Interacting with non-Christian friends and family members has always been a balancing act. We long to share Jesus with them, but we don’t want to push them away. We work to maintain a good relationship AND tell them about the eternal life God offers. It’s always been difficult. But recently, our fast-changing culture has dramatically intensified the challenge.
These days, simply talking with non-Christian friends and family members can be as tricky as navigating a minefield. Every topic is more controversial. Every issue is more polarized. An “us against them” attitude blankets our country. One wrong step and BOOM. The conversation blows up. Somebody walks away. And the relationship itself may be irreparably harmed.
I believe Christians can maintain healthy relationships with those we love without compromising our faith. And we can also take advantage of the opportunities God gives to share Jesus with them. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. Our two primary goals are to protect our relationships and, most importantly, lead the non-Christians in our lives towards a saving relationship with Jesus.
So, how do we reach those goals? How do we navigate the minefield of these “unequal” relationships? It would require more words and wisdom than I have to cover all the specific scenarios. Should Christian parents of a gay son attend his wedding? How do we respond to a friend who’s had an abortion? What is the best thing to say to a family member who has joined a Christian cult?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. In fact, as we move further into a post-Christian culture, new questions pop up all the time. But thankfully, God has given us timeless, spiritual principles in His Word. Principles, that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can apply to any and every situation we might encounter. The following principles are not an exhaustive list, but they will be a good start in finding that gracious balance between love and conviction.
5 Biblical Don’ts
1. Don’t isolate yourself from them.
Christians often strike the wrong balance with the world. We tend to either isolate ourselves from non-Christians to spiritually protect ourselves or we compromise our Christian values and become more like them. Jesus calls us to the opposite: To go out into the world, but not become like the world. We must stay connected to our non-Christian friends and family members. If we limit or eliminate our time with them, there will be no opportunity for us to influence them for Christ.
John 17:15-19 NKJV I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
2. Don’t argue over religious or cultural issues.
No one wins this kind of argument. Even if we get in a bunch of truth zingers, we won’t change their mind. In fact, our biblical mindset seems silly and foolish to them because they don’t have the spiritual capacity to understand the truth on which it’s founded. Only the Holy Spirit can give them that understanding. We’ll only manage to build a wall between us and them. Instead, work to keep the peace. The possibility of influencing them for Christ is much higher if we maintain a relationship with them.
I Corinthians 2:14 NKJV But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
3. Don’t support or encourage ungodly behavior
Sometimes Christians condone and show support for sinful behavior in a misguided attempt to appear tolerant and build relationships. But we can be gracious and loving without compromising biblical values. For instance, we can foster a loving relationship with an LGBTQ niece without carrying a banner in a pride parade.
Ephesians 5:6-11 NKJV Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
4. Don’t judge their behavior
At first read, this may sound contradictory to the point above. Here’s the clarification: No compromise for the Christian. No judgment of the non-Christian. God calls His people to holiness, and He calls the world to Jesus. It is not our responsibility to judge the behavior of the world; God will judge them. Non-Christians will act like non-Christians. Their thinking, attitudes, and actions will reflect the world’s. We cannot expect them to share our values or our behavior. That won’t be possible without them first having a saving relationship with Jesus (See also “Should Christians Judge the World?” and “To Judge or Not to Judge.”).
I Corinthians 5:12-13 NKJV For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
5. Don’t discuss controversial, temporal things.
Some topics, like politics, are more explosive than others. Work to keep casual conversations on safe ground. Talking about hot-button issues is not worth risking the relationship. Save your conversation capital for something that matters for eternity.
II Timothy 2:23-26 NKJV But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
1. Do listen more than you talk
Arguments build walls. Listening breaks them down. If they initiate a conversation on a certain issue that can’t be avoided, ask them why they feel that way. Then listen. Don’t try to change their minds. Don’t tell them they’re wrong. Eventually, respectful listening will open their ears. When they realize we genuinely care about them, they just may ask what we think and why.
James 1:19-20 NKJV So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
2. Do speak with grace
We should always be prepared to speak to specific topics lovingly, respectfully, and biblically when asked outright. Honest, grace-filled conversations within the context of relationship can spark interest in Jesus. When asked about hot button topics, we should answer biblically and truthfully, but these conversations are best had in person, not via text or social media.
Colossians 4:5-6 NKJV Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.
3. Do live a fruit-filled life
A person whose life demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit attracts attention. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are rare qualities today. This kind of counter-cultural character will draw people to us and causes them to wonder what we have that they don’t.
Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
4. Do model a godly lifestyle
Richard Manning, author of the much-loved “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” famously said: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.” Hypocrisy may just be the biggest deterrent in people coming to Jesus for salvation. But, the opposite is also true. When Christians refuse to conform to the world, the world notices. A Christ-like life points people to Jesus and causes them to glorify God. So let’s live what we preach!
I Peter 2:11-12 NKJV Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
5. Do keep the Gospel primary
The following question is a good guideline for every potential conversation, interaction, reaction, and facial expression. “Will this help or hurt the cause of the Gospel in this person’s life?” If it will reduce the possibility of them hearing and receiving the Gospel, then we shouldn’t say it or do it. Let’s remember their greatest need. They need Jesus!
I Peter 3:15 NKJV But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
No matter how well we navigate these dos and don’ts, we’ll still step on a few landmines. There will still be some relationship explosions. The more people hate or resist Jesus, the more they will hate or resist us, His followers.
John 15:18-21 NKJV “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.
But we are only responsible for our words and actions, not the reaction of the other person. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12:18-19 NKJV If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Let’s ground our lives on biblical principles and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then leave the rest up to God.