Right Associations Lead to Life
“He that is walking with wise persons will become wise.”—Prov. 13:20.
1-3. (a) Why can people be compared to clay? (b) How can you associate with a wise person, and what are the benefits?
WILL not a piece of soft clay when pressed against a patterned surface carry away with it an impression of that surface? Will not the pattern cause the clay to be molded to present a somewhat similar appearance? People are like clay. Their thinking, speech and actions can be influenced either for good or for bad by their associations. As clay, they become like those with whom they associate.
2 If your companions have high moral principles and a love for what is right, their wholesome influence will have a good effect upon you and will be reflected in your daily life. On the other hand, if your companions have minds that are continually in the gutter, will not your thinking be dragged down to their level? If they are foul with their speech and unprincipled in their actions, will you not be influenced to be the same? Will you not be molded by your close contact with them to be like them?
3 By associating with a person who is wise you can absorb some of his wisdom and apply it in your daily life. Such companionship can be beneficial to you and can be the means of avoiding many of life’s pitfalls. While it may not be possible for you to associate physically with a wise person, as people in the first century associated with Jesus Christ and listened to his words of wisdom, you can associate with them by means of their writings or writings about them. By reading their written thoughts your mind has association with their minds, and you are able to benefit from their wisdom. “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise.”—Prov. 13:20.
4. Where can the best associations be found?
4 A dependable source of wisdom is God’s written Word. There you are able to associate with wise men who were noted for their faith and integrity. There you find expressions of God’s thoughts, giving wise counsel and instructions. By regularly reading the Scriptures you have the best association you can find. You are permitting the wisdom of the Creator to mold your thinking in a way that is for your own good. This is the kind of association you should seek, as it can lead you in the way to eternal life. “You will cause me to know the path of life.”—Ps. 16:11.
5. Why is it easier to find wrong associations than right associations?
5 Right associations are not as easily found as wrong associations, because we are living in a world that is not devoted to righteousness. It is a world where the wicked prosper and the thoughts of a large percentage of the people are only bad all the time. This is understandable in view of the one who is the invisible ruler of this world. “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) It is a reflection of his wicked nature. Since you are living in a wicked world, it is vital to be cautious about whom you choose as a close companion.
SEPARATE FROM WORLD
6. How does a community exercise an influence that can be for good or for bad, and what is the safe course to take in a bad community?
6 The popular opinions and customs in a community or nation exercise a powerful thought-shaping influence that tends to mold each person there to be like the majority. In an unrighteous society this influence is not for your good and should be resisted. The closer you associate with such a community the more difficult it will be to combat its power to mold you to be like it. The safe course is to keep separate from it, and this can be done although you live in it. There are many examples in the Scriptures that prove that this is possible.
7, 8. (a) What example do we find in Noah’s household, and what problem did their course of action create? (b) Are we to be unfriendly with worldly people?
7 Noah’s household did not disperse among the wicked people of his day, seeking companionship with those people. They would not have benefited from such association, because the popular thinking and actions of that time were not upbuilding but degenerating. “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.” (Gen. 6:5) How could persons who loved righteousness find any pleasure from close association with people whose every thought was corrupt? How could they be companions with people whose wicked actions they hated? Noah’s household followed the wise course by keeping separate from the world of that time although they lived in its midst. They did not permit popular opinion to pressure them into ungodly activities. They confined their associations to those who loved righteousness and who put obedience to God foremost. In their case this meant a companionship that was restricted to a small group of eight persons. This right association led to their preservation when the wicked system of things in those days was destroyed. It meant life for them.
8 Because their group was small, they may have felt restricted in their circle of friends, but how could they broaden that circle by including persons of that world who had nothing in common with them? It would have been dangerous for them to have close association with people who preferred wickedness to righteousness. You may live in a community where you are in a similar situation. Those loving righteousness may be few in number, restricting your circle of friends, but do not foolishly do what Noah’s household wisely avoided. It is better to have a few friends whose influence is good than many friends whose influence is bad. Be content with your small circle of friends whose association is a good influence. This does not mean you should not be friendly with people who do not love righteousness, but it means you would be wise to avoid their association as close companions or friends.
9, 10. Explain why Lot could not have been part of the community where he lived.
9 Lot was another example showing how it is possible to live in a bad community but at the same time keep separate from it. He succeeded in doing this while living in the infamous city of Sodom. As a lover of righteousness he had nothing in common with those people. How could he seek their companionship when their thoughts, speech and daily lives were distressing to him because of being wicked? Lot “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.
10 With such disgust for those people, would Lot have sought to be accepted as one of them? Would he have sought to be an active part in their community and activities? On the contrary, he kept separate from them as his forefather Noah kept separate from the law-defying people of his day. The fact that he was separate seems to be indicated by the manner in which the people regarded him at the time two materialized angels visited him. Instead of considering Lot as one of them in their community, they said: “This lone man came here to reside awhile and yet he would actually play the judge. Now we are going to do worse to you than to them.” (Gen. 19:9) The fact that Lot survived the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was due to his keeping separate from that wicked community, not permitting its bad influence to corrupt him.
11. How did Jesus keep separate from the world in which he lived?
11 Separation from the world was the course that Jesus Christ also followed. Although he circulated among unrighteous people, preaching to them, he did not become part of their world. He did not seek the companionship of persons who had no love for his Father, and he did not recommend that his followers should. Regarding them he said: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:16) He wanted them to maintain right associations by keeping separate from the world over which Satan is the invisible ruler.
NATION OF ISRAEL
12-14. (a) Why was the nation of Israel a unique community? (b) How did it provide right associations?
12 The nation of Israel formed a unique community that not only had a set of righteous laws but had God as its invisible King. It was a wholesome community consisting of people devoted to the undefiled worship of the Supreme Sovereign of the universe. That nation was set apart from all other peoples as the special property of God. “It is you Jehovah your God has chosen to become his people, a special property, out of all the peoples that are on the surface of the ground.” (Deut. 7:6) This close association with the Creator was the best association they could have.
13 God blessed the Israelites materially and spiritually. By the many fine commandments he gave them he lifted them up morally, establishing a high standard by which to live. This in itself made them distinctly different from the morally depraved nations that surrounded them. Their national thinking was on what pertained to God and to his righteous laws. Thus popular pressure in their community toward conforming to the majority was good. In the days of Moses they were given healthful teaching and were cared for by overseers whose thinking was upright and whose love was for Jehovah.
14 Association with that community during the days of Moses was upbuilding and good. Unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, people who loved righteousness could participate in its activities and become a part of it with no danger of becoming corrupted or losing the favor of Jehovah God. Here was a community that provided right associations. Many good people who were not Israelites saw this and made themselves a part of it.
15, 16. (a) What does it mean to walk with God? (b) Give examples of persons who have done this.
15 The unusual association that the Israelites had with God meant blessings for them as long as they continued to stay close to him. By following his instructions and obeying his commandments they were, in a sense, walking with him along life’s path as companions walk together. Moses spoke about this when he said in a speech near the end of his life: “Jehovah will establish you as a holy people to himself, just as he swore to you, because you continue to keep the commandments of Jehovah your God and you have walked in his ways.”—Deut. 28:9.
16 This expression ‘walking with God’ is used elsewhere in the Bible with reference to faithful men who cherished their association with him. Enoch and Noah are both mentioned as having walked with God. (Gen. 5:24; 6:9) The same is said about the tribe of Levi at Malachi 2:6: “The very law of truth proved to be in his mouth, and there was no unrighteousness to be found on his lips. In peace and in uprightness he walked with me.” These men wisely chose companionship with the Wisest of the wise, as this was the way to life.
FRIEND OF GOD
17. Who may be a friend of God, and what does his friendship result in?
17 Although God favored the nation of Israel, friendship with him is not restricted by nationality. This was pointed out by the apostle Peter: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:34, 35) He does not limit his friendship but is willing to extend it to all who are willing to walk with him. Abraham was called the friend of God because he had faith and always treasured his close relationship with Jehovah. (Jas. 2:23) Persons from all nationalities and races who manifest the same faith can enjoy God’s friendship, and that friendship means life for all who continue loving him. “Happy is the man that keeps on enduring trial, because on becoming approved he will receive the crown of life, which Jehovah promised to those who continue loving him.”—Jas. 1:12.
18-20. (a) How may God’s friendship be lost? (b) What effect did bad associations have upon the nation of Israel?
18 Seeking the companionship of wicked people is a sure way of losing the friendship of God. The Israelites were warned of this time and again, but they ignored it and finally did lose his friendship. They are a classic example of what happens when a people seek wrong associations. While they were still at Mount Sinai, God commanded them: “You may not conclude a covenant with the inhabitants of the land.” If they did, it would mean close association with those degenerate people, causing them to be under a bad influence. “They will certainly have unfaithful intercourse with their gods and sacrifice to their gods.” (Ex. 34:15) But the Israelites ignored that command and were corrupted in their worship. “Even to their judges they did not listen, but they had unfaithful intercourse with other gods and went bowing down to them. They quickly turned aside from the way in which their forefathers had walked by obeying the commandments of Jehovah.”—Judg. 2:17.
19 Instead of staying close to God as loving companions, they associated with the Canaanites, and, like clay, were molded into a likeness of those degraded people. How could God continue to consider them as friends when they had disobeyed him and turned their backs to him in order to worship the detestable idols of the Canaanites? This wrong association led to the destruction of their national house. “On account of their leaving my law that I gave to be before them, and because they have not obeyed my voice and have not walked in it, but they kept on walking after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baal images, about which their fathers had taught them; . . . ‘I will scatter them among the nations that neither they nor their fathers have known, and I will send after them the sword until I shall have exterminated them.’”—Jer. 9:13, 14, 16.
20 A person who has had God’s friendship and then seeks friendship with the world and participates in its unrighteous deeds will lose His friendship just as the Israelites lost it. Because the world belongs to the great adversary of God, friendship with it makes him an enemy of God. “Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4) A friend of God must be as separate from this corrupt world as Noah and Lot were from the wicked world in their day.
RIGHT ASSOCIATIONS AMONG CHRISTIANS
21. Why would it have been inconsistent for Jesus’ disciples to have sought companionship with the scribes and Pharisees, and how did they reveal his influence on them?
21 When Jesus preached throughout the land of Palestine crowds gathered around him to listen to the words of wisdom that came from his mouth and to witness his miracles. The hearts of some of those people were so moved by what they heard and saw that they wanted to have close companionship with him, so they became his disciples or followers. After their having chosen this right association, it would have been inconsistent for them also to have sought the companionship of the wicked scribes and Pharisees who hypocritically pretended to serve God while being friends with the Devil’s world. They maintained right associations by remaining close to Jesus. His good influence on their thinking was so marked that, when they spoke, it was evident to their listeners that they had been his companions. “Now when they beheld the outspokenness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were men unlettered and ordinary, they got to wondering. And they began to recognize about them that they used to be with Jesus.”—Acts 4:13.
22. How did association with Jesus benefit his followers?
22 Jesus provided right association at a time when the Jewish nation was corrupted by human traditions and human philosophy. Its religious leaders were far removed from God, being more interested in furthering their selfish interests than God’s interests. Those who became wise by walking with Jesus were led back to the close relationship with his Father that was enjoyed in the days of Moses. He brought them back to the undefiled worship of God, teaching them how to worship the Creator in spirit and in truth. By the sacrifice of his perfect human life, he opened the way to eternal life for all who would come to him and walk with him as he walks with God. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) “The gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 6:23.
23, 24. Explain how it is possible to have close association with Jesus today although he is not on earth.
23 Because Jesus is no longer walking about the earth in the flesh it does not mean you cannot walk with him and benefit from his upbuilding fellowship. Regularly reading in the Scriptures his words of wisdom brings you into close association with him, and by following the example of godly devotion that he set you can walk with him as a Christian or follower. “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Pet. 2:21) You cannot follow his steps closely if you have companionship with people who have corrupt minds or who lack love and respect for God’s Word. Instead of following Christ’s steps you will find yourself following their steps.
24 Aside from his example and the written record about him, there is another means by which you can have association with him. That is by means of the Christian congregation. He said: “Where there are two or three met together in my name, there I am in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20) Close association with the congregation brings you into close association with Christ.
25-27. (a) How was the Christian congregation of the first century united, and why was association with it wholesome? (b) Where are right associations found today, and why can they not be found in Christendom?
25 The beginning of the Christian congregation was at Pentecost when God’s spirit was poured out upon Jesus’ 120 disciples. They were united by their common interest in God and his Son and were bound together by a common love for righteousness and a desire to walk with God by obeying his commandments. By means of holy spirit that Jesus poured out upon them after his ascension, Jesus was in their midst. He was with them, and they were at unity with him. They formed a Christian community that possessed high moral standards, respect for God’s commandments and a firm determination to keep its worship undefiled.
26 Association with this unique community was wholesome. It was good. It was the way to life. Three thousand people realized this on Pentecost and joined themselves with that newly formed organization. “They continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to association together, to taking of meals and to prayers.” (Acts 2:42) They pooled their money so all could extend their stay in Jerusalem after Pentecost so as to learn as much as possible from Jesus’ disciples. When they finally returned to their home towns, they followed Jesus’ example by preaching to others, and thus added to the growth of the Christian congregation.
27 The same Christian congregation today provides right association for people who love righteousness. It is not found in the religions of Christendom, for they have followed the footsteps of Caesar and not the footsteps of Christ. Especially from the time of Constantine, religious Christendom has been the bosom companion of the rulers of this wicked world. Like clay she has been molded to be like the companions she has kept. Therefore it should not be surprising to read about her frightful inquisitions and the blood she has shed to further her selfish ambitions. Despite her outward appearance of piety, religious Christendom is exposed by her fruits and bad associations as being an enemy of God. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness.” (2 Cor. 11:13-15) Her masquerade as the Christian church or congregation makes her a deceitful worker that leads people away from God rather than into friendship with him.
28. Where can a community be found today that loves righteousness, and what are the prospects for those residing in it?
28 The Christian congregation is found today closely connected with the New World society of Jehovah’s modern-day witnesses and not with Christendom. That society is inseparably united with it. Here is where you will find a community that loves righteousness and that respects God’s commandments as the first-century Christians did. Here is a community that walks closely in Jesus’ footsteps by keeping separate from the world as he did, by preaching publicly as he did, and by seeking first the kingdom of God as he did. Here is a community that walks with God while living in a corrupt world. This growing, international society consists of the righteous, many of whom will be preserved through the end of the present system of things to inherit the earth. “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” (Ps. 37:29) With them you will find the right associations that lead to eternal life.