Monday, June 4, 2007

Walking with the Wise or Fraternizing with Fools

“He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Prov.13:20)

Commenting on this verse, the Puritan writer, William Arnot, makes this astute observation: “Your character goes far to determine the company that you will keep; and the company that you keep goes far to mould your character.” This insight would be discouraging indeed if we didn’t know that it’s possible to stop the vicious cycle by consciously choosing different companions. We may not be able to choose our family, but it is certainly within our power to cultivate some relationships while shunning others.

It might be worthwhile for each of us to consider what type of person we are attracted to. We all have some acquired preferences, even biases, especially when it comes to how someone looks. This is only natural (1Sam.16:7). But only those who are truly shallow will allow this to become their definitive estimation, whether favorable or unfavorable. Beyond this, is it wit, popularity, financial status, verbal skill, or a sparkling personality that makes us choose the company of certain people? Or, just as bad, would we rather be with those who are conscious of some of these qualities in us, and, therefore, can be counted on to provide assurance that we are being truly appreciated? Still others, I have noticed, are drawn to individuals who are “wise” alright, but with a worldly wisdom (Jam.3:15). And, sad to say, this can be seen in some believers. Such Christians, Charles Bridges describes fearfully, as being able to “live in a worldly element, without feeling out of their element… able to breathe a tainted atmosphere without sensibility of infection.”

The reason that a habitual companion of fools will eventually be destroyed is found in 1Corinthians 15:33, where we read, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” It may be countered that perhaps good manners might correct evil communications, but the verse does not predict this, so why risk it? Oh, I’m not advocating isolationism. Even Paul the Apostle admitted earlier in this Epistle that in order to be isolated from all sin and worldliness, one would be forced to “go out of the world” (5:9-11). He does advise, however, not to “keep company” with those who practice this lifestyle. In other words, don’t make them your frequent companions.

Who, then, shall I choose for my companion? Shall we ask the man after God’s own heart? David tells us in Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.” These are the truly wise. Unless an individual fears God and is willing to go by His precepts to the best of his or her ability, no matter how amiable, attractive, or exhilarating he or she may be, I dare not choose their company.

The good news is that these wise men and women can be found, and in unexpected places. Yes, some are behind pulpits, but many are in the pews, and not just those in your own church, either. As a young mother, I learned from older, godly women as we cooked, folded clothes, or took care of our children together. It was not “counseling” (which was not in vogue yet!); it was learning lessons of life from someone who had already been down the path, and who knew where some of the pitfalls were. If I have any wisdom today it’s because I have tried to cultivate friendships (or, at least, conversations) with individuals who have maneuvered (or are now maneuvering) through life with grace, humility, and integrity. Few of these people were well known—except to God. I was like the men spoken of in Zechariah 8:23 who said, “We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.”

And not all of these wise companions are alive today. There are countless saints of God who have left us their thoughts in words that are a great source of wisdom to those of us who are willing to seek them out. Warren Wiersbe has a wonderful book of excerpts taken from the writings of great men of the past called Giant Steps. When I read some of these, I feel as though I am walking beside them, seeing the glory of God in their faces.

I must again remind us that this verse lays before us a choice, as so much of God’s Word does. It would seem to be a fairly easy one, yet I have known many who habitually made the wrong one. These are the people who falter through their Christian lives because they fail to keep company with those who would “lead them on to God,” as the old song says. And mark it well: You will never rise above the people with whom you choose to surround yourself.

So choose wisely; choose to walk with wisdom.

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