Association, noun: connection of persons; a society formed for transacting or carrying on some business for mutual advantage; An association of ideas is where two or more ideas constantly or naturally follow each other in the mind, so that one almost infallibly produces the other. (Webster’s 1828 Dictionary)
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (NKJV). It is very clear that God cares deeply about who we are associated with, who we connect with.
This post is not meant to be political in nature, so please don’t read it as such. History has shown us time and again that countries and their leaders have to be temporarily linked with others in order to accomplish good. For example, when the United States teamed up with The Soviet Union to defeat Hitler and Nazism. Another example is when Wilberforce worked to defeat slavery, he had to work with some pretty unsavory people. These are not the associations I will be addressing here, although that would be an interesting discussion to have.
Rather, I want to discuss the day-to-day associations we have. Who are you connected with on a regular basis? Who do you work with? Who do you spend time with?
The Bible warns of six harmful social situations we should avoid because of the harm it can cause us.
Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
Before we look at the eight situations, I want to draw your attention to verses 10-11. It is clear that Paul is talking about those who claim to be a Christian but are living a lifestyle defined by sin. I also want to highlight that Biblical church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18 should be followed first. This means that when a brother or sister in Christ falls into one of these sins, you are to confront them individually. If unrepentant, then confront with a group of two or three. If they still refuse to repent and turn from sin, then you are to tell the church and treat them as an unbeliever.
- Do not associate with a person who is involved with fornication (NIV: sexually immoral; KJV: fornicator; Greek: pornos) (vv. 9-11). Webster (1828) defines “fornication” as “The incontinence or lewdness of unmarried persons, male or female.” It also has the meaning of illicit sexual intercourse and adultery. This means that any sexual encounter outside of the biblical definition of marriage (one man and one woman) is considered fornication and sexually immoral. If someone who says they are a follower of Christ engage in this behavior, we are not to associate with them.
- Do not associate with a person who is involved in covetousness (NIV: greedy) (vv. 10-11). Covet is defined as “To desire inordinately; to desire that which it is unlawful to obtain or possess.” What does your mind and attention dwell on? Is it something that is good or something that is evil? Paul clarifies what we are to dwell on in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Choose today to think about and dwell upon what Paul instructs. Do not covet what others own that you wish you could have.
- Do not associate with a person who is involved in idolatry (v. 11). Webster provides two definitions of idolatry: “1. The worship of idols, images, or anything made by hands, or which is not God. Idolatry is of two kinds; the worship of images, statues, pictures, etc. made by hands; and the worship of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon and stars, or of demons, angels, men and animals. 2. Excessive attachment or veneration for anything, or that which borders on adoration.” I shared more on idolatry in a previous blog, and you can watch a sermon I preached on this topic at Solid Rock Bible Church in Chappell, NE in 2014 here.
- Do not associate with a person who is involved in evil speaking (NIV: slanderer, NKJV: reviler) (v. 11). This is probably the most difficult of all of these because of the negative bent our culture has taken. Do me a favor, open up Facebook or Twitter and tell me how much of your feed is negative and how much is positive? Some may say that this is due to the election a few days ago, but it isn’t. To revile means “to treat with opprobrious and contemptuous language.” I didn’t know what “opprobrious” was, so I looked it up too: “Reproachful and contemptuous; scurrilous; Blasted with infamy; despised; rendered hateful.” Christians, we are to speak life and love into people’s lives. This isn’t something we just try or strive to do, but we must actually do it! We are told to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Some folks are really good at the truth part, but forget the love part. This results in harsh words, broken relationships, and strained marriages. Those who are good at the love part but not the truth part are willing to look past sin. I have heard it said that we can love people straight to hell if we are not willing to be truthful. We need both truth and love in our speech. Christ also commands us: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
- Do not associate with a person who is a drunkard (v. 11). This is pretty self-explanatory. When I was in college, I struggled with drunkenness. It ruined several relationships. I am trying to avoid this now. This area is one where each Christian must decide (with God) how far their liberty allows them to go. Don’t let your liberty cause others to stumble.
- Do not associate with a person who is involved in stealing (extortioner, swindler) (v. 11). To swindle is “To cheat and defraud.” This is taking covetousness to the next level: actually taking what is not yours. I remember when I was about ten, I was at the mall with my mom. She left me in one store to go to the next. I found something I wanted so I took it next door to show her and ask if I could have some money. I didn’t know I was stealing! I’m grateful that the mall cop didn’t arrest me and they understood my motive. Later, I would be very guilty of stealing. Years after stealing, I confessed my sin and asked for forgiveness. Once again, the person showed me mercy and grace. Thank you. Christian, don’t take something that isn’t yours. Stealing is a form of distrust because it tells God that you don’t trust Him to provide your needs.
There are several other biblical passages that deal with our associations. Proverbs is a good place to start.
But wait, wasn’t Christ a “friend of sinners” and didn’t Christ spend time with those who didn’t believe in Him? YES! We should too. Remember that the associations above have to do with those who claim to be Christians but aren’t living the Christian life.
God encourages us to associate with three types of individuals.
- We are to associate with sinners. We see this over and over again in Jesus’ life. Mark 2:16-17: “When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Again, in Luke 15:2, Jesus was accused of welcoming sinners and eating with them. We are to rub shoulders with those who are sinning. We are to spend time with them, talk to them, listen to them, have coffee with them, eat with them. Why? Because Jesus did. Because they need to be loved, listened to, and they need someone to eat with! Who likes to eat alone? While we are associating with them, we are to be who Christ has called us to be. This means that if they ask us a question about life, we answer according to our Christian values and morals. We don’t hide who we are.
- We are to associate with unbelievers. In Acts 10, Peter is invited to a Gentile’s home. This was huge for a Jew. Peter explains in verse 28: “He said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.’” It was okay for Peter, a devout Jew, to associate with a Gentile. Christian, it is okay for you to associate with an unbeliever. In our interactions with them, we are to be authentic. We are to be genuine. We don’t put on a fake front and pretend everything this fine when it isn’t. We don’t pretend to be someone we aren’t. This means that when topics of a religious or spiritual nature comes up, we engage in them. Not in hate or condemnation, but love and grace. It would be inauthentic for a person of faith to never have a spiritual conversation with someone who is an unbeliever since our faith is a large part of who we are and what we do. It is okay to share your faith.
- We are to associate with those who fear God and keep his precepts. The Psalmist writes “I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts” (Psalm 119:63). The church is encouraged in Acts 2:42-27: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The church is a gathering of saints and sinners who are looking to worship God and fellowship with one another. The local church is a good association. An association that you need.
So, how do we balance the “avoid these people” and “associate with these people” when it appears there are folks on both lists? Good question.
If we wanted to live a life where we were completely absent from the presence of sin, it would be impossible. Sure, we can seclude ourselves in the forest or in the basement, but guess what, we are still with ourselves. We are still with a sinner! 1 Corinthians 5:10 says that if we want to avoid sin altogether, we “would have to leave this world.” What to do? Choose wisely who you associate with. Choose wisely who you align yourself with.
All definitions taken from Webster’s 1828 dictionary. https://1828.mshaffer.com/
Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes come from the New International Version. Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I also consulted John Regier’s “Motivating with Scripture” and a Facebook conversation with Dr. Mark Phillips.