Is it wrong to say “God bless you” to a group that includes non-Christians?
Thanks very much for your insightful teachings and encouragement through this website.
I attended a recent gospel meeting and the preacher ended it with 'God bless you' and 'Godspeed' to the audience. I remember one Bible class teacher mentioned that Christians must use the term 'God bless you' appropriately; ie. to Christians only, not to non-Christians because that would mean God endorses a non-Christian's sinful ways. Is it like that? In this case, the audience at the gospel meeting includes Christians and non-Christians. If his intention was to bid 'good luck, best wishes,' would it then be appropriate?
Thanks very much.
"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (II John 10-11).
To keep John's words in perspective, he is talking about situations where a false teacher ("does not bring this doctrine") comes to your home for a visit. A faithful follower of Christ does not want to leave the impression that he has fellowship with a false teacher.
The word translated as "greet" in this passage is the Greek word chairo, which is defined as "rejoice, be glad, welcome, greetings." The word served in the Greek as a greeting, such as "good day," "welcome," or "good morning" does in English. You can see this in James 1:1, "James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings." Or Matthew 28:9, "And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!" So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him." It can be used as more than just a greeting, as Paul used it: "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:18).
There is a second word in II John 9-11, which should be considered. We are warned not to "receive him into your house." The Greek word lambano, translated as "receive" means "to take hold of, grasp, seize, receive, get, or obtain." For example, in Matthew 5:40, the word is used for allowing someone to take your shirt and coat in court. In Luke 20:29, it refers to taking a wife. But in the case of II John 11, we are dealing with matters of doctrine and fellowship. "Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness" (John 3:11). "And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true" (John 3:32-33). It is in this latter sense that I think John is pointing out. We should not give an indication that we accept a false teacher's doctrine, even indirectly.
In our culture, we shake hands, even with our enemies. It is considered polite, but it doesn't indicate whether we agree with them. Having a person in as an overnight guest would be an entirely different matter. Giving a person a neutral "hello" or "goodbye" doesn't tell your opinion, but waving as they walk out and saying, "have a blessed day" may indicate more agreement than would be appropriate. We should be polite, but we should not, in our politeness, indicate approval or acceptance of doctrine that we know to be false.
Now in your situation, you aren't dealing with false teachers bringing different doctrines. You have an audience of people coming to learn a portion of the gospel. It isn't the same situation that John was talking about in II John. To which those who came to be blessed (literally made happy) by God doesn't indicate an acceptance of a non-Christian's beliefs; in fact, his personal beliefs are unknown. From my viewpoint, the way God can make a non-Christian's life blessed is to desire that God encourages him to learn the gospel and be saved from his sins.
We live in the world, so we are going to have contact with people who do not believe in Christ as we do. You are going to have co-workers who are of another religion. You will likely sit down at lunch with them and you will give them a greeting because it is the polite thing to do. The prime difference is that the ties of association are based on business, family relationships, or location in your neighborhood. Just because you live next door to someone, people don't draw conclusions about your religious stance. Just because you have business dealings with a person, people don't draw conclusions about the similarity of your beliefs. "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person." " (I Corinthians 5:9-13). In the case John is speaking of, we have people passing themselves off as Christians, but who are teaching false doctrine.
We are required to go out into the world to teach people the gospel. This will require contact with people who hold false beliefs. If they had an accurate belief, there would be no need to teach them. Recall the Pharisees' charge against Jesus: "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"" (Matthew 9:10-13). Jesus' association with sinners, sitting down to eat with them, did not indicate that he agreed with their sinful lifestyle. In the same manner, Jesus had many strong disagreements with the Pharisees of his day, but he did eat in the homes of the Pharisees (Luke 7:36; 11:37; 14:1). Being polite or sitting down at a meal so you have a chance to talk with someone about the gospel is not showing approval for their current beliefs.
Finally, don't forget that God has blessed not just Christians, but the whole world. "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (I John 2:2).