Updated: Sep 8, 2021
It’s our nature to be influenced by our surroundings. When we put ourselves in a godly atmosphere with godly people, we are influenced toward godliness. When we put ourselves in an ungodly atmosphere with ungodly people, we are influenced toward ungodliness. God’s Word says, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
A few years ago, the night before an NFL game, my wife Nanci and one of my daughters and sons-in-law and their two sons, then 12 and 13, met with a quarterback who loves Jesus. I asked him, “What advice do you have for these boys?” He said a number of good things, but one of the central ones was, to summarize what he said, “Choose your friends wisely.” He spoke from his life experiences, both good and bad. There’s no way to overstate the importance of having godly friends.
The principle is, we become like the people we spend the most time with. God speaks of those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” and warns us, “Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:4-5).
That’s why my advice to young people, and to people of all ages, is this same thing: “Choose your friends wisely.” Don’t just let friendships happen by circumstance. Make them happen by choice—careful, thoughtful choice.
There are many areas of life where you can make wise choices that will be rewarded, and poor choices that will result in destruction—perhaps none so dramatically as who you choose as friends. Some poor choices (like choosing dinner on a menu that doesn’t turn out that good) are secondary, and you might get away with them. You will never get away with an unwise choice of friends. It will hurt you and haunt you. Don’t let it happen. God tells us exactly how to become wise. Walk with—that is, befriend and spend time with—those who are wise.
Thomas Brooks said, “Let those be thy choicest companions who have made Christ their chief companion.”
Your friends will greatly influence your values, attitudes, and behaviors. I know young people (and older ones too) who love Jesus and have chosen their friends wisely. Their friends have raised the bar for each other, challenging them to jump higher in the areas of following Christ and maintaining purity. I also know people who have made poor choices and have experienced terrible consequences, some that will affect them the rest of their lives.
I came to Jesus in high school, and I had close friends who studied the Bible together, prayed together, read great books together. We stayed away from the things that tempted us toward evil. We asked each other how we were doing in our walk with God. Find friends like that. They might not just naturally come your way. Look for them. Seek them. Hang on to them. My friend and pastor Steve Keels has been that for me for over 45 years. Other friends who follow Jesus have also had a major influence on my life. Sure, I have friends that aren’t as strong in their walk with Jesus, and I seek to befriend and reach out to those who don’t know Him at all, but my closest friends are strong in Him...and we help each other.
Back away from so-called “friends” who compromise your faith, who encourage you to experiment with what’s wrong, and who take you away from church and from following Christ. Stay away from “friends” who lead you away from obeying God and tempt you to do the same.
These are not true friends, because what they are doing will not help you, but hurt you. True friends don’t do what’s bad for each other. They do what’s good for each other. Be an example to your friends in glorifying God. That’s the best gift you can give to your friends...or get from them.
C. S. Lewis said, “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”
I would encourage you to meditate on and memorize these verses. Write them down. Think about them. Put them in your heart, and God will remind you of them. They will encourage you toward strong Christian friendships and save you from the unwise choices of friends that destroy so many people who once loved Jesus:
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way” (Proverbs 4:14-15).
“Stay away from the foolish man, because you will not find knowledge on his lips” (Proverbs 14:7).
“…rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…Have nothing to do with them” (2 Timothy 3:4-5).
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
“Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Stay close to godly people, and surround yourself with people who love you enough to tell you the truth...even when it hurts. Because, in the end, as Jesus put it, “The truth will set you free.”