As a pastor, for years I’ve heard people say many times, “I just needed to protect my relationship with Jesus, therefore, I had to stop being their friend.”
For some who may be easily influenced I completely understand this. Those who are close to us have an ability to influence and affect us. But this is not the case for everyone. So how do we know when to let someone in to the deepest part of our lives? For me it has nothing to do whether they are a Christ-follower or not. Some of my dearest friends do not profess to be Christ-followers. But they do accept me as a Christ-follower and they share or at least promote my priorities in life. The deal breaker should be, do they work to distract you from God’s call and purposes for your life.
Surely you remember that Jesus had different tiers or levels of relationships. There was the 70, the 12, the 3, and the 1.
Now we might have a tendency to correlate “tiers” “levels” with favoritism, elitism, or super spiritualism, but let’s remember the kind of people Jesus spent his time with. “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners'” (Matthew 11:19).
Jesus’ choice of company gave Him a reputation—and not the greatest one. But even though He spent time with unexpected groups, he was still selective with the kind of people He allowed to be close to Him, and so should you. Look! Just because the crowds may have followed Him it did not mean they would ever be in his inner circle. It is quite evident to me that while Jesus was incredibly inclusive, at the same time he was also very selective with his relationships. Read Mark 3.
There’s a temptation to call ourselves friends of God without first taking the time to really know His Son. True friendship is complex and layered no matter who it’s between. In John 15, we get a small glimpse into what Jesus really thinks about friendship:
“No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13-15).
Jesus combined His life’s purpose with his closest relationships. To Jesus, His closest friends were the people who embraced His cause. Maybe that’s what’s missing in our culture today. Our friendships have become shallow and wide. We’re constantly told that the primary purpose of friendships is to have fun and enjoy life together. But sometimes we abuse this role, discarding people when conflict emerges or when our feelings toward them change. That’s not true friendship?
True friendship plays out when it’s hard to stick around. When Jesus is hanging on the cross, His disciples having abandoned him, the Scriptures tell us that there was one disciple left at His feet— “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This is not a pleasant moment. This is not fun. This is a terrifying, hopeless and agonizing time to be a friend of Jesus. Friendship takes risk.
We shouldn’t be cutting people out of our lives because they’re not on the same page as us. But we should also be selective with the kind of people we let into our inner circles. Jesus told us to love our neighbors and to love our friends. Those are two different kinds of relationships, but both deserve our love and care.
No doubt there are people in your life who are your family that may be toxic, that would hinder you serving the purposes of God for your life. You may not be able to totally separate yourself, but you can limit the influence they have on you and the time you spend with them.