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Beware the Company You Keep (Part 1)

For someone who is called by God into His true Church, the company that he or she keeps is of paramount importance.   When someone responds to God’s calling, they will repent, be baptised and receive God’s Holy Spirit as they start on their onward journey towards the eternal Kingdom of God (compare Acts 2:38).   Anything that is a stumbling block or hindrance to their progress is to be resisted with all of their might, and with help from God, that can be achieved.

We can’t choose our family but we can choose our friends.   As one old saying goes, “friends are the family you choose.”

The American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Bearing this in mind, we should think about the people with whom we spend time, particularly bearing in mind the great calling that God has given us.

There will be those who may have no interest in our beliefs but on the face of it may seem to be good friends.  In such a case, we have to determine whether they will be a help or hindrance to our Christian Way of Life.

The Bible is clear about the importance of keeping good company.   We should all know about peer pressure.   Wikipedia defines this as follows: “Peer pressure is the direct influence on people by peers, or the effect on an individual who is encouraged and wants to follow their peers by changing their attitudes, values or behaviors to conform to those of the influencing group or individual.”  We know that younger people are much more prone to such pressure, usually wishing to be one of the crowd and not stand out as someone who is different, but older people can also be affected if they are not properly grounded.

It is vital that those people we spend time with are not those who want to influence our actions contrary to our beliefs.   Some may seem to be good friends, but at what cost?   We have to be alive and alert to the company we keep.   Peer pressure can be felt by anyone, and so we shouldn’t just think that this is just for other people to consider.

If we’re not careful, peer pressure can drag us into the ways of this world.   We are called to stand out from the evil ways of society which are in opposition to the right Ways of God.

The Bible has much to say about this, as we read in Proverbs 13:20-21: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.  Evil pursues sinners, But to the righteous, good shall be repaid.”

The Book of Proverbs is packed full of advice to those who have ears to hear, and regarding the company we keep, we read the following in Proverbs 14:6-7: “A scoffer seeks wisdom and does not find it, But knowledge is easy to him who understands. Go from the presence of a foolish man, When you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge.”

We also read: “Do not be envious of evil men, Nor desire to be with them; For their heart devises violence, And their lips talk of troublemaking” (Proverbs 24:1-2).

We are not part of this world or its ways, as Romans 12:2 reveals: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

We often use 2 Corinthians 6:14 in the context of marriage or business.  However, it is also a verse with much wisdom, showing us what our behaviour must be: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?”

“The Apostle Paul used this powerful word picture to impress in the minds of the Corinthians how they should deal with people outside the church. The city of Corinth was a powerhouse of immorality. It was riddled with different temples for gods and goddesses. Temple prostitution was pervasive and there was a considerable number of people in [Corinth] who were sexually immoral.   For the citizens, sexual looseness wasn’t condemned, but rather tolerated and at times, even promoted” (https://becomingchristians.com).

In other words, it was pretty much like our current promiscuous, permissive, liberal and indulgent society.

We have to beware of those who may like to say that they are our friends but are not, as evidenced by their conduct.  “A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends” (Proverbs 16:28) and “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; Therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips” (Proverbs 20:19).

In Acts 20:28-30, we read the exhortation of Paul to the elders of the Church: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”   Now, while this is addressed to the ministry, the same principles apply to everyone in the Church.   Wolves in sheep’s clothing may even pretend to be our friends.

Deception can be everywhere, as Satan seeks to throw us off track, and being aware of the company we keep is vital.  1 Corinthians 15:33 contains a short but vital piece of advice: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’”

There is an interesting passage of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

“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.’”

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges observes:

“The Apostle would not have his converts flee from the world, as so many did in later ages, but remain in it and leaven it. This course must bring them into contact with many ungodly men, whose evil example they must not follow, but whom they cannot altogether avoid, unless they would retire altogether from the active business of life. But if any member of the Church bring dishonour on the Christian name by such sins as those which are named, the Christian is bound to shew his sense of such flagrant inconsistency and hypocrisy, by refusing even to sit down to a meal with him. It is not difficult to follow the spirit of such an exhortation now, though it may be impossible to observe its letter. We cannot help meeting men of depraved morals and irreligious lives in business or in general society; we can, nay we must, refrain from making such persons our associates and intimates.”

There are Scriptures that show that mixing with the wrong people is something that we must avoid.   Being part of an ungodly crowd must not be the guideline for us, even if they are of those whom we consider to be friends. You cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life.   It is also better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction!

Again, Scripture points the way ahead for us.  We read in Exodus 23:2: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.”

Of course, there will always be those who know better than the One who created us all; that is just the arrogance of man.  However, Proverbs 14:12 (also Proverbs 16:25) answers man’s audacity: “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”

Wrong involvement with the world and its ways are addressed in James 4:4: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Because we are not of this world, we see how the world’s reaction to our conduct is outlined in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Staying away from company that can distract us from our life-long career of following the ways of God is imperative.   Even allowing some small departures from the path we have been called to follow could ultimately be catastrophic for our future.

(To be continued)

Lead Writer: Brian Gale (United Kingdom)