Let No One Spoil Your Useful Habits
“Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” —1 CORINTHIANS 15:33.
1, 2. (a) How did the apostle Paul feel toward the Corinthian Christians, and why? (b) What particular counsel will we consider?
WHAT a powerful emotion parental love is! It moves parents to sacrifice for their children, to teach and advise them. The apostle Paul may not have been a natural father, but he wrote to Christians in Corinth: “Though you may have ten thousand tutors in Christ, you certainly do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have become your father through the good news.”—1 Corinthians 4:15.
2 Earlier, Paul had traveled to Corinth, where he preached to Jews and Greeks. He helped to form the congregation in Corinth. In another letter Paul likened his care to that of a nursing mother, but he was like a father to the Corinthians. (1 Thessalonians 2:7) As does a loving natural father, Paul admonished his spiritual children. You may benefit from his fatherly counsel to the Christians in Corinth: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Why did Paul write that to the Corinthians? How can we apply the advice?
Counsel for Them and for Us
3, 4. What do we know of first-century Corinth and its population?
3 In the first century, the Greek geographer Strabo wrote: “Corinth is called ‘wealthy’ because of its commerce, since it is situated on the Isthmus and is master of two harbours, of which the one leads straight to Asia, and the other to Italy; and it makes easy the exchange of merchandise from both countries.” Every two years the renowned Isthmian Games brought vast crowds to Corinth.
4 What of the people in this city that was a center both of governmental authority and of the sensuous worship of Aphrodite? Professor T. S. Evans explained: “The population [was] probably about 400,000. Society [was] of high culture, but in morals lax, even gross. . . . The Greek inhabitants of Achaïa were marked by intellectual restlessness and a feverish hankering after novelties. . . . Their egoism was as fuel ready laid for the torch of sectarianism.”
5. What danger did the Corinthian brothers face?
5 In time even the congregation became divided by some who still were inclined toward proud speculation. (1 Corinthians 1:10-31; 3:2-9) A major problem was that some were saying: “There is no resurrection of the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Timothy 2:16-18) Whatever their exact belief (or misbelief), Paul had to correct them with clear proof that Christ had been “raised up from the dead.” Thus, Christians could trust that God would give them the “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 51-57) Had you been there, would you have been in danger?
6. Paul’s counsel at 1 Corinthians 15:33 was particularly applicable to whom?
6 In the course of providing firm evidence that the dead are to be resurrected, Paul told them: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” The point of this counsel concerned those associated with the congregation who disagreed on the resurrection doctrine. Were they merely uncertain about a point that they did not understand? (Compare Luke 24:38.) No. Paul wrote that “some among you say there is no resurrection,” so those involved were expressing disagreement, tending toward apostasy. Paul was well aware that they could spoil the good habits and thinking of others.—Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:1.
7. What is one setting in which we could apply 1 Corinthians 15:33?
7 How can we apply Paul’s warning about associations? He did not mean that we should decline to help someone in the congregation who was finding it hard to understand a Bible verse or teaching. Indeed, Jude 22, 23 urges us to give merciful help to sincere ones with such doubts. (James 5:19, 20) Paul’s fatherly counsel, however, should certainly come into play if someone keeps taking exception to what we know to be Bible truth or keeps making comments of a skeptical or negative nature. We should be on guard against association with that type of person. Of course, if someone became definitely apostate, the spiritual shepherds would have to act to protect the flock.—2 Timothy 2:16-18; Titus 3:10, 11.
8. How may we act with discernment when someone disagrees on a Bible teaching?
8 We can also apply Paul’s fatherly words at 1 Corinthians 15:33 when it comes to those outside the congregation who promote false teachings. How might we be drawn into association with them? It could happen if we did not distinguish between those who might be helped to learn the truth and those who are just raising a challenge so as to promote a false teaching. For example, in our witnessing work, we may encounter a person who disagrees on some point but who is willing to discuss it further. (Acts 17:32-34) That of itself need not present a problem, for we happily explain Bible truth to anyone who genuinely wants to know such, even returning to present convincing evidence. (1 Peter 3:15) Yet, some may not really be interested in finding Bible truth.
9. How should we react to challenges to our beliefs?
9 Many people will debate for hours, week after week, but not because they are seeking truth. They just want to undermine another’s faith while flaunting their own supposed education in Hebrew, Greek, or evolutionary science. When encountering them, some Witnesses have felt challenged and have wound up having extended association centered on false religious belief, philosophy, or scientific error. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not let that happen to him, though he could have won debates with religious leaders who were schooled in Hebrew or Greek. When challenged, Jesus replied briefly and then turned his attention again to humble ones, the real sheep.—Matthew 22:41-46; 1 Corinthians 1:23–2:2.
10. Why is caution appropriate for Christians who have computers and access to electronic bulletin boards?
10 Modern computers have opened other avenues to bad association. Some commercial firms enable subscribers using a computer and a telephone to send a message to electronic bulletin boards; a person can thus post on the bulletin board a message that is open to all subscribers. This has led to so-called electronic debates on religious matters. A Christian might be drawn into such debates and may spend many hours with an apostate thinker who may have been disfellowshipped from the congregation. The direction at 2 John 9-11 underscores Paul’s fatherly counsel about avoiding bad associations.*
Avoid Being Misled
11. The commercial situation in Corinth offered what opportunity?
11 As noted, Corinth was a commercial center, with numerous shops and businesses. (1 Corinthians 10:25) Many who came for the Isthmian Games would dwell in tents, and during that event merchants would sell from portable booths or covered stalls. (Compare Acts 18:1-3.) This made it possible for Paul to find work there making tents. And he could use the workplace to further the good news. Professor J. Murphy-O’Connor writes: “From a shop in a busy market . . . on to a crowded street Paul had access, not only to co-workers and clients, but also the throng outside. In slack periods he could stand in the door and button-hole those whom he thought might listen . . . It is difficult to imagine that his dynamic personality and utter conviction did not quickly make him a ‘character’ of the neighbourhood, and this would have drawn the curious, not merely the idlers but also those genuinely seeking. . . . Married women with their attendants, who had heard of him, could visit on the pretext of coming to buy. In times of stress, when persecution or simple harassment threatened, believers could encounter him as clients. The workshop also brought him into contact with municipal officials.”
12, 13. How can 1 Corinthians 15:33 fittingly apply at the workplace?
12 Paul would have recognized, though, the potential for “bad associations” in the workplace. We should too. Significantly, Paul quoted an attitude that prevailed among some: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32) He immediately followed that with his fatherly counsel: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.” How might the workplace and the seeking of enjoyment be linked in creating a potential danger?
13 Christians want to be friendly with workmates, and many experiences bear out how effective this can be in opening the way for giving a witness. A fellow worker could misinterpret friendliness, however, as inviting association in order to have a good time together. He or she might extend a casual invitation to lunch, to a brief stop after work for a drink, or to some recreation on the weekend. This person might appear kind and clean-cut, and the invitation might seem innocent. Yet, Paul advises us: “Do not be misled.”
14. How have some Christians been misled through associations?
14 Some Christians have been. They gradually developed a relaxed attitude toward association with workmates. Maybe it grew out of a common interest in a sport or a hobby. Or a non-Christian on the job might be exceptionally kind and thoughtful, which led to spending increasing amounts of time with that one, even preferring such company to that of some in the congregation. Then the association might lead to missing just one meeting. It could mean being out late one evening and breaking the pattern of sharing in the field ministry in the morning. It could result in watching a film or a video of a type that the Christian normally would refuse. ‘Oh, that would never happen to me,’ we might think. But most of those who have been misled may first have responded that way. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Just how determined am I to apply Paul’s counsel?’
15. What balanced attitude should we have toward neighbors?
15 What we just considered as to the workplace applies also to our association with neighbors. Certainly, the Christians in ancient Corinth had neighbors. In some communities it is normal to be quite friendly and supportive of neighbors. In rural areas neighbors may rely on one another because of isolation. Family ties are particularly strong in some cultures, giving rise to many invitations to meals. Obviously, a balanced view is important, as Jesus manifested. (Luke 8:20, 21; John 2:12) In our dealings with neighbors and relatives, are we inclined to carry on as we did before we became Christians? Rather, should we not now review such dealings and consciously determine what limits are appropriate?
16. How are Jesus’ words at Matthew 13:3, 4 to be understood?
16 Jesus once likened the word of the Kingdom to seeds that “fell alongside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.” (Matthew 13:3, 4, 19) Back then, soil along a road became hard as many feet walked back and forth on it. It is that way with many people. Their lives are filled with neighbors, relatives, and others coming and going, keeping them busy. This, as it were, tramples the soil of their hearts, making it hard for seeds of truth to take root. A similar unresponsiveness could develop in one who is already a Christian.
17. How could association with neighbors and others affect us?
17 Some worldly neighbors and relatives may be friendly and helpful, though they have consistently shown neither interest in spiritual things nor love for righteousness. (Mark 10:21, 22; 2 Corinthians 6:14) Our becoming Christians should not mean that we become unfriendly, unneighborly. Jesus counseled us to manifest genuine interest in others. (Luke 10:29-37) But equally inspired and necessary is Paul’s counsel to be careful about our associations. As we apply the former counsel, we must not forget the latter. If we do not keep both principles in mind, our habits can be affected. How do your habits compare with those of your neighbors or relatives as respects honesty or obeying Caesar’s law? For instance, they may feel that at tax time, underreporting income or business profits is justified, even necessary for survival. They might speak persuasively about their views over a casual cup of coffee or during a brief visit. How could that affect your thinking and honest habits? (Mark 12:17; Romans 12:2) “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.”
Youthful Habits Too
18. Why does 1 Corinthians 15:33 apply also to youths?
18 Young people are particularly affected by what they see and hear. Have you not noted children whose gestures or mannerisms are very much like those of their parents or siblings? We should not be surprised, then, that children may be influenced greatly by their playmates or schoolmates. (Compare Matthew 11:16, 17.) If your son or daughter is around youths who speak disrespectfully of their parents, why imagine that this will not affect your children? What if they often hear other youths use obscene language? What if their peers at school or in the neighborhood get excited about a new style of shoes or a fashion in jewelry? Should we think that young Christians will be impervious to such influence? Did Paul say that 1 Corinthians 15:33 has a minimum age limit?
19. What view should parents try to inculcate in their children?
19 If you are a parent, are you conscious of that counsel as you reason with and make decisions concerning your children? It will probably help if you acknowledge that this does not mean that all other youths whom your children are around in the neighborhood or at school are no good. Some of them may be pleasant and decent, as some of your neighbors, relatives, and workmates are. Try to help your offspring to see this and to grasp that you are balanced in your application of Paul’s wise, paternal counsel to the Corinthians. As they discern the way you balance things, it can help them to imitate you.—Luke 6:40; 2 Timothy 2:22.
20. Youths, what challenge do you face?
20 You who are yet young, try to discern how to apply the counsel of Paul, knowing that it is important for every Christian, young or old. This will be challenging, but why not be willing to meet the challenge? Realize that just because you have known some of those other youths from childhood does not mean that they cannot affect your habits, cannot spoil the habits you are forming as a Christian youth.—Proverbs 2:1, 10-15.
Positive Steps to Protect Our Habits
21. (a) What need do we have regarding association? (b) Why can we be sure that some associations can be dangerous?
21 All of us need association. We must be alert, though, to the fact that our associates can affect us, for good or for bad. That proved true with Adam and with everyone over the centuries since then. For example, Jehoshaphat, a good king of Judah, enjoyed Jehovah’s favor and blessing. But after he permitted his son to marry the daughter of King Ahab of Israel, Jehoshaphat began to associate with Ahab. That bad association nearly cost Jehoshaphat his life. (2 Kings 8:16-18; 2 Chronicles 18:1-3, 29-31) If we make unwise choices as to our associations, it can be just as dangerous.
22. What should we take to heart, and why?
22 Let us, then, take to heart the loving counsel that Paul offers us at 1 Corinthians 15:33. Those are not merely words that we may have heard so often that we can repeat them from memory. They reflect the fatherly affection Paul had for his Corinthian brothers and sisters, and, by extension, for us. And without doubt they contain counsel that our heavenly Father provides because he wants our efforts to succeed.—1 Corinthians 15:58.
Another danger in such bulletin boards is the temptation to download copyrighted programs or publications without the permission of the original owners or authors, which would be in conflict with international copyright laws.—Romans 13:1.
Do You Recall?
□ For what particular reason did Paul write 1 Corinthians 15:33?
□ How can we apply Paul’s counsel in the workplace?
□ What balanced view of neighbors should we have?
□ Why is 1 Corinthians 15:33 especially appropriate counsel for youths?
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Paul used the workplace to further the good news
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Other youths can spoil your Christian habits