After one of my children had some surgery on his jaw, I insisted that he stay out of fistfights when he was older. I didn’t want this expensive surgery to all become undone (and for my son to need to get his jaw put back together again) over a petty argument. Of course, it’s probably good for me to encourage my kids to stay out of unnecessary fights for other reasons, as well!
The following proverb suggests that our choices can have an impact that is greater than just having to get our jaw wired back together, after some guy punches us:
Don’t befriend angry people
or associate with hot-tempered people,
or you will learn to be like them
and endanger your soul.
Proverbs 22:24-25 NLT
In a world where “friends” may include lots of people who just clicked a button on their computer screen, it is easy to treat friendships as something that is less important than they really are. We can begin to think of our friends as status symbols, or even as a measurement of our worth. When we do so, we may be tempted to accumulate friends no matter what they are like, regardless of what compromises we need to make in order to gain more. However, as the verses above tell us, choosing who to spend time with is serious business.
Thinking back through my life, I can attest to following my friends into really bad ideas. The power of a group can multiply risky or unkind behavior (if not worse!), and when we have established strong friendships, I believe that we slowly let down our guard. As a result, when our friends lead us towards sin (or just stupidity), it seems that we accept those suggestions much more quickly than we would from a stranger. (See also 1 Corinthians 15:33.)
However, the power of establishing friends can also work for good. If we are careful to select friends of integrity, good character, and positive goals, the same lowering of barriers that can lead us astray can instead help us become better people, and keep us focused on Jesus (rather than crazy stunts and practical jokes).
There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 NLT
It is my hope that you have established some good friends, and have chosen to relegate those who are negative influences to a different kind of relationship (one with more guards in place). I also appreciate that some of us struggle to make friends, especially in certain seasons of our lives, and it may seem easiest to connect with anyone who will talk with us. Our self-respect and our very souls may hang in the balance, though, and those are much more important, even if we have to spend some time alone (even though that’s no fun – I understand that). And, for those having to choose among friends (having various types of influence on us), I’m convinced that we have a finite amount of “emotional capacity” to invest in others, so we should spend that valuable resource carefully, wisely, and deliberately (not casually or passively).
I would be remiss if I didn’t cite the ultimate friend: the One whose integrity and character are unstained, and who both knows us and loves us, Jesus Christ. Still, while He is the friend against which we can benchmark others (fallible though these other human beings may be, compared to Him), I also understand the benefit of being able to confide in and find strength in one of Jesus’ ambassadors: a friend who walks with Him, and with us.