke 7:36-50), healed the demon-possessed (Mark 5), ate with tax collectors (Matthew 9:10) and debated with Pharisees (Mark 12). But there was an essential element to Jesus’ interactions: While he spent time with sinners, He never condoned their sin. Jesus never watered it down or chalked their decisions up as simple “mistakes.” His arms were open to all, but He still preached a message of repentance in order to receive eternal life.
- He kept company with unbelievers, but was not influenced by them. As previously stated, Jesus kept company with those who did not believe in Him. But time spent with them was spent actively ministering to them, not being influenced by them. Jesus did not allow Himself to be tempted to cheat by spending time with Zacchaeus, even though Zacchaeus was a renowned cheater (Luke 19:1-10). Instead, Jesus was the influencer. He brought truth and light into the lives of those who did not share His holiness or values.
- His closest friends were His disciples, not unbelievers. Though Jesus actively spent time with unbelievers, His closest circle was made up of His disciples. The majority of His time was spent in their company, teaching them and ministering to them. This is a great reminder to value the Christian friends and mentors we have in our lives. They help equip us to go out into the world and minister to those who do not yet know Christ. While unbelievers can be wonderful friends, they should not be our primary source of counsel and guidance because they do not share our spiritual values.
Now, some may take issue with that last statement, wondering why we shouldn’t be “best friends” with people of other religions. The Bible talks about this in detail, but below are three verses that illustrate the reasoning behind this statement:
Can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3)
Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character. (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
People of other religions can make wonderful friends. Many are kind, gentle and intelligent people from whom we can learn and grow. But as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:14, they do not hold the same religious values that we do. Because of this, their guidance and counsel will not reflect God’s principles and wisdom.
How Do We Interact With People of Other Religions?
Unfortunately for Christians, there are some who have acted hatefully toward people who do not share our faith. But we do not have to continue that example. We can be the face of change to the people in our lives who don’t know Christ, accepting them as individuals (though not accepting sin) and willingly listening to their points of view. Meanwhile, we can be bolstered and encouraged in our ministry by continuing our close friendships with fellow believers. This balance of friendship allows us to broaden our own points of view and learn how to best answer the tough questions unbelievers are asking—and, in turn, strengthen our faith.
Just because we do not share values with people of other faiths doesn’t mean we treat them rudely or with disrespect. This is completely contrary to the example Jesus set! Instead, we should treat them with dignity, kindness and mutual respect. This kind of treatment opens the door to real discussion. It builds trust and relationship. When people feel respected, they are much more open to having tough conversations about faith and religion, and may even have an open ear to the gospel when the opportunity presents itself.