Seek Right Associations
1. Can one’s association affect him? How did Solomon express this?
IT HAS been said, “You can tell what kind of person one is by the company one keeps.” While this may not be an accurate way of judging a person, yet it is definitely true that the company a man keeps can exert a powerful influence on him, either for good or for bad. As wise King Solomon said: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Prov. 13:20) And today as never before there is an increasing bad influence to turn men away from the lofty, pure thoughts of their loving Creator, Jehovah, and toward the selfish, fleshly, materialistic thoughts of this world, which lies under Satan the Devil. This makes it vital that all men who love righteousness be separated from this world and worship God by associating with him and copying his ways.—2 Cor. 4:4; John 15:17-19.
2. How were the consequences of right and wrong association demonstrated in Noah’s day?
2 Seeking right associations is a matter of life and death. This was demonstrated at the time of the flood of Noah’s day when demons had materialized to contribute to the degradation and corruption of the human race. We read: “Consequently Jehovah saw that the badness of man had become great in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time.” But Noah did not go along with the crowd; he did not associate with them and have fellowship with their corrupt thoughts. “Noah was a righteous man. He proved himself faultless among his contemporaries. Noah walked with the God.” He and his family sought out right association and they survived that world catastrophe.—Gen. 6:1-12; Heb. 11:7; 2 Pet. 2:5.
3. (a) What development foretold by the apostle Paul at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 makes it vital to avoid wrong association today? (b) Through what prophetic fulfillment in our time has God made world-wide provision for right association?
3 If right association was a life-and-death matter in the days of Noah, so it would also be for those living in the time of the end, which Jesus said would be like the days of Noah. After describing the badness of human society in the last days, the apostle Paul advised, “From these turn away,” thus avoiding bad associations. (Matt. 24:37-39; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) The seeking of right association is also greatly affected in our time by the fulfillment of the Bible prophecies having to do with the gathering together in these last days of the faithful remnant of Christ’s spiritual brothers and the restoring of these to God’s house under the greater Noah, Christ Jesus. It is to the restored congregation of these anointed witnesses, making up the remnant of the spiritual temple, that a great crowd of men and women from all nations are coming, seeking right associations so as to learn God’s ways and walk in his paths.—Isa. 2:2-4; Rev. 7:9, 14.
AVOID WRONG ASSOCIATION
4. (a) What strong advice is found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 about avoiding wrong association? (b) What right association is mentioned?
4 In connection with avoiding the badness of the world and associating with God’s people, the apostle Paul wrote: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? . . . Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? . . . For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said: ‘I shall reside among them and walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘“Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing,’” ‘“and I will take you in.’” ‘“And I shall be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me,” says Jehovah the Almighty.’” Notice the repeated advice about avoiding wrong association, ‘from these turn away,’ ‘get out from among them,’ ‘separate yourselves,’ and then ‘I will take you in.’ There is to be no partnership, no fellowship, no portion, no sharing with unbelievers. In other words, no association with them if one is to associate with God.—2 Cor. 6:14-18; Ezek. 37:27, RS; Isa. 52:11; Ezek. 20:41, RS.
5, 6. (a) What is and what is not referred to in the advice to avoid wrong association, and how can such association affect one’s worship? (b) What advice to the early Christians emphasizes this?
5 This does not mean, of course, that the dedicated Christian must isolate himself from all contact with this present system of things. In the course of his work, daily living and preaching he comes in touch with employer, fellow workers, business associates, family, neighbors and others. To avoid all contact would almost mean to get off the earth. (1 Cor. 5:10) But, to ‘turn away from such,’ to avoid association with them means not to have fellowship with those whose thoughts are not in harmony with God’s thoughts, that is, not to share in their thoughts or conduct. The thinking of materialistic-minded persons is not in harmony with God’s thinking. Even if such acquaintances are not dishonest or immoral, their first concern is not the worship and service of Jehovah. One who associates regularly with them will soon think as they do. Expose the mind to their thoughts and one’s faith in the new world will become weakened, zeal will be quenched, integrity will collapse, and the conscience will be dulled so that one does not take Jehovah’s requirements of study and service seriously. Useful habits of study and service that have been formed will be spoiled. It is this danger the apostle Paul considered when warning Christians against associating with those who had no hope in a resurrection and hence no real incentive to right conduct. “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits. Wake up to soberness in a righteous way and do not practice sin, for some are without knowledge of God.” (1 Cor. 15:33, 34) Why share the thoughts of those who have no knowledge of God and no concern about it?—Phil. 3:18, 19.
6 Still there are those who think that they can allow themselves to seek association with worldly friends or relatives for entertainment. But how can a Christian ‘put away the old personality which conforms to his former course of conduct’ and ‘put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness’ by continuing to associate with those who still have deceptive desires? (Eph. 4:22-24) Rather, “do not become partners with them; for you were once darkness, but you are now light in connection with the Lord. Go on walking as children of light . . . Keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord; and quit sharing with them in the unfruitful works which belong to the darkness.” (Eph. 5:7-11) Peter also advised one to “live the remainder of his time in the flesh, no more for the desires of men, but for God’s will. . . . Because you do not continue running [or associating] with them in this course . . . they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.” We should be as aliens and temporary residents with respect to the conduct of this generation.—1 Pet. 4:2-4; 2:11, 12.
7. What did God’s law through Moses advise regarding close relationships with false worshipers?
7 The danger of wrong association was emphasized by Jehovah in his laws to the Israelites as they were getting ready to move into the Promised Land and thus come into nearer touch with the heathen Canaanites. “You must conclude no covenant with them nor show them any favor. And you must form no marriage alliance with them. Your daughter you must not give to his son . . . For he will turn your [children] from following me and they will certainly serve other gods.” Israel’s history since that time is tragic proof of what happens when one violates this principle.—Deut. 7:2-4.
8, 9. (a) How was Lot affected by the conduct of godless men in his day? (b) What is wrong if a Christian enjoys associating with those of this world and is welcomed by them in their conduct? (c) What are the possibilities of bringing nonbelievers into the truth in this way?
8 If one holds to a good conscience, that is, keeps his conscience sensitized to Jehovah’s principles, then he could not enjoy association with this world. Remember how Lot felt when living in Sodom? We read that he “was greatly distressed by the indulgence of the law-defying people in loose conduct—for that righteous man by what he saw and heard while dwelling among them from day to day was tormenting his righteous soul by reason of their lawless deeds.” (2 Pet. 2:7, 8) Though he lived there and preached to them, yet Lot neither shared their thoughts nor joined in their conduct; his soul was distressed and tormented by their conduct. If a Christian today enjoys association with this world and its thinking, then there is something wrong with his conscience. If his conscience is properly trained, it should be distressed by such fellowship. Also, if one’s conduct and conversation are such that worldly persons are glad to have one with them in their company, something is wrong with one’s conduct; for if one’s conduct and conversation were right, it should disturb their conscience because of reproving or condemning them.—1 Pet. 3:16; Eph. 5:11.
9 One should never be deceived into thinking that by such association one is really helping other persons learn the truth. By sharing in the wrong thoughts and actions of worldly associates, one will never bring them to the truth, but such will likely take the believing one away from it. (1 Cor. 5:6) It is only when one demonstrates God’s thoughts in speaking and conduct, when one shares God’s thoughts with others, when one shares light with them that one can bring them out of darkness to light.—1 Pet. 2:9; Phil. 2:15, 16.
10, 11. (a) Why was it not wrong for Jesus to associate with sinners, and how do Jehovah’s witnesses follow his example today? (b) How is this attitude similar to that of a doctor who comes in close contact with sick patients?
10 But, some may ask, did not Jesus associate with despised sinners and tax collectors? Yes, but he did not do so to share in their thoughts and have fellowship with them in their conversation and conduct. He was there as Jehovah’s chief witness to share Jehovah’s thoughts with these persons. So today, Jehovah’s witnesses follow the same example. They do not isolate themselves by self-righteousness, as those mentioned by Isaiah, and say they are holier than others. They visit all kinds of people in their homes and on the streets and talk with them and hear what they are thinking about so that they can help them. But they do not partake of their thinking, nor do they share in their attitude. They have fellowship with light and want to share that light with others.—Luke 7:34; Isa. 65:5; Matt. 5:16.
11 The position of the Christian servant of God might well be compared to that of a doctor who ministers to a superstitious, disease-ridden people in the jungle. Such a doctor will not hesitate to help these people, but he will never for a moment consider sharing the thoughts of his patients’ superstitious minds or having fellowship with them in their disease-breeding habits and unsanitary conditions. He does not want to share their disease; he wants to share his knowledge of healing and sanitary living habits with them. He wants to make them well, not to get sick himself; to instruct them in improving their conditions, not to corrupt his own clean living habits. So the Christian witness of Jehovah today will preach to men of all kinds to help them attain spiritual health, but never will he lower his standards and begin sharing the thoughts of this world.—Luke 5:30-32; Rev. 22:1, 2.
SEEK ASSOCIATION FOR UPBUILDING
12. With whom can one did right association today, and what example was set by first-century Christians?
12 To gain and maintain spiritual health one should associate with spiritually healthy persons. To gain wisdom one should associate with wise ones. In order to give his servants good associations Jehovah has gathered them together in these last days to a world-wide congregation, the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses. If we would share God’s thoughts and the thoughts of his new world of righteousness, then we must associate with those who have such thoughts. That was true when the first Christians were being gathered and it is true today. “They continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to association together, to taking of meals and to prayers.” (Acts 2:42) The believing Christians associated together to gain spiritual strength, to activate and sensitize their consciences to right works. Where could they better gain this than in association with the congregation where the apostles and other mature, zealous servants of God were?
13. What are the benefits of seeking association with mature Christians, and what Scriptural counsel covers this point?
13 Paul wrote in this regard: “Remember those who are governing you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7) Yes, seek association with those who are examples in the faith, observe their conduct, see how well you compare with their faithful example and make the necessary improvements. Do not seek association with those who will excuse your conscience, but those who will reprove it. “The ear that is listening to the reproof of life lodges right in among wise people.” “Unitedly become imitators of me, brothers, and keep your eye on those who are walking in a way that accords with the example you have in us.” “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” This requires one to seek right association with spiritually mature and zealous persons, servants in the congregation and others.—Prov. 15:31; Phil. 3:17; 1 Cor. 11:1.
14, 15. (a) How does attending congregation meetings strengthen one? (b) Why do some forsake meetings, and with what possible consequence?
14 The best way to associate with those ‘who have spoken the word to you,’ those who are examples, is to attend all the congregation meetings regularly. This is a pleasant relief and strengthening experience for all whose daily living and working require them to be among worldly persons whose speech and conduct distresses their soul. “Keep on teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, praises to God, spiritual songs with graciousness, singing in your hearts to Jehovah.” “Keep getting filled with spirit, speaking to yourselves with psalms and praises to God and spiritual songs.” Attending meetings where one relates experiences or makes comments or listens to instructive talks from God’s Word will help one to associate with God and share his thoughts. This is the association one should have.—Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-20.
15 This association together should be increased more and more as the complete end of this present system draws near. “Let us hold fast the public declaration of our hope . . . And let us consider one another to incite to love and right works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom, but encouraging one another, and all the more so as you behold the day drawing near.” When one forsakes right association, spiritual discernment becomes dulled, the conscience becomes insensitive and one falls into sin, just as the apostle Paul mentioned right after giving his advice on gathering together: “For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left.” (Heb. 10:23-26) So why follow the custom of some who forsake congregation meetings because of a lack of appreciation, a family get-together with those not in the truth or other personal interests? Did not Jesus say: “My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it”? (Luke 8:21) Is not a gathering of God’s family in obedience to his command more important than pleasing others who do not love God? These few hours each week are very valuable, filled with expressions of the thoughts one ought to share. Here one’s conscience is awakened so one can “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord,” and ‘keep a strict watch on how one walks, as a wise person buying out the opportune time,’ and ‘cease becoming unreasonable, but go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.’—Eph. 5:10, 15-17.
16. (a) How and why should one be selective with social entertainment? (b) What Bible rule also applies here?
16 Gatherings for social entertainment are also occasions where one shares the thoughts of others. One should be just as careful and selective in choosing with whom he associates socially and what he does as he is in choosing which religious meetings he attends. Even for relaxation socially one should want to share thoughts that are upbuilding, that encourage to zeal and faithfulness in Jehovah’s service, that emphasize cleanness, virtue and integrity and express appreciation and thankfulness to God. Here too we should ‘speak to each other with psalms and praises to God, giving thanks always for all things to our God and Father.’ (Eph. 5:19, 20) The rule applies also to entertainment and relaxation, “Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.”—Rom. 14:19; 1 Tim. 4:12; 2 Tim. 2:22; Titus 2:6-8; 3:8; Col. 3:16, 17; Rom. 15:2.
17. What are some ways that a social gathering can be interesting, relaxing and yet upbuilding?
17 Why have conversation follow this world’s thinking or have some draw off to themselves and begin silly games where both speech and conduct become risqué, vulgar, and perhaps even immoral? To copy this world is to associate with it. How much better it would be for those who are mature to see that the conversation is upbuilding and interesting to all present, old and young. Perhaps there could be arranged various types of Bible quizzes where questions are educational yet take into consideration the various degrees of knowledge of those present. You might quote a scripture and see who, or which team, can remember the book, chapter and verse, or give the citation and see who can quote it. Describe particulars of a known person in the Bible and see who can identify him by name; the same can be done with places or historical events. Relate experiences, refute objections, discuss new or interesting points from The Watchtower or other publications, or news items of world events that fulfill prophecy or acquaint one better with conditions in general for interesting subject discussions. Jehovah’s servants are not one-sided. They can benefit from discussing many other subjects, even as they can enjoy expressions of good humor. But remember, let all things come in under the rule, ‘things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.’
18. What are other things one should be careful about in working for the upbuilding of all in the congregation?
18 This rule will help one in determining not only what to do for social recreation, but also how often. It will also prevent the developing of cliques socially in a congregation, as such are not upbuilding. The advice to associate with theocratically minded, spiritually mature persons and share their thoughts does not mean to ignore the newer or weaker ones in the congregation. To the contrary, all mature persons will put forth an effort to associate with weaker or less mature ones and those who are backward or bashful, both at meetings and when welcoming these in their homes for a meal, an evening snack or social evening together so as to get better acquainted with such ones, to help them get better acquainted with others and to work for their upbuilding. With the principle of seeking those things that are upbuilding, none should show exclusive preference for association with the worldly prominent ones or those better off financially, thus creating ‘class distinctions.’ Associate with all without partiality, working to build up the poor as well as the rich, the weak as well as the strong. Brothers who are prominent in this world and have more material means must exercise care in their hospitality, not seeking association exclusively with prominent overseers in the organization, as if they could gain a form of spiritual prominence by association. Of course, it is Scriptural to show ‘older men who preside in a right way and who work hard in speaking and teaching double honor,’ and one who shows hospitality to such has an excellent opportunity to get built up spiritually through edifying conversation on God’s Word. But here the motive should be spiritual upbuilding by association and not prominence by association.—Rom. 14:1; 15:1, 2; 1 Cor. 14:12; 1 Thess. 5:14; Jas. 2:2-5, 9; 1 Tim. 5:17, 18.
19. In what other ways will one be careful to avoid wrong associations and seek right ones, and why?
19 Finally we come to the very important feature of association through what one reads, looks at, listens to or thinks about. Here also one shares the thoughts of others, and when one is alone and concentrating on reading material, the mind is very impressionable. If one does not want to associate in company with godless scoffers of God’s Word or with immoral, depraved persons, then one should not in private share their thoughts and actions by reading of them. If ‘fornication and uncleanness should not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people,’ then such should not be listened to. (Eph. 5:3, 12) If such things are ‘shameful to relate,’ they are shameful to write about or read about. To read such accounts in newspapers, magazines, books or see such immorality suggested in movies is to have fellowship with the immoral persons whose actions are described or the one making up the story. One doing this could never keep his mind and desires in accord with the Holy One. Therefore, when one reads, listens to the radio or looks at television or a movie, he should see to it that he is in good company, seeking good associations. Perhaps the information is educational and informative, or perhaps humorous, but it should always be upbuilding. The mind cannot contain both God’s thoughts as revealed in his Word while at the same time sharing the thoughts of godless, fleshly-minded, immoral persons.—1 Pet. 1:13-16; Jas. 3:11; 4:8.
20. What is the hope for those who associate with the upright?
20 Yes, the way of wisdom is to avoid wrong associations and to seek right associations. “When wisdom enters into your heart . . . thinking ability itself will keep guard over you . . . to deliver you from the bad way, from the man speaking perverse things, from those leaving the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, from those who are rejoicing in doing bad, who are joyful in the perverse things of badness; those whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their general course . . . The purpose is that you may walk in the way of good people and that the paths of the righteous ones you may keep. For the upright are the ones that will reside in the earth, and the blameless are the ones that will be left over in it.” (Prov. 2:10-22) The thinking of this world means death. The thoughts of God mean life. “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:17) Seek wrong associations and such will last only a short time. Right associations will continue forever. Seek right associations and enjoy them forever.