Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 2, Don't Run With The Wrong Crowd

Solomon gives the type of fatherly advice a man might give to a son in his teens or twenties, but this advice is useful for us at any age. It has to do with not falling in with the wrong crowd and with not giving in to peer pressure. Sometimes we think just because we're older we are too experienced to allow the opinions of others to affect our behavior, but the truth is that at any stage of our lives we might be concerned enough with pleasing others to agree to doing something wrong.

"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck." (Proverbs 1:8-9) He says, "Remember how you were raised! Your mother and I taught you right from wrong. Don't throw these instructions aside when you go out in the world on your own." Solomon broke some of the Lord's commandments, but as a king the Bible tells us he rightly judged cases according to the laws of the land. In this sense we can be certain he taught his son a moral code. He may not always have set a godly example, but he probably did set a legal example. His son would have known not to do the things that all cultures consider wrong, such as robbery and murder, subjects that will be discussed in today's passage.

My father, who went on to be with the Lord when I was only nineteen, was not a Christian until the last two or three years of his life. But even before he came to Christ he was one of the most honest men I ever knew and I can clearly recall him telling me, "There's never a good reason to tell a lie." Like Solomon, he didn't live his life for the Lord until close to its end, but he knew right from wrong and was able to teach me principles for honorable living. My mother has now passed on as well, but she was a woman who became a Christian at the age of eighteen and was a faithful servant of the Lord her whole life. She taught me about Jesus at such a young age I can't remember a time when I didn't know who He is. She was able to pass along to me the commandments for godly living. Together my parents laid a firm foundation for my life. I have not forgotten my father's instruction or my mother's teaching. I've made mistakes, some of which I'm afraid would shame them if they knew, But because they taught me right from wrong, I know it when I mess up. It bothers me. It's difficult to stay in that situation for very long because my conscience won't allow me any peace. This is why Solomon understands the value of teaching his son right from wrong while he's young. He says, "Carry these values with you wherever you go. They will beautify you like a garland on your head or like a chain around your neck. They will bring you honor and not shame."

"My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them." (Proverbs 1:10) Solomon warns his son, "If you start running with the wrong crowd they will talk you into doing sinful things. They are a bad influence. They will pressure you into doing things you know you shouldn't do." The author of Psalm 1 pronounces a blessing on the one who does not hang out with the wrong crowd, "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers." (Psalm 1:1)

"If they say, 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for innocent blood, let's ambush some harmless soul; let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot'---my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood." (Proverbs 1:11-16) One minute Solomon paints a picture of simply spending time with the wrong crowd; the next minute he illustrates a scene of robbery and murder. He left out all the steps that take place in between, but I think he does this for dramatic effect. Of course a young man doesn't start keeping company with a rough crowd so that he can eventually end up going to prison for robbery or murder. In the beginning he probably just thinks these guys are cool in a rebellious sort of way. He wants to be considered cool and rebellious too, so he starts hanging out with them at school. Next, in order to maintain their approval, he starts joining in with their pranks. Over time he will begin to share their scornful attitude toward all authority figures and rules. He will become so used to saying "yes" to anything they suggest that his conscience will stop screaming at him when he breaks a legal or spiritual law. From that point on, he might agree to anything, even armed robbery or murder. That level of sin doesn't happen all at once, but it progresses step by step, as a king like Solomon knows from judging so many legal cases. Many a young man has stood before him who started out hanging with a rough crowd to look cool only to end up committing shocking crimes.

Solomon points out that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. The wise person who knows the truth can avoid falling for a lie. "How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!" (Proverbs 1:17) He counsels, "Learn to recognize the characteristics of a person who lacks a moral code or spiritual values. Then you will be able to avoid him. Just like a bird who spots the net in time to keep from getting caught in it, you will be able to change course and escape without harm."

The one who falls in with lawbreakers and sinners is not wise, for such people are really setting a trap for themselves. "These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it." (Proverbs 1:18-19) The king states, "The man who leads a life of crime is ruining himself. He thinks he's only hurting others, but he will pay for his wrongdoing. He will pay when the earthly judge finds him guilty. He will pay when the heavenly Judge finds him guilty. He may temporarily rejoice over the gold and silver he took through violence, but what use will that be to him when he stands accused in a courtroom? He might have believed he wasn't suspected in a murder because he was very clever in going about it, but as Moses once said in Numbers 32:23, 'be sure your sins will find you out.'"

Solomon's advice is wonderful for the young person about to go out into the world. It would make a great graduation speech. But his advice is also valuable to those of us who are middle-aged (like me) or older. It's a part of human behavior to want others to like us and approve of us. God created us with a need for friendship. But we must choose our close friends wisely. They need to be people who will encourage us in moral and godly ways, not people who will tempt us to go down the wrong paths. The Apostle Paul would have agreed with everything King Solomon says in today's passage, for he said something similar, "Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character." (1 Corinthians 15:33) This doesn't mean we can't interact with unbelievers or include them in activities or show them the love of Christ. I have friends who aren't Christians; all of us probably do. The Bible is telling us to be careful of who we place in our inner circle of friends. What is the character of those closest to us? Can they be counted on to give godly advice? Do they follow legal and spiritual laws? Would they be concerned if they saw us going down the wrong path?

The Lord Jesus had a group of twelve fairly close friends, but His inner circle consisted of Peter, James, and John. These three men sometimes made mistakes because they were human, but from a moral and spiritual standpoint these three were the closest to having a heart like that of Jesus, so these were the three with which He spent the most time. He knew their hearts and that they had it in them to become such fierce spiritual warriors that they would be willing to die for their faith if it came to that. That's the kind of people we want in our inner circle! That's the kind of people who won't lead us in the wrong direction.

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