Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar*? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a
It’s old news, of course, that fewer people are claiming any religious affiliation. Friends might be “historically Lutheran” or Roman Catholic-ish, but – unless we church people are extremely parochial or sheltered – many of our classmates, work colleagues, and neighbors do not share our faith.
Imagine being a follower of Christ with few, if any, Christian friends. If you were raised on 2 Corinthians 6 like I was, you know full well that being “mismatched with unbelievers” is frowned upon, not only in terms of dating and marriage but also in terms of basic friendships, because we could be negatively influenced by such “friends.”
The problem with having no non-Christian friends is that we lose all perspective. We forget that not everybody talks about “being unevenly yoked” or “being a stumbling block.” Most people in the world have no idea what a narthex or a chancel might be. They increasingly don’t know the words to the hymns and praise songs that – we believe – “everybody knows.” They have heard of Noah and the Good Samaritan but they don’t know the stories. They heard that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin but they would be hard pressed to find those verses in the Bible. (Note: most self-identifying Christians would also be hard pressed to find those verses much less have any exegetical analysis of those verses.)
I believe that – if we have no non-Christian friends – it’s almost impossible to follow Jesus. I’m not talking about the neighbor down the street who doesn’t seem to go to church but we wave to each other when walking our dogs. That person is not my friend; that person is a stranger who lives in my neighborhood.
I’m talking about people who are born-again agnostics and people who are pretty sure that there is no god. I’m talking about the devout Muslim guy across the street who comes over for cookouts or the Jewish colleague with whom we carpool and talk about our kids. Having non-Christian friends keeps us honest. It reminds us that there are some people out there who follow the way of Jesus although they wouldn’t see it that way. It’s just that they might remarkably kind. They make sacrifices for strangers and – except for that whole “they don’t go to church” part – you would probably want them to raise your kids if you dropped dead because they are among the best human beings you know.
The best evangelists are the ones who live out their faith in the worst possible situations. Nadine Collier is one of those people. So are the other relatives of the nine Charleston victims who spoke words of forgiveness less than three days after Dylann Roof killed their precious people.
We who were raised on the notion that conversion was our life’s work if we wanted to get into heaven need to remember that this was in fact not the way of Jesus. His friends included people who were not considered “the faithful.” He just loved them. He showed them what the love of God looks like.
We may find that our non-Christian friends love us better than we love them. And we may even be surprised who lands in heaven.
Imagine of Botticelli’s Map of Hell (late 15th Century)
*Beliar is a word for Satan.