Should a Christian Become Good Friends (Not Just an Acquaintance) with Pagans?

from Apr 20, 2009 Category: Articles

The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). The text at least ought to raise the question in our minds. Would Paul’s admonition here preclude close, personal friendships with those outside the kingdom? To answer properly we need only to answer this question- is such a friendship being bound together? Is it a partnership? Is it fellowship?

This text, for instance, clearly forbids believers from marrying outside the faith. There is no human relationship more tightly bound than husband and wife. I would suggest in turn that this text does not preclude us from doing ordinary business with unbelievers. I am not bound together with my internet service provider. I am not in partnership with the local newspaper. I am not in fellowship with the dairy farmer who provides my family with milk. Where it gets tricky is in between these two extremes. Can a Christian doctor share a practice with a non-Christian? And can we have close personal friendships with those outside the faith?

Though it’s not terribly dramatic, the answer, as usual, lies in wisdom. Nearly seventeen years ago, on the day I wed my dear wife, the man standing next to me was not a Christian. When we first became friends in college he professed to be a Christian. After college he left that profession behind. Our friendship continued and it continues to this day. I think of this man often, and even prayed for him and his family yesterday during corporate worship, that God would be pleased to grant him new life. We speak on the phone a few times each year, catching up on the news, and remembering our times together in the past. On the one hand, this relationship is “close.” On the other, it is not.

My life, day to day, is not caught up in his. My focus, day to day, is on the lives of my wife, my children, and the saints at the church where I serve. I have neighbors that are “friends” that are outside the faith, neighbors that I likewise pray for. There is nothing wrong with such friendships, as long as they are loose. But my soul can only commune with those whose souls commune with our Lord. Whatever we might have in common, in terms of the image of God, with unbelievers, we are defined by our faith.

Each Lord’s Day at our church we remember that we are not just one bitty little congregation. We remember that on that day we gather with all the saints around the world, the church militant. We remember that we are all lifted up into the heavenly places, to the New Jerusalem where we meet our Lord, and join together with the souls of just men made perfect (Heb. 12:22-24.) We remember that we join together with the church triumphant. We remember that we are one body, because we confess one faith. Our loyalty, our hesed, or covenant love, is for those within the body. We are indeed free to reach out to those outside the kingdom, remembering that such once were we. We are not free, however, to juggle our loyalties.

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Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. planted Saint Peter Presbyterian Church in Southwest Virginia and is the founder, chairman, and teacher of the Highlands Study Center.