Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Avoid Getting Involved With the Wrong People?
“I began to hang out with a girl at school. . . . She wasn’t into drugs, partying, or being promiscuous. She didn’t even swear, and she got straight ‘A’s.’ But she was definitely a bad associate.”—Beverly.*
WHY did Beverly reach the conclusion expressed above? She now realizes that this girl influenced her to become involved in unwholesome trends. “As I continued to associate with her,” Beverly explains, “I also became involved in spiritistic books, even writing a story along those lines.”
A youth named Melanie was also led into misconduct—but by someone claiming to be a fellow Christian! How can you know whether someone is likely to be a wholesome associate? Is it always dangerous to associate closely with unbelievers? Are friendships formed between fellow Christians always safe?
In particular, what about friendship with a member of the opposite sex? If you are looking at someone as a potential marriage mate, how can you know whether the relationship is likely to be a wholesome one? Let us see how Bible principles can help answer such questions.
What Kind of Friends Are Good?
Should the fact that her schoolmate was not a worshipper of the true God have made Beverly hesitate to cultivate a friendship with her? Granted, true Christians do not assume that a person is indecent or immoral simply because he or she is not a fellow believer. But when it comes to forming close bonds, there is reason to be cautious. The apostle Paul warned those in the first-century Corinthian congregation: “Bad company ruins character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33, The Bible—An American Translation) What did he mean?
It is quite possible that some of those Corinthian Christians were associating with the Epicureans, followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. Now, Epicurus did teach his followers to live in accordance with good sense, courage, self-control, and justice. He even discouraged them from secret wrongdoing. So why would Paul consider the Epicureans, and even those within the congregation with similar ideas, to be “bad associations”?
The Epicureans were not worshippers of the true God. Since they did not believe in a resurrection of the dead, their focus was on making the most of their current life. (Acts 17:18, 19, 32) Little wonder, then, that because of keeping company with such ones, some in the congregation at Corinth had begun to lose faith in the resurrection. That is why 1 Corinthians chapter 15—in which we find Paul’s warning against bad association—is packed with arguments designed to reconvince those early Christians of the reality of the resurrection hope.
The point? Even godless people may manifest fine qualities. But if you choose them as your close friends, your thinking, faith, and conduct will be affected. Thus, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul stated: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.”—2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
Fred, aged 16, learned the wisdom of Paul’s words. He initially agreed to join an extracurricular school effort that involved traveling to a developing land to help teach children there. However, as he and his fellow students prepared together, Fred had a change of heart. He said: “I could see that so much time spent in their company would do me no good spiritually.” For this reason Fred chose to withdraw from the project and to help disadvantaged ones in other ways.
Friendships Among Fellow Christians
What, though, about friendships inside the Christian congregation? When writing to the young man Timothy, Paul warned: “In a large house there are vessels not only of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for an honorable purpose but others for a purpose lacking honor. If, therefore, anyone keeps clear of the latter ones, he will be a vessel for an honorable purpose, sanctified, useful to his owner, prepared for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20, 21) So Paul did not gloss over the reality that even among Christians, there may be some who do not conduct themselves honorably. And he was just as frank in exhorting Timothy to keep clear of such ones.
Does this mean you should be suspicious of your fellow Christians? No. Nor does it mean that you should expect your friends to be flawless. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18) However, the mere fact that a young person attends Christian meetings or has parents who are zealous in the congregation does not of itself mean that this one is a good choice for a close friend.
“Even by his practices a boy [or girl] makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright,” states Proverbs 20:11. Therefore, you are wise to consider: Is this person’s relationship with Jehovah clearly the focal point in his or her life? Or, instead, is there evidence of thinking and attitudes that reflect “the spirit of the world”? (1 Corinthians 2:12; Ephesians 2:2) Does being with him or her build your desire to worship Jehovah?
If you choose friends who have a strong love for Jehovah and for spiritual matters, you will not only avoid problems but also find greater strength to serve God. Paul said to Timothy: “Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, along with those who call upon the Lord out of a clean heart.”—2 Timothy 2:22.
Friendship With the Opposite Sex
If you are of age and want to marry, have you given thought to how these same principles should affect your choice of a mate? Many factors can make you feel drawn to a prospective spouse, but none are as important as the person’s spiritual condition.
Thus, the Bible repeatedly warns against marriage to one who is not “in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39; Deuteronomy 7:3, 4; Nehemiah 13:25) True, people who are not fellow believers may be responsible, decent, and caring. Yet, they do not have the motivation that you have to build on such qualities and to persevere in marriage as the years go by.
On the other hand, one who is dedicated to Jehovah and loyal to him deliberately cultivates Christian qualities and safeguards them, come what may. He or she appreciates that the Bible links loving one’s mate with having a good relationship with Jehovah. (Ephesians 5:28, 33; 1 Peter 3:7) Thus, when both mates love Jehovah, they have the strongest incentive to remain loyal to each other.
Does this mean that marriages among fellow believers are guaranteed to succeed? No. For instance, if you were to marry a person who has only marginal interest in spiritual things, what could happen? Unequipped to resist the pressures of this system, a spiritually weak person is more likely to drift away from the Christian congregation. (Philippians 3:18; 1 John 2:19) Imagine the heartache and marital strife you could face if your mate got caught up in “the defilements of the world.”—2 Peter 2:20.
Before developing a relationship that could lead to marriage, consider: Does this one give evidence of being a spiritual person? Does he or she set a fine example in Christian living? Is this person well rooted in Bible truth, or does he or she need more time for spiritual growth? Are you convinced that love for Jehovah is the primary force in his or her life? Knowing that the person has a fine reputation is helpful. However, in the final analysis, you must be convinced that the one in whom you are interested is devoted to Jehovah and will likely make a fine marriage partner.
Remember, too, that some who are attracted to the “wrong people” are first drawn to the wrong things—such as some form of inappropriate entertainment or activity. Exemplary youths in the Christian congregation would not share with you in such things. So examine your heart.
If you find that your heart needs discipline, do not feel hopeless. The heart can be disciplined. (Proverbs 23:12) It comes down to this: What do you want to want? Do you want to be drawn to what is good and to those who practice it? With Jehovah’s help, you can develop that kind of heart. (Psalm 97:10) And by training your perceptive powers to distinguish right from wrong, you will find it easier to determine who will make wholesome, upbuilding friends.—Hebrews 5:14.
Names have been changed.
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Good associates are a positive spiritual influence