Should Christians have close friendships with unbelievers?
As Christians, there is a tension between seeking to build friendships with unbelievers to show God's love and the need to avoid the sinful influences of unbelievers. Is it good to have close friendships with unbelievers?
On the positive side, Jesus offers the powerful example of being known as a friend of sinners. Luke 7:34 records, "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" Jesus was clearly known for the time He spent with unbelievers, including some of the people considered the most immoral individuals in His society.
Following His example, we are called to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). This clearly includes reaching unbelievers of all kinds, building relationships, and sharing the good news of Jesus with others. The early church grew rapidly in large part due to its willingness to take the good news to unbelievers in many places.
In 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, Paul addressed an issue of sin among the believers in the Corinthian church, saying, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." We are clearly to associate with unbelievers, but we must also be careful not to let the sinful practices of unbelievers cause us to stumble.
There are many Proverbs that offer wisdom regarding areas of concern from the influences of ungodly people. Proverbs 12:26 teaches, "One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray." Proverbs 13:20 adds, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." Proverbs 24:21 shares, "My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise."
What is the proper balance of these biblical principles? It is clear we are to build friendships with unbelievers. It would be extremely difficult to share Christ with others and show the love of God without building some level of friendship with an unbeliever.
Yet, we must be cautious in our friendships with unbelievers. In our attempts to share the love of God with others, we can find ourselves falling to sinful desires if we are around certain people or situations for a long period of time. We must pray for wisdom regarding which unbelievers we can best reach and how to best reach them. Overall, our goal must be to both live a godly life while also sharing our faith with those who have yet to believe.
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