Friends: The Life-Changing Power of Influence
“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you who you are or who you soon shall be.”
I heard this quote many years ago as a teenager. It has stuck in my mind, and I have often considered the powerful, biblical truth it contains. As I have made choices regarding the close friendships that I have developed, I have tried to be conscious of the influence, for right or for wrong, that each relationship would have on my life. I have also used this quote many times when dealing with young people in our ministry.
As you read through Proverbs, it is obvious that Solomon realized the incredible, life-changing power of relationships in our lives. There are not very many things that can make more of a difference for good or for evil in the life of a young person than the friends he chooses.
Proverbs has much to teach us about the friends we should allow into our lives and the type of friend we should be to others. Solomon taught his son:
1. The Power of Our Relationships –Proverbs 7:23-27
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20).
This verse is a promise. It is not a suggestion or a good idea. It does not leave any room for exceptions or exclusions. Here, Proverbs teaches us that our associations literally have the power to shape our destiny.
One of the saddest illustrations of this truth in the Bible is found in II Samuel 13. The story is told of a young man who was struggling with some sinful thoughts and lusts in his heart. He desired a physical relationship Proverbs teaches us that our associations literally have the power to shape our destiny.with his half-sister, Tamar. However, the Bible says of David’s son, Amnon, that he “thought it hard for him to do any thing to her.” Amnon knew his desires were wrong, and he could not bring himself to commit such wickedness. Then, five little words changed everything: “But Amnon had a friend.” Amnon’s friend, Jonadab, was also his cousin. We must guard against negative influences, even if they are relatives. Jonadab devised a plan for Amnon to fulfill his lusts. Amnon got what he thought he wanted, but he lost everything he had. He ruined Tamar’s life. He created division and heartache in his family. And, only two years later, he was murdered by his brother, Absalom. Given the right friend, the length and course of Amnon’s life and many of those closest to him could have been completely different.
Young people must be carefully taught to fully grasp the lifelong effects that their relationships will have on their lives. The right friend can help a young man or young lady to find and stay in the perfect will of God for his or her life. However, a friend who is not living right can easily lead a good, simple young person into decisions that will scar and alter the entire course of his life. Young people need to understand the power that even one wrong relationship can have.
Many times, as children reach their teen years or enter college, this destructive relationship in their life is with someone of the opposite gender. Proverbs clearly explains the danger of a poor choice in a “romantic” relationship. Proverbs 7 tells us of a “young man” who got wrapped up in a wrong relationship. The end of the chapter gives this description and warning which every young man should heed:
He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death (Proverbs 7:22-27).
Every time I read this, I am drawn to the tragic phrase, “and knoweth not that it is for his life.” This young man had no idea that one poor decision regarding a relationship would completely destroy his life. How many times have we seen this same pattern repeated in the lives of young men and ladies that we love and care for? In life, our great successes and great failures are directly tied to our associations, relationships, and influences. Much of who we are and who we will become is directly tied to those with whom we surround ourselves. We MUST realize the power of our relationships.
Here are Solomon’s instructions, found in the very beginning of Proverbs, regarding this most important aspect of a young person’s life:
My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not (Proverbs 1:10).
My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path (Proverbs 1:15).
2. The Proper Response to Wrong Relationships – Proverbs 1:10-18
Proverbs doesn’t just instruct us regarding the life-changing power of our associations. It also gives very clear instructions for how to handle a wrong friendship. Every person will be tempted to embrace ungodly and destructive influences in his life. There is no way to completely shelter or inoculate a young person from every potentially hurtful relationship. So, we must teach those we love how to respond when the opportunity to form a wrong relationship arises. We must also know how to cut off a friendship that was once good but has turned bad. Sometimes, friends who were good, godly influences choose to go in a completely different direction. It can be very difficult to sever a relationship like this, but it is vital that we do so!
The proper response to wrong relationships is one of the first things covered in the “proverbs of Solomon” in chapter one. It is no accident that Solomon laid the groundwork for avoiding ungodly friendships at the very beginning of this book of wisdom.
Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away (Proverbs 4:14, 15).
- Don’t listen to ungodly influences.
- Don’t desire to go with or be accepted by ungodly influences.
- Don’t yield to ungodly influences.
- Don’t spend time with ungodly influences.
- Don’t get near ungodly influences.
- Don’t associate with ungodly influences.
- Avoid them, pass not by them, turn from them, and pass away – get as far away as you can from ungodly friends!
- Recognize that the end result of association with them is personal destruction.
This last point is explained in Proverbs 1:18, “They lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.”
These passages do not give any “wiggle room” for allowing ungodly influences into even the smallest part of our lives. God’s Word is very clear that a wise man is to have no part with ungodly influences. We should move swiftly and decisively to keep them from gaining even the slightest access to our lives, and we should seek to cut off any existing negative relationships that we may have already developed. This is a life or death matter, spiritually speaking!
3. The Pattern of Right Relationships
How can you surround yourself with right friends? Where do you find a friend that will spiritually sharpen you as iron sharpens iron? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a store where you could purchase a good friendship?
Proverbs tells us that it is actually very easy to find the friends you are looking for. How? Be a friend! Be a good friend to others, and you will be blessed with good friends. Ponder the familiar verse in Proverbs 18:24, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Be the type of friend you are supposed to be, and you will have the type of friend you are supposed to have! As the familiar saying goes, “I went out to find a friend and could not find one there. I went out to be a friend and found friends everywhere.”
What kind of friend should you be? Once again, Proverbs instructs us in this area.
A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17).
- A loving friend – a friend loveth…
True friends do not enter friendships to see what they can get out of the relationship. They are interested in what they can give to the relationship. They seek to find out how they can help, care for, and benefit the one they call “friend.”
- An unconditional friend – at all times…
When ungodly friends face adversity, how many times do we see them turn on one another, seeking to spare themselves from trouble? This is not the biblical pattern for friendship. A true friend cares for his friend in every situation of life. Often, when we face a deep trial, we find out who our true friends are.
This is not an excuse to continue close fellowship with a friend who has chosen to live in opposition to God’s principles. We have already covered what God’s Word teaches regarding those types of “friends.” Do not allow the devil to deceive you to continue a destructive relationship. You can still love someone without accepting his sinful behavior and spending time with him. In I Corinthians, when talking about a Christian who had chosen to live in sin, the Apostle Paul commanded the other Christians, “with such an one no not to eat.” They were not even to enjoy a meal with a friend who had chosen to live in a way that was displeasing to God.
- A correcting friend
Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Proverbs 27:6).
A good friend does not always tell you what you want to hear or go along with every idea you have. A friend that truly loves and cares for your well being will be willing to “wound” you at times with rebuke. He or she will tell you that you are not thinking right, acting right, or heading in the right direction. As a friend, you should strive to keep your friends from evil and to sharpen them for righteousness.
4. The Product of Right Relationships
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).
Simply put, a good friend will make you a better person. In reality, this is a very simple litmus test to find out if your friends are who they should be. Ask yourself, “Does my friendship with (insert name) draw me closer to God and make me a better person?” If the answer is not a resounding yes, you should reconsider your investment in that relationship. Are you sharpening your friends in God’s sight and are they sharpening you? Becoming a better person is the natural effect of a good friendship.
Another product of a good friendship is the blessing of God. Good friends will cause your life to be blessed. The second half of Proverbs chapter two deals with our relationships. This passage teaches us the principle that when we walk in the way of good men, “we will dwell in the land.” In the context of the passage, it is very clear that Solomon is teaching his son that the choice of his friendships would ultimately lead to a blessing or a curse upon his life.
That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it (Proverbs 2:20-22).
I know few things that are more important to our spiritual success than the friendships we choose. No matter our age or spiritual maturity level, we must guard our influences. If we choose critical friends, we will develop a critical spirit. If our friends are godly, our spiritual desires will increase. Good friends are not just for children – they are a necessary part of every life.
If we have children or deal with young people in ministry, we must realize the great impact that their friends have on their lives. We must constantly pray for them and guide them in this vitally important area of their lives. We should do all that we can to foster and encourage godly friends and to cut off ungodly influences. I believe that many times, parents do not want to be the “bad guy” by seeking to eliminate a relationship that is not healthy for their children. We must understand what is at stake and be willing to risk a season of unpopularity with our children in order to keep them from a lifetime of heartache! Whatever the sins may be – drugs, alcohol, pornography, immorality, evil thoughts, ungodly music, and other things that produce lasting scars – in almost every instance, these influences enter a young person’s life through the avenue of a wrong friend. This is a matter of life and death because “a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Seek to be a godly friend who makes a lifelong impact for good in the lives of those with whom you come in contact.