Friday, April 21, 2017

Friendship with the Lost

Our IMAGE high school group has been discussing the topic of relationships and friendships over the past couple weeks. One of these topics was about having unsaved friends and how to interact with them. I'm very excited for our kids to be thinking about this more as we want to have a youth culture in our church that is reaching out to others with the good news of Christ and inviting them into our group to experience the love of Christ while partaking of our community within the church.

Where do we get the Idea of Relationships?
Relationships were started from the very beginning of time and actually even before that in eternity past. We see in Genesis 1:26 that the triune God has relationship with Himself and from that He creates a man who is meant for relationship in His image (Gen 1:17). That God made man both for relationship with Himself and with other as well (Gen 2:18). Relationship are from God and are "very good" (Gen 1:31). Take a look at Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 if you want more on this.

What is the Purpose for any Relationship?
Christ clarifies this very well in Matthew 22:37-40 giving the first and second great commandments… love. Love is the purpose for your relationship with God and with others. Love God with all you are. Love every human relationship you have as if they were you. It means putting yourself in the other person's place to determine how they would like to be treated and then treating them in that manner. This love is a radical, gospel love that God calls us to on a moment-by-moment basis. It starts in our relationship with Him and is generated out to all others in our life. Its origin is the love we ourselves have been shown in the gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection for us. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). This kind of love means that every relationship we have should not be for what we get out of it, but rather we bring to it. It means not just loving those who benefit you and make you feel better or help you, but loving those who are unpopular, those who don't or can't benefit you in any way, those who actually take rather than give to you. The gospel love of our Savior who, "while we were yet sinners,… died for us" (Rom 5:8). This kind of love is to be applied to every relationship you have, friends, family, the cashier at the grocery store, business associates, neighbors, other drivers on the road, etc. You are here to love them as you have been loved.

What about Relationships with the Lost?
How does a gospel love in every relationship I have translate into my relationship the Lost? Should I be their friend? At first glance there is cause for concern in this…
James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
1 John 2:15-17, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."
1 Cor 15:33, "Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals."
So I shouldn't have unsaved friends then? No, on the contrary our Savior was known as, "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). What these verses indicate is that you should not become like your unsaved friend, not that you should not have them. Philippians 2:14-16 states, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain." You should not have your thinking influenced by that of the world, nor should your heart be swayed toward loving the things of the world over God. Rather, you are to be a light in the darkness… to live and love differently than they have ever seen, known, or experienced.

What does a Relationship with my Unsaved Friend look like?
If I'm supposed to have this kind of gospel love in my relationships with my unsaved friends, then what does it look like? 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 gives a lot of help with that…
"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
According to Paul, our job is twofold. We are to 1) Pursue Reconciliation and 2) Be Representatives. Reconciliation means we seek to restore the relationship of the unsaved person with God. Paul then uses the term ambassador to add to the idea of reconciliation with that of representing God to this lost world as well as seeking are restoring of relationship.
This picture of a reconciling ambassador is very helpful here. An ambassador's job entails a few very important parts. First, the ambassador is to know his own country and its desires very well so he can represent them to those he is speaking to. Second, the life and actions of the ambassador must match his speech to represent the desires and values of those he represents. Third, the ambassador must live with and seek to best understand and know those he is a representative to.
What does this mean for us in our every day relationships?
The statement is sometimes made, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words" (St. Francis of Assisi). This idea, while probably well intentioned, is simply not true. In Romans 10:14, Paul states, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" Just living a good Christian life is not enough. You must be actively telling others the gospel that God is holy, they are sinful and as such under His wrath, but God is also merciful and give a wrath-bearer, His Son, Jesus to deal with their sin,  and finally, God offers that gift to them if they will accept Him as their Savior and Lord. Without someone hearing and believing this truth there is no hope for their salvation. No matter how great a life you lead, your friends need to hear the gospel from your lips.
While we are on this topic, however, there is another side of the coin as well. While Jesus like any thing/one else you love should naturally be a part of your conversation with your friend and be someone you pursue talking about, He does not need to be all you talk about. I'll say more on this in a bit.
While leading a life that honors the Lord is not enough to enable someone to get saved, not doing so is certainly enough to detract from it. Jesus states, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Mat 5:16). Peter follows this in 1 Peter 2:12 saying, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." The life you lead is necessary to validating the message you are called to speak. Your unsaved friend will see hypocrisy and nothing can do more damage to validity of the message you speak then living by a double standard. Holiness of life is key to be the ambassador God calls you to be.
As before, however, it is key to understand how the gospel plays into this as well. God does not demand perfection from you as that is impossible (1 John 1:8). There will be times of shortness or unkind speech, times of selfishness and pride, time of … sin. This issue is not that you don't sin. It is what you do with your sin. Anyone who knows you (or me) knows we sin. The right response is to take it to the Lord and ask His and their forgiveness showing our need of the gospel. Seeking to hide and cover it and acting like it never happened or making excuses is what demonstrates hypocrisy.
Speaking the gospel is necessary. Living a life that validates the gospel is key. However, what earns you the right to share the gospel with someone is love. Those who know they are loved and cared for by you will be willing to listen to you, even if you have to say hard things. What does it mean to love your unsaved friend? It means spending time with them. It means doing activities and things they enjoy. It means having conversations with them and getting to know them and who they really are. It means showing that you value them as a person and for their friendship, not just as your "Christian hobby" to save them. It means you act "normal" around them and be yourself. It means you invite them to join you in doing things you like. It means listening when they share both big and small things with you. … It means doing life and having a relationship with them like you would anybody else. There is really no special action or extra thing you do. You simply love them, living your life with them, seeking to honor Christ in all you do, and speaking about Him as the big focus and part of your life that He is. It's what you should be doing with every relationship you have.

How does this Apply to me?
1) If you don't have anyone you'd call an unsaved friend you either need to be more intentional about the people and places you currently interact in/with or maybe you need to think about picking up a new hobby, place to shop, etc. to be able to start meeting potential friends. Find opportunities; join groups; be creative, but do what you need to in order to make it possible to be the ambassador you are.
2) Take some time to think through whether you are really doing the speaking you need to be doing. Have you been holding back because of fear or worry? Do you just not feel you know exactly what to say? Talk with a fellow believer to help you plan out a gospel presentation you can use and then ask them to hold you accountable. Pray for opportunities to share your faith with your friend. Seek to create opportunities to do so too. A very easy way to start of conversation might be, "hey _______, you know I go to church and feel Jesus is very important to me. What do you think about Jesus?"
3) Is your life reflecting the message you're to be giving? Are their things you need to go to the Lord and ask forgiveness for admitting they are sin? Are their ways you've sinned against or in front of your friend you need to ask his/her forgiveness for and share about how it is so central to your Christian life?
4) Is their someone you need to call on the phone or schedule a meeting or meal with to really get to spend time with them showing them you love and care about them? Are there activities or things you do you should be more intentional in, inviting your unsaved friend to join you and spend time with you?

If you've read through this and think, "I'm doing most of this by God's grace," praise the Lord! Keep going and grab others in the church to encourage them to grow in this way and do it with you. If, on the other hand, you've read thinking, "wow, I'm not really hitting this at all," take heart! The Great Ambassador, Jesus, has brought you to Himself and has made you, "to be strengthened with power through His Spirit" to begin in this journey (Eph 3:16). Start small. Ask the Lord to help you grow in this, bringing people into your life and helping you see and reach out to them. There is very little that brings as much delight as seeing a lost soul brought into the kingdom of light right in front of your eyes through God using you.

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