Before doing this study, please read the 1-minute introduction Biblical Friendships.
It's important to know that there are “4 Types of People Scripture Tells Us to Avoid.” In addition, God warns us against close relationships with ungodly companions (2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:33). But that doesn't mean we avoid all unsaved or ungodly people (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
These 4 questions will help determine if our relationship with an unbeliever is healthy:
1. Am I influencing this person or is he/she influencing me?
Ephesians 5:8-11: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
Over 30 years ago, my husband and I started a relationship with two other couples in the city where we then lived. They were non-believers and we felt God might use us to share Christ. But after several months of doing things with them, we realized they were not interested in hearing about our faith and were regularly involved in drunkenness, off-color joking, and general disregard for godly values. We realized we were not influencing these couples, but they were influencing us. It wasn't a relationship God would want for us.
You won't find any situation in Scripture where Christ associated with unbelievers simply to “hang out” with them. The Gospel was always on His agenda.
2. Am I damaging my witness?
We have a "reputation" to uphold as Christians:
1 Peter 2:12: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
While the Scripture below refers to the handling of money, the principle applies in all situations:
2 Corinthians 8:21: For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.
When we interact with unbelievers, we should do so in appropriate settings so we are not tempted by evil and are not participants in evil. In fact, we should avoid situations that might give others the wrong impression of our values and lifestyle.
3. Should I cut off the relationship if they constantly contradict my values?
Matthew 10:14 is part of the instructions God gave the twelve disciples when He sent them out to share the Gospel. These instructions don’t directly apply to every situation with unbelievers, but there is a principle in this verse that tells us there is a time to move on when someone rejects our beliefs and values.
Matthew 10:14: If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
We shouldn't cut off a relationship simply because a person doesn’t respond to the things we share about our faith. But if they get angry whenever we mention Christ or have no interest or respect for our views, it’s probably better to pray for them instead of developing the friendship further.
But we must never use this as an excuse to disobey God's command to honor our parents. We have responsibilities to our parents whether they are godly or ungodly (See this archive of 1-minute devotions about Honoring Parents.)
4. What about marrying or partnering with a non-Christian?
Marriage is the closest human union. It will heavily influence our walk with the Lord. There are also other types of partnership that we should avoid with non-Christians.
1 Corinthians 15:33: Do not be mislead: Bad company corrupts good character.
2 Corinthians 6:14: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
1 Corinthians 7:39: A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.
I pray that God will give you wisdom to form the kind of relationships that honor Him and build your faith.
copyright 2017, Gail Burton Purath, BiteSizeBibleStudy.com, updated and edited in 2021