The term “friendship evangelism” means several different things. It can mean deliberately waiting to share the Gospel with someone until a relationship has been established. The friendship evangelism label is also used to reference the idea that we should live righteous, godly lives, and wait to say anything about the Gospel until someone asks why we are different.
Must we be sensitive to people and discerning with the approach we use to point them to Christ? Absolutely! Jesus did this so well. With a sinful Samaritan woman, Jesus began His witnessing conversation by asking for a drink (Jn. 4:5-29). It is important to notice though, that he ended by offering her a drink that would satisfy and last forever. With Nicodemus the Pharisee, Jesus used a series of confusing yet intriguing statements to perk the man’s interest. Jesus didn’t stop with these statements, however. He used them as a door to go on and say that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16). Like Jesus, we must learn to recognize people’s felt need and appeal to that. And, like Jesus, we must not stop after identifying felt needs. We must use these needs as bridges to share the life changing message of the Gospel.
Should we lead lives that are so obviously changed and different from the world that people “ask you a reason for the hope that is in you” ( 1 Pet. 3:15)? Of course! But there is a problem when this becomes our primary way of sharing the Gospel. The act of living a changed life can be a testimony, but it is not witnessing. It leads to opportunities for evangelism, but, in itself, is not evangelism.
It is dangerous to wait to let people in on the fact that we are a Christian, or to wait to share the Gospel with people until we know them well. For one thing, we may never learn to know them well. We come in contact with many people that we will only have a surface relationship with because of our differences or the distance between us. Another fact is that the nearer we get to someone, the more difficult it becomes to talk about things that could separate us. The more we like someone, the more terrifying it becomes to risk losing their friendship.
I have found that it is possible to share the hard (and possibly offensive) truths of the Gospel with people who disagree entirely and still continue a friendship. Most people actually respect the fact that there is something so important to us that we are willing to risk our likability to share it. People usually appreciate it when we care about them enough to tastefully and lovingly tell them they are in trouble and how to get out.
If the fact that we follow Christ and someone else does not would limit the extent of our friendship (it always does), should we try to go beyond that limit and develop a closer relationship than our differences would allow? To do so would mean that we compromise the truth with the intent of sharing truth later. It doesn’t make sense.
The Gospel is good news to those who choose to accept it, but terrible news to those who reject it. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:15-17: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.”
Brothers and sisters, some people will hate us for the Gospel. It will keep us from some relationships. It will give us, as well as sinners, hard and lonely times. But, for the sake of the cause of Christ, and for love of the people around us, let us “sow with tears.” Let us share the hard truth. Let us be the aroma of Christ. And let us be more than just friends to the precious souls around us.