The Danger of Bad Company
One of the most overlooked and ignored warnings in all of Scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 15:33. Here the Lord tells us to not be deceived. But deceived about what?
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
But what exactly does “evil company” and “good habits” mean? And what do they have to do with the Proverbs? Great questions. Now let’s find the answers.
First, what it says:
1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be deceived (or, to be lead astray, to wander, to roam aimlessly, to be lead away from the truth and into error and sin, to mislead, to seduce): “Evil (or, bad, worthless, wicked, vicious, malicious, cowardly, destructive) company (or, companionship, communion, conversation, speech, talk) corrupts (or, destroys, spoils, waste away, to utterly decay, to corrupt fully, to deprave) good (or, moral, useful, pleasing, virtuous) habits (or, morals, character, one’s manner of life).”
Then, what it means:
The Lord is warning us not to be easily deceived into thinking His Words and admonitions are meant for someone else, and not for us. Maybe He meant them for someone not quite as spiritual as we are, someone not quite as mature, not quite as smart. Maybe someone weaker, more naive, someone that can’t be trusted to always do the right thing at the right time like we can. Really?
It’s just that kind of thinking that gets us into trouble every time. Wouldn’t you agree?
The first warning is about deception. We are not to be deceived into thinking what God is telling us is either not true, or doesn’t apply in our situation. We are not to be deceived into believing this warning was meant for someone else. Why? Because that’s exactly the rationalization each of us makes regarding God’s Word whenever His Word won’t allow us to do what we want to do and what we think is right. After all, we want to follow our heart, and to our own heart be true. Yet we willingly forget God states our heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). So, to have the knowledge of God, our heart would be the last thing we would want to follow.
Yet we still do. Over and over again.
And we never seem to learn.
The second warning is about the essence of the deception. And it’s the lie that we can play with fire and not get burned. We can roll around in the mud with the farm animals and not get dirty. We can live like the world, think like the world, look like the world, value what the world values and crave the world’s love and acceptance and yet remain pure from the world. I mean, how stupid is that?
God tells us there is a one-way path when we associate with evil people. Just one way. And that way is from purity to defilement. From virtue to sin, from light to darkness, from worth and value to corruption and decay. It’s a one way street that leads from holiness to depravity, and not the other way around.
“But I know the Jesus in me will change their hearts if I just spend enough time with them and do the things they are doing.” Don’t be deceived.
“But I love him! And I know if we date or get married he will someday see the Jesus in me and become a Christian. I just know it!” You’re being deceived.
“Hey, they’re my friends. I can hang with them and just not do what they are doing. You know, I can be a light in their darkness.” You’re deceived.
Non-believers never become Believers by osmosis. That takes a sovereign act of God. And you have been warned by the Lord not to be deceived into thinking “good morals or good character will redeem bad company.” In fact, the truth is just the opposite. Don’t be deceived into thinking this warning from God doesn’t apply in your case for whatever reason you conjure up in your mind to justify your disobedience.
It’s just not going to happen. Why? Because God doesn’t lie.
The Addiction to Peer Pressure
We see this scenario graphically played out for us in the life of a young man in the first chapter of Proverbs. It’s peer pressure run amok. It’s the “us” and “we” and “they” and “everyone” against the “you” and “your” and the faithfulness of God’s Word. It’s a classic picture of temptation. And of classic failure.
First, the gracious warning from the father and mother and the blessings of that warning.
Proverbs 1:8 – My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; (why) for they (the instruction and the law) will be a graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck.
Again, Proverbs 1:8 – My son, hear (or, listen, obey, proclaim to others) the instruction (or, correction, discipline) of your father, and do not forsake (or, abandon, cast off or away, to leave alone) the law (or, direction, custom, manner of living) of your mother; (why) for they (the instruction and discipline of our father and the law or custom or manner of living or example of your mother) will be a graceful ornament on your head (or, a wreath of grace, a garland), and chains about your neck.
The phrase a “graceful ornament” seems strange to our ears today. I mean, what’s that exactly? It’s a garland, a wreath, a decorative headpiece worn as a sign of approval and honor and is given as a result of following wisdom. In fact, it’s actually awarded by wisdom itself (Prov. 4:9).1
And the “chains about your neck” might give us the mental picture of Mr. T or some rap artist with a wad of bling hanging from his neck. But that’s not what this passage is talking about. It’s a necklace, and is used figuratively of wearing a parent’s instructions around one’s neck as a valued chain of remembrance. 2
In essence, do not forsake what you have been taught. Do not abandon the acceptance and honor you have received by living a life of wisdom. Do not throw it all away for the fleeting approval of the world. Do not become friends with those the Lord commands otherwise. Do not make yourself the very enemy of God. Remember?
James 4:4 – Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity (or, hostility, hatred, enemy) with God? Whoever therefore wants (or, desires, is inclined) to be a friend of the world (what) makes himself an enemy of God.
And who in their right mind would want to make themselves an enemy of God? But that’s exactly what happens when we desire the friendship of the world. Hence, “Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33).
The Quick Slide into Sin and Judgment
Now watch how quickly temptation can come to the young son. And notice how appealing it all sounds. Just like the motto of the Three Musketeers, “All for One and One for All!”
And pay careful attention to the detail in which the father warns his loved, naive, gullible, young son about the ways of the world and the temptations he will face.
Proverbs 1:10 – My son, if (or, when) sinners (or, those reckoned as offenders, those facing condemnation for their actions, those under the wrath and judgment of God) entice (or, deceive, persuade, allure) you, (what) do not consent (or, yield, be willing, acquiescent).
Then there’s the appeal to the flesh. The almost irresistible compulsion for acceptance, power, anticipation, greed, lust, companionship and belonging. All of what is to be found in Christ is used as a temptation to entice the young son away from Christ and into a life of sin.
Have you ever been there? Does any of this sound familiar? Do we not sin to satisfy, in our selfish flesh and in our own ways, the very needs Christ promised to fulfill for us in His own flesh?
Acceptance and Belonging
Proverbs 1:11a – If (or when) they say, “Come with us (acceptance and belonging)…”
Power, Violence and Excitement
Proverbs 1:11b-12 – Let us (acceptance and belonging) lie in wait (excitement) to shed blood (power and violence); let us (acceptance and belonging) lurk secretly (excitement) for the innocent without cause (power and violence); let us (acceptance and belonging) swallow them alive like Sheol (power), and whole, like those who go down to the Pit (power).
Greed, Lust and the Love of Money
Proverbs 1:13 – We (acceptance and belonging) shall find all kinds of precious possessions (greed, lust and the love of money), we (acceptance and belonging) shall fill our houses with spoil (greed, lust and the love of money).
Companionship and Belonging
Proverbs 1:14 – Cast in your lot among us (companionship and belonging), let us (acceptance and belonging) all have one purse (companionship).
The Warning from Our Father
Now the father, our Father, reveals to his son, you and me, the end result of a life lived in the flesh. It’s the natural consequence of being deceived about “evil company” (1 Cor. 15:33). First, he gives the stern warning to not even get close to those under the wrath of God. Don’t even associate with them or walk in the “way with them” he says. Why? Because we are not to be bound or yoked together by friendship or affection with unbelievers. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness” (2 Cor. 6:14).
Proverbs 1:15 – My son, do not walk in the way with them (or, in their manner or course of life, on their journey), keep your foot from (what) their path.
This reminds us of the importance of staying completely free from the contaminating influence of the world, the ungodly, the sinful, and the scornful, and to have as our delight the things of God, even His law and His decrees.
Psalm 1:1-2 – Blessed is the man who (what) walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor (what) stands in the path of sinners, nor (what) sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.
The father now anticipates the pointed questions now hurled at him from his son. They are probably the very same questions he threw in anger at his own father: “Why? Why can’t I spend time with my friends? You don’t even know them. You know nothing about them. You’re trying to control who I hang around with. They’re my friends and you can’t choose my friends for me!”
But the father does know all about his son’s friends and what will inevitably happen to them. And he also knows what will happen to his own young son if he continues down this path in a relationship with them. How? How does he know this? Because he believes the Word of God and the warnings given and he has seen, firsthand, all through his life, the pain and suffering that has come upon those who have gone their own way and shipwrecked their lives running from the truth. He knows. He’s seen. And it breaks his heart to imagine the same happening to his own son.
Proverbs 1:16-18 – For their feet run (or, to run swiftly, quickly, to hurry) to evil (or, what is wicked, malignant, hurtful, bad in a moral and ethical sense), and they make haste (or, are anxious, hurried) to shed blood. Surely, in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird; but they lie in wait for (what) their own blood, they lurk secretly for (what) their own lives.
Evil is always self-destructive.
Galatians 6:7-8 – Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for (condition) whatever a man sows, (result) that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
The truth from Scripture teaches if a man, even your friends, are swift to do evil and live unlike the Lord Who created them, their end result will be the ruin and destruction of their own lives. They will sow to their flesh and, in doing so, reap corruption and death and despair— not only in this life, but in the life to come. But if they sow to the Spirit, as the father is trying to warn his young son, they will reap peace, joy, love, and everlasting life. There are only two roads, only two paths, and only two choices. One to life and, as Jesus said, the other to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14).
“Which will it be, my son?” the father asks. “Which road do you choose?”
Which will it be for you?
And just so we don’t fall prey to the deception we talked about in the beginning, the “evil company corrupts good habits or morals, character” thing, the father leaves us with one final, global truth that applies to all of mankind. It’s actually quite simple.
Proverbs 1:19 – So are the ways of everyone (or, the whole, everything, each, all, the entire, without exception, including you and me) who is greedy (or, to gain wrongfully or by unrighteous violence, to cut off, to break off, to be covetous) for gain (or, profit gained with selfish goals or motives in mind); it (the greed for gain) takes away (or, seizes, captures, to carry off as plunder, to snatch away) the life (or, soul, self, desire, mind, emotion, passion) of its owners.
The love for money consumes those who lust for it like an uncontrollable, raging fire that devours all that is in its path. And, unfortunately, this very love for money is the hallmark and centerpiece of our society. It becomes our idol, our passion, and the standard by which we measure our own value and self-worth.
“I make more than this guy. Therefore, I’m a better man.”
“I can take a better vacation than you. Therefore, I’m a better man.”
“I have nicer clothes, a bigger house, a brand new car. Therefore, I’m a better man.”
But in whose eyes are you deemed a better man? Yours? Probably. But certainly not in the eyes of the Lord. After all, “the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
And with our drive to be a better man, at least in our own eyes, we will soon find ourselves willing to sacrifice our marriage, our time with our children, and even our love of our Lord for just a little more money. And why? Because we’ve so quickly forgotten the warning from the Lord.
1 Timothy 6:9-10 – But those who desire to be rich (or, wealthy) fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. (why) For the love of money (or, covetousness) is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
“Don’t let that happen to you, my son,” the father would say.
How Much is Enough?
One final thought. When the multimillionaire, John D. Rockefeller, was once asked, “How much money is enough?” He replied, quite transparently, “Just a little bit more.” Or, “I really don’t know. But, for some reason, the millions of dollars I already have don’t make me feel good about myself. So I guess a little bit more will help. Just a little bit more.”
Sad. So sad.
Because true joy and purpose comes from the “fear of the Lord.” After all, that very “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). That wonderful knowledge is the blessed knowledge of the Holy One and of His ways.
And nothing compares with knowing Him.
Adveho quis may.
Come what may.
1. Baker, W., & Carpenter, E. E. (2003). The Complete Word study Dictionary: Old Testament (p. 545). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2. Ibid., p. 855.