‘My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say,
“Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood;
let us ambush the innocent without reason;
like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder;
throw in your lot among us;
we will all have one purse”—
my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. (Proverbs 1:10-16)
Don’t walk with sinners
Solomon’s words here are grave, and sincere: Don’t walk with sinners, because the path they’re walking is, as The Message interprets it, ‘racing to a very bad end’. But what does Solomon mean when he says, ‘sinners’? Don’t we all sin? To answer this question we must return to the concept of fools and fear of the LORD, which we encountered back in week one of this series. True, all of us sin. But if we are Christians, it is incorrect to take the title ‘sinner’. Our identity should not be found in sins we have committed, but in Jesus of Nazareth, who never committed a single sin yet took the punishment for all of ours. The title we should take is ‘saint’.
So ‘sinners’, in effect, are non-Christians. Is Solomon saying we shouldn’t spend time with non-Christians?
The key to understanding this passage is in what the ‘sinners’ say. Their list of things they are inviting the reader to do is not a pleasant list: ‘let’s kill, ambush and steal, then share the booty!’ The phrase ‘to walk with’ is used throughout the Bible to essentially mean ‘live in the manner of’. This means that this passage isn’t telling us not to hang out with non-Christians, it’s telling us not to become like non-Christians in their attitudes and actions. The apostle Paul touches on this as well when he talks about not being ‘unequally yoked’ (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Paul presents an alternative to walking with ‘sinners’: ‘…let us also walk by the Spirit.’ (Galatians 5:25) This instruction comes after his description of the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’ Compare that list with the enticement offered by Solomon’s sinners; which do you think is the best?
What does this actually mean?
It’s all very well talking about walking along this spiritual path, and growing in spiritual fruit, but what does that practically mean? Well, it doesn’t mean suddenly deleting all your non-Christian friends’ numbers from your phone book. We have been called to be light in the darkness, and we can’t do that unless we’re intentionally hanging out with those who are in darkness. What this text is telling us, however, is to be careful what habits we catch from non-Christians. I work for a secular organisation so I spend more time each day in a non-Christian environment than at home. It’s actually quite hard to prevent myself from simply picking up swear words and crude jokes as part of my everyday vocabulary.
What’s your biggest weakness? Perhaps you don’t spend any time with non-Christians, being a visible witness of God’s gospel to them: that’s your challenge for this week. But perhaps you’re like me and find it easy to take on coarse language without realising it. Maybe you’re more deeply impacted by the level of sexual immorality that’s present in secular culture. Maybe it’s an attitude towards money or possessions, or the lower (or higher) classes, or those of a different cultural background. Have a look today at where your vulnerabilities are, and take care to guard yourself against them, or else we may find that we too are ‘racing to a very bad end’.