Walking with the Wise
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”- Proverbs 13:20
For better or worse, people are known by the company they keep, and the people with whom we choose to surround ourselves invariably have a strong influence on our beliefs and actions. Peer pressure does not go away once we graduate from high school; until the day we die, the people around us and their expectations shape who we are and what we think. These realities mean that we must be careful in choosing our friends, for they will have a formative influence on us.
Today’s passage makes this very point as it calls us to acquire wisdom by walking with the wise (Prov. 13:20). Here the phrase “walks with” is a metaphor for “living one’s life with,” encompassing thoughts, actions, and feelings. The person who lives in the company of the wise cannot help but to grow in wisdom because he will learn from the experiences and knowledge of his companions. Not being in the presence of fools, the one who walks with the wise will find no encouragement for his own foolish actions. Of course, all this assumes that the individual in question is actually seeking to learn from his wise friends and associates. If one walks with the wise and does not pay attention, then there is no benefit to be had. Matthew Henry comments, “He that would be himself wise must walk with those that are so, must choose such for his intimate acquaintance, and converse with them accordingly; must ask and receive instruction from them, and keep up pious and profitable talk with them.”
The alternative to walking with the wise is surrounding oneself with fools, and Proverbs 13:20 warns us that those who do that will “suffer harm.” Here, the harm in view is harm to the entire person, body and soul. Fools put themselves in all manner of precarious situations. We know how dangerous it can be to make foolish decisions while driving a car, riding a bicycle, or otherwise making our way through traffic. Failure to plan wisely for the future can put us in a situation where we have not saved enough funds to help us when we suffer a significant financial loss. Other examples pertaining to physical harm could be multiplied. Yet we often fail to appreciate the spiritual harm that can result from associating with fools. Rehoboam of Judah, for example, listened to his foolish friends and the kingdom was divided, with deeply entrenched idolatry following in both Israel and Judah (1 kings 12–14). The characters of our friends will mold our spiritual lives.
Judas Iscariot walked with the very incarnation of God’s wisdom Himself, and yet he fell into grave sin. This shows that simply hanging around wise people is not enough to benefit from them. Instead, as we seek out wise friends and mentors, we must take care to learn from their wisdom, thinking carefully on what they say and asking many questions. If we do such things, God will enable us to benefit greatly from the wisdom of others.
Passages for Further Study