While my family and I were eating lunch at an outdoor plaza, I glanced at a sticker on the glass door of the store next to our picnic bench. It read the following: “Love all. Be friends with some. Do harm to none.” I rarely remember sticker slogans, but this one warranted reflection. If we’re going to be biblical, then these words hold true. There isn’t a single person on this planet who we shouldn’t love. There isn’t a single person on the planet to whom we should harm. And, as every parent has learned to teach their children, you can’t be friends with everyone.
It’s not just that you won’t be friends with everyone, and it’s not just that you can’t be friends with everyone; it’s also that you shouldn’t be friends with everyone. Even if you had a universally magnetic personality (which you don’t) and even if you did have all the time in the world (which you don’t), biblical wisdom teaches us to be selective in the friendship process.
As Christians, we have to be careful to not select our friends on the basis of personal favoritism (James 2:1). To choose our friends based on external appearance, ability (athletic or academic), charisma is to behave like a junior-high student; to select our friends based on ethnicity or socio-economic status is even worse.
Yet, while using a wrong selection process can be antithetical to gospel-driven love, having no selection process can be downright stupid. People tend to become snobbishly selective when they focus on what kind of people they should be spending time with. Perhaps that’s why Proverbs is more specific on the kind of people we shouldn’t be spending time with. For the purposes of length (more on this topic can be found in other parts of Scripture), I’m limiting the content of this article to what is found in Proverbs. The question I am asking is, “Who does Proverbs tell us not to associate with?” And for the purpose of this article, I’m focusing specifically on the verses that say, “do not associate with…” in the New American Standard Bible.
First, do not associate with a gossip (20:19)
This seems right to the ears, but it’s more difficult to practice. The reason is that many people have a natural tendency to gravitate toward gossip. Proverbs 18:8 warns that the words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels that go down to the innermost parts of the body. Hearing gossip is like tasting Costco food samples: you keep wanting to go back for more. Moreover, the people who tend to gossip make you feel as if you’re special for being part of the crew to whom they are spreading the news—whatever that news may be.
But God’s wisdom warns us with the following from Proverbs 20:19: “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip.” The truth is that people who gossip aren’t just gossiping about the people you hear them gossiping about; they gossip about people, period. And yes, that includes you. If you care anything about your privacy and the privacy of your family, then stay away from the one prone to gossip. Stay away from people who love to talk about people, period. You know those people. They may seem harmless, and the news they like to discuss may seem delectable. But it’s dangerous, and it puts you in the danger zone. Heed the warning of Scripture: if you know someone who loves to talk about everyone, stay away.
Second, do not associate with angry people (22:24)
Like the first one, this is much more difficult to practice than it looks. Unlike gossips, angry people are not naturally attractive. But while people don’t want to be around angry people, people often feel like they can’t get out of relationships with such people. Just look at the number of people (women as well as men) who, for one reason or another and against the warning of their closest family and friends, keep returning to abusive relationships.
Angry people have a way of making you think that they’re truly sorry for their anger outbursts and that they won’t do it again—only for you to see that such isn’t the case. Angry, temperamental people have a way of manipulating you to do whatever it is that they want you to do, lest they—you guessed it—explode in anger.
Angry people are abusive people, and abusive people can be hard to sever from your life. They have a way of making you think that you are the reason that they are angry, and that the burden of relieving their anger falls on your shoulders. Hence, it’s a lot more difficult to cut off relationships with such people when you’re in them—especially if the relationship is a romantic one.
But Proverbs 22:24 warns, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.” In other words, if you fail to cut things off with such a person, you’ll trap yourself. When you notice that a person can’t control his anger and uses anger to either intimidate you or manipulate you to do what he or she wants, you need to cut off the relationship with that person. And be wary of allowing that person to use their anger to lure you back in. Leave, and stay away.
Third, do not associate with people given to change (24:21)
This is a more difficult proverb to interpret, but is no less vital for the believer. Who exactly are those who are given to change? Don’t all of us change over the course of time? Is not growth and maturity itself a product of change? Aren’t we called to be flexible, open-minded, and teachable?
The context of this verse gives us understanding: “My son, fear the LORD and the king; do not associate with those who are given to change, for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin that comes from both of them?” (Proverbs 24:21-22).
The first command in this verse is to fear God and the king. Wisdom, then, exhibits submission to God first and to our civil governing authorities next. Christian wisdom, in other words, doesn’t manifest itself in a rebellious spirit. Even men like Daniel and his friends who resisted Nebuchadnezzar did so not out of a spirit of rebellion, but out of a spirit of submission to the Lord. (Remember, those boys still submitted to the 3-year Chaldean education program and name-changes.)
Back to Proverbs 24:21-22. The related command then is, “do not associate with those who are given to change.” Those who are “given to change” are those who are rebellious to authority. The ESV translates this as “those who do otherwise”; the NIV goes as far as to translate it as “rebellious officials.” Those who are rebellious in spirit seem noble and heroic, but the truth is that they’re foolish. Such people don’t like to be under any authority, whether it is the civil earthly authorities or God Almighty. And such people will never prosper in the long term.
Instead, as verse 22 warns, “their calamity will rise suddenly.” Calamity will strike them and those who join them, and it will come from “both of them.” This means that they will be punished by both God in heaven and the governing authority on earth.
Yes, there are times when governing authorities need to be resisted. The apostles’ preaching the Word in order to obey God rather than men is an example is a biblical example (Acts 5:29). Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights is a historical example. And did not Jesus Himself at times resist authorities? But if you look at the apostles, King, and Christ himself, they were not characteristic rebels. For the most part, except when it was in violation of God’s commandments, these biblical and historical figures were law-abiding citizens. It’s unfortunate that so many young people today are drawn to the so-called “free-spirited” rebels. Proverbs warns us not to associate with such people. When you run into someone who loves to resist authority by nature, stay away.
Be friends with some, the sticker said. Christ not only came to save us from the penalty of sin, but also from a life of foolishness. Our heavenly Father, in his grace and compassion, not only provides His children with all of our needs, but also bestows His wisdom to us to enable us to navigate through life on earth. And we need much wisdom regarding who to associate with.