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  • Writer's pictureMark Alan Williams

Why Bother To Build Friendships For Eternity?

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Hint: What would Jesus do?

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Christians who build friendships for eternity are the greatest force for evangelism in the world. When asked what brought them to faith in Christ, 80% of the time people say that it was a friend or relative that influenced them. As wonderful and needed as other methods of outreach are, when you look in a mirror you’re looking at the most potent evangelistic force.

Is this really important? To answer that, let’s look to Jesus Himself and what He did.

When you think of the evangelism that Jesus did, what do you think of?

  • Perhaps you think of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men, plus women and children.

  • Maybe you think of the crowd pressing in around him so much that he had to get in a boat and go out on the lake.

  • Or maybe you think of him healing people miraculously so that they are astounded into becoming his followers.

There is legitimacy in remembering each of these, but there is another kind of outreach that Jesus did which probably not many of us consider. That is the evangelism that happened in Jesus’ friendships. We often call this “friendship evangelism.” Jesus built friendships for eternity!

Mark 2:14-17 says:

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (ESV)

Notice something shocking in these verses: Jesus hung out with sinners! Why would He do this? He did this to build friendships for eternity!

The pious Pharisees saw this as a sign of spiritual laxity. But they didn’t get it. Jesus had “dinner with sinners.” That is friendship evangelism in action.

Looking at verse 17, who did Jesus come to earth for?

  • Healthy or sick? He said, “the sick.

  • ”Righteous or sinners? He said, “sinners.”

It was for people like Rosaria Champagne Butterfield whose story I recently learned. She is currently married to Kent, a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina, and is a homeschool mother, author, and speaker. But her life prior to her conversion to Christ in 1999 was radically different.

In her late twenties, allured by feminist philosophy and LGBT advocacy, she adopted a lesbian identity. Rosaria earned her PhD from Ohio State University, then served in the English department and women’s studies program at Syracuse University from 1992 to 2002. Her primary academic field was critical theory, specializing in queer theory.

Her historical focus was 19th-century literature, informed by Freud, Marx, and Darwin. She advised the LGBT student group, wrote Syracuse University’s policy for same-sex couples, and actively lobbied for LGBT aims alongside her lesbian partner.

In 1997, while Rosaria was researching the Religious Right “and their politics of hatred against people like me,” she wrote an article against the Promise Keepers. A response to that article triggered a meeting with Ken Smith, who became a resource on the Religious Right and their Bible, a confidant, and a friend.

In 1999, after repeatedly reading the Bible in large chunks for her research, Rosaria converted to Christianity.

In her third book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, Rosaria explores how God used a humble couple’s simple invitation to dinner to draw her—a radical, committed unbeliever—to himself.

Did you catch that she was converted through “radically, ordinary hospitality?” That pastor and wife who befriended her were working like Jesus to build friendships for eternity. It had an immense impact for Rosaria.

As Christians we are to be like Jesus who hung out with sinners, not just to win them, but to genuinely care about them and show them The Way.

WARNING: If you do this, you will be unfairly criticized, just like Jesus was. Holier-than-thou Christians will accuse you of…

  • Sin

  • Compromise

  • Approval of sinful lifestyles

  • A weak witness

  • And so on

How do I know you’ll be criticized? Because that’s exactly what happened to Jesus.

He said this about Himself: “When the Son of Man came, he ate and drank, and everyone said, ‘Look at this man! He is a glutton and wine drinker, a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts!’ God’s wisdom, however, is shown to be true by its results.” (Matthew 11:19 GNB)

Lesson: Expect criticism when you build friendships for eternity, but just keep building friendships and sharing Jesus.

Caveat: If you or I happen to have been called a glutton, drunkard or other kind of sinner, it might be because we are. Jesus was not, He never sinned in any way. But He was called that because he was a “friend of sinners."

Likewise, we must endeavor to never indulge in any sin in the name of building friendships for eternity. We should be a “friend of sinners” without being “sinners.” If being with the “wrong crowd” might provide too much temptation, we must “flee temptations” (2 Timothy 2:22) and leave the situation.

We should be a light to the world without allowing the world to extinguish our light. As Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Mathew 5:14-16 NLT)

The Apostle Paul expressed the right approach: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that.” (1 Corinthians 5:9–10 NLT)

Being like Jesus means we need to be around people who sometimes do things we don’t like, say things that make us feel uncomfortable, use language we find offensive, and so on. But it is worth it, as explained in this passage:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:1-7 ESV)

Note these lessons about building friendships for eternity from the story of the Lost Sheep:

  • 99% saved is not good enough—as long as there one person in our communities who is without Christ, our job isn’t done.

  • The shepherd leaves the comfort and safety of the flock to seek and find the lost sheep.

  • Rejoicing in heaven doesn’t come from the 99 in the fold, but when a lost sheep is found.

Why is all this so? Because nice people do go to hell.

We’re often in denial regarding hell. According to the Bible there is…

  • no second chance

  • no annihilationno purgatory

  • no free pass

  • no netherworld

Jesus himself spoke in graphic terms about hell. And he spoke of it more often than any other person in Scripture. I don’t want people to go to hell…and neither does God!

To receive the gift of salvation, go to this page: Salvation

Let’s consider a final passage where Jesus said: And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9 ESV)

Jesus says here and elsewhere that we should use our money in order to gain friends so that they can come to salvation. We must invest our finances in building friendships for eternity and fulfilling the Great Commission.

Someone whom I believe has done this commendably is Pastor Rick Warren. (And he has been severely criticized, just like Jesus, for his efforts to reach people for Christ.)

Pastor Rick earned millions from the mega best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life. When it earned so much money, he made wonderful decisions about the wealth and wrote this:

First, we decided we would not change our lifestyle one bit no matter how much money came in. So I still live in the same house I’ve lived in for 15 years and I still drive the same Ford truck, have the same two suits, I don’t have a guest home, I don’t have a yacht, I don’t own a beach house, we just said that we aren’t going to use the money on ourselves.

Second, I stopped taking a salary from the church.

Third, I added up all the church had paid me over the past 25 years and gave it all back. I gave it all back because I didn’t want anyone thinking that I did it for money. And I knew that God was raising me up to a position of prominence. I knew I was going to be under the spotlight and I wanted to live a life beyond reproach. So we gave it all back and the very next week it was either Time or Newsweek came and did an interview of me and the very first question they asked was, “What is your salary?” I was able to say honestly I’ve been able to serve my church free for 25 years. It felt so good to bust that stereotype.

Kay and I became reverse tithers. When we got married 30 years ago, we began tithing 10%. Each year we would raise our tithe 1% to stretch our faith: 11% the first year, 12% the second year, 13% the third year. Every time I give, it breaks the grip of materialism in my life. Every time I give, it makes me more like Jesus. Every time I give, my heart grows bigger. And so now, we give away 90% and we live on 10%.

Jesus invested everything he had in saving the world. We must also be willing to throw our finances and ourselves into the task of reaching people with the Good News.

Christians, let’s join Jesus in building friendships for eternity!

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