David L. Goetsch
Honesty in Relationships with Unbelievers
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
One of the most difficult challenges we face as Christians is building and maintaining relationships with unbelievers. Above all else, relationships are built on trust and mutual-respect. But it can be difficult to trust or respect people who reject your most cherished beliefs. This is why some Christians choose to limit their relationships to fellow believers. Although this approach is easier and more comfortable than engaging unbelievers, it is at odds with the teachings of Scripture. We cannot do our part to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) unless we are willing to engage unbelievers and invest the time and effort necessary to build positive relationships with them.
Because positive relationships are based on trust and mutual-respect, the most important ingredient in building them is honesty. Scripture is replete with admonitions to be honest, not the least of which is the Ninth Commandment (Exodus 20:16). Nobody likes to be lied to, not even a compulsive liar. If unbelievers are going to be influenced by your Christian example, they have to trust you. Those you hope to influence must know they can count on you to tell the truth and deal forthrightly with them on any and all subjects.
Scripture speaks to honesty in Proverbs 11:1 where we are told that a “false balance” is an “abomination to the Lord.” The broader meaning of this verse is that God expects us to be honest in all of our dealings. I once worked with a professing Christian who never made any headway in building relationships with our unbelieving colleagues because they didn’t trust him. At work my friend would sneak out early but claim to have worked a full day, exaggerate on his expense accounts, charge personal items to company credit cards, submit false reports, and take credit for the work of others. Worse yet, he condemned others who did these same things. When challenged, he always had a justification for his actions.
His dishonest, hypocritical behavior earned him nothing but the silent scorn of our coworkers. They neither trusted nor respected him. The sinful nature of human beings makes us capable of doing the very things we condemn others for doing, and then finding ways to justify our actions. My friend demonstrated this truth over and over again. This is why Christ counsels us to remove the logs from our own eyes before condemning others for the specks in theirs (Matthew 7:5). In commenting about my friend, a colleague once said, “If being a Christian means being like him, I want nothing to do with it.” Not only did my friend’s dishonesty make him incapable of carrying out the Great Commission, it made doing so more difficult for me and other believers.
It is not uncommon for money to be the driving force behind the dishonesty that is sometimes observed in people. Often people who find themselves in a financial bind will rationalize their dishonesty by claiming “need.” The problem with this rationale is that financial need—even when legitimate—does not justify dishonesty. Consider what Proverbs 19:1 has to say about dishonesty that is motivated by money. In this verse, we are told that it is better to be poor and honest than wealthy and untrustworthy. Christians who are scrupulously honest, particularly when it comes to money, will earn the trust and respect of the unbelievers they want to influence for Christ. When you earn the trust and respect of unbelievers by being honest with them, they will be more open to the Christian beliefs behind your honesty. They will also be more likely to ask questions about your beliefs. When this happens, a door has opened. Make sure you are prepared to walk through it.
When engaging unbelievers for the purpose of building relationships, remember that people do not have to endorse your beliefs to respect them. Nor do they have to share your beliefs to trust you. Further, just because people act in sinful ways does not necessarily mean they reject your Christian values. People often shun Christianity not because they reject its values but because they don’t want to live by them. Most people respect honesty, trustworthiness, patience, kindness, and other Christian values even if they fall short in these areas themselves.
To build relationships with unbelievers that will help you carry out the Great Commission, be honest with them and build trust. When it comes to accepting the Gospel, unbelievers must first have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand (Deuteronomy 29:4). The trusting, mutually-respectful relationships you establish with unbelievers might open their eyes, ears, and hearts so they can see, hear, and understand the Gospel.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com