First of all, I am so encouraged to see your desire to please the Lord in the relationships you have with your unsaved friends and at the same to see your love for them. Both are important and your question about “striking a balance” is no doubt a question many believers have.

Since you referred to the unequal yoke, I will quote 2nd Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (NKJV). The “unequal yoke” speaks of entering into a “partnership” or “alliance” with an unbeliever, one that is binding and sometimes difficult or impossible to get out of. This would include such things as the marriage relationship, becoming partners in a business, or being in fellowship in a local church that allows unbelievers to participate in the Lord’s Supper and other meetings of the church. If one is yoked together with an unbeliever in one of these there will undoubtedly be problems, especially when it comes to making spiritual and moral decisions, for as our verse indicates the believer wants to make “righteous decisions” based on the Word of God and the unbeliever will not have those same convictions. Our verse speaks of them as being in a state of spiritual and moral “darkness” while the believer is now in the “light” of God’s presence. Ephesians 5:8-9, 11 says, “For you were once DARKNESS, but now you are LIGHT in the Lord. Walk as children of LIGHT…and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of DARKNESS, but rather expose them.

You may be thinking, “I have no intention whatsoever of marrying an unbeliever, nor would I go into a business partnership with one or even worship at a local church with them; I just want to spend time with them and enjoy some of the things we have in common.” I often caution believers who make such statements with the following two statements: 1) Every friendship can lead, potentially, to an unequal yoke; and 2) The things you “have in common” are solely “the things of the world.” Regarding #1, if you think that this could never happen, I believe you have not come to know how deceitful our hearts can be. Jeremiah 17:9 declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Our hearts can deceive us into thinking we would never compromise the truth by yoking ourselves with an unbeliever but in time those same hearts can draw us into the very yoke we want to avoid. Regarding #2, until your friends are saved they have ZERO INTEREST IN SPIRITUAL THINGS, for they are still “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Their interests are purely “of this world” and not of “the world to come.” We are warned of this in James 4:4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” These are strong words that teach us that if we spend a lot of time “enjoying what we have in common with unbelievers” we will, in truth, find ourselves “loving the world,” whether it’s the world of culture, entertainment, or even religion. Again, we may think, “I won’t allow myself to be carried away into these things.” But here too our hearts can deceive us, for Scripture tells us, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits” (1st Corinthians 15:33). In connection with this subject, I have always been impressed with Acts 4:23, “And being let go, THEY WENT TO THEIR OWN COMPANIONS and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.” Peter and John were released from prison and they instinctively went to fellow-believers! These were their TRUE COMPANIONS (i.e. friends), for like David of old they could say, “I am a COMPANION of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts” (Psalm 119:63).

Does this mean we can never have unsaved friends? No, but it does mean that we will: 1) Limit the time we spend with them, and 2) Focus on winning them to Christ and not on the things of the world. We need only turn to our Great Example, the Lord Jesus Christ, to illustrate these two things. In Matthew 11:19 the enemies of Jesus said, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, A FRIEND OF TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS.” They said this because Jesus, at times, sat down to eat a meal with sinners. As we shall see, He did indeed spend time with sinners over a meal but it was not, as one has said, “to join their sinful ways but to present the good news that forgiveness was available”; in other words, to present the gospel of salvation to them. In Matthew 9:10-13 we read, “Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Yes, Jesus was a “Friend of sinners” and thus He spent time with them over a meal so He could show them their need of salvation. In order to show them their need to be saved, He first SHOWED THEM THAT THEY WERE SINNERS.

Now let’s read Luke 15:1-2: “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Here too Jesus was criticized for sitting down and eating a meal with sinners but notice they “drew near to Him to hear Him.” They didn’t draw near to enjoy a big feast or to get drunk with Him, for they knew that Jesus was a holy and righteous Man who had no appetite for the things of the world; no, they drew near because they believed He could teach them God’s Word and thus meet the real needs that they had…spiritual needs, NOT physical needs. If you read the rest of the chapter you’ll see that Jesus spoke three parables (about a LOST sheep, a LOST coin, and a LOST son) to them to show them their LOST CONDITION and to show them that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Yes, He was a TRUE FRIEND to these sinners and thus He wanted to see them saved.

You asked, “How can I strike a balance?” and I trust we have seen from Scripture the answer to that question. If we truly love our unsaved friends we will do what Jesus did; we will spend time with them in order to WIN THEM TO CHRIST! We will NOT be drawn into the world by spending time with them in worldly pursuits; we will “redeem the time” (see Ephesians 5:16) by presenting to them their need of Christ (that they are LOST SINNERS) and then by showing them that “Christ came into the world to save sinners” (1st Timothy 1:15). We can do this over a meal, while taking a walk, or during some other innocent get-together that doesn’t involve compromising our desire to live a righteous life.  (426.3)  (DO)