Dr. Clarence Macartney, a preacher from another generation once told a story about the importance of forging good friendships. He wrote, “I frequently go down to the penitentiary to visit a man who is serving a life term. This is how his imprisonment started: he had not long been in this country. He went out one evening with a group of men who had invited him to accompany them. The first thing he knew they were robbing a store. In the shooting which ensued the woman in the house was fatally wounded. Sometime afterward the young man, who did not even know that a murder had been committed and who actually had nothing to do with it, was picked up and interrogated by the police, whom he frankly told that he had been out that night with a group of young men. He was tried and sentenced to death, for murder, and legally so, as he was in the company of those who had committed the crime. Just one night of thoughtless, careless friendship—and a life was all but ruined!”
The Bible speaks often about the dangers of making friends with the foolish. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 12:26 reinforces this same point in a different way, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Paul quotes from the Greek poet Meander in 1 Cor. 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
The Bible has much to say about the kinds of relationships we have with people because it is our friends who will play an influential role in molding the person we will become. Friends can be a positive influence or a spiritual hindrance. Friends will either build us up in our faith or drag us down. I have often given the object lesson to the youth group about how easily this works. I would ask one student to stand on a chair or table top. Then I would ask another student to stand on the floor beside them. I would ask the student perched atop the chair to try and pull that student on the floor up to them. You can imagine it was easier said than done. After they struggled, I would reverse the process and ask the student on the floor to pull the guy on the chair down to their level. That was much easier, since the force of gravity was working in their favor. The point was made loud and clear—it’s easier to be negatively influenced than to go against the grain.
That is why choosing the people we associate with is a careful business. The people that we hang around will shape our opinions, values and our reputation. Few choices have greater influence over our lives–for better or worse–than our choice of friends. When choosing our friends we should measure them against four biblical principles. A friend should be consistent (Pro. 17:17, 18:24), they should treat us with candor (Pro. 27:5-6), they should give us wise counsel (Pro. 27:9), and they should challenge us to have impeccable character (Pro. 27:17).