There are two angles to this question: Can I have friends who don’t share my faith? And, what affect do my friends have on my faith?
Jesus and the Apostle Paul are often invoked in regard to these issues. Most striking are the actions of Jesus himself. He was called a glutton and a drunkard because he was often found eating and drinking with sinners. But then there is Paul, who warned about being yoked with unbelievers. The problem is, we aren’t Jesus. And Paul was referring to church members who spread false teachings.
So with whom should you associate? Paul, writing to his friends in Corinth, said that you’d have to leave the earth to avoid sinners because they’re everywhere. Jesus told us to love everyone — the good folks, the sinners, even our enemies. We can’t be a good example in life and faith if we shun those who don’t meet our standards.
So do we hang out with folks who drag us down, cause us to stumble, who lead us into bad situations and decisions? Or do we surround ourselves with those who uplift us and encourage us in our faith? You don’t have to be a theologian to choose wisely. But as Jesus and Paul teach us, we are surrounded by those who need our love. So live your faith by loving your neighbor, by being a friend.
Michael Rich, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville
Faith should factor into all life choices
My answer will focus on the often unspoken covenant relationship of friends as opposed to acquaintances. Friendships are certainly important investments that have a lasting quality. As such, one should enter into them with great care.
An important characteristic of friends is that they usually influence one another — to what degree varies, but friends will influence each other in some way. There is an observable "give-and-take" always at play. In true friendships, each person carries a little of the other, an influence that can be seen in various areas of life. Will it be evident in every area — no, only in those where one is particularly susceptible. It is in these areas that the dominant friend will be most influential.
This understanding has led church leaders, parents, youth mentors and others to pray for godly friends and role models for their children — and to push for discussions regarding peer pressure, anti-bullying and anti-drug campaigns, mentorships and more.
With this in mind, ask yourself: Should my faith be concerned with my choice of friends? Consider Proverbs 12:26: “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.”
The answer is, yes, my faith is concerned with all of my choices.
E. Steven Richardson, 17th Street Missionary Baptist Church, Anniston