The phrase ‘keep company with’ refers to marriage, religious affiliations, social associations and business partnerships.
It is important to the Lord just what impression the Christian’s ‘crowd’ sets forth.
I recall my maternal grandmother being quoted as having said on this matter: “Show me your company and I will tell you who you are!’
I suppose that very well known adage: ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ states the same basic truth. Who you are drawn to and with whose company you are content and happy to be in, tells an observer what your views and affections are.
It is for this reason that the Lord, like any father, shows concern about the crowd we identify with and the Holy Scriptures contain many directives on this matter.
Whom a Christian marries is not a matter of indifference to the Lord, any more than it is to caring earthly parents. Thus we find Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, urging this maxim upon Corinthian Christians. “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 7:39. The choice of the woman as to who it is she marries is limited by this rule. She is at entire liberty to marry, or not to marry, and to marry whom she pleases. That is not forbidden by the laws of God. But she is limited by the ‘spiritual’ character of the man she would marry. The marriage union must be ‘in the Lord’!
The word ‘only’ clearly indicates that she is limited to one category of men from which she would choose her husband. He ‘must’ be a Christian, he must be one of the Lord’s people.
My fifty plus years of pastoral labours have brought me into contact with many households, both within my own flock and outside it. I have noted on many occasions the unhappy price paid by a man or a woman who ignored this injunction and instead allowed their own feelings and emotions to overrule God! I saw that it invariably brought unhappiness to the disobedient Christian, to the one they married and to the children born of the union. Irrespective of the circumstance of how the unscriptural union was formed — often as a result of an unsaved person making a false profession of faith in Christ in order to find acceptance with the Christian whose hand in marriage they desired — without exception it had a grievous impact upon the family unit thus formed.
It always hindered the prayers, the witness, the worship, the personal happiness of the erring Christian to at least some degree. Such a mistake has to be lived with and that to the best of very sad circumstances.
The wise man said: “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house,” Proverbs 21:9. The gender may be reversed so as to read ‘man’ instead of ‘woman’ and the truth is the same. The word ‘brawling’ carries the meaning of ‘contentious, quarrelsome’. The contention arises chiefly from contrary allegiances of the soul, the heart and the mind. One seeks to serve the Lord and the other self and sin. As such conflicting commitments set Cain against Abel with the most tragic results (Genesis 4:8) so such conflicting loyalties have led to division and grief.
On the other hand, a wise choice of life’s partner results in a most fruitful and contented union. Again, the genders may be reversed. “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband,” Proverbs 12:4. A good and holy woman makes a husband a ‘king’ in his house.
“Every wise woman buildeth her house,” Proverbs 14:1. Such a marriage union becomes a successful union with material growth and advance, a truly successful partnership. How few put a right value on a holy character! “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies,” Proverbs 31:10. There is a beauty that is more than skin deep and which does not disintegrate with the passing years but rather grows and takes on a heavenly, pleasing comeliness. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates,” Proverbs 31:30-31. The word ‘vain’ hints at the ‘nebulosity’ of a ‘vapour’. It soon vanishes away, despite the application of the ‘paint and putty’ of modern cosmetics!
It does matter to the Lord which ‘church’ or ‘fellowship’ you belong to. While a person from any kind of background may be saved, as the conversion of the dying thief and the respectable Pharisee, Nicodemus, illustrates. BUT, once we enter into a spiritual relationship with the Lord, where we worship matters to Him.
The Bible would have us live under the banner that witnesses to what it is He, the Lord, stands for. As Lot was in the wrong place when he took up residence in Sodom; as Peter was in the wrong company when he warmed himself at the fire with the high priest’s servants on the night of the Saviour’’s betrayal (Mark 14:54) and as Demas made the wrong choice when he forsook Paul and ‘loved this present world, (2 Timothy 4:19), so Christians can choose to associate themselves for various base and fleshly and self-seeking reasons, with the wrong ‘crowd’.
When it comes to our religious affiliations we must ask the question: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14. As oil and water cannot, will not, mix, so there is a most serious incompatibility between the unconverted and the converted. Th presence of the Christian as they share the company of the sinful will not impart any righteousness to the sinner BUT, the presence of the sinner will mar the testimony of the Christian. The prophet Jeremiah challenged his erring generation with these words from the Lord. “Hast thou not procured this unto thyself, in that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, when he led thee by the way? And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river? Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts,” Jeremiah 2:17-19. The atmosphere of the company we associate with either honours or dishonours the Lord.
God’s people are to be most evidently a clean and uncontaminated people. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” 2 Corinthians 6:17. The merest touch may make us unclean in God’s eyes. That was so evident in the commands of the Levitical law. “If a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be a carcase of an unclean beast, or a carcase of unclean cattle, or the carcase of unclean creeping things, and if it be hidden from him; he also shall be unclean, and guilty,” Leviticus 5:2. That truth is repeated again and again throughout the Bible. The reason for that is abundantly evident. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy,” 1 Peter 1:15-16. We cannot claim to be the the Lord’s and associate ourselves with those who are ‘ungodly’ or un-god-like!
And yet today we find any amount of professing Christians associating with and joined in spiritual ‘church’ union with those who ‘preach another gospel’ (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). Such intermingling with the wicked by the Christian is an offence to God and extremely detrimental to the effective witness of the gospel. It makes a most contradictory statement when one member of a church association declares that Christ is God and the Bible is His Word and another mouths the devil’s lie and denies the witness of his companion. That is the situation in ecumenical, liberal and modernistic churches today. “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:8. The word ‘uncertain’ means ‘indistinct, obscure’ Such is the witness that is sent forth by the mixed multitude of the modern Bible-rejecting church!
This does not please the Lord, Christian! Withdraw from such that your witness might be clear, plain and untainted.
SOCIAL ASSOCIATIONS AND BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS.
There is no aspect of the Christians life which is outside of the governance of God’s Law. That is most certainly true of our social and business affairs. It seems most obvious to me that I can find no pleasure or enjoyment mixing in the atmosphere of unconverted men. That which amuses and interest them cannot bring pleasure to me. Their language, the inclination of their hearts and mind as conveyed in the topics of their conversation, can be of no interest to me. As it was said of Peter, in another context, “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee,” Matthew 26:73. How we speak declares our ‘home country’! We either talk the language of ‘Canaan’ or of the world. There can be no mingling or mixing of the two to the pleasing of the Lord. The situation that had developed in Nehemiah’s day was displeasing to the Lord. “In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people,” Nehemiah 13:23-24. We will be contaminated by the ‘accents’ of those we associate with. That is so evident in a child raised in the west of Ulster who differs in inflection and tone of speech from one raised in Co. Antrim or Co. Down. We reflect the ‘cadence’ of those we company with.
Thus for this reason we must carefully choose our friends and business associates. If we enter an association with those who are not saved, we cannot avoid adopting elements of their ways and mannerisms.
If there is one man in the Bible, whose life serves as a warning against becoming involved socially and politically with the wicked, it is Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. He was unquestionably a good man who loved the Lord, but against his better judgment he became involved with one of the wickedest men of his generation to his and his kingdom’s cost. That man was Ahab, king of the northern ten tribes, the kingdom of Israel.
Jehoshaphat’s affiliation with Ahab offended the Lord, brought upon him God’s wrath and resulted in destruction amongst his offspring and the leading of his kingdom into rebellion against God after his death. The following verses show that to be so.
“Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab. And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead. And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.” 2 Chronicles 18:1-3.
“And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem. And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD,” 2 Chronicles 19:1-2.
“Now Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. And Jehoram his son reigned in his stead. And he had brethren the sons of Jehoshaphat, Azariah, and Jehiel, and Zechariah, and Azariah, and Michael, and Shephatiah: all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel. And their father gave them great gifts of silver, and of gold, and of precious things, with fenced cities in Judah: but the kingdom gave he to Jehoram; because he was the firstborn. Now when Jehoram was risen up to the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself, and slew all his brethren with the sword, and divers also of the princes of Israel. Jehoram was thirty and two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, like as did the house of Ahab: for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife: and he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the LORD,” 2 Chronicles 21:1-6.
There is a high price to be paid for lining up with and throwing your lot in with the ungodly who hate the Lord! Let today’s Unionist politicians learn that lesson before it is too late for them personally, though I fear it is too late for our Province over which they have presided politically and guided into the paths of ruin!
The law regarding ploughing in Israel further illustrates this truth to us. “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together,” Deuteronomy 22:10. Why ever not!?
For the simple reason that both animals have very different gaits, ways of walking! The ox is is slow and ponderous, whereas the donkey is dainty and light-footed, as it were. These animals could not work together in harmony for they would ever be ‘out of step’ with each other!
So it is to be with the Christian and the worldling. They ought to have nothing in common that would have them seek each other’s company. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3.
Of course, it is impossible to live in a world that “lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19) without finding ourselves in contact with the unconverted. Paul deals with this paradox when writing to the Corinthian church, the members of which lived in the midst of a heathen society and the many members of their families and the daily acquaintances with whom they came in contact were pagan idolaters. His answer to this dilemma is set down for us in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
Paul is saying hat it is impossible to avoid in daily life all contact with the ungodly. We would “then must . . . needs go out of the world” if we were to avoid such. However, while casual contact is impossible, we are “not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” That is a very distinct degree of separation. We must not give the impression in our daily life that we are happy to be with and enjoy the company of those who are openly wicked in their lifestyle!
Such is the teaching of Paul, and being God’s inspired apostle in this matter, is therefore the purpose and will of God, and cannot be gainsaid.
Dear Christian, in a day when “the ancient landmarks” (Deuteronomy 19:14, 27:17, Proverbs 22:28, 23:10) are moved and dismantled and the standards of God’s Word denied and displaced, let us seek to live in obedience to His truth. Remember, the Lord Jesus set down the mark that distinguished His people from the world. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” John 14:15. The benefits of such obedience are immeasurably rich and bountiful. “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love,” John 15:10.
May we all live so as to experience and enjoy that love!
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
Thursday 13th April, 2023