One of the exciting aspects of being on your own, one we’ve all looked forward to at one time or another, is being able to decide for ourselves what we do or don’t do. Things like where we go, when we go there, and who we go there with. Up for debate is whether we study or not, get up early or late, eat our vegetables, brush our teeth; or on a more serious note – who we date, how long we stay out and how far we go in any relationship. Of equal importance is whether we do drugs, use alcohol or smoke.

But even though you are on your own now more than ever before you can still be influenced in your decisions and actions by past teaching, preaching, and instruction as well as by your current friendships and associations. That is why Paul warned us to be careful who we develop close friendships with because, “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33

Is that merely guilt by association or is there a real danger of becoming guilty by associating with the wrong people? The question is more than mere semantics. We must always be friendly, but we must sometimes guard the depth of our relationships; it is a question of the level of intimacy! It is also a matter of intent on the one hand and response on the other. The Bible addresses this topic in a number of places but none so well as when it depicts the personal relationships Jesus developed. Many would seem questionable until we look beyond the superficial and see what Jesus saw and try to imitate him in his love and concern for people, remembering that people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Jesus did indeed socialize with questionable characters! Outcasts of society such as publicans (tax cheats) and thieves, the “sinners” of Matthew 9:10,11. Some even try to suggest from the incident recorded in John 8:1-11 that Jesus overlooked the sin of the adulteress recorded there; which was not the case at all. He was using this incident to challenge her and her accusers to a deeper understanding of right and wrong, the motivations that induce us to either arrogantly accuse or humbly offer help and calling all involved to a higher standard. He dealt with her promiscuous lifestyle in an honest and straightforward fashion, telling her she was sinning and to stop it. His declaration of “Go, and sin no more.”; being applicable to all involved.

There were several factors involved in the relationships Jesus developed, it wasn’t simply that he enjoyed the company of cheats, thieves, and prostitutes. He was trying to accomplish something through his interaction with them. That’s why in a debate with those who should have known better but who persisted in challenging his practice of associating with the “wrong” crowd, Jesus is recorded as saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:29-31 (See also Luke 19:10.) The danger being not so much who but what we embrace. We must embrace the person but not the actions of the person, and that is extremely difficult. For what we become comfortable being around is often what we ultimately participate in. Even silence without participation can be seen as agreement with or affirmation of bad behavior. We must always be friendly, helpful, courteous, and kind, but cautious about who we claim as friends; those intimates we share with, look up to, and even emulate. Too much time spent with the wrong crowd can and most likely will taint our attitude and lifestyle. As in, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” Proverbs 22:24,25. Friendship can be a great tool of evangelization but as with anything else with a potential for greatness there is almost always a near-equal potential for harm. (See also Psalm 1:1)

Jesus sought out the sinner in an attempt to speak to their heart and their need. He did not seek them out for a casual walk on the wild side. He would not associate long with anyone who called bad, good; whether they were the religious elite or the gutter-dweller. Characterizing some as the blind leading the blind, he asked, “Will they not both fall into a pit?” Luke 6:39 The point being, it doesn’t matter what your social standing is. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Sin is sin whoever commits it.

But this always raises the specter of judgmentalism. And it just so happens that the preceding and following verses of Luke 6:39 caution us, “Do not judge,” – “Do not condemn,” and question “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” And indeed, we are not to be critically judgmental, but we must be discerning; able to recognize poor attitudes, bad behavior – sin. And in recognizing sin for what it is, be able to refrain from participating in it or allowing it to go unchallenged.

Christ’s pattern of interaction with people appears clear and noteworthy. If a person would not acknowledge and change after a reasonable amount of time and willfully, intentionally, continued a contrary lifestyle, he moved on, (or rather, let them go their own way) as must we. This is really almost a form of self-defense and many times happens naturally as the differences between people drive a wedge between even a truly desired relationship, the beliefs and lifestyle of one simply being irreconcilable to the other. For we must guard our minds, our reputations, and ultimately our own lives, lifestyle and witness. Jesus did not nor can we make excuses or practice a politically correct form of association, saying all is good in its own way or indulge in situation ethics that excuses poor behavior because of rough times in the past or present. Neither did he condone snobbery or hang out exclusively with the rich and famous. He rather made it a point to spend time with any and all who came with honest questions looking for real answers.

The Apostle Paul cautions, “Do not be yoked together (joined) with unbelievers.” And goes on to ask what right and wrong, or believers and unbelievers, have in common. (Except their need of a Savior.) 2 Corinthians 6:14,15 Again the reason being because it is so easy for us to be drawn off course, to compromise, to participate in an attempt to fit in; accommodating sin for the sake of friendship. But we must stand firm and be what we have been called to be in Christ. For if we are not obviously different than the unbeliever then we are not living a dedicated, uncompromising, truly relevant Christian lifestyle; which is indeed the way for us to be the best friend possible.