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Welcome back to our counter-cultural, Truth-inspired discussion on what it means to be have friends and be a friend all to the glory of God.
Please make sure you’ve listened to the two previous episodes before you tackle this one. The ideas we’re discussing today do not conform to the world’s understanding, and if our concepts of friendship are like the world’s, then we won’t be able to appreciate how God wants us to interact with people. We absolutely must ground ourselves in God’s definition of friendship before we’ll be ready to know what to do if we have a “bad friend.”
I pray this episode will be helpful for you, and — if it is — will you please share this series with as many people as you can? Facebook and Twitter and word of mouth are amazing ways to get God’s Truth into the lives of your friends.
You and your friends can take advantage of the series episode notes, transcripts, and other discipleship-related resources at CelebrationOfGod.com.
And, now let’s finish this three-part series by considering what God wants us do if we recognize that someone we thought was a friend ends up being an enemy.
Now, if you’re returning with us today, you know that there’s no such thing as a “bad friend.” Anyone who doesn’t love you and work toward God’s best interest in your life is an enemy.
That enemy may like hanging out with you, they may even care for you to one degree or another, but if they don’t push you toward Christlikeness, then they’re not a Christ-honoring friend, and their influence absolutely needs to be managed.
So, today we want to discuss whether or not you have any fake friends in your life, and what to do with them if you do.
1. Do you have enemies in your life? Do you have fake friends?
Of course you do!
We didn’t talk about this last time, but the reality of the situation is that a person may be a genuine friend at one moment and an enemy at the next. This is the human condition. We’re all sinners, and any time we sin against someone or in the presence of someone, we’re being an enemy. We’re either hurting them directly, encouraging them to do something sinful — which is hurtful to them — or we’re modeling a sinful lifestyle — which is just as hurtful.
Even born again believers can be enemies when we choose to be selfish and sinful. That should obviously never be our status quo, but it does happen.
The easiest example I can give of this is from my own life. It grieves me to say it, but I have probably been an enemy to my wife and kids more than most people — not because my sins against them have been the most grievous, but because they have been the most abundant.
I have had the supreme privilege of working from home since 2014. I spend all day with my family, and in the that time I have sinned against them many times. Though I can say that I don’t think I have ever actively encouraged them to sin, I know that I have sinned against them directly, and I know I have sinned against them indirectly. I have modeled godless living on too many occasions.
Now, the question of fake friends who are also family is more complicated than the majority of our fake friends, and I’ll comment on it at the end. But I share this unfortunate reality from my own life because we need to recognize that we can’t sugar-coat this.
When I have been selfish and sinfully angry and impatient and idolatrous, I was being an enemy to my family. I was lying to them about the God and my role in this world. Every time they have learned bad habits from me, every time they have copied my sinful choices, I was responsible for the part I played influencing them in that direction.
And I have had plenty of people in my life who have done the same — some more than others, and each to their own degree. Obviously, some people will be friends more than they are enemies, and some will be enemies more than they are friends.
So, we have to acknowledge that this issue is not as cut-and-dry as we may like. Everyone we know will fall on a continuum from 100% Enemy to 100% Friend. Strangers kind of have their own category because you don’t know anything about them. That’s why, generally speaking, we’re taught as children to be careful of strangers lest they be enemies and we not know it.
Anyway, because we’re all sinners, and because we all sin against each other, you are going to have to decide how you relate to people on the spectrum.
Let me give you a less personal, oversimplified example:
1. If you have a 100% Friend, then you’re not concerned at all that they will be a bad influence. Unfortunately, there are no humans who legitimately fall under this category. God is our only 100% friend.
2. On the other hand, the 100% Enemy is someone from whom you want to stay far away.
3. But what about the 75/25 Friend and the 75/25 Enemy? What about the person who acts like a friend 50% of the time and an enemy the other 50% and the various shades in-between?
This is where you’re going to have to be wise.
Dr. Joe Martin from Real Men Connect shares that his mom would break people up into four categories. Joe was allowed to have Fence Friends, Yard Friends, Porch Friends, and House Friends. The Fence Friends weren’t allowed in the yard. If Joe were going to interact with them, it was going to be over a fence. The Yard Friends could play in the yard, but they weren’t allowed to get anywhere near the house. The Porch Friends were allowed to sit on the porch, but not go into the house. I think you get the idea.
But the beautiful thing is that Momma Martin had a plan, and I find it uniquely reminiscent of Psalm 1. You must not sit on the porch with scoffers . . . but perhaps you can talk to them over the fence for the right reasons and at the right times.
All of this speaks to the importance of knowing who your friends really are. We need to know their character. We need to be able to identify whether or not they truly, biblically love us.
Now, before I continue, please remember that God expects this of the people in your life as well. They need to be carefully considering the influence you are in their lives. Your influence should be House Friend material. But is it?
We’ll consider ourselves more later, but for now, let’s consider the influences in our lives. And — guess what — these questions must extend to all of our relationships . . . even our online ones.
With how many people do you interact online every single day? Are they pointing you to Christ? Those are the influences you need to deepen and enhance. If they’re not, you need to limit that influence — maybe partially, and maybe all the way.
So, biblically speaking, we know that there are better chances that our lives are filled with enemies than they are friends because we know that broad is the way that leads to death and there are many who enter it. And if if we’ve entered the narrow gate, we still sin against each other.
So, it safe to say that when we open our eyes, we will realize that we likely have more enemies in our lives than we have friends. So how do we tell the difference?
Obviously . . .
A. You need to know what true love and friendship are. You need to know what Christ-honoring influence looks like.
Hopefully, this series has been helpful in this regard. But there’s no substitute for digging into God’s Word and allowing Him to teach you. There is so much more to be said about Christian friendship, but don’t wait for another Celebration of God series . . . start studying it in the Word today.
B. You need to maturely and biblically evaluate the people with whom you associate.
You need to ask yourself questions like, “Who do you think is your closest friend?” "Why do you call them a friend?” “How do they show God’s love to you?” “Have they ever encouraged you to do something that would displease the Lord?” “Are they the same person around the people at church that they are when they’re just with you?”
And as the answers start forming, you’re going to have to honestly work toward biblical conclusions.
It’s so easy to say, “Well, I wouldn’t say they love me like God loves me, but they’re still a good friend.” Or we may think, “Who cares if he doesn’t respect his parents/teachers/pastors, we still like hanging out together.” Or maybe we justify the relationship because it could always be worse. “It’s not like he’s selling me drugs or something!”
So, I want to share something with you that can help keep you honest with yourself.
I’d going to read an extended quote and make my own comments about a handout called “7 Trademarks of an Unhealthy Friendship.” It was written by Paul David Tripp and is based off of Ephesians 4.
I suggest you use this to evaluate your influences.
1. Does the relationship have a tendency toward self-indulgence?
“Ephesians 4:17-24 lays out two warring kingdoms: the kingdom of self and self-indulgence vs. the Kingdom of Christ and self-sacrifice. Every day in your friendship, a battle will be fought on your heart. Will you allow the relationship to be driven by what you want, or by God's purpose? On the other hand, does your friend always push toward what they want, or God's purpose?”
2. Does the relationship have a tendency toward deceit?
“Verse 25 says that we must speak honestly in our friendship, but because we are often driven by our own purpose and not the Lord's, we will be tempted to manipulate the truth to get what we want from the other person. This is one reason Jesus says, ‘Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.’ (Matthew 5:37)”
Does your friend ever lie to you, exaggerate, deceive, or manipulate you?
3. Does the relationship have a tendency toward anger?
“Verses 26-27 quote Psalm 4:4. It's not a sin to be angry; you should be righteously angered when a friend sins against you. However, sin comes into play and the devil gets a foothold when we attempt to control the relationship by venting our anger or by holding it over our friend's head to manipulate them. Does your friend frequently get angry with you? When was the last time they got angry and about what were they angry?”
4. Does the relationship have a tendency toward selfishness?
“Verse 28 may feel hard to relate to at first if you’re employed or a hard worker and not a thief by definition of local law. So think about it in a more simple way: how often do you protect or hold on to what you have, rather than offer it to your friend in an effort to serve them? On the other hand, how often does your friend protect or hold on to what they have, rather than offer it to you in an effort to serve you?”
5. Does the relationship have a tendency toward unhelpful communication?
“Verses 29-30 warn us that rather than using our language to build others up, we tend to use words to ensure that we have the top spot in our friendship. Proverbs 18:21 offers a more severe warning: ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue.’ Does your friend tear you down, make fun of you, or complain about you?”
6. Does the relationship have a tendency toward division?
“Again, verse 31 may feel unrelatable at first, especially if you haven't gotten into a brawl with your friend! However, it's much more common for us to view our friend as some type of adversary, rather than a companion in the struggle of relationship. Has your friend ever set you against herself?”
7. Does the relationship have a tendency toward an unforgiving spirit?
“The final verse in the chapter is the ultimate definition of a gospel friendship. Rather than want to make a friend pay for their wrongs against us, we should be the first to forgive, because no one forgives more freely than the person who knows how much they've been forgiven in Christ. Does your friend forgive or do they hold grudges?”
Okay, so let’s say — based off God’s definition of love, Tripp’s example from Ephesians, and your own study of the Word — that you’ve determined there are people you’ve called your friends who are consistently friends more often than their enemies. Great.
But what if you also determine that there are people with whom you have been spending significant one-on-one or small group time who are enemies more often than they’re friends. What then?
C. You have to understand how God expects you to relate to enemies.
1. All relationships must be redemptive.
This is a relatively simple concept, but it’s not intuitive. God wants all of our relationships to be redemptive relationships. That means that every person with whom we interact should be drawn closer to God because they were with us.
And God wants our influences to be redemptive as well.
Now, please understand. Someone can try to influence me but not have any success because I refuse to be influenced by them.
But, I’m telling you, you have to be careful. You may think a person’s not influencing you, but everyone else in your life can see it. This is why it’s so valuable to keep some relationships at the fence. In those fence-moments, you have to be intentional to influence them redemptively, but you also limit the possibility that they’re influencing you more than you realize.
2. All relationships with unbelievers are to be focused on evangelism.
If the individual is unsaved, then there’s clear biblical expectation that I be salt and light in their life.
But there is also clear teaching that I am not to fellowship with them. I John teaches us that there is no fellowship between light and darkness. To fellowship is to share or to contribute, but it can also refer to intimacy and intercourse.
The idea is that things that fellowship are similar — light with light. Oil and water don’t mix. Light and dark can’t exist in the same space at the same time.
Now, God doesn’t command us to ignore and run away from unbelievers. He simply points out that we don’t have anything in common and cannot — therefore — truly fellowship.
I think it’s valuable to understand fellowship as being a high level of intimate influence. We could argue that it’s the highest level of Christian influence.
But influence is a two way street. We must be a friend to them, but we have to acknowledge that they’re not a friend to us. We must influence them redemptively and not be sinfully influenced by them. We are obviously commanded to love them and share God’s Truth with them. If we’re being a true friend to them, there should be nothing more important to us than sharing the Gospel with the unsaved.
So, if the individual isn’t born again, we must not be unequally yoked with them in influence. If we’re yoked to them, they will affect our gait. We can’t undistractedly follow Christ if we’re chained to someone trying to get as far away from Him as possible.
But just because we’re not to be intimately fellowshipping with them does not mean that we don’t love them and seek to be a good influence on them.
And — Lord willing — if they submit to the Light of God’s Word and follow Him, our relationship with them can change and deepen and become more intimate as we fellowship with them.
On the other side, after I talk about our relationships with professing believers, I’m going to end today’s show by talking about the practical steps we need to take to if the individual refuses to engage with us redemptively.
3. All relationships with believers are to be focused on discipleship.
God wants us to sharpen, admonish, exhort, encourage, edify, teach, and strengthen each other. We’ve spoken much on this show about discipleship, and I encourage you to access our growing library of discipleship resources at CelebrationOfGod.com.
This is an all too neglected element in our relationships that reduces a lot of potentially Christ-honoring friendships to nothing more than fake friendships.
Remember, we don’t only sin against someone by doing something to them. Sometimes our enemy behavior involves keeping something from them. A doctor may not stab a person, but if they refuse to treat the wound inflicted by another, the doctor has wronged the individual in need just as much as the one who stabbed them.
When we aren’t engaged in Christ-honoring, discipling, one-anothering, we’re stealing something vital from the people in our lives . . . and that is not friend behavior.
So, what do we do if a professing Christian is doing the same to us? What if they’re not only not influencing us for Christ, what if they’re living in open sin?
Consider I Corinthians 5:9-13. Paul says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.”
To “associate with” refers to keeping company. Interestingly enough, the three times this Greek word is used in the Bible, it’s describing someone with whom we should not be associating.
So, he continues, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.”
Paul is saying that he’s not telling you not to rub shoulders with unsaved sinners. No, no. That would be impossible. “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Our redemptive relationships with professing Christians are to be identical to our relationships with unbelievers in that our interactions must draw them to God. And in the case of a professing brother or sister in Christ, if they are living in unrepentant sin, God says, “Don’t rub shoulders with them at all.”
Now, there is a pattern that is to be followed. We’re running short on time, and I hope to discuss these concepts in more detail later, but in Matthew 18 Jesus makes it clear that we don’t jump ship the first time someone sins against us.
There’s a pattern of redemptively reaching out to them, working toward their repentance and reconciliation to God and others.
And we may cycle through the process of sin, confrontation, reconciliation many times. Right after detailing how we are to confront our sinning brothers, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ 22 Jesus *said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
As long as the individual is participating in the redemptive elements of the relationship, we should continue to lovingly influence them as much as we can. We may have to limit how much influence they have in our lives until they prove to be more consistent and responsible. Galatians 6:1 warns, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
This is a similar tact we’re to have with unbelievers. We get as close as we can, we intentionally love them in Christ, but we have to watch out that we’re not being pulled under in the process.
However, as long as they’re speaking God’s truth, that is influence we should appreciate.
James says in 5:19-20, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
But in the event that the professing brother or sister refuses our admonishment, even Jesus says that we need to eventually cut off the fellowship.
This is why Paul said, “Not even to associate with them.”
In a way, we have more freedom in associating with unbelievers for the purpose of introducing them to Christ than we do to associate with professing believers who are living like unbelievers. The idea is that the professing Christian knows the truth and is rejecting it, but the unbeliever is likely ignorant of it.
There is more value in investing in influencing the unbeliever than there is influencing the believer.
So, God clearly wants us to admonish Christians who act like enemies, but He definitely wants us spending less time with them than with unbelievers.
This is why Jesus ate with unsaved sinners, but He commands us to not even eat with professing Christians who are living in sin. Even though that could sound contrary, it makes perfect, biblical sense.
So, how do we treat our enemies?
If they’re unsaved, we interact with them in order to better share the Gospel.
And what about professing Christian enemies? We interact with them to better share the Gospel.
However, we shouldn’t be fellowshipping with either. We should be fellowshipping with those who consistently sharpen us in Christ. And this should look very similar, but instead of calling our friends to the Gospel, we’re to walk with them in the Gospel, encouraging growth and continued submission to Christ.
Now, as we close today, let’s be super practical.
If you discover that someone in your life who you thought was a friend is actually an enemy, you need to limit your influence with them. And though that sounds super easy, it can often be very difficult. How do you tell someone you used to invite into your home that they can only hang out at the fence?
1. How do you limit influence with people outside of your family?
Let’s start by recognizing that limiting influence is always a secondary response. It must follow two other steps. I only need to limit influence with someone after I have tried to build them up in Christ and they have refused. I shouldn’t be ghosting anyone without first having been a friend to them.
That means that I need to start sharing the Gospel. I need speak the truth in love.
Whether they’re born again or not, I need to be the friend God commands me to be. And that right there will impact my relationships. Some of your friends won’t like the “new you.” They won’t be sure what they think about the God-talk and desire for personal holiness. They may remove themselves from your sphere of influence all by themselves.
Lord willing, others will be drawn to Christ because of it.
And when it becomes clear that the individual with whom you used to spend a lot of time isn’t interested in being the follower of Christ that they should, it will be much easier to have a loving conversation with them.
It will be much easier to explain that God has been doing a massive work in you. He’s helped you see the important things in life, and He’s conforming you into His image. And you really want the person with whom you’re talking to walk that road with you, but — if they’re not interested in doing that — you’re sure they can understand why you won’t be spending as much time together.
The conversation doesn’t have to be about the other person being a “bad influence.” It can simply be a last invitation to them to imitate you as you imitate Christ, so follow you as you follow Him. Their response will tell you everything you need to know.
Whether they choose to submit to God or not, you’re still going to have to wisely and intentionally be a good influence while you compare and contrast their influence with God’s revealed Word.
But at the beginning of today’s episode I used myself as an example of someone who sins against my family members. I act as their enemy from time to time when I’m not in the Spirit and fulfilling the desires of the flesh.
So, let’s consider . . .
2. How do you limit influence with people inside your family?
This one is complicated and probably needs its own series to work through the issues.
But allow me to do two things:
A. If you’re in a situation like this and need help, please email Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com. We could love to work through the details with you
And I also want to say . . .
B. How much someone influences you is up to you.
Yes, in a best case scenario, we need to do what Joseph did when approached by Potiphar’s wife. We need to get ourselves away from the sinful influences. But that isn’t always an option in a family.
Yes, I believe that if a person is breaking the law, they need to be instantly held accountable for that, and — in such cases — they may be removed from an influential position for a time.
Sometimes children need to be separated from each other for a time.
When a young person is officially on their own — especially if they have started their own family — appropriate distance can be put into place.
But divorce is a carefully defined biblical process. We can’t just leave our spouses because they regularly sin against us.
So, regardless of whether you’re a minor, a spouse, or you’re someone else in a difficult situation where escaping the bad influences just isn’t a Christ-honoring option . . . you need to intentionally limit how much you allow the sinful influence to actually sway you.
I Corinthians 10:13 promises us that — in every temptation we face — God has prepared a way for us to escape it. God will always provide you everything you need for life and godliness through His Word.
When it comes to turning influences into non-influences, you don’t change the influencer, you change the person being influenced.
If you doggedly want to please the Lord, and you’re submitted to the the filling of the Holy Spirit, and you work your hardest to mature in Christ and be conformed to His image, you will be influenced less and less by the sinful examples in your life.
In best case scenarios, the Bible is clear that we should carefully manage the influence from our enemies. But if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot do that, please know that there is hope. You don’t have to be swayed by the enemies in your life.
Now, there is so much more that could be said on this subject. This has merely been a thumbnail sketch of the biblical concepts wrapped up in friendship.
We could easily turn to I Samuel 18, 19, and 23 to discuss David and Jonathan as an example of a Christ-honoring friendship. And I encourage you to do that to better understand what a God-honoring friendship looks like.
The key point in all of this is this: influence is vital to your spiritual success or failure. Friends have the most influence in our lives, but true friends love, and love is actively working toward God’s best interest for the one loved. Those are the people to whom we need to draw closer.
However, enemies hate. Hate is actively or passively encouraging people to disobey God. Those are the people whose influence you need to limit.
Obviously, you’re to love everyone regardless of how you’re treated, therefore all of our relationships are to be redemptive. If the person is unsaved, we should do everything we can to introduce them to Christ. If the person claims to be born again, but they are living like an enemy, we should want for them to be reconciled with God and with the people against whom they’ve sinned.
And if the individual is a true friend, we should lift them up and pray for them and encourage them in the Lord.
So, I’m going to ask you to be a good friend by sharing this episode with the people in your life. The more people who know what a biblical friend is the more Christ-honoring friends you can have.
Of course, if you still have questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can get our free episode notes at CelebrationOfGod.com.
And I hope you’ll join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our lives do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing worshipping God in August, and then we plan to start a series about what it really means to obey God. I know all disciples of God will want to make sure that’s a concept they understand.
So, I’ll hopefully see you and your friends then.
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The Year Long Celebration of God is a discipleship experience designed to equip followers of Christ to better know, love, and worship Him as they help others in their lives do the same. We exalt God, teach His people how to practically worship Him every day of the year, and train them to disciple others.
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AMBrewster is the creator of The Year Long Celebration of God and host of its podcast.