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 (John 17:15-18) – Christians often strike the wrong balance with the world. We tend to either isolate ourselves from non-Christians in an attempt 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.
2. Don’t argue over religious or cultural issues (1 Corinthians 2:14) – 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.
3. Don’t support or encourage ungodly behavior (Ephesians 5:6-11) – 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.
4. Don’t judge their behavior (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) – 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.”).
5. Don’t discuss controversial, temporal things (2 Timothy 2:23-26) – 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.
5 Biblical Do’s
1. Do listen more than you talk (James 1:19-20) – 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.
2. Do speak with grace (Colossians 4:5-6) – We should always be prepared to lovingly, respectfully, and biblically speak to specific topics 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.
3. Do live a fruit-filled life (Galatians 5:22-23) – 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.
4. Do model a godly lifestyle (1 Peter 2:11-12) – 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!
5. Do keep the Gospel primary (1 Peter 3:15) – 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!
No matter how well we navigate these do’s 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). 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, NIV). Let’s ground our lives on biblical principles and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then leave the rest up to God.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Rilueda
Kathy Howard is a treasure hunter. She hunts for the creamiest chocolate, richest coffee, and cherished stories of faith. She also digs deep into Scripture, mining God’s eternal truths. Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and has taught the Bible for more than 30 years in a wide variety of venues. Kathy is the author of 11 books, including “Heirloom: Living and Leaving a Legacy of Faith.” “Heirloom” weaves stories of faith and family history with Scripture, beautiful artwork, and ancestry research tips and techniques. Kathy and her husband live in north Texas. They have three married children, six grandchildren, and two accidental dogs. Find free discipleship resources at www.KathyHoward.org. (See “Heirloom” on Amazon.)