“He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will be destroyed”
The scriptures are clear that context has a great influence on our lives. Who you become and the way you behave, along with your values and perspectives, are shaped to a huge degree by the culture and environment in which you grew up. Likewise, who you are today is influenced by those with whom you associate. As Paul said, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It works both ways, for the better and for the worse.
I have said for years, “You rise or fall to the level of your associations.” I recently heard someone say it this way: “Friends are like elevators; they either take you up, or they take you down.” Well said. The fact is that for all the self improvement talk we hear about today, nothing will ever really change in our lives until something is done about changing the people with whom we choose to associate.
You cannot run a race with dead weight attached to your life, and some people can prove to be as effective as a cruise ship anchor in this regard. The writer to the Hebrews told us to “let us lay aside EVERY WEIGHT, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1). For some people the best “weight loss program” they could go on would be to lose the hundreds of pounds of naysayers and detractors they have attached to their life.
When you choose to truly follow God, there will be some from your old life who will choose not to join you. While you may want to be a positive influence on their lives, more often than not, the negativity and worldliness of those associations will make your own spiritual progress slow and keep the all-too-familiar world dangerously close, so that falling back into the old patterns and lifestyle becomes all too easy. Sometimes we simply have to realize that what we need in life are new associations that are heading in the same direction, rather than choosing to continuously fight against the current of companions who are going in the wrong direction.
We’re not talking about abandoning family or leaving spouses who are not believers (obviously), but we are talking about building a network of people into our lives who are capable of fanning the flames of our passion for God and encourage us in our walk with Him. If you want to grow, you have to associate with people who know more than you do. If you want to increase in your zeal for God, you need to find those who are passionate about following Christ. If you happen to be the senior believer in your circle of friends, find those who are hungry and eager to learn and who challenge you to keep yourself sharp so you can continue to invest into their lives. The writer of the Proverbs said, “Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). We don’t stay sharp alone. We need the influence of others who keep us accountable to grow and who inspire us to move ever forward in our walk with God.
There is much more I have to say about our context and connections, but that will have to be reserved for a part two. For now, the important thing to remember is that we are not smarter than God. If He said our associations would either limit us or lift us, they will. He even warned us in 1 Corinthians 15:33 by saying, “DO NOT BE DECEIVED” before warning us about the downward direction poor associations will take us. There is always someone who thinks they know better and are impervious to the influence of others, only to realize they played the fool, gambled against rigged odds, and lost the credibility of their testimony to compromise.
Find an environment in which you can grow. As I have said before, there is no prescription in the New Testament for the believer’s growth and maturity that excludes participation in a local church. You need to find a local fellowship in which you can put down roots and grow. It is there, in the context of other believers who love and serve God that you will rise to the level of your potential in Christ. More to come…