When I was a teenager, one of my best friends was a fellow named Sal. We really loved one another with that joyous, laughter-filled love that comes too seldom in a lifetime. Often our chess games would be interrupted by bellyaching laughter as we exchanged jokes, observations about acquaintances and the kinds of bantering insults that only true friends can exchange with one another. Neither of us was a Christian, but we understood and practiced deep friendship.
Then I became a Christian. Sal moved across the river to New Jersey, I pursued my career plans and he pursued his. We lost track of one another. And over the years as I became more involved in Christian circles and later in Christian work, I came to a few startling realizations.
First, I discovered that many, perhaps most, Christians have few or no unbelieving friends. It seems that the more deeply involved we are in the Lord’s work,” the more we tend to restrict our associations to Christians. For a body whose chief mandate is to go and make disciples it is alarming, to say the least, to realize that many of the most dedicated Christians have no real contact with non-Christians.
Sadly, some feel that this is as it should be—that contact with non-Christians is a contamination that should be avoided except when administering the medicine of the gospel. How sad and how incongruous this is for us who claim to follow the One who was criticized for going to the homes of sinners and eating with them!
A second and even more alarming observation I have made is one that most Christians would denounce as untrue: I feel that many (even most) Christians are downright hostile to non-Christians. Oh, we don’t mind if they visit our churches, and we certainly want them to get saved. But too many of us harbor an unspoken desire, even a demand, that after they accept Christ they will become less like they were and more like we are. We want them not only to avoid the sins that God finds offensive, but also to avoid the politics, styles of dress and communication, and tastes in entertainment that we find offensive.
Perhaps it’s due to our fear of “contamination” that we feel comfortable only with people who “do our dos and don’t our don’ts.” Whatever the reason, the result is that many, and perhaps most, non-Christians feel uncomfortable with us, as well.
I think that the reason for this may be found in considering our Lord Jesus. Why was it that harlots, drunkards and other “rejects” felt so comfortable with him? And why, conversely, did they feel so uncomfortable with self-righteous religionists? I believe the reason is simple: Jesus did not condemn sinners. When they came to him, they met someone who was more interested in bringing them the love of God than in condemning them.
Perhaps we should be asking ourselves: Do non-Christians I know sense that I condemn them? How can I show them a Christlike attitude?