Why are my non-Christian friends better than my Christian friends? I’ve heard this echoed a number of times over the years, but it really hit me when one of our former members did an about face on the faith. He was one of our youth leaders. He was a great Christian man. He was one of those ‘guys worth watching.’ I had set my eyes on him going into full-time ministry. But one year, for some unknown reason, he completely turned his back on the faith. What happened? When I caught up with him, one explanation he offered was just this: his non-Christian friends seemed better than the people at church. I shared this with a mature Christian friend. She said she sometimes feels like that as well. This floored me again, and it got me thinking. Here are some thoughts I came up with:
1. Christians don’t get to choose their friends.
This isn’t rocket science. We naturally choose to hang out with people we like: people who are kind and nice and pleasant; people who are a joy to be around. But in church only God gets to say who is part of our community.
I guess it’s like having a family. My children did not have the right to choose their siblings They got what they were given whether they liked it or not. I know one guy has a real problem with his siblings. But even so, despite all the rotten things they have done on him—as he said to me—“They are still my family and I have to help them whether I like it or not!”
So it is for us. Only God—and God alone—get to choose the members of his church (Ephesians 1:4,5)
We naturally choose to hang out with people we like. But in church only God gets to say who is part of our community.
2. God likes to pick no-hopers.
What’s more, God likes to pick unlikeable people. He’ll even choose enemies to be part of our family. In Ephesians 2-3 we find out that God’s eternal plan was to choose gentiles to be part of what was originally a Jewish faith (Ephesians 3:6). This wasn’t merely a happy exercise in multiculturalism—Jews and gentiles tended to the worst of enemies! Yet God had it in his mind to bring these enemies together and make them a new community.
Here’s another case that follows the same strange logic. Jesus chooses both a Jewish zealot (a guerilla fighter or insurgent) and a tax collector (collaborator) to belong to his inner group of twelve. Imagine the potential for conflict. Imagine the problems it would create for team unity. Nevertheless, Jesus chose them both. They didn’t have a say.
Paul is another example. He’s a hater and persecutor of Christians, and yet God (mercifully!) chose him to become an apostle. Remember what Ananias says when God tells him to go and baptise Paul. His response is basically, “Are you crazy? This man hates us!” And God’s answer? “Go! I’ve chosen him …” and the rest is history (Acts 9:1-16).
And here’s one from my own experience. I remember a young Christian woman speaking about her messed up family life. She talked about the devastation of seeing her dad leave her mentally ill mum for another woman. Yet—and this is where it gets weird—for some reason God decided, not just to save that dad, but also to bring him to his daughter’s church and make him a key member. Crazy!
If this were to happen in a normal community the daughter would tell her father where to go in no uncertain terms. But not in the church. She didn’t have a choice. God didn’t ask her permission.
This problem isn’t a coincidence. It’s because of the gospel itself. We know the famous passage in Ephesians 2:8,9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no-one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV.
We usually apply this to talking personal salvation: God accepts gentiles into the essentially Jewish faith and community—saves them, because of anything they have done, but only by sheer grace. But if we are going to be truly gospel-centred, we need to see that the logical implication is that anyone and everyone must be welcomed into our churches regardless of who they are—whether we like them or not. Why? Because salvation is completely free and unconditional.
If we are going to be truly gospel-centred we need to see that anyone and everyone must be welcomed into our churches regardless of who they are. Why? Because salvation is completely free and unconditional.
3. Forgiveness is Christian DNA
In the world, when our friends do the dirty on us, we fight and argue. If that can’t be resolved, we move on and find other people whom we like. But when Christians have fights and don’t get along, we’re commanded to FORGIVE.
And it’s hard. It is worth remembering that that famous passage about love so often used in weddings (1 Corinthians 13) was first written to a church where relationships were falling apart. These were the people Paul commanded to love each other. These were the ones who had to learn to live with each other. Which is why real love is always about forgiveness. What do we mean by love? In the world love is about getting along with each other; feeling good about each other etc. But in the church it is fundamentally about forgiving each other.
In the world there’s very little real forgiveness. People fight and move on. But in the church, forgiveness is everything! It’s our DNA as forgiven people. We can’t just move on—because God has chosen us to belong to each other and formed us into one community.
4. This is how God reveals his grace and wisdom.
So why does God want to make life hard like this? Because we can’t see what genuine grace and forgiveness looks like in a community where everyone is nice to each other. It can only shine when God brings together a lot of ratbags and then, by the power of his Spirit, changes them from bitter enemies into deep friends. The world has never successfully done it, but this is what God is powerfully doing in and through his church.
Genuine grace and forgiveness can only shine when God brings together a lot of ratbags and then, by the power of his spirit, changes them from bitter enemies into deep friends.
It won’t happen over night, nor will it be pain free. But it WILL happen and IS happening now.
Is it any wonder why our non-Christian friend always seem to be so much better than our Church friends? We choose our non-Christian friends, and only those who are nice to us. But when it comes to the church, we didn’t choose them. God chose them (and us!) unconditionally, and now he calls on each one of us to keep forgiving each other in the way Christ has forgiven us.
Photo: Brian Kdeneh, unsplash.com