The Bible tells us repeatedly that we will eventually and inevitably begin to resemble the people we spend time with. If we walk with the wise we will become wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20). Much of the book of Proverbs deals with this very theme, warning the young and foolish to avoid similarly foolish companions. Such proverbs cannot always be taken too woodenly or literally, yet they do point us to an important truth. If you spend time with a person you will begin to resemble that person. Perhaps you will not resemble the person in appearance (unless you are a teenager) but at least in spirit, in thought, in attitude, you will. Experience shows me that this is true. This is one of the great blessings of the local church, that in the church the foolish are able to spend time with the wise, learning how to be like them.
Again we know this is true with teenagers, isn't it? Many boys will drift toward older, cooler, more popular teens. They will do what they do, play what they play, wear what they wear, speak the words they speak, watch what they watch. In each of these things they give testimony that they want to be like the older boys. Maybe it is not too much to say that they want to be these older boys. Girls are no different. They find heroes and model themselves in that image. With each moment they spend with their heroes they learn to be more like them.
As adults we have probably learned to be a little bit more subtle. We have learned not to be quite so shameless. But still we gravitate toward the people we want to resemble. A man who wants to be rich and powerful will find any excuse to hobnob with powerful men. He will live where they live, drive what they drive. And as he spends time with such people, he will develop their thoughts and will look at the world in the same way they do. A woman who craves popularity will spend time around the women she deems most popular and, in so doing, she will begin to emulate them, hoping that she can capture the same formula that made them so popular.
It is easy to see this as a curse, to focus much on the fool and his folly. And while certainly it is true that the person who spends time with a fool will begin to be a fool himself, the opposite is also true. That we begin to look like the people we spend time with can be a great means of God's grace. Have you ever considered that the people you spend time with are a reflection of the person you want to be?
I thought about this topic and wrote this far and then began to think about the people I love to spend time with and the blessing they are to me. Would this not prove a reflection of who I want to be? And from there I thought of the people I have spent time with in recent weeks and the character qualities, the fruits of the Spirit I would love to see in my life. It just so happens that I've been able to spend quite a bit of time with the men in my local church who have been set apart to serve as elders and pastors.
There is Murray whose love for people and whose genuine interest in them is unsurpassed. I am a person who is naturally shy and I can allow shyness to be an excuse to permit me to be reclusive. Murray's love for people stands as both a challenge and an inspiration. And I mean that; he truly inspires me to grow in my love for others, to extend hospitality, to be a genuinely caring Christian. I love to spend time with Murray because I want to be like Murray.
There is Tom whose patient kindness resonates in my soul. I cannot think of anyone who has so powerful a combination of gentleness of spirit and firmness in the faith. Always ready with a word of encouragement, always eager to steer a conversation to spiritual matters, Tom serves relentlessly with kindness, with patience and with boldness. I want to be like Tom.
There is Julian who, though young the youngest of the bunch, exhibits such spiritual maturity. He is proof that though an elder is not allowed to be a young and immature Christian, a young man can be mature and be well-qualified to serve God as an undershepherd. In Julian I see a relentless desire to read Scripture, to study it, to live it. And through that I see such growth in maturity and godliness.
And there is Paul. From Paul I've learned to love and respect my wife as I've seen the way he loves and respects his wife. From him I've learned to refer to Aileen not only as my wife but as my bride. I love that word; it points to a freshness that looks back to the day that she was first given to me. And from Paul I've learned about the importance of, the skill of, applying the gospel to all of life. He loves the gospel and knows of the importance of living in the joy and freedom of that good news. And I love to spend time with him because I want to be like him, to resemble him in these ways and so many others.
In these men God has given me the opportunity to learn how to love, how to be gently bold, how to grow in maturity, how to treasure my wife and how to hold fast to the gospel. Each one has blessed me immeasurably. What a blessing it is that, by spending time with them, I can eventually be like them. And what a blessing that he who walks with the wise grows wise.
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About Tim Challies
Tim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs anywhere (www.challies.com). He is also editor of Discerning Reader (www.discerningreader.com), a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians. He is author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, published by Crossway.
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