Previous article in this series: February 1, 2017, p. 208.
Who are your friends?
If you didn’t stop to ponder and answer that question you, ought to.
Who are your friends? Name them. These are the people with whom you voluntarily spend time and whose company is sweet to you. We do not choose our siblings, next-door neighbors, classmates, or coworkers. But, especially as we grow older, we do choose friends. Who are yours?
We may not be friends with the world. If we become friends with the world, then our friends, no matter how friendly they are or how good they make us feel, are actually our enemies. Is there an act more certain to bring self-destruction to a soldier than the befriending of the enemy? Too many youth reared in the church choose to walk a sinful path of self-destruction that brings heaviness and shame to their father and mother. The beginning of their path? Friends. Ungodly friends. And probably the worst enemy-friend of all is a boyfriend (then husband) or girlfriend (then wife) who does not love the Lord. Solomon comes to mind. God graciously spared Solomon as a brand plucked out of the fire, but how quickly and violently the king’s life spiraled downward when he foolishly made idolatrous women his friends in marriage.
Who are your friends? Your answer is important.
In our series on spiritual warfare, we are presently identifying and describing that well known triumvirate of enemies: Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Last time we created a kind of profile card describing our enemy “Satan.” Now we examine “the world.” By “the world” we do not mean the physical universe of dry land, seas, and the skies above. Rather, we mean wicked men and women living out of the inner principle of corruption and producing unfruitful works of darkness, as a race alienated from God and hostile to Christ (see Rom. 12:2; Eph. 2:2; James 1:27; 4:4; I John 2:15-17).
There are many things we could say about the world, speaking in terms of: lust, pride of life, drinking, drugs, movies, unholy music, raunchy television programs, profanity, laziness, gluttony, adultery, sexting, fornication, pornography, love of money, rebellion, revolution, identity-theft, lies, deceit, cheating, carnal ambition, Sabbath desecration, idolatry in countless forms, pleasure in iniquity, hatred for the church and Christ and the Ten Commandments, vain philosophy, murder, verbal and physical abuse, and a whole arsenal of “isms” such as humanism, secularism, evolutionism, transgenderism, and terrorism. However, instead of producing a list of descriptors of this enemy “the world” as we did with “Satan,” we want to focus upon a singular concept: friendship.
Friendship with the world is a means—a most effective means, maybe the most effective means—whereby many of the aforementioned detestable realities of the world come to the believer. Friendship with the world is an ever-present danger about which there cannot be too many careful warnings for covenant youth. Warnings can be issued heartlessly as the unfruitful berating of covenant youth, or inaccurately by making sweeping generalizations. Sometimes even the most spiritually mature and sincere among the youth can be agitated and adversely affected by the poor manner in which a warning is delivered. But sincere and urgent warnings wisely and compassionately issued in the interest of fellowship with God cannot come too often—even hard-hitting ones as the faithful wounds of a friend. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Who could word a warning stronger than that? Friendship with the world is enmity with God.
You may and ought to be friendly to the men and women of the world as you live among them and have loose, formal associations with them. Because we are not and may not be ascetics who flee modern society for little enclaves in the wilderness, we will work alongside worldly men and women day after day in our place of occupation. We will be their classmates in college. We will bump into them at the gas station, the grocery store, the gym, the local library, the park, or while on vacation. Be friendly.
Friendliness and friendship are not the same. While there can be no friendship without friendliness, there can be friendliness without friendship. Friendliness is a characteristic; friendship is a relationship. Be friends with God’s friends, and none other. But be friendly to all. Christians living in that fountainhead of heathendom called Rome were exhorted in the first century, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). “Peaceably” is a positive word that means more than “without belligerence.” The Christian soldier should be cordial, civil, courteous, and approachable to those around him in the world. If exhibiting friendliness is mistakenly confirming your approval of some individual’s God-dishonoring action, lifestyle, or religion, or is encouraging him in it, then some measure of friendliness must be sacrificed. If friendliness toward an unbeliever at work is leading unstoppably to the establishment of a bond of friendship with that unbeliever so that the two of you do much more than work together, then friendliness has crossed the boundary of what is acceptable to God. If friendliness is leading to flirting, and flirting to a dating relationship with one who does not love the Lord as you do, the friendliness must be curtailed. But, if it be possible, as much as lies in you, be friendly and cordial to all.
Do not be frigid, surly, or rude; and certainly do not be cruel. To say it another way, do not be churlish as beautiful Abigail’s husband Nabal was churlish. Spirit-filled Christians are not churlish. The antithesis—militancy in our spiritual warfare—does not require churlishness toward the men and women of the world whose lives intersect with ours. The antithesis does not require of you icy cold treatment of your partner in the engineering project in college or the coworker in the cubicle next to you at work because that particular individual does not confess the essentials of the Reformed faith or even because that individual is, let’s say, a devout Roman Catholic or a professing agnostic. Even when you must ask an ungodly coworker (even “Christian” co-worker) to refrain from using profanities (read Lord’s Day 36), don’t make your request churlishly but politely. And if your nearest coworker is a nauseatingly bold, in-your-face, taunting, transgender God-denier, then pray for much wisdom to walk worthy of the Lord and consider whether giving up your position for a new one might be best for you. But do not be churlish.
Being of ill repute in the world for unfriendliness is not good for a Christian. It is true that the charge of unfriendliness is often leveled against the faithful for sticking uncompromisingly to their principles—to their Christ. Many good theologians have been unfairly branded “unfriendly.” However, let it not be true that we really are unfriendly to worldly people in our path. Unfriendliness could potentially disqualify a young man from serving in church office. I Timothy 3:7 gives that less familiar qualification for an office bearer: “Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without….” He must have a good reputation in the world. One way a man might fail to have a good reputation in the world is that by his conduct, demeanor, and words at work and in the neighborhood he reveals himself to be a boorish fool. Perhaps he even acts so churlishly because he mistakenly supposes that putting on the whole armor of God means he must carry an unpeaceable disposition toward any non-Christian in his path. He is governed by an extreme misapplication of the antithesis and will prove he is not fit for special office in God’s church. Even the world will say so.
Additionally, how will you ever have an opportunity to make known to an unbeliever or ignorant professing Christian in your path the wonderful deeds of God and share the gospel of the Christ you claim to love if you are so churlish no one wants to walk on the same side of the road as you? Be friendly.
But unfriendliness is hardly the danger. Friendship is the danger—the real and great danger. We may not be friends with the world. Friends live in a relationship in which they voluntarily spend time together, walk together in communion, and find sweet companionship together. Their hearts are yoked together. Although many in our path do not overtly display the depravity of their hearts because they are friendly and outwardly ethical, they still belong to the world. Obviously, the thief and murderer belong to the world. But so do plenty of nominal Christians who go to church every Sunday and a Christian high school or college during the week. Their unholy walk of life is proof. They may not be our friends.
There is something worse than having no friends. Having no friends is misery. But there is something more miserable, and that is having worldly friends. Better to have no friend than a friend who is the enemy of God. Better to be single and lonely in a tent than to be married to a gorgeous Philistine or a handsome Canaanite in a palace. Not all young people will agree, but time will prove it to be so. I trust you agree, dear reader. Worldly friends will influence us. In a relationship with them we will invariably pick up habits, develop ways of thinking and speaking, and find new interests that are corrupt according to the Word of God.
Worldly friends will never make us want to love God more, make us want to serve Christ more, give us a deeper appreciation for the church, and make us want to read Reformed literature and study our Bibles more. They do not make us want to hate our sins more. It is one thing to have a loose, formal association with an ungodly college classmate with whom we collaborate in a lab project. It is another thing to say, “Want to hang out Friday night?”
One of the most powerful and effective means Satan has employed throughout the ages for drawing the children of believers out of the instituted church and into the world and off the path of sanctified living into the path of spiritual indifference and gross immorality is the influence of ungodly friends. The reason the heathen inhabitants of Canaan had to be driven out before Israel (Ex. 34:11) was so that Israel not make a covenant of friendship with them (v. 12) and then go awhoring after their gods (v. 15). In fact, in that dispensation of covenantal history those unholy Canaanites had to be killed. Some of our baptized children grow up and go awhoring after the gods of the twenty-first century Canaanites. Worldly friends led them there. Sometimes these worldly friends exert their influence from thousands of miles away. Though they are not on our path, they can still sing their profane music to us through our headphones, or from Hollywood they can amuse us with their half-naked (or naked) bodies or murderous hands through a screen. May God save us from worldly friendships and the idolatry that follows!
When God incorporates us into His everlasting covenant of friendship, filling our hearts with love for Him, we cannot and will not walk as friends with the world that hates our God. The cross of Jesus Christ, which is the basis for the covenant, proves that the holy cannot be friends with the unholy. The friends of God cannot be the friends of the world. If God Himself could be friends with us naturally worldly, unholy sinners, there would be no cross. But there was a cross. The cross proves the necessity of righteousness and holiness in covenantal friendship. We may not be a friend of the world. May God put that conviction in our souls.
The difference between godly friends and worldly friends is marked. Let’s conclude with a few of those differences, drawing some of our direction from the inspired Solomon in the book of Proverbs.
What kind of friend are you? Stating these differences is convicting. May God forgive and sanctify us, making us better friends.
But now, who are your friends?
Who are you dating right now? You are in the heat of battle, so will you sincerely consider whether the goal of this dating relationship is the satisfaction of your flesh or the honor of God?
And if your dating is pleasing to God, may He assure you of that in your heart.
“I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:63).