Monday, December 8, 2014

The company we keep

Alright … I have to go classical on you this week.  One of the classic films of all time, winner of three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.


Probably top three among my favorite movies of all time.  I remember in high school getting fired up before football games by watching clips from it and from the sequel, Rocky II.  Doesn’t get any better.

The inspiration for this week’s message from my reading (Proverbs 19 – 25, Isaiah 35 – 41, and Ezekiel 29 – 35) is loosely related to the following quote in the movie …

Y'see, they don't remember you, they remember the rep! Y'understand? Eh, you gotta boyfriend? No, you ain't gotta boyfriend? Y'know why? Why do you think you don't got a boyfriend? Because you hang out with those coconuts on the corner, y'understand? You hang out with coconuts, you get nowhere. They're eleven, eleven. You hang out with nice people, you get nice friends, y'understand? You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo people, you get yo-yo friends! Y'see, it's simple mathematics.

This relatively throwaway scene was not really … to those simpleminded folks like me.  Rocky was talking to this young 12 year-old about the importance of who she was hanging out with and the taint that would come over her from hanging out with the wrong crowd.

My Bible reading this week brings up a similar subject, which I viewed in an inverted sort of way.  Proverbs 22:24-25 says …

Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.

Probably all of us have heard from our parents the warnings about “the company you keep.”  We’ve been admonished to stay away from the wrong crowd.  The notion is that those negative elements will drag us down, and I believe that’s categorically true.  But I think the converse is true as well … and this is the point on which I want to focus in this message … and the basis for my challenge to you.

You probably recall that I’ve said before (paraphrasing a pastor I once heard on the radio) … “things aren’t true because they’re in the Bible … they’re in the Bible because they’re true.”  No doubt this is the case with our passage this week.  While it narrowly talks about “angry people” or “hot-tempered people,” I think the application is broadly applicable.  If we hang out with (as Rocky puts it) “yo-yo people” we get “yo-yo friends.”  In other words, our nature, attitudes and behaviors will tend to find their equilibrium in the folks we befriend or keep our time with on a usual basis.  I can say without equivocation that I’ve experienced this firsthand, that when in my youth or in my past I’ve spent time with complainers, I become a complainer.  When I’ve spent time with pessimists, I tend to get more pessimistic.  When I’ve hung out with people with foul mouths, I more easily tend to slip into having a foul mouth.  It’s natural, and difficult to avoid … not inexcusable, but understandable.

If this is the case, I think it’s logical that the flipside is also true.  That is, if we want to be pulled into the equilibrium of better influences and deportment, we should spend time with folks of that ilk.  If we want to become more enthusiastic, we should hang out with enthusiastic people.  If we want to be more encouraging, we should spend time with encouraging people.  If we want to become more faithful, our company should be with faithful people.  Professional?   Hard-working?  Health-conscious?  Giving?  Yup … a critical aspect of becoming the person we want to be is to spend time with people who are the way we want to be.  It’s partly what I think is being expressed in Proverbs 27:17, which says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  We were created in the image of God … INCLUDING being relational.  God didn’t give us all the same gifts or gifts in the same proportion, but He did give us gifts that can be exchanged and influential / impactful among one another.

Who we spend time with matters, and matters greatly … negatively and positively.  We need to be incredibly careful whom we acquaint ourselves with and who gets our time and attention.  It’s a matter of the allocation of constrained time socially, of course, but it’s also because we’ll be shaped one way or the other as a result. 

Additionally, and perhaps more applicable … not only will we be shaped by those we spend time with, but WE will in turn shape others.  To the extent that others by spending time with us are dragged to a negative equilibrium, I believe God holds us accountable for that.  Are we the type of people who drag others toward the positive side of the spectrum … with encouragement, enthusiasm, faithfulness, etc.?  Or are we the types who drag others in a negative direction?  Not only are we accountable but our effect is a consequence of our choices of relationship.  Hence, the notion of iron sharpening iron … it’s a bilateral thing.

This week, let’s prayerfully ask God to reveal relationships that drag us to the negative side of the spectrum, and to help identify those we can benefit from in a positive way.  Let’s ask Him to equip us … in a gracious and honorable way … to shift our time, focus and energy to the more productive associations.  And … let’s ask Him to reveal to us ways we are having a deleterious impact on those who interact with us. 

Y'see, it's simple mathematics.

Grateful for YOUR impact,


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