Education By Association
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed (Prov. 13:20).
Man is a social creature strongly influenced by the thinking, speech, and actions of other people. We have a measure of power over one another. No one can dispossess himself of this influence, but he can direct it.
The moral character of a person is shaped to a large extent by the company he keeps.
Two Classes of Companions
Basically, there are two classes in society - the wise and the foolish. The Bible contrasts these two distinct groups.
Jesus spoke of the wise builder versus the foolish builder (Matt. 7:24-27). The wise builder illustrates the individual who hears the sayings of Jesus and does them. The foolish builder reminds us of the one who hears but does not obey. To be wise is to heed the will of God revealed through his Son. Anyone who disregards the will of God is acting foolishly. Each one of us is building his house either on the rock or on the sand.
In another parable Jesus spoke of the wise virgins versus the foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). All these virgins went forth to meet the bridegroom. The wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps, thus preparing adequately. The foolish took no oil to use in case that which was in their lamps was exhausted. Lack of preparation was their problem. To fully prepare for the Lord's coming is to be wise. Failure to prepare adequately is folly.
Paul wrote of walking as wise versus walking as fools (Eph. 5:15). To be wise is to walk circumspectly, redeeming the time. Fools do not walk circumspectly. "Essentially, wisdom is a derivative of faith in God" (Willard H. Taylor).
Walking With the Wise
"He that walketh with wise men shall be wise." It takes more than talking with wise men. It takes more than being casually acquainted with a few wise men. To imbibe the wisdom of the wise one must make them his close companions.
The wise project the fear of God in their lives. They make practical application of knowledge. They are skilled in the art of right living. They discriminate between good and evil. They keep the precepts of the Lord. The psalmist said, "I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts" (Psa. 119:63).
To walk with the wise is to have habitual and close friendship with them. "The man who walks with wiser men than himself imbibes their thoughts, and those thoughts become part of himself. As the health of the body depends upon the kind of food which it assimilates and its power of assimilation, so the health of the mind depends upon the character of the thoughts which it receives and its power of making them its own" (W. Harris). Good habits and sound principles are learned by constant association with good and righteous people.
Companion of Fools
"A companion of fools shall be destroyed," "will suffer harm" (NASB), "shall smart for it" (ASV), or "be misled" (NEB).
Keeping company with fools does not yield wisdom. A fool is morally undesirable, or spiritually detrimental, lacking both wisdom and discipline. He stubbornly refuses counsel. He is obstinate in the course which he follows.
Joash, king of Judah, did right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. Walking with this wise man helped to keep Joash on the right course. But when Jehoiada died, the king became a friend of the wicked princes of Judah, and that was his downfall. He ordered Jehoiada's son killed, countenanced idolatry, and finally was slain by some of his servants (2 Chron. 24).
There is an old adage, "He who lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas." To become a companion of fools is to suffer the fate of fools.
Choosing of Associates
All contact with foolish people cannot be avoided. A child who is born to foolish parents cannot help being "a companion of fools" in early life. There may be many unavoidable circumstances in which we are placed in the company of fools. But we are free to choose our close friends. There is no valid reason for one's choosing as his most intimate companions people who are fools.
Paul reminds us, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals'" (1 Cor. 15:33, NASB). He was referring to the Corinthian Christians keeping company with people who denied the resurrection. Wrong beliefs generate wrong attitudes and wrong actions.
If one has chosen the wrong kind of friends, he should break off that relationship and establish ties with people who love the Lord. Our selection of friends helps to make or break us spiritually.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 6, p. 175