Character: we know it is important; we recognize it when we see it in others…but sometimes we are at a loss as to how to cultivate it in our own lives. There are two tests of character: (1) Your character is revealed by what you choose to think about when your mind is not otherwise preoccupied. (2) Your character is revealed by those with whom you choose to associate in your leisure time. Let’s take a look at the latter of these two tests by diving into the book of Proverbs. In many ways, all of us are a product of our relationships, both past and present. The good news is this: You can determine the kind of person you want to become, and then purposely associate yourself with those who will contribute to that objective. That is the message of Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”
You tend to become like those with whom you most closely associate. The author of Proverbs doesn’t mince words. If you hang with the wise, you will grow wise. But if you hang with fools, you will reap the consequences of those associations. “Fool” is a strong word…and who qualifies as a fool, anyway? To answer that question, we need understand that the book of Proverbs is a book outlining two paths: wisdom and folly. God warns us to choose the path of wisdom and to avoid the path of folly. You see, in Biblical wisdom literature, the opposite of wisdom is not ignorance, but folly. In other words, those who live outside of God’s wise counsel are best described as fools. They are fools because they ignore the principle of sowing and reaping. Any time we live contrary to the moral principles with which God governs the Universe, there are consequences, some temporal, some eternal. To live our lives as though we answer to no one is foolish, and when we do so, we deserve the title “fool”.
If you are going to live wisely in God’s world, you need to associate yourself with those who will help you accomplish that purpose. That means that you need to avoid relationships which undermine your spiritual wellbeing, and cultivate those relationships which motivate you to walk with God. This does not mean you should avoid befriending those who don’t share your moral and spiritual values. Jesus associated with sinners of the worst sort, and was chastised for it by the leaders of his day (Matthew 9:10-12). If we stop building relationships with those who don’t know Christ, we are abandoning our evangelistic responsibility in the world. We cease being salt and light. Contrary to the posture of some Christians, we are not to hole up in the protective cocoon of our own Christian community. No, God has called us to build redemptive relationships with our non- Christian neighbors. But here is where we need to be careful. Jesus associated with the immoral of his day, but he was not tempted to adopt their worldview or lifestyle. In other words, Jesus did the influencing. That is the determinative issue.
Consider your own relationships with those who are on a spiritual plane lower than your own. Are you lifting them up, or are they pulling you down? If they are pulling you down, then it is an unhealthy relationship and you need to reevaluate how much time you spend with this person. Living wisely in God’s world requires more than just avoiding unhealthy relationships. We also need to cultivate healthy ones. We need to cultivate relationships with those individuals who motivate us to walk with God. Godly character is both molded and revealed in the context of human relationships. We need each other if we are to grow to our full potential. Solomon put it this way: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
God has designed us to be interdependent. We need each other. You have strengths and insight I don’t have, and I have strengths and insight you don’t have (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Sometimes we need someone who cares enough about us to shoot straight with us. To tell us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear. We all have blind spots, and if we are to grow, we must be willing to listen to constructive criticism (Proverbs 27:5-6, Proverbs 25:12).
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Avoid relationships that undermine your spiritual well-being. Take stock and make some changes.
- Cultivate relationships with those who motivate you to walk with God. Take the initiative here.