EDITOR'S NOTE: Answering life questions with biblical principles is what we do every day at 412teens. The Bible has answers to just about any question we can think of (2 Timothy 3:16). If there isn't a direct answer, then we have biblical principles to help us find what's best for each of us personally. Add to that the fact that Holy Spirit was sent to help us make good decisions, and we can count ourselves well-equipped to deal with life (John 14:16, 26, 15:26).
This blog series gives practical examples of how to use the Bible to solve life's daily problems. Hopefully by seeing these cases, you will begin to understand how the Bible indeed has answers (and we can help you find them). Take note of the Bible references and check them for yourself as you read through Rhonda's answer to the following question.
—Cat, 412teens Editor
"Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'" —1 Corinthians 15:33
Humans are relational creatures. We need friends and companionship. But yes, the company we keep matters. You're wise to consider who makes a good friend and who might not. Whenever I have a question about how I should handle an aspect of my life, I try to find examples of Jesus during His earthly ministry from which I might learn. Following Jesus’ example is always a safe bet!
Jesus did have friends who had hearts for God. But rather than befriending the religious leaders of the day (the Pharisees), who knew their Scripture inside and out, Jesus made friends with "unimportant" or ordinary people—women, fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary. These ordinary people were chosen for extraordinary things and followed Christ faithfully. Well, sort of.
The twelve disciples were men of God who desired to love God, to live the life He wants us to live. But sometimes they really struggled to understand who Jesus really was, what He was up to, what He meant with all His weird stories. They ran like frightened children when things got really tough for Jesus.
Before we judge the disciples as bad friends to Jesus, we should ask, "Would I do any better in their shoes?" How confusing it all must have been! It really wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection and the Holy Spirit entering them (Acts 2) that they finally started to put it all together. Even then, they had hurdles to get over, but they eventually got it.
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were followers and friends of Jesus too (John 11:5). He cared about them so much that He wept with Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died, even though He knew He was about to bring Lazarus back to life! (See John 11:1-44.) Jesus cared deeply for these friends; they were a great source of company, fellowship, companionship, and support for Jesus. We all need friends like that in our lives!
Jesus rarely decided to play it safe when it came to His choice of friends. Time and again, Jesus chose to hang out with the most scandalous people of His generation! Jesus says He has the cure for spiritual sickness, and He wants to go where the sick are (Matthew 9:12-13). By Jesus' example, we know that we're not forbidden from hanging out with non-Christians. In fact, we're encouraged to do so! I mean, how will anyone hear of God's message if we didn't? So who were these "unsafe" friends?
Tax collectors were considered the worst of the worst—cheats and thieves who collected more money than was due so they could pad their own incomes. The Jews wouldn’t speak to or even eat with them! But Jesus befriended Matthew, a tax collector, with an invitation to follow Him, despite the Pharisees being appalled (Matthew 9:9-13).
Jesus also had some interesting encounters with women who had "bad girl" reputations. When a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus, they threw her down and asked Him to confirm she should be stoned to death. While she lay there, naked in her shame, Jesus rebuked the crowd for their judgment. He proclaimed that only one without sin could throw a stone, but no one could fit that bill. Jesus was without sin Himself, yet He chose to have compassion instead. (See John 8:1-11.)
In Samaria, Jesus met a woman who had been cut off from her community for living a promiscuous life. As they stood at a well, drawing water, He told her that He knew all about her past but that He offered the living water of forgiveness and salvation. Jesus chose this “lowly” woman to be the one to whom He first tells that He is the long-awaited Messiah! (See John 4.) Jesus did not avoid people of bad repute. He sought them out of compassion and offered them hope.
Jesus chose the biggest group of misfits to be His disciples. He gave His greatest gifts and revelations to the people who no one else would associate with. Jesus has compassion, not judgement, on sinners. He spurns the hypocritical religious mumbo-jumbo and tells them to talk to the hand! (That's a paraphrase...)
Lesson 1: Don’t count anyone out. Jesus didn’t. People from different backgrounds and religious beliefs can make great friends too. When we share what Jesus has done in our lives with those who don’t know him, we are planting seeds that may one day grow into faith in Jesus in their own lives. (See Matthew 13.)
Lesson 2: Loving those who seem too far gone to save is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to others and yourself. Everyone needs to be forgiven. Everyone needs someone to believe in them and encourage them to find a better way. Avoiding their friendship confirms their assumptions that they're unworthy and that Christians are judgmental. (See Luke 6:37-42.) Be the person who changes that sterotype.
Lesson 3: Sometimes “religious” people can be the worst friends of all if they count themselves as "holier than thou." When poor Job was afflicted with loss and pain of all kinds, his religious friends tried to convince him that his own sin was to blame. Like THEY were so perfect! With friends like that, I think I'd rather be by myself! (See what Jesus says about this kind of judgment in John 9:1-3.) "Religious" does not always equal a true heart for Christ. Christian friends are just as likely to sin and can be just as if not more hurtful as non-Christian friends. (I've had two kids go through church youth groups, so I know what I'm talking about here!) Let their words and actions speak to their character—not the fact that they call themselves Christians.
Lesson 4: Friends who are traveling the same faith walk as you are invaluable. On the flipside of those who are Christian in name only are believing friends who support, encourage, and struggle along WITH you. They understand you, pray for and with you, keep you accountable, and help you learn and grow in your faith. When we can work to figure out this righteousness together, we can become more faithful followers of Christ. We may not be perfect, but we're trying and fighting the good fight! Together, we'll get there.
Lesson 5: Variety and differences in friendships are healthy! Our friendships should look like a garden. Gardens usually don't have only one type of flower or vegetable, right? Having a variety of friendships demonstrates beautiful things. We all bloom at different times, see the world different ways, have different purposes and goals. Some friends provide support while others vitally need our support. Some look like us and some look very different. Some believe or live one way while others do things totally opposite. Good friends provide good, nurturing things and we can do the same for them. Together, we can produce fruit and blossoms that are pleasing and edifying.
Let's get back to 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character.'" This is a true principle to live by, but remember, we don’t separate good and bad company by whether or not a person calls themselves a Christian. Some believing friends are great supporters of your faith while others can get caught up in sin that ends up harming others. Some non-Christians might be hurtful or defensive while others can be the most supportive, loving, and helpful people you will ever meet.
Being true to your faith, God will lead you to people of all different backgrounds, faith systems, and morals. When you are yourself, you will impart in them a seed of Christianity that may sprout into faith or greater understanding in them—and they in you.
So, please don’t drop all your friends who are not Christians. God has likely placed them in your life for a reason. That does not give you license to engage in sinful or dangerous activities that undermine your own faith, but that doesn't make non-Christians "off limits" people either. There may be times when you must turn down an activity that does not jive with the life Christ wants you to lead, but that doesn’t mean you have to dump your friends in the process. By living out your faith in a sincere and genuine way and loving others the way we see Jesus loving others, you will serve Him and serve Him well.
Do you have non-Christian friends as best or very close friends? How do your differences enrich each other's' lives? How do you deal with conflicts in morals and belief systems? What is another biblical principle that would work in this situation? Share your story in the comments below!
Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.