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Dear COA Family,

This will be quite an unusual weekly devotion from me, but a necessary one, I believe.

While we are called by God to love others as he loves us and to accept others without discrimination, the bible also teaches us how to be discerning regarding those whom we associate with. This is because the company of people we mix with can influence or affect us a great deal.

Personally, I have witnessed lives affected and even faith in God being destroyed due to association with bad company. And I have also felt the detrimental effects of certain individuals in my life, whom the Holy Spirit has warned me to avoid. This is why I want to share some of the lessons I have observed and learnt with you.

First, avoid evil people. These are people who hatch wicked schemes to benefit themselves by taking advantage of others. Proverbs warns us: “My son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths.” (1:15) The Apostle Paul tells us too to stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22) and this definitely refers to evil people as well. We will do well to keep ourselves from being polluted by sin, “hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” (Jude 1:23) This means that we must be ruthless in rooting out every trace of sin in our lives and be careful not to be influenced to join in any sinful behaviour.

Second, avoid people who have given themselves over to bad temper. Proverbs 22 says, “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” (v24-25) There is something about a foul temper that is easily spread. Just observe how a child behaves when his or her father is easily provoked to anger. The child will act in the same manner. It is easy to imitate and be caught up in the same reactions and behaviour of bad-tempered people. The best way to preserve the purity of your faith is to minimise contact with such people.

Third, avoid critical people. These are people who have nothing good to say about others but constantly judge others for their flaws. They put others down in order to elevate themselves. Often these people are struggling with bitterness in their lives and it is expressed through unbridled criticisms of others. And this critical and bitter spirit can cause your heart to be poisoned and your faith shipwrecked as a result. The Israelites were infected with a bitter group of leaders who doubted God and rejected his word (Numbers 13). The entire population ended up dying in the wilderness.

Hebrews 12:15 tells us: “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”

Beloved, we are admonished to guard our hearts with all vigilance (Proverbs 4:23), and we can only do this by being discerning with the company we keep. Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good character.
(1 Corinthians 15:33) Like King David, we can ensure the survival of our faith only by avoiding association with toxic people.

God bless,
Revd Ian