Friendship for Christ

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(1 Thessalonians 2:8)

With God’s help I commit to do the following this year:
   1) Worship one day weekly with my church family;
   2) Serve in one ministry capacity in my church family;
   3) Cultivate one friendship with a non-believer for Christ;
   4) Give one regular portion of my income for the work of the church;
   5) Participate in one regular small group setting for prayer, growth and fellowship.

INTRODUCTION: We are now halfway through our message series on “The Challenge and Power of One.” We have been looking one at a time at the five commitments you see up on the screen, and we are now up to Commitment #3: “With God’s help I commit to cultivating one friendship with a non-believer for Christ this year.” We want to look at this commitment today and see what it means and why it is so important for us as a church.

One of the great dangers for the church is that it is very easy for a church to turn inward on itself. We love each other in the church, which is a good thing. We love to meet together, to worship God and fellowship together. Those are all good things, but they are not the only thing. And because of our love for each other, we can easily become focused on ourselves and meeting our needs. And when that happens we lose the outward focus that the church must maintain if it is to fulfill its mission.

One of God’s purposes for his church is to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him. You will notice that this purpose has both a local and a global dimension to it. We are to share the good news about Jesus in our own community and throughout the world. Next week we will talk more about missions and the global aspect of evangelism as we consider the commitment of giving to the church. But today we will look at the more local aspect of sharing the gospel, especially as it relates to our third commitment of cultivating a friendship with a non-believer for Christ. [Read 1 Thessalonians 2:8 and pray.]

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Personal evangelism is one of the church’s greatest untapped resources for the kingdom of God. When we hear the word evangelism we often think of people like Billy Graham preaching to thousands of people in a packed stadium. We call that mass evangelism. There is a time and a place for mass evangelism, but it can never replace what we call personal or friendship evangelism.

Billy Graham himself said the following: “Mass evangelism is not the best way of evangelism, but it seems to be the way that God has entrusted to me, and I must be faithful to it. The best way of evangelism is when there are two people talking together and one leads the other to Jesus.” (Billy Graham, as quoted by Michael Green in One to One, pp 11-12). That’s personal or friendship evangelism in a nutshell: “two people talking together and one leads the other to Jesus.”

Statistics show that most people who come to Christ today do so through the personal witness of a friend. In one survey of Christians conducted by the Institute of American Church Growth, it was discovered that:

1% came to Christ through evangelistic crusades.
1% came to Christ through visitation.
2% came to Christ through a special need.
3% came to Christ through walking into a church.
3% came to Christ through a church program.
5% came to Christ through Sunday School.
6% came to Christ through a pastor.
79% came to Christ through a relative or friend.

79%! And yet many Christians readily confess that they do not share their faith with their friends. Some studies estimate that as many as 95% of all professing Christians have never led anyone to Christ. And that is why personal or friendship evangelism is one of the church’s greatest untapped resources for God’s kingdom. It is the most common way that people come to Christ, and yet so few Christians practice it.

And that brings us to Commitment #3 – cultivating friendships with non-believers for Christ. So, what does it mean to cultivate a friendship with a non-believer for Christ? How do you do that?

I. Develop a genuine friendship (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

First of all, it means developing a genuine friendship with the person. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) Paul did not just share the gospel and run. He didn’t just pass out tracts and hope for the best. Paul developed a genuine friendship with the people in Thessalonica. Paul and his companions not only shared the gospel, they shared their very lives with the Thessalonians.

   A. Two extremes to avoid

When it comes to friendship evangelism, there are two extremes we want to avoid. The first is the extreme of all friendship with no evangelism. That is probably the most common extreme and we will talk about that a little later this morning.

But the other extreme to avoid is all evangelism with no real friendship. We do not want to make the mistake of showing interest in another person only for the purpose of leading them to Christ. We never want to view a person as a project. You cannot be friends with a project. You can only befriend a person. And each person is a unique human being, created with dignity in God’s image, and greatly loved by God.

So, when we talk about cultivating a friendship for Christ, we do not mean only in order to lead the other person to Christ. But we are cultivating this friendship for Christ’s sake. We love this person because Jesus loves them. They may never come to Christ, but that does not change the fact that we love them and offer them genuine friendship.

   B. The marks of genuine friendship

What are the marks of genuine friendship? Jerry and Mary White in their book, Friends & Friendship, identify eight prominent characteristics of a good friend: love, loyalty, sharing, fun, sacrifice, encouragement, stimulation, and spiritual challenge. Now that sounds like a real good friend! How do you build these qualities into your relationships? With time and effort. There is no other way. That is how friendships are built. Have you ever had a friend that you never spent any time with and never made any effort to get closer? Of course not! Friendship evangelism begins with genuine friendship, and that takes time and effort.

   C. People who come to faith gradually

One reason that friendship evangelism is so important is that most people coming to faith today do so gradually over a period of time. Not everyone does. Some people hear the gospel and respond right away. But there are many people who come to faith in Jesus more gradually.

The report, Finding Faith Together, surveyed Christians who had come to faith in the previous twelve months. 69% of the respondents described their coming to faith as gradual rather than as the result of a sudden decision. According to the report, “The gradual process is the way in which the majority of people discover God, and the average time taken is about four years.”

That means if you want to reach people for Christ, you need to invest some time in their lives. Like Paul you need to love people so much that you are willing to share with them not only the gospel, but your life as well. If you are going to cultivate a friendship with a non-believer for Christ, you must begin by developing a genuine friendship.

II. Pray for your friend (Acts 16:14)

Secondly, you need to pray for your friend. Look at Acts 16:14 with me for a moment. In Acts 16 the apostle Paul and his traveling companions arrive in the city of Philippi. They go down to the river looking for a place of prayer and find a group of women gathered there. They sit down and begin talking with them. And then we read in verse 14: “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:14)

Why did Lydia respond to Paul’s message? Acts 16:14 says, “The Lord opened her heart.” We can share about Jesus with people, but it is God who opens a person’s heart to the gospel. And that is why prayer is so essential to the process.

Now this seems like such an obvious step, “pray for your friend,” but let me ask you a question. Do you pray regularly for your non-Christian friends on an ongoing basis? Stop and think about it for a moment. Think about your friends at work or in the community who do not know Christ. Do you pray for them? Have you ever prayed for them? Are there people whom God has placed in your life who do not know Christ for whom you have never prayed? You see, it’s an obvious step, but it’s an easy one to miss. And unless we are intentional about it, we can let weeks or months or even years go by without praying for our friends.

   A. Pray for the various needs in their life

What should you pray for your friends? Well, first of all you can pray for the various needs in their lives. If they are struggling with finances or health issues or kids or just life, pray for them. Lift their concerns up to God on their behalf. And let them know you are praying for them. You don’t need to make a big deal out of it, but just mention it to them from time to time: “I’m praying for you.” Most people appreciate that and will accept that as a sign of loving concern from you – even if they don’t pray themselves, even if they do not believe in prayer.

   B. Pray for spiritual interest

Secondly, you can pray for spiritual interest. Many people seem to have no interest in God or the things of God. Pray for them that God would begin to spark an interest in their hearts concerning himself and spiritual matters. Pray that God would bring people and circumstances into their lives that would cause them to think about God and his place in their lives. Pray that they might pause to consider the ultimate issues in life: issues such as sin and the human condition, death and judgment, God and forgiveness.

   C. Pray for their salvation

Thirdly, and most important of all, pray for their salvation. Pray that God might bring conviction to their hearts concerning sin in their lives and their need for forgiveness. Pray that they would come to know the truth about who Jesus is and what he did for them at the cross. Pray that they would come to embrace Christ as their Savior by faith – that they might enter into a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Pray that God would open their hearts to respond to the message, even as God opened Lydia’s heart in Philippi.

William Law once wrote: “There is nothing that makes us love someone so much as praying for them.” And prayer is one of the most loving things you can do for your friends. It is an essential part of cultivating a friendship for Christ.

I personally believe that no person has ever come to faith in Jesus Christ without someone first praying for them. You may be the only Christian friend your non-Christian friend has. And if you are not praying for them, then who is? If personal evangelism is one of the greatest untapped resources for the kingdom of God, certainly prayer is one of the most underutilized resources for God’s kingdom. God loves to answer prayer. And if we all prayed more for our friends, what a difference we would see in their lives.

III. Share Christ naturally as God gives you opportunity (Colossians 4:5; 1 Peter 3:15)

How do you cultivate a friendship with a non-believer for Christ? First of all, develop a genuine friendship. Secondly, pray for them. Thirdly, share Christ naturally as God gives you opportunity.

   A. Be wise in looking for opportunities (Proverbs 11:30; Colossians 4:5)

Colossians 4:5 says, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (Colossians 4:5) Paul says to act wisely when it comes to your relationship with those who do not know God. Be wise in your behavior, be wise in your attitudes, be wise in your conversations. Be a good friend. Look for opportunities to demonstrate God’s love to your friends in concrete, practical ways.

Being wise also means looking for those opportunities to share Christ naturally without being pushy. When God answers prayer in your life, feel free to share that with your friends. If you learn something new about God in church on Sunday or in your Bible reading, feel free to talk about it. As we mentioned earlier, pray for your friends and mention to them that you are praying for them. Also, be honest with your friends. Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles or fears or faults. They need to know that Christians struggle and make mistakes too, and that God still loves and forgives us anyways.

Proverbs 11:30 says: “He who wins souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30) It takes wisdom to lead others to Christ. Ask God for wisdom in this area, and God will give you many opportunities to share with your friends naturally and over time.

   B. Be ready when God brings the opportunities along (1 Peter 3:15)

1 Peter 3:15 says: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) This means that you need to be ready when God brings the opportunities along.

      1) Share what you know and keep on learning

Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t know if I am ready for that. I don’t know what I would say if someone asked me about God.” You know what you say if someone asks you about God? You just share with them what you know. You might say, “Well, I don’t know very much.” Well, then share what you do know, and in the meantime, start learning more.

If you know that you need to learn more, then keep learning. Get involved in a Bible study or home group. Ask someone in the church about one-to-one discipleship. There are so many resources available to you to help you grow in your faith and knowledge of God’s word. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared.” So, if you’re not prepared, then get ready. You can do it!

      2) Share the gospel (Jesus; cross; death; resurrection; forgiveness)

The most important thing you can share with your friend is about the gospel. It’s not enough just to share that you’re a Christian, or that you go to church, or that you believe in God. If you don’t share the gospel, it’s not evangelism. The word evangelism means good news, and the gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead. So, make sure you share about Jesus, the cross, his death and resurrection, and forgiveness. Remember friendship evangelism includes both friendship and evangelism. Don’t just settle for friendship without evangelism.

      3) Share with gentleness and respect

And then finally, notice that 1 Peter 3:15 also speaks about your attitude when sharing with others about Christ. Peter says, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” Some Christians have actually turned others away from Jesus by being pushy or disrespectful when speaking about Christ. Your attitude is just as important as the words you share. Share Christ naturally as God gives you opportunity, and do this with gentleness and respect.

CONCLUSION: We are now ready to look at Commitment #3. We started off the message today by talking about how the church is always in danger of turning inward. Are you involved in friendships with people who do not know Christ, or are all your friendships exclusively within the church? Commitment #3 says: “With God’s help I commit to cultivating one friendship with a non-believer for Christ this year.”

If I were to summarize the thrust of today’s message, it would all come down to this: Non-believers need Christian friends, and your non-Christian friends need Christ. It is really that simple. And yet it all takes time and effort. You need to consciously get involved in other people’s lives.

If you don’t have any non-Christian friends, then it means getting involved in your neighborhood or community. Commitment #3 asks you to look outside of the church to those people in the community who need Christ as Savior and who need your friendship in order to come to Christ.

If you make Commitment #3 it means that you will intentionally work on cultivating at least one friendship for Christ this year. You will develop a genuine friendship with that person, you will pray for them, and you will share Christ and the gospel naturally as God gives you opportunity.

Can you imagine if all of us followed through on this commitment this year? What a difference that would make in your friends’ lives as well as in the life of the church! We said in an earlier message that the easiest way to grow a church is just for everyone to show up. But the best way is to bring new people in. I challenge you to make Commitment #3 today.

© Ray Fowler

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