“The one who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20) This was the key verse for a summer camp I attended in high school. Most of us would love for our middle school, high school, and college students to adhere to that type of thinking. What about us as adults? What kind of company should we keep?
This can take some delicate balancing. On one hand, it is important to have many of our closest friends share our goals to grow in faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. We need intimate relationships where we can let down our hair and get to the heart of the joys and sorrows in our lives. When we need advice it is best to have people who will counsel us in light of scripture. As loving parents we do not simply tell our children to do whatever feels good. In the same way, our closest companions should be willing to speak hard truths to us when necessary. We should be receptive to hearing these things because we have confidence that they have our best interest at heart. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:5-6) “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
On the other hand, we are to be salt and light to the world. There are hurting people who need a kind friend. There are discouraged people who need to hear of God’s love and to experience it in action through us. There are those with whom hanging out might tarnish our reputations. Jesus was known to associate with prostitutes, tax collectors and “sinners.” He said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
Our love must be sincere. We should not treat people as projects. It is often encouraging to see the ways others end up teaching us more than we teach them or blessing our lives more than we bless theirs.
If a relationship does not seem to be one that is mutually edifying we should ask ourselves if we are having a generally positive influence on the other person or if she/he is having a more negative influence on us. Are we more likely to say too much, buy too much, drink too much, eat too much or indulge ourselves too much because of our time together? If a friendship is taking away from the manner in which we honor God then it is probably time to consider how to change that. A variety of relationships is beneficial for all of us, but those who influence us the most should be people of integrity and wisdom.