He who walks with the wise grows wise,
But a companion of fools suffers harm
Proverbs 13:20 (NIV, 1978)
King Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man in the world, spoke of the importance of surrounding oneself with people of character, integrity, and wisdom. Millenniums later his counsel from the above verse would be restated in modern terms: “Show me your friends and I will show you your future.” One day, I asked our students at Adult & Teen Challenge (ATC) if their parents had ever told them, “You are known by the company you keep.” The answer was a unanimous YES! I followed up by asking if any of them had ever become like the people their parents warned them about. The great majority again agreed.
Relationships are important. Unfortunately, friendships with those who will celebrate when we win, encourage us when we lose, rebuke us when we’re wrong, and love us at our worst are few and far between. Social media has done much harm to our concept of relationships by redefining the term “friend” or “follower” to merely refer to one who knows your business without any personal or emotional investment in your well-being.
Paul once warned the church in Corinth of the hazards of being “yoked” together with unbelievers. We typically apply that phrase to marriage, but it is equally applicable to interpersonal relationships with even lesser commitment. The guiding principle is that we place our emotional well-being in a precarious situation by trusting those who do not hold to the same spiritual standards. In other words, our decisions, our view of ourselves as well as our view of life itself can be negatively impacted by those we call friends.
The most common pitfall for an ATC graduate is to return “home” and revisit the relationships that led to their hopeless lifestyle and eventually to addiction itself. We tell them that it’s not a sign of arrogance or being superior to want to leave destructive attitudes behind to pursue a life that God will bless. The unfortunate truth is that such a decision usually reveals who our true friends actually were. The abundant life Jesus promised is not without sacrifice and sometimes that sacrifice concerns relationships that were intended to only last for a season so that we might learn the importance of the company we keep.