“The one walking with the wise will become wise.”—PROVERBS 13:20.
1-3. (a) What inescapable truth does the Bible express? (b) How can we choose associates who will influence us for the good?
IN A way, people are like sponges; they tend to absorb whatever surrounds them. It is all too easy to adopt—even unwittingly—the attitudes, standards, and personality traits of those with whom we have close association.
2 The Bible expresses an inescapable truth when it says: “The one walking with the wise will become wise, but the one who has dealings with the stupid will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) This proverb speaks about more than casual contact. The expression “walking with” suggests ongoing association. * Commenting on this verse, one Bible reference work says: “To walk with a person implies love and attachment.” Would you not agree that we tend to imitate those we love? Indeed, because we attach ourselves emotionally to those we love, they can have a molding effect on us—for good or for bad.
3 To remain in God’s love, it is vital that we seek out associates who will influence us for the good. How can we do that? Put simply, we can do so by loving those whom God loves, making his friends our friends. Think about it. What better associates could we choose than those who have the qualities that Jehovah looks for in his friends? Let us, then, examine the kind of people who are loved by God. With Jehovah’s viewpoint clearly in mind, we will be better equipped to choose wholesome associates.
THOSE WHOM GOD LOVES
4. Why does Jehovah have the right to be particular about his friends, and why did Jehovah refer to Abraham as “my friend”?
4 When it comes to friendship, Jehovah is particular. Does he not have the right to be? After all, he is the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and friendship with him is the greatest of all privileges. Whom, then, does he choose as his friends? Jehovah draws close to those who trust in him and put their full faith in him. Consider, for example, the patriarch Abraham, a man known for his outstanding faith. It is hard to imagine a greater test of faith for a human father than to be asked to offer up his son as a sacrifice. * Yet, Abraham “as good as offered up Isaac,” having full faith that “God was able to raise him up even from the dead.” (Hebrews 11:17-19) Because Abraham displayed such faith and obedience, Jehovah affectionately referred to him as “my friend.”—Isaiah 41:8; James 2:21-23.
5. How does Jehovah view those who loyally obey him?
5 Jehovah places a high value on loyal obedience. He loves those who are willing to put loyalty to him above all else. (Read 2 Samuel 22:26.) As we saw in Chapter 1 of this publication, Jehovah finds great pleasure in those who choose to obey him out of love. “His close friendship,” says Proverbs 3:32, “is with the upright.” Those who loyally meet God’s requirements receive a gracious invitation from Jehovah: They can be guests in his “tent”—welcomed to worship him and granted free access to him in prayer.—Psalm 15:1-5.
6. How can we show that we love Jesus, and how does Jehovah feel about those who love his Son?
6 Jehovah loves those who love Jesus, his only-begotten Son. Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will observe my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23) How can we show our love for Jesus? Surely by observing his commandments, including the commission to preach the good news and make disciples. (Matthew 28:19, 20; John 14:15, 21) We also show our love for Jesus when we “follow his steps closely,” imitating him in word and deed to the best of our ability as imperfect humans. (1 Peter 2:21) Jehovah’s heart is touched by the efforts of those whose love for his Son moves them to pursue a Christlike course.
7. Why is it wise to befriend Jehovah’s friends?
7 Faith, loyalty, obedience, and love for Jesus and his ways—these are among the qualities that Jehovah looks for in His friends. Each of us does well to ask himself: ‘Are such qualities and ways evident in my close associates? Have I made Jehovah’s friends my friends?’ It is wise to do so. Individuals who cultivate godly qualities and preach the Kingdom good news with zeal can have a positive effect on us, influencing us to live up to our determination to please God.—See the box “What Is a Good Friend?”
LEARNING FROM A BIBLE EXAMPLE
8. What impresses you about the relationship between (a) Naomi and Ruth? (b) the three young Hebrews? (c) Paul and Timothy?
8 The Scriptures contain many examples of those who benefited as a result of choosing wholesome associates. You can read about the relationship between Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, between the three young Hebrews who stuck together in Babylon, and between Paul and Timothy. (Ruth 1:16; Daniel 3:17, 18; 1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 2:20-22) Let us, though, focus on another outstanding example: the friendship between David and Jonathan.
9, 10. What was the basis of the friendship between David and Jonathan?
9 The Bible says that after David slew Goliath, “Jonathan and David became bound together in close friendship, and Jonathan began to love him as himself.” (1 Samuel 18:1) Thus began an unbreakable friendship that despite a significant age difference, persisted until Jonathan’s death on the battlefield. * (2 Samuel 1:26) What was the basis of the strong bond forged between these two friends?
10 David and Jonathan were bound together by their love for God and their strong desire to remain faithful to him. These two men shared a spiritual bond. Each displayed qualities that endeared him to the other. Jonathan no doubt was impressed with the courage and zeal of the young man who fearlessly defended Jehovah’s name. David undoubtedly respected the older man who loyally supported Jehovah’s arrangements and unselfishly put David’s interests ahead of his own. Consider, for example, what happened when David was at a low point in his life, living as a fugitive in the wilderness to escape the wrath of wicked King Saul, Jonathan’s father. In a remarkable demonstration of loyalty, Jonathan took the initiative and “went out to David . . . , and he helped him find strength in Jehovah.” (1 Samuel 23:16) Imagine how David must have felt when his dear friend came and offered him support and encouragement! *
11. What do you learn about friendship from the example of Jonathan and David?
11 What do we learn from the example of Jonathan and David? Above all, we see that the most important thing for friends to have in common is spiritual values. When we draw close to those who share our beliefs, our moral values, and our desire to remain faithful to God, there can be an interchange of thoughts, feelings, and experiences that encourage and upbuild us. (Read Romans 1:11, 12.) We find such spiritually-minded associates among fellow worshippers. Does this mean, though, that everyone who comes to meetings at the Kingdom Hall is a good associate? No, not necessarily.
CHOOSING OUR CLOSE ASSOCIATES
12, 13. (a) Why must we be selective in choosing associates even from among fellow Christians? (b) What challenge did first-century congregations face, prompting Paul to give what strong warnings?
12 Even within the congregation, we must be selective if our associates are to be spiritually upbuilding. Should this surprise us? Not really. Some Christians in the congregation may take longer to reach spiritual maturity, even as some fruit on a tree may take longer to ripen. Thus, in any given congregation, we find Christians who are at different levels of spiritual growth. (Hebrews 5:12–6:3) Of course, we show patience and love to newer or weaker ones, for we want to help them to grow spiritually.—Romans 14:1; 15:1.
13 Occasionally, there may be a situation in the congregation that calls for us to watch our association. Some individuals might engage in questionable conduct. Others may develop a bitter or complaining spirit. Congregations in the first century C.E. faced a similar challenge. While most members were faithful, some individuals did not conduct themselves aright. Because some in the congregation in Corinth did not uphold certain Christian teachings, the apostle Paul warned the congregation: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:12, 33) Paul cautioned Timothy that even among fellow Christians, there might be some who do not act honorably. Timothy was told to keep clear of such ones, not making them his close associates.—Read 2 Timothy 2:20-22.
14. How can we apply the principle behind Paul’s warnings about associations?
14 How can we apply the principle behind Paul’s warnings? By avoiding close association with anyone—inside or outside the congregation—who could be a corrupting influence. (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 7, 14) We must protect our spirituality. Remember that like a sponge, we absorb the attitudes and ways of our close friends. Just as we cannot submerge a sponge in vinegar and expect it to fill with water, so we cannot associate with those who exert a negative influence and expect to absorb what is positive.—1 Corinthians 5:6.
You can find wholesome associates among fellow worshippers
15. What can you do to find spiritually-minded friends in the congregation?
15 Thankfully, the potential for finding wholesome associates among fellow worshippers is great indeed. (Psalm 133:1) How can you find spiritually-minded friends in the congregation? As you cultivate godly qualities and ways, no doubt others of like mind will be drawn to you. At the same time, you may need to take some practical steps to reach out and make new friends. (See the box “How We Made Good Friends.”) Look for those who display the qualities you want to reflect. Heed the Bible’s counsel to “open your hearts wide,” seeking out friendships with fellow believers regardless of race, nationality, or culture. (2 Corinthians 6:13; read 1 Peter 2:17.) Do not limit yourself to those of your own age group. Remember that Jonathan was much older than David. Many older ones can bring to friendship a rich supply of experience and wisdom.
WHEN DIFFICULTIES ARISE
16, 17. If a fellow worshipper hurts us in some way, why should we not withdraw from the congregation?
16 Problems may arise from time to time because of the wide variety of personalities and backgrounds in the congregation. A fellow believer might say or do something that hurts our feelings. (Proverbs 12:18) Sometimes difficulties are fueled by personality clashes, misunderstandings, or differences of opinion. Will we stumble over such challenges and keep away from the congregation? Not if we have genuine love for Jehovah and for those whom he loves.
17 As our Creator and Life-Sustainer, Jehovah deserves our love and complete devotion. (Revelation 4:11) In addition, the congregation that he is pleased to use deserves our loyal support. (Hebrews 13:17) So if a fellow worshipper hurts us or disappoints us in some way, we will not withdraw from the congregation as a means of protest. How could we? Jehovah is not the one who offended us. Our love for Jehovah could never allow us to turn our back on him and his people!—Read Psalm 119:165.
18. (a) What can we do to promote peace in the congregation? (b) Choosing to forgive when there is a sound basis for doing so brings what blessings?
18 Love for fellow worshippers moves us to promote peace in the congregation. Jehovah does not expect perfection from those he loves, and neither should we. Love enables us to overlook minor trespasses and to remember that we are all imperfect and make mistakes. (Proverbs 17:9; 1 Peter 4:8) Love helps us to continue “forgiving one another freely.” (Colossians 3:13) It is not always easy to apply this counsel. If we allow negative emotions to get the better of us, we may be inclined to hold on to resentment, perhaps feeling that our anger is somehow punishing the offender. In reality, though, holding on to resentment is harmful to us. Choosing to forgive when there is a sound basis for doing so brings rich blessings. (Luke 17:3, 4) It gives us peace of mind and heart, preserves peace in the congregation and, above all, safeguards our relationship with Jehovah.—Matthew 6:14, 15; Romans 14:19.
WHEN TO WITHDRAW FELLOWSHIP
19. What situations may arise that make it necessary for us to withdraw our fellowship from someone?
19 At times, we are called upon to withdraw our fellowship from one who has been a member of the congregation. This situation arises when an individual who unrepentantly violates God’s law is disfellowshipped or when one rejects the faith by teaching false doctrine or by disassociating himself from the congregation. God’s Word plainly tells us to “stop keeping company” with such ones. * (Read 1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 John 9-11) It may be a real challenge to avoid someone who had perhaps been a friend or who is related to us. Will we take a firm stand, thereby showing that we put loyalty to Jehovah and his righteous laws above all else? Remember that Jehovah places a high value on loyalty and obedience.
20, 21. (a) Why is the disfellowshipping arrangement a loving one? (b) Why is it vital that we choose our associates wisely?
20 The disfellowshipping arrangement is really a loving provision from Jehovah. How so? Expelling an unrepentant sinner shows love for Jehovah’s holy name and all that it stands for. (1 Peter 1:15, 16) Disfellowshipping keeps the congregation safe. Faithful members are protected from the unwholesome influence of willful sinners and can go about their worship knowing that the congregation is a safe haven from this wicked world. (1 Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 12:15, 16) The strong discipline shows love for the wrongdoer. It may be just the jolt he needs to come to his senses and take the steps necessary to return to Jehovah.—Hebrews 12:11.
21 We cannot escape the fact that our close associates can have a powerful, molding effect on us. It is vital, then, that we choose our associates wisely. By making Jehovah’s friends our friends, by loving those whom God loves, we will surround ourselves with the best possible associates. What we absorb from them will help us to live up to our determination to please Jehovah.
^ par. 2 The Hebrew word rendered “has dealings with” is also rendered “to accompany” and “keep company.”—Judges 14:20; Proverbs 22:24.
^ par. 4 By asking this of Abraham, Jehovah provided a glimpse of the sacrifice he himself would make in offering up his only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) In Abraham’s case, Jehovah intervened and provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac.—Genesis 22:1, 2, 9-13.
^ par. 9 David was a youth—“but a boy”—when he felled Goliath and was about 30 at the time of Jonathan’s death. (1 Samuel 17:33; 31:2; 2 Samuel 5:4) Jonathan, who was about 60 when he died, was evidently some 30 years older than David.
^ par. 10 As recorded at 1 Samuel 23:17, Jonathan said five things to encourage David: (1) He urged David not to be afraid. (2) He assured David that Saul’s efforts would fail. (3) He reminded David that he would receive the kingship, as God had promised. (4) He pledged his loyalty to David. (5) He told David that even Saul was aware of Jonathan’s loyalty to David.