“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20
Like it or not, peer pressure is a reality for all of us, at any age. The people we hang with ultimately influence who we become. It is easy to think that as we mature, we move beyond all the silly influence of others, like it was when we were in school.
A closer look at humanity reveals something quite different: no matter the age, the social status, the location…people are drawn to be like one another, to follow each other, and to think as others think.
The writer of Proverbs knew this well. He pleaded with his sons to spend time with wise men, those of high moral character and lifestyle, because he wanted the best for them.
His use of the term “walks” in this verse is not by accident. Walking is a choice word; in this context it has the idea of a manner of life. It is a consistent, daily, step by step, progression through life.
In another sense, the Hebrew term “walks” is used of going on a journey. So when one walks, it is the method he applies to get to his destination. That destination finds its finality at the end of life.
As in most of the Proverbs, Solomon uses a two-part comparison, wherein he takes a principle, illustrates it with a concrete image, and then gives the opposite. This principle of two teaching method emphasizes simplicity – the writer doesn’t go on for pages saying the same thing over again or stating it in different ways. His brilliance is evident in his simplicity, his clarity.
Here, in stating “the companion of fools will suffer harm” he assures the reader of what happens if you don’t walk with the wise. Spending our lives with foolish people will eventually bring damaging results into our lives. And the application to us is clear: it is vital to choose companions who we want to be like.
I once knew a younger businessman who avoided people from his generation. He only spent time with older, successful businessmen. He would golf with them, have drinks with them, take them to lunch. Why? He wanted to be like them. He wanted to develop their mannerisms, habits, and schedules, because those men had made lots of the mistakes the younger guys were inevitably going to make, but had proven their skill in business by their ultimate success.
He was walking with the wise men, instead of hanging with the fools.
In a vastly more important sense, we are to do the same with our spiritual comrades. If we want to live with wisdom, it’s not going to happen by chillin’ with idiots. It happens by spending time – walking – with those who have gone before, experienced the losses and victories life, and come through with genuine wisdom.
There’s a journey ahead of us. Let’s start now…