Friendships with Non-Christians • Pastor Tim Tseng • August 21, 2016
Jesus, initially welcomed as a hometown hero in Nazareth, was abruptly and angrily rejected (Luke 4:22-30). Why? Because he taught that God’s grace and love extends to Israel’s enemies.
At first, Jesus’ hometown people thought that Jesus believed, as they did, that God’s promise to restore his people was only for Israel (see Luke 4:18-19).
But then Jesus shared two stories of how Israel’s most well-regarded prophets, Elijah and Elisha, ministered and helped Israel’s enemies. See Elijah and the Widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-24) and Elisha and Naaman at Aram [Syria] (2 Kings 5:1-19). By the way, Jesus later reinforces this teaching by commanding his disciples to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-36; Matthew 5:43-48)
The hometown people were enraged and tried to cast Jesus off a cliff (which he was able to avoid).
So the lesson here is that Jesus challenged the “bounded set” thinking of his own people. Christians are tempted to create boundaries between ourselves and others. Usually, the boundaries are misplaced. Instead of centering on a commitment follow Jesus, we make it easy for people to call themselves Christians (e.g., I accept Christ into my heart) and then set boundaries around behavior, language, race, culture, lifestyle, political ideology, class, etc.
As we develop friendships with non-Christians, we, too must give up our “bounded set” thinking. Instead of helping outsiders become insiders, we should be inviting our non-Christian (and even our church members) to turn their orientation towards Christ (see the “centered set” illustration). This means that we should re-prioritize what we do in church. Small groups, fellowships, Sunday school classes, indeed, any activity, should put more energy into engaging people into orienting their lives towards Christ than in trying to make them feel comfortable at Canaan.
Furthermore, when we share the gospel with non-Christian friends, we must be willing to invest time and energy to engage them on important life issues, too. Use the “four circles” approach to evangelism, not the “bridge” illustration.
Finally, our non-Christian friends ought to see how invested we are in our Christian faith. Let them see that we are committing a minimum of five hours a week outside of Sunday worship to Christian activities (e.g., studying, preparing studies, volunteering, disciple-making).