Being Friends With Non-Christians

friendshipI have been in UBF my entire Christian life since I became a Christian in 1980. A seminal moment occurred about 10 years ago when Dr. John Armstrong preached a sermon at Chicago UBF. He asked a question: “How many non-Christians regard you as their best friend?” I was stunned. The answer was obvious: NONE!

This convicted and troubled me greatly. It is because after I became a Christian, I cut off anyone and everyone who would not study the Bible, including my own family and old friends. I not only did not have non-Christian friends; in fact I had no friends outside of UBF.

The first thing I did was to reconnect with some of my friends from my past. I have a childhood friend in Singapore who is an atheist. We have known each other for 50 years. But I intentionally broke off all contact with him for 25 years. So I started visiting him again whenever I went back to Singapore to visit my mother in Malaysia. We restored our friendship. I also made friends with a doctor who is my mother’s neighbor. Though he is not religious, I learn much from him, especially about dealing with conflict. Obviously, I still have a long way to go! We became friends.

I also greatly offended my parents and only sibling, a brother. I did not regard them as my own family, since UBF became my spiritual family. I would not visit them in my home country for two decades. I thought I was making a statement as a Christian. My mother once said to me, “My non-Christian friends treat me better than you…and you are a Christian.” My older brother threatened to disown me. At that time, I was unfazed by such statements, reasoning that Jesus was greatly misunderstood by his own mother and brothers.

I started visiting my family and relatives again in Malaysia and Singapore. I wanted to restore the relationships I had intentionally broken. Today, I thank God that my family and old friends no longer think I am rude or self-righteous, while still respecting me as a Christian.

Last week, a girl from church brought her room-mate to meet me. He grew up Buddhist. He claims to be non-religious. If I had met such a person in the past, I would have argued with him intensely to prove that Christ is the way. Our encounter would have been one and done. He would have left angry and distraught. But when I met him I decided to just listen to him and share stories and life freely without any agenda. We laughed a lot together. After meeting him, he asked to meet me regularly because he has many questions about Christianity to ask me. I was pleasantly surprised. The girl who brought him told me privately that he likes meeting with me. When I did not try to prove Christianity to him, he became open and curious about Christianity. Perhaps, we even became friends after just meeting once.

(Over the years I have had dozens of 1:1 Bible study where the “sheep” would meet me once but not twice. I wasn’t sure why. I thought it was because I was crystal clear. Finally, I think I know why!)

For sure I have a long way to go in making friends with non-Christians (or even with Christians!). But in the last few years, I realize that making friends with non-religious people is such an enriching experience. Sometimes they even seem “nicer” than some Christians!

Jesus regarded his disciples as his friends, not his servants or subordinates (Jn 15:15). God is not discriminatory. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). Paul says that God “has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). God is good to all. Shouldn’t I do the same?

Do you have non-religious people who regard you as their best friend?


  1. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45) – See more at:

    Ben, thank you for your post. Matt 5:45 is God’s common grace. Indeed God pours out his mercy to both the righteous and the unrighteous when we do not deserve his grace. Because we are all created in the image of God, this can be the reason why we should love and respect all human beings regardless of their human background.

    I had similar experience like you. Growing up in UBF for many decades I made no friends outside of UBF. I loved others to make them UBF members. If there is no possibility of that I did not pay any attention. When I also heard John Armstrong’s message, I realized I fell into sectarianism.(Our church is better than other churches because of many reasons I cherish)

    The only place I have chance to meet non-Christians is my working place. I meet every kinds of people from many different religious background, different occupations with different problems and illnesses every day. I do not preach to them, but simply pay attention to them and listen to them and try to help them in my best ability. One thing I learned is I need to be non-judgmental regardless of their situation. Strangely they come to me year after year. They all know that I am a Christian because they all know that I take vacations to attend mission conferences several times a year.

    • I say these things, not in order to be contrary but to gently bring you to the Word. The Lord does not give grace to everyone for “he has mercy on whom He will have mercy and He hardens whom He wants to harden” (Romans 9)
      The Apostle John in his short letters explains the difference between those who have received the Word and those who do not.
      He says “the one who denies that Jesus is the Son of God is a liar and the Antichrist.” Such people are not the “friends” of Christ.
      for he had no friends who were not “Christians.”
      As long as you “do not preach to them,” they will continue to love you.

    • Hi Bill, and welcome to ubfriends. Our website automatically assigns a profile picture when you comment. They tend to be a bit silly, so if you’d like to change your profile, just click the “Howdy, Bill” button in the upper right corner after logging in, then click “Edit my profile”. You should see an option to upload a picture you want to use as your profile.

  2. James Kim…thanks for your response…it is true about most members of UBF….I shared the same experience because the culture of UBF promotes this kind of thinking all the way up to the leaders and my chapter director when I was in Cincinnati…there is a deep seated pride and arrogance in UBF leaders…the word of God should bring humility and deep love for families, people and all believers because we are all made in the image of God…I saw it produced the exact opposite in the leaders…contempt for relatives, friends who don’t belong to UBF, other Christians as unspiritual and lost, to my own chapter director saying many time to me that churches teach “bullshit” which revealed to me his deep pride and unrepentant heart. Since leaving UBF, I attend a healthy church that builds families that cares for the least of the brothers, I engage in more mature Bible study and do not have to reject my family, relatives, wife and even own children in the name of raising disciples…this practice has to change in my opinion before UBF can get healthy and leaders can truly have a clear conscience before God…how can you preach love and neglect families, relatives, and even your own spouses in the name of raising disciples..what does light have to do with darkness…I pray you may come into the light and address these issues truthfully and acknowledge the sins so that real healing can come and many of us can have real dialogue with you and other…

  3. Ben, it is unfortunate that not many people have commented on this (or even viewed it).

    It is an important question to ask, especially since evangelicals have a reputation for being intolerant of other beliefs. Even though we complain about Eastern traditions, beliefs and behaviour I have always appreciated that many of the missionaries did in fact come from distinct and different backgrounds. In my case I rarely heard my director scorn other beliefs but rather identify sound teaching wherein it complimented Christianity. The difference was always etched out though – Jesus is the way, truth and the life.

    I am not only looking at the positives that perhaps many members have already been familiar with other traditions and beliefs, but maybe that calls for one reason why so many in UBF cannot really say that they have ‘best’ friends who are not Christian. In many cases I believe that many people were so involved with UBF ministry and like Ben’s example – cut off everyone who wasn’t Christian. It is sad that indeed sometimes one’s own family often became the victim of such a situation.

    I think it is more important to focus on friends as Ben’s article suggests. If we strictly address those that we have had opportunities to meet through work or just sheer daily activity it is frankly superficial. Such people we do not allow past a certain point for privacy purposes, but friends as Jesus stated so clearly are present for many disclosed matters.

    Personally, I have a multitude of friends from varying traditions met all throughout my life. Many for sheer reasons of my life in transition have fallen out of contact, but I still cherish the time we had with each other. I can appreciate of course that many Jews embrace me as their own and in fact I loved my closing years in university when several older women who were auditing would always greet me with the kiss as is custom. To be clear it was really nice to be looked upon with such love even though I clearly belong to another faith – but yes my heritage is a factor.

    Anyway, the most important thing is to represent Christ through our love for others. Loving people from different beliefs is not easy, especially for the evangelical. Many have it in the back of their minds that those people are going to hell etc….But if we misrepresent Christ in our desire to convert or share with others it leaves a bad impression. We rather bring judgment upon ourselves.

    I think Ben’s turn as exampled above is as best as you can do if you want to get to know people. Just be yourself and share without an agenda or sense of obligation.

  4. I believe that when Christians behave as if they have all the answers, and it is their duty as Christians to “fix” their broken non-christian friends, that is a huge turn-off. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I identify areas in my non-christian friends that they are stronger in than me. I want to learn from them. I don’t have all the answers, but I have the Truth, and knowing the Truth (Jesus) allows me to be vulnerable enough to show my weaknesses to my friends.

    For example, my wife and I have befriended a married couple who are unbelievers. When we see them interact as a married couple, we frequently comment on how understanding they are to each other, how they communicate respectfully, and how they act in loving ways. We can see their strengths and their greatnesses, despite their not being in the Lord. My family is moving soon, and so this married couple took us out to a very fancy good-bye dinner. I think that they may truly say that we are their best friends.

  5. I guess that none of our readers have non-Christian friends. Either that or they believe it is just not important to spend time with and learn from non-believers. However, indeed I see the blast of likes – but what are people liking? The comments, those who have commented or the emphasis that Christians have the TRUTH.

    I am not undermining my own comments or Joshua’s. I agree fully with them. But frankly it would be nice to explore a topic like this without being politically correct nor intolerant of non-believers. I am not asking for an answer to my comment – I am asking for a comment on Ben’s article.

    • There is a clear distinction made in Scripture between those who have received the Spirit of God and those who have not. Jesus’ friends were those who believed He is who He said He was. To those who did not believe He said: “you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” “You do not hear what I say because you do not belong to God.” “All whom the Father gives me will come to me.”
      To His disciples he said: “I have chosen you out of the world so that you no longer belong to the world. That is why the world hates you.” But the world cannot hate someone who is a friend of the world.

    • Hi Bill. In regard to having friends who are not Christian, I’m curious to hear what your thoughts on Matthew 5:44-45.

      “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

  6. Thanks for your comments. In the past, anyone I met my thought process goes something like this: Are they open to studying the Bible and accepting Christ, since he is the only way of salvation?

    When I thought and felt this way, I either felt guilty because I did not say anything or share enough to clearly proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 14:6)…or I felt satisfied that I was clear and they rejected Christ or Bible study.

    I no longer think in such dichotomous ways. I wish to be embracing of others, especially of the weak, the voiceless and the marginalized, even if I fail often to do so.

    Yesterday, when I visited an elderly patient in her home, I noticed the Torah on her bookshelf, and I asked her about her faith. I think she felt appreciative that I validated her as a Reformed Jew, and expressed care and concern toward her as a parson, rather than trying to shift the conversation in order to convince her that the Messiah has come, as I might have done in the past. Or I might have just ignored what I observed by concluding that “Oh, she’s a Jew, and I don’t have to waste my time with her! Furthermore, she’s not a college student!”

    It is truly quite shocking to me to realize just how sanctimonious, condescending, sectarian, elitist and offensive I have been for decades as a so-called Christian!

    • You are not able to “convince” anyone that Jesus is the Messiah. That is what the Holy Spirit does. All WE do is spread the testimony of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. If this Jewish woman was one of the “remnant chosen by grace,” you missed the opportunity to be used of the Lord to bring her to Himself. If she was part of “the rest” to whom “He has sent a spirit of stupor; eyes that they may not see, ears that they may not hear, and a mind that cannot understand,” well…I guess you’ll find out someday. You DO realize don’t you that there is nothing in the Jewish Law that imparts eternal life? It is an earthly covenant that ends in death, just like those outside of the covenant; that is “non-Jews.” ALL are under the Law of Sin and Death.