Gentle Answers #1: A Friend in Sin
The question came to us: How can you minister to a friend (professing Christian) who is addicted or becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol? How can you lovingly come along side them and help them avoid the friends they have been keeping who are negatively influencing them, especially when you only see them in person when you come home from college?
Few of us enjoy confronting a brother in the Lord. So you must actively remember that the wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). Yet you can approach your friend so as to make your words more acceptable to him (Proverbs 15:2).
Before speaking, then, it is best to pray your friend would be able to hear you. As you begin to engage him, start first by expressing your love for him and especially some specific memories of God’s work in his life and your friendship with him (the Lord regularly did this when confronting Israel). Acknowledge that you have been away for a time, then ask some questions about how his walk in the Lord is going. See if he first opens up voluntarily about his struggles, as perhaps he is not as desirous of this lifestyle as he may appear. If he shows an openness, then point out the concerns you have. Invite him to the next worship and fellowship activities at your church to help draw him away from these other influences. If his problem is serious, ask him if he would be willing to go with you and talk to a pastor or mature friend who could help.
If he is resistant, warnings are in order about the danger of foolish companions (Proverbs 13:20) and drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18-21; I Corinthians 6:9-11). Sometimes warning gently and then walking away for a time, so as not to be tempted ourselves or get into arguments, is all we can do (Galatians 6:1).
As you apparently know quite personally, when we or people whom we love seem to be caught between serving Christ and the deceptive allure of the world, it is always good to take a spiritual step back to survey the big picture. The Psalm writer Asaph did this in Psalm 73. He was frustrated and discouraged because while he was agonizing to live godly in a fallen world, those doing the opposite seemed to live a care free life. Then Asaph went to God’s sanctuary.
Dwelling in God’s presence in the place where He is worshiped, the Psalmist began to see clearly. Particularly, he gazed upon the true nature of the life unbelievers were leading and got a chilling glimpse of the destruction to which it was leading them. The life they live is in a sense illusory. Fixated on the present, they suppress the gnawing knowledge of ultimate reality, of the judgment which awaits them. If they would but look, they would see evidence and portents of this judgment all around them, the consequences of sinful behavior. Among them are devastating, life-draining addictions and the broken hearts and broken relationships which inevitably come in their wake. These are warnings supplied in God’s mercy to call attention to the literally hellish reality of sin and living life dominated by it.
God not only gives us warnings about sinful lifestyles; He gives us a way out. Jesus Christ is strong to destroy even the most acute addictions. He does so by the power of His Holy Spirit through the ministry of His holy Word. And He is building a church, a community of broken sinners made saints who can supply hurting people with true love and Christ-centered companionship. “Bad company corrupts good morals” – 1 Corinthians 15:33. The opposite is true as well! Godly company encourages godly living.
You may not have all the time with your friend that you wish, but that’s all the more reason to take full advantage of those precious times to be a minister of Christ’s mercy to your friend. Urge your friend to see things as they are, looking through the lens of God’s Word. Call your friend all the more to Christ, His power, His word, and His people. I’ll be praying for you! Please follow up with any further questions!
Here are a few things I would encourage you to keep in mind for this difficult ministry:
- Take the log out of your eye (Mt. 7:3-5). Spend some seriously thoughtful and prayerful time in God’s Word, seeking out the darker corners of your heart, repenting and receiving God’s grace of forgiveness. Only those who know, recently and personally, God’s forgiving grace are truly equipped to exhort others. A great book to help you prepare (if you have the time to read it) is Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands.
- Pray! Your question made me think of Paul’s request for prayer in Colossians 4:4, that he may speak the gospel clearly. He follows with the exhortation in 4:6 to speak graciously and seasoned with salt. Pray for God’s help as if you’d fail without it, because you will.
- While you pray, frequently check your motivation and ask God to give you a true heart of love for your friend. It is so easy to rebuke someone out of frustration, disappointment or hurt rather than out of love.
- Be ready to bring to your friend the Word of God and not just your opinions. Study (and get help if needed) to find the Bible’s truth on their sins.
- And study to find the Bible’s truth on the gospel! A rebuke without the hope of the gospel (forgiveness & sanctification) is simply mean, even satanic.
- Be prepared to walk with them to whatever extent you’re able in their fight against sin. I’m convinced that if a person isn’t willing to stand beside their friend in the fight against sin, they just need to keep their rebuke to themselves.
- Finally, understand that you are not God’s last line of defense. Be a good reformed Christian by obeying the Bible in rebuking and leaving it in the Holy Spirit’s capable hands. If your rebuke doesn’t work immediately, God can still use it later. He might also have other types of loving discipline in mind for your friend, including the discipline of the church.
I hope and trust God to bless your ministry to your friend!