This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Why should Christians be so concerned in choosing friends? Is there a limit to the closeness of certain friendships? Isn't it important to have secular as well as Christian friends if one is to be salt and light in our world?
Friendship is the selfless, mutual sharing between two persons. It typically grows out of participating or cooperating in common activities or endeavors, or simply through acceptance of others as equals. Friendship is also fostered through shared views or possessions. The highest form of human friendship is based in acceptance and mutual respect for who and what each friend is as a person. This includes their actions, ideals, and commitments.
Recognizing the important and powerful influence friends have in one’s life, the Assemblies of God encourages Christians to be concerned about the influence and relational level of their closest friends. Ultimately, all close friendships affect one’s character either for good or bad. For this reason it is essential that Christians discern the spiritual impact of their friendships.
Generally it is risky for Christians to build deep friendships with those who do not share a spiritual bond in Christ. If the friendship has no deep spiritual unity, it is then based on secular values, material interests, and views of the world. In such instances the negative spiritual toll on the Christian is significant as one’s spirit is constantly dulled through repeated exposure to worldviews and ideas. Few Christians are able to live consistent holy lives when unequally yoked in deep friendships with unbelievers. Proverbs says, "A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray" (12:26).
Christian friendships have an added ingredient. Both individuals have friendship with Jesus—a friendship that enriches and strengthens human friendship. When two friends also enjoy friendship with God, they add permanence and beauty to their human friendship. They understand and share standards and priorities for their lives. Christian friendships are often closer than family and blood relationships because of this strong spiritual bond (Proverbs 17:17). Therefore our closest friends should be other Christians (Proverb 13:20).
Christians should be careful in how they approach friendships with the opposite sex. It is important that they build safe boundaries in such friendships in order to protect themselves from temptation, sin, and accusation. This is especially important for married individuals. In such cases it is best that friendships of one or more married individuals of opposite genders always be conducted publicly (with others in attendance). They should maintain a safe emotional and physical distance in such relationships. Few Christians who implement such safeguards in their personal lives fail morally. Proverbs says, "Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you" (2:11).
God's plan for reaching the world with the message of salvation requires a level of friendship with non-Christians. Jesus said we are to be salt and light to our world (Matthew 5:13-16). In other words we are to be shining examples before our communities of God’s grace and goodness. This is not accomplished from a distance, but rather through loving friendships. While such friendships must be genuine, the level of closeness should be guarded. The direction of the friendship should ultimately lead toward God and His ways. As the Christian spends time with, talks at some depth with, and is somewhat open and vulnerable with non-Christian friends, the opportunity to lead a friend to Christ can become a reality. Almost everyone who has become a Christian did so because a Christian friend directed him or her to Christ. If a Christian has no non-Christian friends, the opportunity for effective witnessing is very limited. But in those situations of mixed friendships including believers and non-believers, the Christian must be the leader (the one who sets the moral course), not the one led. Only then do we fulfill the scriptural instruction of being salt and light.
God is love (1 John 4:16), and as such He is mankind's greatest Friend. He is a Friend of sinners as well as of Christians. "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son" (John 3:16). The Old Testament patriarch Abraham believed God, "and he was called God's friend" (James 2:23). The Bible says "Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4). From these scriptures it becomes apparent that our friendship with God is a matter of spiritual life or death.
J. C. Ludgate's great musical testimony reminds us that friendship with God should take precedence over all human relationships. "A friend when other friendships cease, a friend when others fail; A friend who gives me joy and peace, a friend who will prevail. Friendship with Jesus, fellowship divine; Oh, what blessed sweet communion, Jesus is a friend of mine."
Christian parents should be concerned about the friendships their children form. This is true even at a young age when small children are learning important values such as honesty, sharing, and respect. It becomes especially critical in the later preteen/teenage years when pressure to conform to behavior and standards of peer groups is extremely strong. The Bible says, "Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33). Association with rebellious groups or even with one "friend" who leads in the wrong direction has led unsuspecting youth into escalating stages of disrespect for authority, and into profanity, drinking, drug use, sexual permissiveness, and other destructive sins. All Christians should be greatly concerned about the friends of Christian youth.
The marriage relationship should also be based in friendship. The spouse should in fact be a husband’s or wife’s closest friend. Biblical marriage is the epitome of deep and lasting friendship. Though it is romantic and encompasses philo love as well as agape love it must be built on real friendship from its beginning. Marriages that lose the important element of friendship within the marriage relationship become unhealthy and often fail. While husbands and wives may have close friendships outside their marriage, they must never usurp or substitute for the level of disclosure, vulnerability, or closeness that spousal friendship should enjoy.
Sadly, the perverse gay agenda of today’s sinful culture has created suspicion toward the very concept and idea of friendship. Gay lifestyles have been so strongly pushed and given such large media exposure that many today wonder about normal friendships among members of the same sex. What once was understood as roommates sharing living expenses and travel costs is now clouded in suspicion. The body of Christ must not stoop to such thinking or gossip. We must not allow the evil of our world to skew the way we approach and trust others, especially with other members of the Kingdom.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.