So why are you my friend? Is it only so you can share Jesus with me?
Have you ever been asked this question? How did you answer?
It’s a hard question to answer isn’t it? The reason is because I know many who have been challenged and encouraged to build friendships with others just so they could share the gospel with them?
What usually happens in these relationships is that you work on building a strong friendship and then one day, you lower the boom and ask them what they think about Jesus. What’s their response? Well, it all depends, but sometimes they may feel set up and ask, “So you’re just hanging out with me because you want me to know Jesus?”
No one likes to feel like a project. So what do we do? Is it wrong to build a friendship with someone to share the gospel?
The answer is yes and no.
No, because to really “love your neighbor as yourself” will cause you to want them to have the same joy you have found in Christ. You will want them, along with everyone else around you, to know of the grace and mercy found in God. Consider these words from Augustine…
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Now you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What, then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely, that he may love God with a perfect affection. For you do not love him as yourself, unless you try to draw him to that good which you yourself are pursuing.
The answer is yes, however, for several reasons. First, because it can make others feel manipulated. This happens when we wait to bring up anything about Christianity until we are deep into a friendship. We just spring it on them. Why don’t we bring up the topic sooner?
Second, it’s wrong when our goal to share the gospel is not working and we abandon the friendship. What we need to ask ourselves is when someone rejects the gospel, do we continue to be his/her friend?
A final reason it can be wrong is that we have the tendency to pick those most like us or those whose friendships will build our egos. As a result, we tend to ignore people who may be very open to the gospel.
This doesn’t mean that people we naturally get along with don’t need to hear the gospel, but we must be aware that God might bring someone new into our path. And that someone might be very different from us. We need to be willing to befriend anyone who is open to the gospel.
As I think about what it means to share the gospel with others and to befriend them while doing so, I like what Justin Leonard writes in his book on evangelism. His words give us some great encouragement in building friendships and sharing the gospel.
Sharing your faith doesn’t impose itself on others, leaving them feeling resentful and used. It invites people to step beyond a superficial friendship where no one really cares about listening, and to head toward deep spiritual relationship. It’s an approach that makes it safe for people to confide in you and trust you with the truth of what’s going on in their lives, so that your interaction with them becomes like warm oil, bringing healing, peace, and grace, lifting the burdens off their shoulder.