This past Sunday I preached a sermon from Proverbs 1:8-19 on avoiding bad company, especially those who are fascinated by violence and greed. I focused the message around the corrosive character of trouble-makers as well as their ultimate destiny. I warned the young and the old in the congregation I serve to avoid violent people or you will become the victim of their own crime. I encouraged them to set their sights on living a God-honoring life and to distance themselves from anyone who might distract them from that goal.
But what about living as a missionary? Aren’t Christians called to live as “salt and light” among those who lost and spiritually separated from God (Mathew 5:13-16)? Didn’t Jesus spend at least some of his time with sinners and other “unsavory” people (Mark 2:14-17)? Didn’t Jesus commission his followers to live like missionaries in neighborhoods and nations around the world (Acts 1:8)?
At times, there is a tension between avoiding bad company and living like a missionary. Here are three questions to balance out that tension.
1. Is this a voluntary or involuntary association?
You can’t choose your family members, but you can choose your friends. This means you may have to make the most of an unpleasant relationship with a relative. You can’t (or shouldn’t) disown a family member just because he or she is not receptive to the gospel. You may want to rethink friendship, however, that is consistently pulling you away from the things of God.
2. Is this a short-term or long-term connection?
There is more at stake with a long-term partnership than a short-term acquaintance. You will have a much great opportunity to influence someone while you work on a work or school project together than by sitting beside them at a one-time social function. The longer timeframe will also give you an opportunity to assess the health of the situation.
3. Are you in a position to influence or be influenced?
Peer-to-peer relationships involve people who have the same level of influence, while superior-to-subordinate relationships involve two different levels of influence. Knowing where you stand in relation to those around you will help you assess your ability to persuade others. You may have a lot more control over a positive relationship with a co-worker than a negative relationship with your boss.
There are many other factors to consider in the tension between these two goals. Is there any kind of abuse or criminal activity involved in the relationship? Are you actively praying for the spiritual wellbeing of the person or persons you are trying to reach? Are there any cultural or communication barriers that are obscuring relational goals?
What other questions would you ask in balancing out the tension between living like a missionary and avoiding bad company?