We must choose our closest friends carefully

Published 10:41pm Tuesday, November 26, 2013

She began singing gospel music in church and in time became one of the nation’s most popular singers. Some called her America’s sweetheart. But later she began a relationship with a man known for his drug use. Eventually she adopted his lifestyle, losing her voice, her career and her life.

Long ago King Solomon warned about choosing companions who don’t share godly values.

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared,” he wrote (Proverbs 22: 24-25).

I don’t think the Bible teaches God’s people to be intolerant of others, but there is an unmistakable warning that we’re influenced by our closest friends for good or for evil.

We must choose our closest friends with some deliberation. The best friends are those who encourage us when we’re despondent (Proverbs 15:4) and who teach us skills and character (Proverbs 27:17).

Friends also can “wound” us for good with negative feedback (Proverbs 27:6). We all have “blind” areas in our lives. Friends can do a great service by pointing out these areas so we can make needed correction. Certainly this process requires secure friendships.

This principle works in marriage. The people of God are instructed to marry those who share faith. The apostle Paul wrote, “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Solomon, too, warned young men to avoid friendships with potential marriage partners who had no morals. He contrasted these women in Proverbs 5 with the godly woman of chapter 31. As far as the former is concerned, young men should remember the lyrics sung by Herman’s Hermits in the 60s: “She’s a must to avoid.”

I’ve heard college students call it “missionary dating” when they go out with an unbeliever intending to be a good example. I have misgivings about this practice. Whereas Christians are to offer friendship in order to share faith, as Matthew did when he began to follow Christ (Matthew 9: 9-12), the possibility of marriage raises the relationship stakes much higher.

I’ve met scores of people over the years who believed their spouse would warm up to faith after marriage, and perhaps had some assurances from them that this would happen, but, alas, it never did. As I often tell couples in pre-marriage sessions, there will be many things in marriage to separate you, but your faith ought to be primary in cementing your union.

The greatest friend we can have is Jesus whom the Bible calls “a friend of sinners.” This is good news since we’ve all fallen short of God’s plan and benefit when Christ reaches out with the offer of pardon.

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