The first great principle is this: Be a friend to those you are trying to win. Jesus showed himself a friend to those who were lost. He is described as having been a friend of publicans and sinners; this (although intended critically) was good reporting. Jesus could have kept aloof from mankind, just as we can keep aloof. But he would have won no one that way. Instead, Jesus went to the sick, lost, lonely, distressed, and perishing, and moved among them as a friend. In this story we find him in the woman’s country, at the woman’s city, sitting on the woman’s well (vv. 5–6).
There is an illustration of this basic fact about the Lord Jesus in one of the books by Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist. Nee had been talking to another Christian in his home. They were downstairs, as was his friend’s son. The friend’s wife and mother were in an upstairs room. All at once the little boy wanted something and called out to his mother for it.
“It’s up here,” she said. “Come up and get it.”
He cried out to her, “I can’t, Mummy; it’s such a long way. Please bring it down to me.”
He was very small. So the mother picked up what he wanted and brought it down to him. It is just that way with salvation. No one is able to meet his own need spiritually, but the Lord Jesus Christ came down to us so our need could be met. Nee writes, “Had He not come, sinners could not have approached Him; but He came down in order to lift them up.”1
I wonder if you are like that in your witnessing? Do you keep aloof or do you go to others? Another way of asking the same thing is to ask whether or not you have contact with non-Christians socially. Do you go to their homes, sit in their kitchens, ask them their interests?
A great deal of our difficulty in this area comes from the fact that Christians have often looked at the world as if it would inevitably get them dirty if they should get into it. They have taken verses like 2 Corinthians 6:17—“Therefore come out from them and be separate”—as meaning that Christians are to have no dealings with the world, rather than seeing that the words only have to do with avoiding conformity to the world, not isolation from it. Jesus did not teach isolation, and he did not practice it. He said in his great prayer for us recorded in John 17, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one” (v. 15). When he departed for heaven he left his disciples in the world to evangelize it.
I am convinced that we need very practical ways of displaying friendship with the unbelievers we contact—the friendship that was so evident in the life of Jesus. For a start you might invite a number of non-Christian friends into your home for dinner. You might go to a concert with them. You might take in a sports show. Why not befriend your coworkers? Join a club, a choral society, a civic organization. It is not even a loss to go shopping together or invite your friends in for coffee. These are only beginning suggestions. If you are serious about taking the gospel to the lost, the Lord will show you other fruitful avenues of getting to know non-Christians. Just remember: Take the initiative and be friendly.
James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 313–314.