Prov. 20:19; 22:24-25; 23:6-8
Two days ago we started talking about the importance of friends. I think that 18:24 is a pivotal verse on this subject: It’s vital that we value quality over quantity. You might have 100’s of people whom you call “friends” or “buddies,” but here’s a question: If you called them in the middle of the night and told them that you were in major trouble, would they respond? Do they love you enough to speak honestly to you when you’re messing up?
So today, let’s take a quick look at some people we should avoid as friends. Now before we get to that, it would be useful to deal with a seeming contradiction on this issue. How should we handle unsavory characters? Jesus was well-known as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and this was true in his personal life. He invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house, a well-known tax collector (and cheat). In fact, one of his twelve apostles was an ex-tax collector. So are we supposed to be friends with immoral characters or not?
That’s a really good question, and there’s no simple answer to it. I think--based on Scripture and some sanctified common-sense--that I can provide some clarifying questions and general guidelines. A couple of questions: “Do I find myself influencing him more than vice-versa?” “Do I find myself falling more into sin when he’s around?” And here’s a distinction you need to make: Jesus was the friend of sinners in that he accepted them as they were, and didn’t require that they change their lifestyle before coming to him. He freely associated with them and showed that he valued the image of God stamped upon them. But nowhere do you see him confiding in just anyone he happened to meet. It wasn’t someone picked off the street to whom he chose to reveal the Transfiguration; it was his “inner circle” of three. A friend, as opposed to a “companion,” is someone whom you can trust with your life. You share the same values and the same devotion to Christ. Hope this helps.
So what type of friends should we avoid? What bad character traits out there tend to spread? First, there’s the gossip. This is a person who spreads information around to people who don’t need to hear it. Just because it’s true does not justify it. Would you say this to the person involved? Does it help the situation and the people involved? And I love how the verse gives you a selfish reason to avoid these types of people. Think about it. If someone is gossiping to you about someone, don’t you think the gossip is talking about you to other people?
Second, there’s the man with a temper. We’ll talk about righteous anger next week, but I'd submit that there’s very little righteous anger out there today. Most of the time it’s because they hurt you and you want to avenge yourself. Instead of letting the Lord handle your enemies, you feel the need to do it yourself. Of course, as in all things, our Savior provides the perfect example: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” And notice the reason given—Solomon specifically warns that his behavior is infectious.
And third, there’s the stingy man. You have to know people. If they’re always looking for a way to pay people as little as possible, and always flirt with cheating them, then watch out. He might be treating you well at a banquet or with some other enticement, but there are strings attached. Quite frankly, you can’t trust his motives.
These are just a few examples, and I could have picked a lot more. If one of these friends match these descriptions, then you should consider the danger. But also, we all need to ask ourselves: Does this point to me at all? Am I a gossip? Do I keep control of my anger? Am I stingy, caring more about things than people? If so, then there’s some confessing and repentance to do, isn’t there?
Father, your word is like a surgeon’s scalpel, always cutting and healing. In fact, you cut in order to heal. So what do we need to work on?