My personal mantra comes from 1 Corinthians 9:22. In my own life I am many things to many different people so that some might be saved. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul explains that when he was with the Jews he observed the Jewish law even though he was no longer under the law. He says when he was with Gentiles he lived apart from the law and obeyed the law of Christ. He goes on to say what when he was with “the weak” he shared in their weakness to find a common ground so that he could win them to Christ. My personal philosophy of socializing with a lot of people who are very different than I am is challenged by the old adage, “birds of a feather flock together.”
Shaking her big balled up fist, my grandmother would warn me about hanging out with certain kinds of people. “Don’t be misled. Bad company corrupts good character,” she’d say quoting 1 Corinthians 15:33 in the NIV. Her mother, my great-grandmother, would remind me that “know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God.” She quoted the King James Version of James 4:4. Yes, I grew up believing that I should only socialize with people who shared not only my Christian beliefs, but also, my academic goals, my career ambition and so forth. Of course, I didn’t do that as a teenager. I believed it, but there was no way I was only hanging around with a bunch of goody two-shoes nerds.
During college I would come back to my hometown, drop my bags and head straight to the local watering hole to see everyone. My mother chastised me on the way out the door. “What business do you have being in that place as a Christian?” My response to mama was customary. “Jesus hung with thieves and prostitutes.” Deuces!
My mother came to the door and shut it. She looked at me, shaking her head. “But he wasn’t getting drunk and fornicating. He was with them shining light into their darkness. Is that what you’re going to do?” I saw that as a challenge and I boldly declared, “Yes!”
It would be years before I could cash in on that declaration, but eventually I came to believe through the scriptures that we, Jesus-loving Christians, should “live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity.” Colossians 4:5-6 explains that our “conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” When it comes to my crew, the people you may see me with in restaurants and fancy ballrooms, birds of different feathers flock together.
I have embraced the cry of Psalm 51:12-13, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and make me willing to obey you. Then, I will teach your ways to rebels and they will return to you.” My friends have varying faiths and executions of that faith. I have a Bible-believing, praying friend that makes my ears bleed every time she uses the Lord’s name in vain, but I can see the seed of Christ growing in her life and I continue to water it until God provides the increase. I have friends who have fallen away from the church and friends who made up their minds long ago that they don’t “do church.” Every opportunity I get with them, every movie, every lunch, every cackling laughter-filled interaction, we get around to the name of Jesus.
My testimony is long and painful but it is my reason for the hope that I profess. I pray that I always be a positive influence of those around me. Embracing Proverbs 12:26, “The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.” I take great pride in representing Jesus in my social settings. I take seriously the great commission that Jesus left with us to “go out” into the world and spread the gospel. It’s taken me a while to get the hang of it. I am very much aware of the warning from 2 Corinthians 6:14. “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can light live with darkness?”
Now, I don’t just hang with everybody. I have scripture to back my reason not to “fool with” certain people. I use 1 Corinthians 5:11 as a guide. It says not to associate with “anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, is greedy, worships idols, is abusive, a drunkard or cheats people.” Basically, somebody who lacks love for God and others. I heed 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to “be patient with everyone.” However, if you are just determined to sow evil and be darkness, you get deleted from my invite list and moved up on my prayer list.
Determining how to “go out” and spread the gospel is an art and takes wisdom, knowledge, and discernment. Your spiritual gifts will have a lot to do with building your social circle. If you have the gift of evangelism — love talking about Jesus– your circle will likely be broader and more diverse. If you can embrace the authority God has given you to “walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them” then you can really lean into certain places. (Luke 10:19)
Don’t let the old “birds of a feather” adage keep you from socializing with people of different expressions of faith. Don’t be afraid to hang out with non-Christians. When it comes to determining where and with whom you spend your time, use Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do and he will show you which path to take.”