Hebrews 12:1-2 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Some of you will remember that in one or two previous posts in this series I mentioned that sometimes people can be weights. I have to admit that sometimes this is something we deal with almost unconsciously, but it is also sometimes something that we don’t want to deal with when it comes to certain people.
We deal with it unconsciously when we eliminate troublesome or trouble making people from our lives by just avoiding or mostly ignoring them. This can be that woman at church who is always being cutesy with other men; the older man who always flirts with the ladies and tries to give them hugs; the lady in your Bible study group who never has anything good to say about anyone or anything – ever. The girl who dresses in such a way that you don’t want your sons around her. You know who they are. You just sort of gravitate away from them without too much thought, especially if you see they are set in their ways and are not going to change without a miracle – which is God’s department. I remember my mom telling about one lady who was so difficult to handle that my mom would actually cross the street to avoid her if she saw her coming. These people are not as much of an issue.
But there are others who are harder to deal with.
1 Corinthians 15:33 Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.
[Some details have been changed to protect the identities of the subjects.]
I had a friend years ago, whom we shall call “Shelly”. Shelly’s best friend was an unsaved woman. They had grown up together, married, had kids and gone through many things in life together. But Shelly’s friend persistently refused to believe the Gospel, and Shelly refused to give up the friendship. Shelly sometimes did things that were inappropriate from a Christian perspective in an effort to “be friends” with this unsaved woman. Her friend was influencing her to do wrong.
Another lady we’ll call “Angie” had a friend who professed to be a Christian. Angie spent a lot of time with her and talked to her often. The friend appeared to be sincere and honest, but it seemed like everywhere she went she was saying things that were offensive or divisive among Christians (Proverbs 6:16-19 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him…he that soweth discord among brethren.) She also had a habit of asking difficult questions of people she didn’t appreciate. She did this with what appeared to be sincerity, but in the end she tended to make people feel or look foolish. Angie shared some of her complaints about their church fellowship with this woman. Her friend encouraged Angie in this, even convincing her that certain types of sinners ought to be treated “nicely” and not be made uncomfortable about their sin. Eventually Angie took her family out of the church fellowship. One way or another, her children became “tolerant” of sin and some of them ended up entering into things that brought embarrassment to Angie and her husband. [Incidentally, her husband didn’t want to “be nice” about those sins, but Angie wouldn’t listen to him.]
You see, we become what are friends are. How many, many people have been led down the road to destruction because they made or kept bad friends!
Proverbs 22:24-25 tells us, Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.
Anger is perhaps one of the most contagious things, as this verse implies, but there are many things that we pick up from other people if we spend time with them. There are so many ways in which friends can be a snare to our souls, and also in which they can drag us down from running the race with patience. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like someone is really “that bad”, but what kind of thinking are they introducing us to? Are they leading us to handle the word of God lightly and to play along the edges of sin?
Proverbs 14:7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.
Basically it comes down to this – if you want to be a fool, spend time with fools; if you want to be wise, spend time with wise people.
I have a friend I’ll call “Cammy” whose husband came up with an interesting method of categorizing her friends and acquaintances. He rates them as “red light, yellow light or green light”. You can about imagine what that means. The friends who are an encouragement and help to her, who edify her and also are edified by her, are the “green lights”. That obviously means she can enjoy their fellowship. The “red lights” are a full stop. These she must drop entirely because they are a problem, a weight, a bad influence, too difficult or hard hearted. The “yellow lights” are interesting, though. These are the friends who are in an uncertain standing, the ones who are waffling on standards of right or wrong, who are not clearly for or against, who are sometimes helpful and sometimes not. These are the hardest ones to deal with.
One young lady in particular was a very “helpful” hairdresser type who would do Cammy’s hair free of charge (helpful for them on their budget). However, Cammy’s husband labeled her a “yellow light” because as he said, she was always “right on the edge” of what was appropriate. She was always right at the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, never fully inside of it. This bothered him. Well, one day she came to cut Cammy’s hair, and though she knew full well what their standard was for women’s hair, she cut it much shorter than they felt was honorable to scripture. That day she went from being a “yellow light” to being a full stop! And no wonder. She had been a bit of a stress point for a long time because Cammy never knew when the young lady was going to cross over the line entirely and be a real offense. She was a weight, and in the end, it was good to put her down and move on less cumbered.
Where are you drawing the line? I’ve seen so many women who had different standards at one time begin to slide in regards to modesty because of the friends they kept. Women who never drank alcohol or considered it a poor testimony begin to sip a little wine with their friends “socially”, and later you learn they have become winebibbers or are visiting bars. Women who wouldn’t have entered a casino will end up there after they start playing “games” online or with friends in private. There are many areas of life where we can allow this to happen when we befriend and spend time with people who actually encourage us to be more “tolerant” of sin, to “relax” and “enjoy” the ways of the world. You probably know just what I’m talking about. You’ve seen it and/or felt it yourself.
The Apostle Paul wrote, Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7
Some Christians find it extremely hard to actually go so far as to withdraw themselves from those that walk disorderly among the saints. Some of the people who walk disorderly are so “nice” or “sweet” or “fun”. But, as the verses in Proverbs taught us, there is good cause. We will learn these people’s ways if we walk with them. Trying to walk with them and not be affected will be a weight that will slow us in our race; and ultimately we will be affected – it is impossible not to be. Amos 3:3 Can two walk together, except they be agreed?
Jesus Christ was a friend of sinners, but this was for the Gospel’s sake. When someone is in the Lord’s church representing themselves as “good, godly Christians” and yet they are walking disorderly, it is only a weight to try to be friends with them. They will drag you down and discourage you, maybe embarrass you, eventually even draw you into sin. Remember the Lord commanded us through Paul to withdraw in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is not unloving. It is wise. It is obedient. It is for our good. It is for the good of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
The Apostle Paul also had this to say to the church at Corinth, 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. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11
There are many other kinds of people who can drag you down and discourage you in your walk with God. Perhaps they are constantly talking about conspiracies, perhaps they are totally immersed in politics or sports to the point of being useless on any other subject. Perhaps they are full of vain glory or self-righteousness. Perhaps they are constantly meddling in other people’s affairs – just regular busybodies. As much as is possible it would be wise to avoid these people. I know that sometimes people have relatives or others they are “stuck” with that they cannot escape. When this is the case it might help to train yourself to lay aside the weight of their troublesomeness in your own mind even when you cannot escape them in the flesh. Ask the Lord to help you shed their crankiness so that it doesn’t stick. God is merciful and if your heart is toward Him, He will help you in such situations. Sometimes one simply has to excuse oneself and go do something else for awhile if possible.
Some friends can be a weight because you don’t know where you stand with them. They claim to be you friend but they never act like a friend. Sometimes you need to distance yourself from someone to find out. If they care, they will notice and seek you out. If they don’t notice you know what the friendship really meant to them. But, also, if you find when you step away that you actually do better without that friendship, then probably it is time to lay it aside, or at least drop the importance of it.
Laying aside weights has it own reward in helping us to run the race with patience. It should be noted that often when we step away from someone who is a problem or a weight, we will find we are stepping closer to someone who is a blessing and a help. Sometimes, to our surprise perhaps, that “someone” will turn out to be the Lord Himself. The fact of the matter is that when we are weighed down by people who hinder us from running the race with patience, we probably haven’t been looking unto Jesus as we should either. Weights keep us focused on self and on earthly matters. When they are dropped it’s easier to get the focus back where it belongs. Good friends will help you keep it there.
Nehemiah 10:28-29a And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; They clave to their brethren, their nobles…
Proverbs 18:24 A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
John 15:13-15 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.