Monthly Archives: November 2009

Like all spiritual topics, faith is not an easy concept to explain, being abstract. There are accounts in the Bible, however, of people who believed in Christ. These accounts give us valuable insights into the nature of true saving faith.

One of my favorite accounts of faith is recorded in the Gospel of Mark, when a sick woman encountered Christ:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. (Mark 5:25–29, NIV)

To appreciate this woman’s faith, we need to examine this passage in detail.

She had suffered for a long time: The text says that she “had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.” Twelve years! Can any of us imagine what it would be like to suffer with a continuous ailment for twelve whole years?

She had tried all human means to get healed: This account also tells us that not only had she “suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors” but also that she “had spent all she had.” In spite of various medical treatments—apparently painful ones—and exhausting all her money to find relief from her affliction, she only grew worse.

Given these facts, it is not hard to see that this was a woman at the end of her rope. She had tried the available means within her power to get healed, including money and medicine, and they had all failed her miserably. She now realized that there was nothing left for her to do but merely trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is no wonder that she thought to herself these words: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Perhaps some time ago she might have scoffed at the thought of going to Jesus for healing, thinking, “I have enough money and more doctors to try; I don’t need this Jesus to heal me.” Now, however, she had no choice. She had nowhere to go but to the Lord.

It is important to note that the woman wanted merely to “touch” Christ’s garment. The thought to exert great effort to bring about her own cure did not occur to her. Why would it? She had already been through all that. Consequently, hers was not a hand that labored to create the solution, but a hand that simply reached out to take hold of the Savior.

In the spiritual realm, this is just what saving faith is like: to cease relying on our own efforts to be good and to simply cling to Christ alone, realizing that he is the only one who can make payment to God for our sins. All of our own attempts to be acceptable to God, relying on our own “righteousness,” are doomed to failure, as Isaiah pointed out:

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (NIV, emphasis added)

Have you come to the end of yourself after having tried countless times to be good, only to fail every time? If so, then I urge you to trust in Christ alone, as the sick woman did. All it takes is a “touch” to bring salvation. Or are you standing aloof from Christ, the only Savior that God has offered, still trusting in your own efforts to be righteous?

Reach out to Jesus and trust only in him, who alone can forgive us and cleanse us.

Evangelistic Friendship: The Biblical Approach
So far the concept of friendship evangelism has been analyzed and critiqued, but to be fair, we should ask whether there is a biblical alternative to friendship evangelism that somehow combines relationships with outreach in an honest, God-honoring way. Yes, there is.

As simple as it may sound, the biblical approach is actually friendship evangelism turned inside out. The best way to see this is to rename friendship evangelism to “evangelistic friendship.” You may say, “What’s the difference?” There is an enormous one.

Friendship evangelism is usually evangelism that is carried out only in the context of friendship. In this phrase, the word “friendship” indicates the type of evangelism. It is, therefore, the essential attribute of the evangelism, in the same way that in the phrase “macintosh apple” the word “macintosh” is an essential attribute of the apple, setting it apart from other apples. Thus, friendship is a necessary activity for this type of evangelism to exist. As such, the evangelism cannot occur without the friendship. No such type of evangelism is mentioned in the Bible, though.

Evangelistic friendship, on the other hand, is friendship that is pursued only in the context of evangelism. In this phrase, the word “evangelistic” indicates not only the type of friendship but also the essential, defining characteristic of that friendship. In this approach, evangelism is the catalyst through which the friendship occurs. Thus, without the evangelism the friendship will not take place. This approach is, in fact, substantiated in Scripture, particularly in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12:

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:1–12, emphasis added)

Notice that the relationship that Paul and Silas had with the Thessalonians was an evangelistic one. They did not hold back the gospel in favor of first building a relationship with them. On the contrary, they proclaimed it to the Thessalonians while they were working among them. It was a friendship that began and developed in the context of evangelism, was characterized by consistent evangelism, and took place because of the catalyst of evangelism.

Friendships that grow out of the evangelism, and not the other way around, are biblical. As pointed out already, deceiving one’s neighbor is a violation of one of the two greatest commandments. To avoid doing this, the intent to evangelize should be communicated clearly in some way at the outset of the relationship. Be open and up front with others about your intentions. Make known to them from the beginning that you are concerned about their soul and want to communicate the good news to them. If God is working in that individual’s heart, a genuine friendship will fall into place naturally. When that happens, the friendship is the result of the evangelism, and it will be a God-honoring relationship.

There is nothing wrong with friendship. It is a wonderful gift given to us by God, but like all of God’s gifts, it should be used wisely and properly. When friendship is used merely as a tool to accomplish a task, however, it is being misused. No matter how noble and right the goal, initiating and developing a relationship for any ulterior motive is dishonest, deceptive and unloving. The ends truly do not justify the means. If a friendship results from sharing the gospel, great! But don’t turn it around.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

The Pitfalls of Friendship Evangelism
Although God can certainly work to save a soul through friendship evangelism—or, more than likely, in spite of it—we must not ignore the possible dangers inherent in this method.

One risk is that we could be committing sin by pursuing this type of outreach. A genuine friendship is not driven by ulterior motives; it is motivated by genuine camaraderie rather than by an agenda. If you begin a friendship with someone merely as a means to an end, then your pursuit of that relationship is driven by an agenda. If you don’t believe this, ask yourself the following question: What is the primary reason for this friendship that I have tried to establish? Is it because of genuine concern, or is it merely because I am seeking opportunities to present the gospel to him or her? If it is the latter, then you are deceiving that individual, and this is a violation of the commandment to love your neighbor.

No matter how we present the gospel, one thing we must always be sure of is not to do anything that would give a person a reason to blaspheme God and an excuse to continue rejecting Christ. Unfortunately, insincerity could do just that. If you are pursuing an agenda-driven relationship with a non-Christian, he or she might quickly detect your ulterior motive, regard you as dishonest and proceed to blaspheme God because of it. Is it any wonder that Paul said,

[W]e have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Some might object, “But I can pursue this kind of friendship and do it sincerely.” It is not for me to judge what goes on in your heart. That is between you and God. I would challenge you, though, to examine the genuineness of your love for that person in the light of the meaning of true love. Doesn’t agape love, the kind of love that God wants us to have for all others, always seek to meet a person’s greatest need whether that person wants it or not? Nobody asked God—much less wanted him—to send Christ to die for sinners. Nevertheless, he did so because that is agape love. Man’s greatest need is to be reconciled to a holy God who will judge him for sin one day in the future. If we were to hold back the principal means by which that reconciliation can take place—the gospel—could we honestly say that we are truly loving?

Another serious pitfall of friendship evangelism is that we run the risk of coming under ungodly influence. In any relationship with the lost, we must take extreme care that we do not become the influenced rather than the influencer. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Continued in Part Six: Evangelistic Friendship: The Biblical Approach

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Does Friendship Evangelism Meet the Urgent Demands of the Great Commission?
One last question to ask is this: Is friendship evangelism consistent with the urgent nature of the gospel message? The message of Christ is one of urgency. The need to be saved is an urgent one, and as such it is not to be toyed with. Time is something we are never sure of, as James points out:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. (James 4:13-14)

Building a relationship is a process that demands considerable time. Personal sacrifices must be made, trust must be earned and a commitment must be made. The process requires multiple meetings and repeated conversations. Do lost souls really have that much time? As the Lord clearly teaches us through James, we simply don’t know. In light of this fact, is it right to withhold the message of Christ from someone who may not have much time left in this world?

Consider also the Great Commission. Jesus commands us to make disciples of all nations and to preach the gospel to all creation (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15). Does friendship evangelism work toward achieving that goal? Perhaps it does, but in a much more limited way than direct communication of the gospel because it limits the number of people that can be reached. If there is doubt about this, count the number of new relationships you developed last year. Whatever the number was, it could not possibly exceed the number of individuals with whom you could have shared the gospel via direct teaching.

Is it right to tell the gospel only to those with whom we have relationships—a mere subset of the population? Did Jesus command his disciples, “Go only to your friends, family and coworkers”? Absolutely not! Who will witness to the unbelievers who do not have Christian friends, family or coworkers? If every Christian shared the gospel only with those in his immediate sphere of influence, would that not amount to keeping the message of salvation from strangers?

If we are to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples of all the nations and to preach the gospel to all creation, then we would do well to consider how extensive our outreach is.

Continued in Part Five: The Pitfalls of Friendship Evangelism

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Does Scripture Support Friendship Evangelism?
In the preceding post I pointed out—hopefully with success—that the practice of friendship evangelism, as it is often held, is wrong for two reasons: 1) It is insincere because it amounts to using friendship as a means to an end—more on that in Part Five. (It should be emphasized here that it is not friendship that is contrary to the Bible but rather the use of friendship as though it were a tool to accomplish an agenda.) 2) It contradicts what the Bible has to say about man’s nature because no amount of human friendship or kindness can eliminate man’s natural hostility toward Christ and the gospel.

To be fair, however, we should also ask if Scripture provides any support for the idea. When any teaching is presented without biblical support, we should immediately beware of it; indeed we should ask where it even comes from.

Read any literature on this subject, or discuss it with any of its proponents, and you will quickly see that in every case these sources provide very little biblical support for it. The reason for this is very simple: The Bible is silent about it! Those who would try to find support for this method by examining the deeds of Jesus and the apostles as recorded in scripture will look in vain. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever built friendships as a precursor to communicating truth. They did not use friendship to soften the hostility of the lost and to bring down the barriers they erect. In addition, they did not passively wait for the lost to notice their holy lives or come to them with questions before they began communicating biblical truth to them. Instead they saw the preaching of the truth as their prime directive. They made this clear in their own descriptions of their ministries:

He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38)

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Cor. 1:17)

For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. (1 Cor. 9:16)

The passage that is perhaps the most widely used (and abused) to support friendship evangelism is John 4:1–42, the account of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. When this passage is examined closely, however, it becomes obvious that it does not support it. The text never mentions the development of a relationship as a prior step to communicating truth. The Samaritan woman and people in her village ended up believing in Jesus, but only because of a verbal message the Lord had communicated to them (John 4:39b, 41–42). Through it all there was no period of time in which relationships with the lost were built. The truth was spoken directly and immediately.

Perhaps the chief reason this passage is used to defend friendship evangelism is because it is thought that Jesus related to her in a personal way that opened doors for speaking truth into her life. Although Jesus certainly engaged her one-on-one in personal conversation, his interaction with her was not what most people today would consider effective for opening doors to conversation. As was typical of the way Christ spoke to everyone else, he spoke the truth to her directly, immediately, bluntly and impersonally. For example, he told her outright that she had had five husbands! He was just as blunt when he told her, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Proponents of friendship evangelism today would not dare to be so direct when they first met someone for fear of turning the person away. Yet the Lord Himself did not seem to be hindered by such a fear. Should we be?

What, then, did Jesus do? He certainly did not waste any time. He seized the moment and immediately began speaking the truth to her. He told her that He could give her living water (v. 14), that she was a sinner (vv. 17-18), how God must be worshipped (v. 24) and that He was the Messiah (v. 26).

So, what can we say for sure about this passage? It is certainly a historical account of a providentially arranged opportunity for Jesus to communicate truth—an opportunity that He did not waste. Can we say, as do many, that this passage should be seen as a model for evangelism? If so, then certainly we should follow Jesus’ example by speaking truth directly to unbelievers without waiting to develop a relationship first.

Continued in Part Four: Does Friendship Evangelism Meet the Urgent Demands of the Great Commission?

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.