Bad Company – And Good

We must watch out for the sort of company we keep:

Sadly, some basic Christian teaching that has served God’s people well for centuries tends to get overlooked by contemporary Western believers. What earlier Christians had always tended to believe, accept and act out for so long is today often being ignored or repudiated.

Here I refer to one aspect of this: the company we keep. There seems to be a lot of fuzzy thinking on this by too many Christians. If in the past some believers went too far in isolating themselves from the world and non-believers, things have gone to the other extreme today.

Far too many believers think they can just mingle and interact with the world and those in it with no problems arising. But who you hang around with matters. Other people can have a huge influence on you, for good or evil. So we must choose our company wisely. We must discern who we should be spending time with and hanging around with.

And we must decide which folks we need to avoid. The Bible has plenty of admonitions and commands about such things. Here are just some of the obvious texts on this. Psalm 1:1-2 is quite well known in this regard:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the
Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

Also, I just read again Psalm 26:4-5 which says this:

I do not sit with men of falsehood,
    nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers,
    and I will not sit with the wicked.

And Proverbs 1:9-19 speaks about ‘The Enticement of Sinners’:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent.
If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
    let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods,
    we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
    we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them;
    hold back your foot from their paths,
for their feet run to evil,
    and they make haste to shed blood.
For in vain is a net spread
    in the sight of any bird,
but these men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors.

The New Testament also addresses this theme. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says this:”Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character’.” And in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 we read: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

What we find in James 4:4 is quite strong and quite clear: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

Those are just some of the biblical passages which warn us about the sort of company we keep. But some critics at this point will be ready for a fight: ‘Doesn’t the Bible talk about how Jesus was a friend of sinners?’ Well, let’s look at those passages briefly.

Matthew 11:18-19 says: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” The same thing is found in Luke 7:33-35.

And in Mark 2:15-17 we read:

And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

A few remarks can be made here. That Jesus hung around with sinners is not surprising. There were no other sorts of people Jesus could have hung around with. We are ALL sinners – every single one of us. So for Jesus to simply be anywhere on planet earth would mean he was in the company of sinners.

But the real issues here are these: why did Jesus hang around with sinners, and how did Jesus hang around with sinners? The Mark 2 text above already answers the first question: Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That was his mission. That was his purpose in coming to earth. As Paul put it in 1 Timothy 1:1: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

So we know why he came and why he spent time with sinners. But just how did he ‘hang’ with sinners? It should be pretty clear from the gospel accounts, as well as the sorts of passages I listed above, that we know what he did NOT do.

He did not come to have a good time, to party, to be cool, to fit in, to be inclusive, to be part of the scene, to be accepted, and to be liked. He came to fulfil his mission: he hung around with sinners with the express purpose of pointing out their need (they are sinners headed to a lost eternity), and he came to show them how salvation could take place (leaving their sin, repenting, and having faith in Christ).

As one meme making the rounds on the social media puts it: “Jesus didn’t eat with sinners and tax collectors because he wanted to appear inclusive, tolerant, and accepting. He ate with them to call them to a changed and fruitful life, to die to self and live for him. His call is transformation of life, not affirmation of identity.”

Far too many believers seem to think they can just go out and party and have a good time with non-believers, as if that is all that Jesus did. Um no. Jesus loved sinners enough NOT to let them remain as they were. He came to change lives. He came to set the captive free. He came to seek and to save that which was lost.

And that should be our mission as well. Sure, how that gets teased out in our interaction with sinners needs some care and prayer. If a pagan friend invited you to some rave party where drugs and sexual immorality is taking place, that may not be the best way to reach your unsaved friend.

There may not be hard and fast rules here as to what you should do as you have company with non-believers. Going out with them bar crawling and getting drunk is obviously a no no. Perhaps going with them to a rock concert might be acceptable.

The point is not to make a long list of dos and don’ts here. The point is to be in the world to save as many out of the world as we can. Acting just like the world does is not how we do this. But as mentioned, isolating ourselves, living in a cave somewhere, and never having anything to do with non-believers is not the way to proceed either.

My point here is to take seriously the verses that I first listed. We are NOT towalk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers’ and so on. Again, how exactly this determines just what we do today in our interaction with the lost requires some discernment and wisdom.

Avoiding all sinners in Pharisee fashion is not the way to go. But I suspect that the real problem for too many Christians in the West today is being carbon copies of the world and those who live in it. We are so much like the pagans all around us that there is nothing in us that would make them want to leave their sin and come to the Saviour.

Let me wrap things up with a few pertinent and hard-hitting quotes:

“There was a day when the world followed the Church. She took the initiative; she was aggressive. But it has changed now, and we are down on our knees imitating the world. The Church is like a poor old withered hag, rather than the beautiful, full-blooded bride of the Lamb we are intended to be. That we should stand by the world’s highway and stretch our withered hand for a dime from the world is a disgrace.” A. W. Tozer

“The tragedy of the twentieth century especially has been that the Church in her folly has been trying to accommodate herself to the world, thinking that by doing so she could attract it. But the world expects the Christian to be different, and it is right – this is the New Testament emphasis. It is nothing but a departure from New Testament doctrine that ever tries to make the Church ingratiate herself to the world; the Church is meant to be, and is, essentially different.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“The sin of worldliness is a preoccupation with the things of this temporal life. It’s accepting and going along with the views and practices of society around us without discerning if they are biblical. I believe that the key to our tendencies toward worldliness lies primarily in the two words ‘going along’. We simply go along with the values and practices of society.” Jerry Bridges

“Would that we could see the wall of separation between the church and the world made broader and stronger. It makes one sad to hear Christians saying, ‘Well, there is no harm in this; there is no harm in that,’ thus getting as near to the world as possible.” Charles Spurgeon

I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth ‘home.’ Before you know it, I am calling luxuries ‘needs’ and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.” John Piper

“The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful ‘adjustment’ to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest. The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.” A. W. Tozer

[1991 words]

11 Replies to “Bad Company – And Good”

  1. So so true about what you say. Our church is at a crossroads – go the way of the world OR be different from the world.

  2. It is sad when the pastor and his wife (my husband and I) try to initiate things in the churches and bring up concerns during a political pandemic but are pushed aside, as no-one is really interested. We also tried to have a bible study one year and one or two people came and then it was cancelled. The people just want social events and church on Sundays. We are losing members and they can no longer afford to pay my husband a full time wage in August, especially after the long lockdowns. We tried having ZOOM during the lockdowns but only a handful of people joined the sessions. They don’t want to do anything to welcome others into the fellowship now that churches are open again, some still haven’t returned. Some wanted my husband to be fully vaccinated even though church leaders are exempt. And the chairmanager of one church wanted my husband to wear full PPE when churches first opened. They kept talking about the importance of vaccinations, masks, hand sanitiser, QR codes and social distancing. My husband preached about following God and not living in fear but it fell on deaf ears. He faithfully preaches God’s Word and administers the sacraments and visits people and listens to how people are affected during and after the pandemic. But the leaders don’t want to know about any mental health issues. The district wants them to downsize and close one of the churches. They won’t get another pastor when we leave as there is a shortage of pastors in the LCA, so all the churches surrounding us are vacant.

  3. Luke 14:15-24
    Contemporary English Version
    The Great Banquet
    (Matthew 22.1-10)
    15 After Jesus had finished speaking, one of the guests said, “The greatest blessing of all is to be at the banquet in God’s kingdom!”

    16 Jesus told him:

    A man once gave a great banquet and invited a lot of guests. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent a servant to tell the guests, “Everything is ready! Please come.”

    18 One guest after another started making excuses. The first one said, “I bought some land, and I’ve got to look it over. Please excuse me.”

    19 Another guest said, “I bought five teams of oxen, and I need to try them out. Please excuse me.”

    20 Still another guest said, “I’ve just now married, and I can’t be there.”

    21 The servant told his master what happened, and the master became so angry he said, “Go as fast as you can to every street and alley in town! Bring in everyone who is poor or paralyzed or blind or lame.”

    22 When the servant returned, he said, “Master, I’ve done what you told me, and there is still plenty of room for more people.”

    23 His master then told him, “Go out along the back roads and make people come in, so my house will be full. 24 Not one of the guests I first invited will get even a bite of my food!”

  4. Thanks Anne and Frank. Usually the problem is a pastor or church leader that the congregation is unhappy with, and they need to find another – but here we have a pastor who may be in need of a new congregation! Bless you guys.

  5. “A few remarks can be made here. That Jesus hung around with sinners is not surprising. There were no other sorts of people Jesus could have hung around with. We are ALL sinners – every single one of us. So for Jesus to simply be anywhere on planet earth would mean he was in the company of sinners.”

    Exactly!

    Absolutely correct but Jesus knows our hearts and so the sinners He mixed with were those who were ready for repentance. You don’t see Jesus mixing with sinners who chose to remain in their sin such as King Herod and the like.

  6. The frustrating thing is that we were told by the Victorian district, that some people in churches now prefer their pastor to be vaccinated. So my husband may not even receive a call somewhere else, even though religious leaders are supposed to be exempt in Victoria and vaccine mandates are just about to be dropped in schools in Queensland. We are finding that some people are brainwashed since the vaccine mandates were brought in and can’t be reasoned with at all, even about topics that have nothing to do with vaccines. Their thinking seems to be muddled and they no longer trust us since we chose not to go along with government mandates, like we are criminals or something.

  7. Another very informative article thank you so much Bill. my prayers continue for your family.
    Anne and Frank your article touched my heart. I also attend a small church in country WA
    our Minister is going through a simular situation very few attendees in fact last week because others had commitments elsewhere the Minister and myself where the only ones in attendance. What an amazing service I could certainly feels Gods presence with us we where able to discuss the Bible readings in depth had communion with the Bread and Wine ( this was the first time for the return of the wine since covid commenced) personally I think you are better of having a handful of dedicated Christians who love the true word of God and display a righteous life, Personally I can not see numbers increasing until the congregation realize they have lost sight of Jesus and are living for the world . Lets keep praying for these confused people. Maybe a Home Church with like minded people could be a solution for you to continue to do Gods work.
    Closing Churches is submitting to Satan’s agenda we are in a spiritual battle.

  8. Just one correction… Jesus didn’t hang around with sinners… THEY hung around with Him.
    HE did not seek out the worst offenders – THEY sought Him out.
    Big difference.

  9. Thanks for your comments Susanne. We did actually go to another church a couple times which meets on a Saturday afternoon. They kept going during CXXX-19 in each other’s homes as they didn’t like ZOOM. Some of them chose not to get vaccinated but they decided not to make that an issue (as some were forced to get vaccinated to keep their job) and they focused on God’s Word and meeting together for worship. Unfortunately they’re not Lutheran so their theology is a bit different from ours (my husband is employed by the LCANZ). But they were very welcoming and they had a meal afterwards, so it goes on for a few hours. Some of the young men who meet in our church go there and invited us, as they knew we were missing church during the lockdowns. They told us that sometimes they go out into the streets and tell people about Jesus. Incidentally, the young men’s group which meets in our church is growing. It’s not run by any particular church. They are VERY keen and ask us lots of questions about the bible, which is not what we’re used to from church members, so I was taken aback at first. (Although we have a 17 year old son – nearly 18 – who does the same at home, which has been good training.) Thankfully my husband’s had several years of study at the seminary and was at YWAM so I think he quite enjoys them coming to him with various questions and debating with each other. It can a bit heated though, but they seem to remain good friends. I’ve done some study but don’t always know the answer to their questions.

  10. True when you say you’ll give them everything the world does plus Jesus (although WE know it is a watered down feel good hippie Jesus not the REAL Jesus) is it not surprising that they’ll say “so you’ll give me EVERYTHING the world is already giving me BUT you’ll have me add Christ to it too?? I think I’ll just stick with what I have and you can keep Christ!”

    Another thing is COMPLETELY severing your former life from yourself when you become a Christian. Way too many refuse to do that. Oh they cut a lot off but not a COMPLETE SEVERING! A little leaven leavens the whole loaf!

    Someone mentioned people only want social events. Reminds me of the old joke with some kids at a school show a tell bringing a item from their faith to school and one boy says “I am a Baptist and this is a casserole!”

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