PRAY FOR A CHANGE IN COMPANY
How long do we hang on to people that affect little change in our lives? Our grand daughter’s car was out of commission and I had the privilege of driving her to World Vision, where she volunteers to gain experience because her college degree did not secure her a job. We talked about friendship and agreed that the kind we need were people that were constructive in their criticism. She, at twenty-two, has already had a taste of friends that I have had at eighty-four. There are those that like us and see nothing wrong and then there are those that judge us without even knowing us. Here we are, looking for friends that can make our lives change for the better.
The wisdom of Paul declared, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad friends shame your character. Wake up and stop sinning with them, for this is not what God wants you to be like. I am not trying to embarrass you’” (I Cor. 15:33-34). Paul’s appeal did not fit into the life of a people that led a new life in the Risen Christ. They were still hanging on to their old friends that were pulling them down to their sinful ways (I Cor. 5-6). Paul was telling the Corinthians that in Christ, they were raised to a level of living that was above what they were before (I Cor. 1:26-30). Their environment did not change, but their attitude did. These were not weaklings, who laid down their lives for their faith and their friends. God’s value of a human being is totally different from the value the world places on a person. No weak person has ever led any one. According to Jesus, these meek or weak people end up managing the earth (Mt. 5:5).
I know first hand what being weak feels like. I was twenty-one when a fire put me into hospitals for a year and a half and then for seven more years back to school to rebuilt my inner self and develop new skills to face the world. During this time, the Lord sent people my way, who were far more stronger than I ever had been to lift me up and give me new hope and assisted me to become strong enough to take care of myself and down the road to help others. Several times, I reached a level when I had to be knocked down from having become too stagnant and stale. The people who knocked me off my pedestal did not seek to ruin me, but to make me aware that I had stopped climbing my mountain of constant change or transfiguration. The worst blow was when one examiner for my Doctoral degree told me to open my mind that 150 experts had closed. A year later, I returned with my thoughts and he still disagreed; but he passed me with commendation and predicted that some day, I would share my thinking in writing. He knew it would take more time and more people who would encourage me to step out and dare challenge others to think for them selves. That is the kind of company I have enjoyed and I am still looking for more.
I had a friend for sixty-three years. He came from New Zealand and I came from Poland. We met in the General Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. We were of a common mind and had similar interests with similar ideals. We never said anything that would interrupt our friendship. We needed each other to lean on and he was a great moral support when I was very vulnerable during my injury time and hospitalization. He came to visit me while I was a patient. We never lived close to each other, but we never lost touch and found ways to visit and communicate; at the end by telephone and Internet. I miss his companionship because we could talk about things, disagree and agree; yet, we never parted with any negative feelings for each other. When I was encouraged to start a blog, I asked him whether he read it and he said, ”No.” I did not ask for an explanation and let him come around and tell me when he was ready. A year before he passed away, I told him what I was doing and he knew all about it. He was not just a friend; he was a companion – very good company. I felt lifted whenever we parted.
A godly company enhances Christian living. Christ’s believers were instructed not to leave the assembly of other godly people (He. 10:25). Even where two or three would gather, the Lord’s presence would be felt (Mt. 18:20). We do not always have a chance to choose our company, and if we did, we may not choose the right one. Jesus’ last companions were criminals and only one was sympathetic. Jesus’ last disciple, no one knew he had, was Joseph of Arimathea. He gave up his own burial place to Jesus. Then there was John Zebedee, the trustee of Jesus’ mother, and there were some women; but where were the men who had promised to die with their teacher? Their minds had yet to be opened. Lord Dewar believed, “Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open. Some minds are like concrete – thoroughly mixed and permanently set. Some open minds should post signs, ‘Closed for Repairs’” (S.S. p.1161). To the wise man, “The purpose of a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Prov. 20:5). To Jesus it was the heart that contained the ingredients for the right company (Lk. 6:45). The mouth will disclose whether we want to associate with that person.
People can spot us permanently with their character. Take this age-old story for instance. A Greek father, by the name of Sophronius had a beautiful daughter, named Eulalia. She wanted to visit her friend Lucinda, who had tinted her reputation. Father denied her wish and the daughter countered indignantly, “Then you must think me exceedingly weak.” Sophronius picked up a dead coal from the fireplace and handed it to Eulalia. She hesitated to touch it, but father coaxed her, “Take it, my child, it will not burn you.” She took it and her milky white hand was stained. “Father,” she broke out in tears and remarked, “We cannot be too careful in handling coal!” “No,” agreed her father, “for even when they do not burn, they blacken.”
It matters greatly what company we keep. Far too many of us assume that we will be strong enough to alter the behavior and even character of those with whom we associate. It is far more likely that they will impose on our good will and change us to their ways. A farmer lectured his children on how to avoid bad company. They had a parrot, called, “Poll.” Crows descended into a cornfield and did some damage. The parrot flew over and joined the happy escapade. A gun went off, killed several crows and wounded the parrot. The farmer took the bird home and the children asked, “What did it Papa? What hurt our pretty Poll?” “Bad company, Bad company!” resounded the parrot (La. 56).
This may not sound right. It is nevertheless to our advantage to seek out company that is above us and not beneath us. That was what Jesus did. He took his disciples up to where they could meet people with higher standards. In a certain small town, very early in the morning, a man hurried down the street with a miserable, flea-bitten mangy on a leash. “Where are you going with that mutt,” asked a friend? “Oh, I’m taking him to the New York Dog Show,” said the owner. In a surprising tone of voice, the friend tried to discourage this dog owner from embarrassing himself, “You know you will never win a price with this purple-eyed mangy, don’t you?” “Yes, I know,” answered he. “But, it will give him a chance to meet a lot of mighty fine dogs” (Mur. 115). And, guess what? These mighty fine dogs did not mind it at all.
Paul, writing to the Corinthians, showed similar concern. “Do not be misled, ‘bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you should and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God. I say this to your shame” (I Cor. 15:33-34). We do shame ourselves if we continue in the company of people that keep us down constantly and deliberately. We have labeled ourselves as worthless sinners who cannot shake our bad habits or thoughts without some extraterrestrial assistance. So, we hang it all on Christ to rescue us from our own demise. We do have both good and bad news. God does love the world and regards man as worth saving (Jn. 3:16). Man to God can be a hidden treasure or a precious pearl (Mt. 13:44-46). He paid an exuberant price for us. But if man continues to throw what is sacred to dogs and his pearls (or life) before pigs (Mt. 7:6), then he will remain in his sin (Jn. 9:41). Jesus’ last message is not in the Gospels, in Paul or in any other writer but in the Book of Revelation. We seldom hear him tell us, “Do not seal up (with hold from the public) the words of the prophecy (predictions) of this book, because the time is near (when we close our eyes, we are done). Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (Rev. 22:10-11).
God, the heavenly Father, by His very holy nature cannot stoop into the pigpen and bring home the lost son. He will clean him up when he repents and returns and no longer demands any favors. “The returning son said to his father, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to the servants, ‘quickly, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Lk. 15:21-24). God sees us as being lost when we stray, but not as unredeemable. If we stick with losers and with people that take their lot for granted, we shall become like them; and if we keep company with people that have fixed ideas and beliefs then we are in danger of being unredeemable. Like the man with the one talent, we lose the one we had (Mt. 25:28-30).