Who leads you astray?

It might seem a rather old-fashioned idea, but we all know people who’ve been influenced for the worse: the teenager who falls in with the bad lads at school or the woman who falls for the wrong guy. And we watch powerlessly as they change for the worse.

Proverbs 1 v 10–16

My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them.
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.

The description here seems pretty graphic: a gang luring a young man into crime — and it may seem a far cry from your own experience, but sadly this is what happens to some.

But I imagine that, for most of us, the lure is more subtle, but just as dangerous. It’s the temptation to cut corners to wealth and success. And the temptation is so much more powerful if everyone else is going along with it. Perhaps the work environment where profit is everything and honesty is optional. Perhaps there is an assumption that to rise up the ladder, you’ve got to pull others down.

The company we keep has an effect on us, and it takes a very strong personality to resist the influence of a group. A certain set of behaviour becomes normal in a group: language, attitudes, desires. And once those things are normal, it’s easy to go along with them and adopt the group mentality as our own.

We can easily overestimate our own ability to be different, to go against the flow. Solomon urges the young man to not even begin to go along with the group. He knows the magnetic power of groupthink.

Bad company corrupts good character.

1 Corinthians 15:33

Of course we can’t avoid all bad influences — and whilst the Bible urges us to flee from sin, we are called to live and work alongside all sorts of people. Jesus spent his time with sinners (and was criticised for it). But he was rigorous in his determination to spend time with God. Only a powerful influence can help us to withstand distraction and corruption.

Putting it into Practice

  1. Consider the group of people where you spend most of your time. What attitudes and behaviours are normal for the group? Are these good and healthy? Would they be acceptable in every circumstance? Would Jesus fit in well with the group?
  2. Take time to note down the values that you want to shape your life. Consider the Fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23 and ask that God would help you to avoid influences that will stop you producing godly fruit.