You might have heard the saying growing up, 'You are who your friends are or you soon will be,' but is it really true that we are positively and negatively influenced by the people we spend our time with? Find out now as Stephen continues his quest for Biblical wisdom.
“Birds of a Feather”
Every year Beloit College in Wisconsin publishes a list known as the Beloit College Mindset List. They reveal the cultural mindset of their incoming freshmen and what it might mean to the administration.
Over the years this list has become widely used as an indicator of how young people view their world. Educators and leaders around the country wait for this list with anticipation because it also reveals how easy it could be to disconnect from these new students.
I went online to their website and copied down a number of interesting entries that have created, in part, the mindset of those born in and around 1990 – those who are next year’s college Freshmen.
For these students:
- Stadiums have always had corporate names;
- FOX has always been a major network;
- HD TV’s have always been available;
- The World Wide Web has always existed;
- They have always been able to watch war live on television;
- The Soviet Union never existed;
- They have known 2 presidents;
- They learned about JFK and Malcolm X from movies;
- “Outing” has never referred to taking a trip with your family;
- Brides have normally worn white for a first, second or third wedding;
- Disney Land has always been in Europe and Asia;
- Beach volleyball has always been a recognized sport;
- General Motors has always been working on electric cars;
- Wal-Mart has always been bigger than Sears;
- The space program never caught their attention except in some disaster;
- They don’t know that the expression, ‘off the hook’, refers to telephones;
- They have never heard anyone actually ring anything up on a cash register;
- Smoking has never been allowed in many public spaces;
- The purchase of ivory has always been banned;
- Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling;
- They have grown up drinking water from plastic bottles;
- They have never eaten liver and beans. ( now there’s something to envy);
- They have never rolled down a car window;
- While their older brothers and sisters never used a typewriter, they have never seen one;
- At the mall or store, a coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake;
- Dilbert has always been ridiculing the work place;
- Michael Moore has always been angry;
- Al Gore has always been running for office;
Adapted from www.beloit.edu/class of 2010/2011
Without a doubt, the influence of culture is profound.
But it isn’t our culture that’s the problem . . . it’s whatever from culture we allow to influence our thinking and condition our lives that becomes the problem.
That’s why the scriptures never ask the believer to abandon his culture and go live in the woods somewhere.
The believer has been challenged to reach his culture with the gospel while at the same time resisting the gravitational pull of his culture . . . to avoid certain aspects of his culture . . . to be careful who you run with . . . because who you run with, ultimately, runs you.
Who you give an ear to, has you by the ear.
You’ve heard the expression, “Birds of a feather, what? flock together.”
That’s not only a fact of nature, it is a fact of human nature.
Who you choose to follow . . . who you choose to flock together with will influence you one way or another.
That’s why friendship and fellowship with the right people is so important.
C. S. Lewis called friendship a school of virtue or a school of vice. He wrote, “Friendship makes good men better and bad men worse.”
Quoted by Leon Morris, Testaments of Love (Eerdmans, 1981), p. 118
So the question is, “Who are they who will make you bad? Who are they who will make you better?”
This is exactly what God has in mind through the Proverbs of Solomon. It shouldn’t take any of us by surprise that one of the first things Solomon will teach us, is how to avoid certain people.
You might think that sounds strange, or harsh.
No, it’s actually Biblical and wise.
If birds of a feather do flock together, it’s no surprise that the Proverbs would talk a lot about the flock of birds from which we should flee and the flock of birds in which we should fly.
This is Solomon his first fatherly piece of advice in Proverbs chapter 1. Turn there and notice what Solomon writes in verse 8, Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching . . . in other words, listen to Mom and Dad.
Notice verse 10. My son if sinners entice you, do not consent. 11. If they say, “come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us ambush the innocent without cause; 12. Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, even whole, as those who go down to the pit; 13. We will find all kinds of precious wealth; we will fill our houses with spoil. 14. Throw in your lot with us, we shall all have one purse.
You could write into the margin of your Bible at verse 10, the summary words, “Stay alert!”
The word used here for sinners or sinful men is hattaim which refers in general to those who are missing the mark; those who have fallen short of God’s standard. The nominal pattern in the Hebrew text indicates that this is the occupation or repeated action of these people.
Bruce K. Waltke, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs, Volume 1 (Eerdmans, 2004), p. 190
In other words, they aren’t sinning and stopping . . . sinning and repenting . . . no, this is their occupation – this is how they live. They are practitioners of sin. They are experienced veterans of sinful lifestyles.
And would you note here that the sinners begin with an invitation . . . “Come with us.”
Just come with us. In other words, “You don’t have to be like us . . . you don’t have to change your beliefs or even your morals. What else are you doing this weekend? C’mon with us!”
In this text, Solomon advises 2 Responses
- The believer is to respond to the invitation to accompany sinners, first, with something verbal.
Verse 10 says, “Consent not”, which is another way of saying, “Son . . . say no.”
One of the best ways to avoid sin is to say no as early as possible.
The time to say no to a guy’s advances, young ladies, is not at 11 o’clock at night parked by the lake; it’s at 2 o’clock in the afternoon when he asks you out. You say “no” then and you will never have to say “no” out there.
Some of you guys are convinced you will say no to things like adultery and embezzlement. “I can say no to that!” But right now you’re cheating on the internet and on your expense account.
The best time to say no is at the first invitation to sin.
Daniel provides an incredible example for the believer. He’s introduced into a new and corrupt culture. He is inducted into the educational system of Babylon, the leadership training program of Babylon; the names of Daniel and his friends were even changed to Babylonian names.
- Daniel which meant, “God is my judge,” was changed to Belteshazzar, which means “The Prince of Baal”. Imagine that change . . . what an revolting thing to an Israelite believer;
- Hananiah, which meant “God is gracious,” was changed to Shadrach, which means “illumined by the sun-god”;
- Mishael meant “Who is as great as God,” was changed to Meshach, which meant, “Who is as great as Venus.”
- And Azariah, which meant “the Lord is my help,” was now Abed-nego, which meant “the servant of Nego, the god of fire”.
This was all part of the psychological mind game the Babylonians were attempting to change the mind-set of Daniel and his friends from Judaism to paganism.
What I find fascinating is that Daniel did not resist the educational system of Babylon – in fact, he excelled in it; he didn’t resist the name change – he would never consider himself Baal’s prince . . . he didn’t change his lodging or complain about his professors.
What he did refuse to go along with was the one thing in all these cultural changes that would have caused him to commit sin.
He refused to eat the king’s meat and drink his wine.
Why? The text informs us in Daniel 1:8 that Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself . . . literally, that he wouldn’t sin.
Israelites were not vegetarians and they drank wine. The only way this meat and wine would cause Daniel to sin is if the meat wasn’t kosher – it was an unclean animal according to the law of Moses; if the wine had been offered as a libation to a pagan god which was the custom of Babylonian kings it would also have been a sinful thing to participate in drinking.
Daniel went along with everything except this one thing which would have been sin.
And he made it clear. No! This will cause me to become defiled – to sin against my God.
His verbal response was firm, but gracious.
Solomon writes, “Son, if sinners entice you to sin . . . make up your mind to say “no.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, that one little word will save us all from a life of regret.
Imagine this – one of the first words of wisdom offered through Solomon to us is how and when and why to say “no.”
This little word makes a world of difference.
The first response of the believer to sinners in verse 10 is verbal.
The second response of the believer is physical.
If you wrote the words, “Stay alert!” beside verse 10, you could write in the margin of your Bible beside verse 15, the words, “Stay away!” These are things you tell yourself. Stay alert . . . stay away.
Notice verse 15. My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path; 16. For their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed blood; 17. Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net in the sight of any bird; 18. But they lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush their own lives.
They ruin themselves. They mess up their own lives. Sinners ruin themselves.
Notice here how the father is advising the son to consider the end of the sinner’s path.
Yes, they have friends. Yes, they are never alone. Yes they seem to live exciting lives. Yes, they seem to have plenty of money and good times on the weekends. But in the end they share calamity and futility and emptiness and loss.
Stay alert . . . stay away.
Someone is sure to say, but didn’t Jesus Christ make friends with sinners. Wasn’t he condemned for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Yes, He was, Matthew 11:19.
But Christ had a purpose. He wasn’t eating with tax collectors because He was lonely. He wasn’t eating with wayward men and women so he could have some friends and have something to do on the weekend.
He wasn’t mingling with them so they could influence Him but so that He could influence them. Not because he needed them, but because they needed Him.
He had come to seek and to save those who were lost (Luke 19:10)
He wasn’t there to entertain them but to redeem them.
Let’s think of friendships or influences in your life three different ways.
In fact, Think of three circles surrounding you right now.
The first circle is closest to you; the second is further out and the third is even further out.
The furthest circle out represents passive acquaintances.
These are kids that sit in your science class or ride the bus home with you.
These are the people who work in cubicles next to you. You share the same water fountain and elevator – you know the name of that receptionist or bank manager, and they know yours, but that’s as far as it gets – unless they call you in to their office and give you a bonus because you’re doing such an incredible job – which I’m sure for you happens as often as it should.
You know these people but you really don’t know anything about them, nor they you.
The next circle closer to you is casual friendships.
These are the guys you play on the soccer team with; they not only sit on the same bus as you do, but they share a seat with you and you enjoy talking to them as you ride to the game.
These are the people who serve in the same board room as you hammer out plans.
These are your neighbors that you chat with or maybe even invite over for hamburgers on Saturday afternoon.
These are the people you talk with in the hallway and pile into a car with to grab lunch out. These are guys or girls in your dorm room or on your task force.
They are much more than acquaintances . . . in fact, they are pretty much locked into your sphere of living. You get to know these people pretty well and they get to know you.
These are the people you invite to church and strike up meaningful conversations about Christ. These are the people on your prayer list.
You’re not with them so they can influence you, you intend to influence them. You don’t invite them to your home because you want something to do for the weekend. You, like Christ, are taking opportunities to seek and to save – to lead to Christ to save – those who are lost.
These are not passive acquaintances, these are casual friendships – the people that God has placed in your world to influence them – not the other way around.
That’s reserved for the inner circle.
3. The third circle, closest to you, is close companions.
These are the people you allow into your life to share life. They are your counselors and confidants. You are fortunate to have 1 or 2 that you can call close. But you normally choose these with care.
To these people you have given the right of influence and direction.
These are the people you ask, “What do you think I ought to do?” “Which decision do you think I ought to make?”
- From passive acquaintance . . . no personal connection;
- To casual friendship . . . personal connection, but you intend to influence them for Christ;
- To close companionship . . . these are the ones you have given the right of persuasion and influence.
These are the ones who impact your heart and life. These are they who develop in you a mindset.
This is your flock of birds.
For the believer, no one who is without Christ should gain access to the inner circle. This is what you guard. You are to guard your heart for out of it flow the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; He who guards himself will be far from them. (Proverbs 22:5)
This is where you make sure that “discretion guards you and understanding watches over you.” (Proverbs 2:11)
For what fellowship – what close companionship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Listen, this relates to who you date . . . who you IAM for an hour a day . . . who you seek out for counsel. If you’re dating an unbeliever or a believer who really doesn’t care about the things of God – listen, there is no such thing as evangelistic dating.
You have granted access to the wrong influence.
If your counselor or psychologist or confidant at work doesn’t know Jesus Christ, they have no right to get inside the inner circle to influence your mindset. They may very well lead you astray.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve counseled who’ve been told by some unbelieving counselor that what they needed to do was divorce their spouse so they could be happy.
What they needed to do was let their teenage children experiment with sin so they could learn for themselves.
What ungodly advice . . . what utter devastation in life brought by ungodly influence within the inner circle of mind and heart that should have been guarded and preserved for wisdom and discretion and purifying counsel.
Perhaps the best thing you could do for your spiritual walk my friend is start avoiding certain people. Graciously move someone from the inner circle to an outer circle.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:20. He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
Remember, the word fool has nothing to do with IQ. This is not a reference to someone’s SAT scores. A fool throughout scripture is someone who has said in his heart, there is no God.
They live as if there is no spiritual authority in heaven, nor biblical authority on earth. They deny both.
So Solomon says here, “Someone who allows a fool to infiltrate that inner circle will suffer harm” . . . “Someone who has a close and intimate friendship with someone else who denies the existence of God in heaven and the authority of God’s word on earth.”
And don’t be fooled by a fool.
There are a lot of fools who come to church. They say they believe in God.
I believe there were fools in church today. Hundreds of them today . . . right here. They sang and testified of their belief in God . . . but in their heart . . . one author called them “practical atheists.”
That is, they say there is a God but in all practicality, they live as if He doesn’t exist. In their heart, there is no God.
That’s why David didn’t say, “The fool has said with his lips, there is no God.” No, “the fool has said in his heart. . .” (Psalm 14:1)
Solomon writes, “A companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Bruce Waltke defined these Hebrew words ‘a companion of fools’ as someone who allows a fool to, and I quote, “to excite their interests; fix their habits . . . form their resolutions.”
Waltke, p. 571
Let me ask you a question. Who, in your life, is exciting your interests . . . determining your habits . . . helping you form your resolutions.”
If it’s a wise person, you’re in the right flock. If it’s a fool, you’re already flying into disaster.
Solomon said it this way in Proverbs 12:26. One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads him astray.
Would you note the progression here in chapter 1 and verse 10 you have an invitation. Which leads to participation in verse 11. Which eventually leads to cooperation in verse 14. You are now fully invested with one purse – one bank account somewhere in the Caribbean islands.
Invitation . . . participation . . . cooperation.
Where in here is it the hardest to flee these birds?
- when you are fully invested;
- when money is on the line;
- when your heart has already been given away.
When is it the easiest to protect that inner circle? At the beginning, with the invitation . . . you can give a simple, “No thanks.”
So . . . how do you avoid flying in the wrong flock of birds?
Proverbs 1 informs us to give two responses:
- One is verbal – so stay alert and ready to say no.
- The second is physical – stay away.
With your verbal response you resist enticement.
With your physical response you refuse entanglement.
Be prepared to do both.
So . . . the question remains . . . how do you spot the wise flock of birds?
Two key characteristics about wise birds of a feather:
- They believe in the crucified and resurrected Christ
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and the Gentiles foolishness; but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The person who believes that Christ is the epitome of wisdom is a wise person. The person who seeks Christ for counsel and guidance . . . the person who believes Christ is living – not as a baby or on a cross, but as the living, ascended Lord.
Fly with birds like that!
- They not only believe in the living Christ, they base their lifestyle on the word of Christ.
Matthew 7:24; Jesus Christ said, Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.
The person who says, “Hey, don’t take the Bible so seriously is not wise.”
But the person who says, “Hey, I’ve gotta know what Christ and His word have to say about that will help you stand against the undertow of sin.”
Solomon says to his son here at the outset of godly wisdom (1:18). Son, look all the way down the path and note how they end up. They are heading for ruin and destruction. But you will be kept safe if you avoid them . . . it might not feel very good . . . but you will be delivered from the tragic consequences of sin.
Isn’t it interesting that the first piece of advice is how to avoid the wrong people.
In 1942, Boston College’s football team had the best record in their division. The year was coming to a close and they had planned their homecoming game. It was planned against Holy Cross, which had only won 4 games that year. That’s the kind of team you want to play for your homecoming, right? All the celebrations were planned and presentations were to be made – you wanna do that after a victory, not a loss. So you find some poor scapegoat you can smear and everyone feels good at the homecoming party.
So Boston College scheduled their homecoming game against Holy Cross. However, this particular night, everything they did went wrong and everything Holy Cross did went right. At the end of the game, the score was an embarrassing 55 to 12. The Boston College team was so embarrassed, along with everyone else, that they canceled their big homecoming celebration. And they fully expected to wake up the next morning to the headlines, “Boston College Creamed by Holy Cross.”
However, the next morning, the local newspaper didn’t even cover the game. Instead, the front page story was about a fire that had broken out in the Coconut Grove Country Club. By the way, it remains, in American history, as one of the top 10 fires, in terms of fatalities. Over 400 people died that night in the fire.
To us that might not be that significant. But to every player and coach and friend of the Boston College Football team, it meant everything. You see, their homecoming celebration had been planned to take place at the Coconut Grove Country Club.
Their humiliation . . . their embarrassment . . . their emotional pain . . . had saved their lives.
Solomon will later write in chapter 4 (vv.14-15) Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid them, do not pass by them; turn away from them and move on.
May I add . . . even if it’s embarrassing . . . even when it hurts, don’t fly in the wrong flock of birds.
It may mean you spend weekends alone. It might mean you’re the odd man out at the office. It might mean you’re the least likely to get asked out on a date.
Perhaps the greatest proof that you are walking with Christ is that you are standing alone.
Stand . . . and resist enticement . . . refuse entanglement. Keep your heart . . . guard it . . . it will make all the difference, not only in this world . . . but in the world to come.