Choosing Your Friends in the Church

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)
(Chapter 16 from the excellent book, How to Treat Different Types of Church Members)

In any church, there are several groups of people. That fact is the very purpose of the writing of this book. There is a group of the weak, a group of the fallen, a group of the strong, a group of the critical, etc. Of course, this is true in any group of people or cross section of society. Each Christian must decide which group he wants to join and who his choice of friends will be.

1. You must first decide what you want to be. Do you want to be strong? Do you want to be weak? Do you want to be fallen? Do you want to be critical? Do you want to be loyal? Do you want to be disloyal? This decision must precede all others.

2. You must then associate yourself with the group of people who are like that. You will be like your associations. You will not regularly associate with the disloyal and continue to be loyal. Neither will you regularly associate yourself with the loyal and continue to be disloyal. You will not regularly associate yourself with the strong and continue to be weak. You will not regularly associate yourself with the weak and continue to be strong.

You have first decided what you want to be. Then you have found the group that is composed of people like your goal, and you have associated yourself with them.

3. Do not try to copy them, and do not try not to copy them. All of us have heard sermons innumerable, warning us not to be somebody else, but to be ourselves. Christian colleges especially are bombarded with such statements, and there is a bit of truth in the statement, but it does not go far enough. Just as the Christian is not to TRY to copy his associates, even so he should not NOT TRY to copy his associates. The mistake is the TRYING. Get with the right crowd. Do not force becoming like them. Do not attempt to keep your uniqueness; just be with them. Of course, we are assuming that you have chosen the right crowd. In other words, do not try to be anyone else, and do not NOT TRY to be anyone else.

It was my fortune as a young preacher in my late 20's to begin associating with and preaching with the greatest preachers of the former generation. As a young man not yet 30 years of age, I began preaching on the same platform with such men as Dr. John R. Rice, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Dr. R. G. Lee, Dr. Lee Roberson, Dr. Lester Roloff, Dr. Bill Rice, Dr. Ford Porter and others. I made no attempt to copy these men. I tried to be myself, but I made no attempt not to copy these men. I simply was with them, hoping that some of their greatness would rub off on me. I watched them preach. I watched them walk. I watched them sit on the platform. I prayed with them. I preached with them. I studied with them. I traveled with them, and on occasion, I even shared the same motel room with them. It would have been a tragedy for me to have copied any of them. It would have been just as tragic for me to have refused to allow them to influence me. Occasionally one of my members will come to me after a message and say, "You reminded me today of Dr. John R. Rice." It is not unusual for someone to inform me that they saw Dr. Bill Rice in me while I was preaching. The same can be said of Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., Dr. G. B. Vick, Dr. Roloff and others. When I was a younger preacher one of my members told me one time that they could always tell on Wednesday night with whom I had preached on Monday and Tuesday. I assure you there was no purposeful effort for me to preach like any one of these men. Neither was there a purposeful effort for me not to preach like any one of these men. I simply let them influence me by osmosis, not encouraging or fighting that influence.

The wise Christian will first decide what he wants to be like. Then he will associate himself with that crowd. If you want to be a critical person, do it on purpose. Find the critical crowd and run with them. You will be successful in your goal. If you want to be a weak Christian, do it on purpose. Find the weak Christians and run with them. Likewise, if you want to be a strong Christian, do it on purpose. Find the strong Christians and run with them. Once you have decided what you want to be and have found the crowd that can influence you to be that, get with that crowd and relax!

4. Weakness and strength should never be equal. II Corinthians 6:14-17, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God: as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you." Notice especially the words, "Be ye not unequally YOKED together with unbelievers." Now a yoke holds two together. It may be a team of mules, a team of oxen, but a yoke is made for a pair. God does not want His people pairing off one-on-one with the weak. One critic plus one non critic equals two critics. One gossip plus one non-gossip equals two gossips. One disloyal plus one loyal equals two disloyals. God does not want us to give the weak Christian the home court advantage. A strong Christian will not change the crowd that is weak. However, a crowd of strong Christians can change a weak Christian.

I think there is a real weakness taught in many of our fundamental circles, and that is what we normally call the "buddy system." I do not think the buddy system is a good idea. In other words, one stronger Christian becomes a buddy with a weaker Christian in order to strengthen him. Most of the time this will weaken the strong Christian. The wise plan is to have a group of strong Christians with the weak Christian. Have the weak Christian join five strong Christians so that strength can be in the majority.

5. Do not choose a crowd or a person that is not what you would like to become and then decide what good you can learn from them. The truth is that we do not know what we learn. We do not choose what we learn. There are so many things we learn that we do not know we are learning.

I am thinking of a dear friend of mine who has pastored for many years. He decided to go to different pastors' schools, conferences, conventions, etc. of all persuasions to choose the best of each. He chose one such meeting conducted by a very well known pastor who would not be considered by fundamentalists to be fundamental. He went to this meeting to choose the good and refuse the bad. Since this is impossible, he was influenced by the charisma of the pastor and began to embrace and endorse things that were contrary to his former ministry. He gave the other side home court advantage, and in so doing, accepted practices that previously he never would have accepted!

Now let us suppose that same brother had come to the Pastors' School at First Baptist Church of Hammond where the fundamental position has home court advantage. If the same statements contrary to his former position had been made by someone in conversation, he would have refuted them, at least in his own mind, and certainly would not have embraced or endorsed them. However, he allowed himself to be outnumbered by weakness and in so doing, accepted things he never would have accepted otherwise. Do not let strength go to the weak group to try to help, but form a strong group to invite the weak one that he may be helped. DO NOT GIVE WEAKNESS THE HOME COURT ADVANTAGE.

6. Remember, it is the personality that changes you. The same thing can be done by television. When one watches a television program, he is giving the program home court advantage. The television personality is not brought into your living room; you are brought into his setting. In your mind, you are sitting with him at his place. You are in his crowd. This is why television can be so deadly! For example, when you watch a talk show whose guests hold an opinion contrary to yours, you are allowing yourself to come under the influence of their charisma in their setting with their having the home court advantage. If that same person came to your home with the same philosophy, you would not allow it! This is because when he comes to your home, you then have the home court advantage, and you refuse to be influenced in such a manner. This is the power of television. The world decides the crowd with whom you will run, and likewise decides the conditions and environment surrounding you and those who want to influence you.

The wise Christian will decide what he wants to be and will avoid watching personalities on television who are not what he wants to be.

The same is true with radio. If you want to be a separated, fundamentalist Christian, then listen only to separated, fundamentalist preachers. If you want to become a charismatic, then listen to charismatic preachers. If you want to become a liberal, then listen to liberal preachers, for sooner or later you will become that which influences you. You will not have the radio on to compromisers all day long and still become a strong, separated Christian.

The same is true concerning books. Many Christians become rabid followers of authors they have never met, of preachers whose churches they have never visited, and of men and women about whom they know nothing. They allow themselves to be unequally yoked with a personality that will influence them but about which they know little or nothing!

Let's go back to the original purpose of this chapter. First, we decide what we want to be. Then we find the influence that is like that and we position ourselves in its presence, in order that we may be influenced accordingly.

Years ago a young man heard me preach on several occasions. He decided he wanted to be the kind of preacher that Brother Hyles is, so he moved to Hammond. (At the time he was single.) When he got to our area, he then enrolled in a college whose philosophies basically are contrary to ours. The time spent in that college each week was far greater than the time spent under my influence, but he felt he could go to that college, choose what was good and leave the bad. He did not realize that no one can do this! There is no way that a person can disassociate himself from being influenced by his environment. This was the case. Years have passed. He is now a pastor with no desire at all to be like Brother Hyles.

The issue here is not that he should want to be or not want to be like Brother Hyles. The issue is that he wanted to be one thing and chose an environment that influenced him to be another.

7. Have a degree of closeness to all church members. This does not mean that you should be socially involved with all church members. It does mean, however, that within a church each member should have a positive feeling toward every other member. Instead of having a positive and a negative, have degrees of positive.

For example, I am an independent, fundamental Baptist. I certainly feel kindly toward all of that group. However, within that group there are different degrees of acceptance. There are some preachers within that group that I would have preach for me, I would preach for them, and I would preach with them. There are others within that group for whom I would preach and with whom I would preach, but I would not have preach for me. There are others in that group with whom I would preach, but I would not have them preach for me, nor would I preach for them. There are still others in that group whom I would not have preach for me, for whom I would not preach and with whom I would not preach, but I would certainly be willing to sit down and have a cup of tea and some warm fellowship with them. I do not feel negatively toward any of them, but there are degrees of my positive feeling.

Concerning fundamental colleges, there are numbers of colleges in America that I would consider fundamental. I am for them all, but I am more for some than for others. It may be that I would recommend a student to attend my first choice. If that student felt negative about that recommendation, I would then recommend my second choice, then my third, etc. This does not mean that my first choice is always the same. It may be that for one young person I would have a different first choice than for another.

Then there are other young people who I feel would not consider going to my first choice for them. I would be pleased and somewhat surprised to have them even choose my last choice among the colleges that are acceptable to me.

This is the way it should be in a church. The Bible says we are to love one another, to prefer one another, to forgive one another, to be kind to one another, and to be forbearing with one another.

8. Then choose from the church a circle of companions and fellowship. This circle should be composed of those who are already what you want yourself to become. While the Christian is supposed to love all fellow Christians and fellow church members, there are those in that group whom he should not choose as his closest associates and the crowd with whom he is going to run. A good rule of thumb is that you be in the minority when wanting to be helped and that you be in the majority when wanting to help. If there is a weak Christian whom you want to help, by all means be sure that you have other strong Christians that form the majority. You should be in the minority only when you yourself are trying to become strong, and therefore associate yourself with such a crowd.

So we have chosen a large circle, composed of all the church members about whom we are to feel positive. Then we have chosen a smaller circle with whom we are to be companions.

9. Then choose an even smaller circle to whom you will be good friends. Here are several observations about this small circle to whom you give your friendship:

1) God must lead you in the choosing of those to whom you will be a friend. This is a knitting done by God as was the case of Jonathan toward David. I Samuel 18: 1, "And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." God must lead you in becoming such a friend.

We are using the word "friend" here in the sense it is meant to be used. Occasionally someone will say, "She is a true friend." There is no other kind of friend. The word "friend" in the Bible is a very important and serious word. It is a relationship that is akin to brother, father, mother, sister, son, daughter. Proverbs 18:24, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." Proverbs 27: 10, "Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother's house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off." Proverbs 17:17, "A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

2) This friendship is for life. You cannot lose a friend. There is no such statement that can be truthfully uttered as, "He was my friend," "I was his friend," "We used to be good friends." The wise man said that a friend loveth at all times.

3) This friendship need not be returned. Now to be sure, anyone who chooses to be the friend of another would prefer that that person also become his friend, but if it is Bible friendship, it need not be returned, and nothing can stop or quench it. It is best for the Christian to become the friend of another without expecting that friendship to be reciprocated or returned. Then there is no hurt that can come. The wise Christian will not allow the presence of happiness to be determined by others. He will, however, allow the degree of that happiness to be determined by others. This friendship is for life. If it is not returned, it is still alive. If its object becomes your enemy, you are still his friend.

Perhaps the true test of real friendship is, "Does it have to be returned?"

Many years ago God knitted my soul to that of Dr. John R. Rice. I became his friend. Now I never gave much thought as to whether he was my friend. I enjoyed every kindness that he ever sent my way and every gracious thing that he ever did for me, but that was not necessary. I was his friend. If he was my friend, wonderful. If not, my friendship would not be affected.

4) You can be close to the one to whom you are a friend by unilateral action; by that I mean, you may choose to be close to anyone to whom you want to be close. The other person need not move toward you. (Of course, I am talking about heart closeness which, of course, is the best.) If I choose to get close to an object, there is nothing that object can do about it, and if I want in my heart to feel close to someone, I can do so. They need not even know about it. I can pray for them regularly, take time to love them in my heart, think of their burdens, and be compassionate toward them, and all of this will need no reciprocation whatsoever.

Recently I was in a distant state. When I finished preaching on Monday night, a pastor came and waited in line for about 30 minutes to talk to me. When his turn came, he sincerely and warmly looked me in the eye and told me that he loved me and that I had no idea how much. Now I did not even know the brother, but it was obvious that he loved me and that he felt close to me, and though to my knowledge I had never seen him, I somehow felt that he was my friend. So, no doubt there are some to whom I feet close who do not feel close to me. There are some who feel close to me whom I do not even know. Both do not have to move.

Often someone will say, "I just can't get close to him." Oh, yes, you can! What you are saying is that you can't get him to feet close to you, but you can come as close to him as you want. He cannot do a thing to prevent your love or your friendship.

5) Retain a bit of formality even with your closest friends. I have known personally and often intimately the greatest Christians of the last 100 years. I have noticed something very interesting. All of the great men retain a little mystique and a touch of formality even with their closest friends. For example, Dr. John R. Rice and Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. were very close friends, and I knew them both well. In spite of their close friendship, there was a bit of dignity in their manner toward each other. I have preached with them so many times I can almost hear their conversation, as follows:

"Hello, Dr. Bob. Nice to see you again."

"Hello, Dr. John. How's Mrs. Rice and the family?"

"They are well, thank you, and how's Mrs. Jones, and how's the work at the university doing?"

"We are having a good year, Dr. Rice. Is the Sword of the Lord doing well?"

Of course, they had their time of levity and warm expressions, but it was always seasoned with a refreshing touch of dignity and class.

I believe that this should exist even among family members. The word might be mystique. Any relationship, no matter how close, certainly should include propriety, manners, grace and kindness and gentleness.

This certainly should be manifest concerning one's person. The father who allows his children to see him around the house in his underclothing will not develop a proper relationship with his children. Even husbands and wives should take care to behave in the same manner. Our children, for example, have never seen their dad's bare feet. They have never seen me in my pajamas or underclothing. I feel very close to my children, and when they were at home we were all good buddies and very expressive of our love and closeness, but Dad was always Dad, and he always dressed like Dad. I always came to the table fully clothed. Bear in mind that I was more than their father; I was also their pastor, their school superintendent, and later on, their college chancellor.

Friendship is a wonderful relationship, but it should not be taken for granted, and certainly a friend should be treated with the same courtesy and grace that is offered to a casual acquaintance and even to a stranger.

So we have accepted all the members of the church family with a positive outlook, loving them all. This is the great wide circle. From that wide circle we have chosen a group that is a smaller circle with whom we fellowship, and from that smaller circle there is yet a much smaller circle of those to whom God has led us to be friends. I have often said, "Happy is a person who has a friend. Happier is the person who is a friend. Happiest is the person who has a friend and is a friend." What a relationship! Put it right up there beside the closest relationships of life, that relationship of friendship!


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