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The Imperative Nature of Wise Friendship

Rugged individualism is a valuable and historic American ethic that in the past defined our national culture, and has benefited our advancement as a great nation. The concept is that every individual should be self-reliant and free from dependence upon outside help. Unfortunately, the concept has for some people become one of, “I’ll make my own life without any help from anyone.” But this isn’t what the original promoters of the idea intended. What they meant was that individuals should do their best to forge their lives without assistance from centralized government sources. They should be free from dependence on such sources so that they don’t have to live life at the mercy of them. The idea of, “I’ll do it all on my own,” is neither wise nor biblical, nor was it in the minds of most of the great people who originally built the moral foundation of our society. These were people who created a new society out of the untamed hostile wilderness of a new world, and without direct and immediate aid from the safety and supplies of their old world. They had no choice but to intimately understand the necessity of community, and the imperative nature of friendship. They were not so self-reliant that they did not rely on one another.

They would have been steeped in biblical wisdom like that found in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, where Solomon argues that two people are better than one, because if one of them falls down the other can pick him up. Or, if one of them is cold, the two can keep each other warm. He argues that it is difficult for one person to defend against multiple assailants, but two can fight back. He ends his argument by pointing out that three is even better because a cord of three strands is not easily broken. They would have also been soaked in uncountable biblical New Testament ideas like those found in Hebrews 10:24 that compel us to stir one another up toward good works, and to meet together frequently. Both of these are verses about friendship, and the communities that arise from those friendships.

But the biblical writers and the wisest among our American ancestors were not ignorant. They understood very well that picking the wrong friends can quickly spoil everything. They knew that you will become like the people you befriend. If you spend time with wise people, you will become wise. If you spend time with fools, you become a fool (Proverbs 13:20). There are countless biblical verses, passages, and stories that illustrate this truth. Paul put it clearly when he told the church at Corinth that bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV). That dynamic rarely happens with the same success in the other direction. It is more common for bad company to ruin good character, than it is for good character to cleanse bad company. In fact, this is one of the reasons that you should have no other Gods but the one true God, who is also your truest friend. All of the other so-called gods of this world are corrupt and evil, and they have an actual focused intent to corrupt you. Obviously, you will not change them.

So find a few people to be good cords in your strand. Toil together, fight together, keep each other warm in our cold world, and rely on one another to make yourselves better as you are stirred toward love and good works. Avoid those who would damage your faith and tempt you toward unrighteousness. Make an effort to see and understand the necessity of community, and the imperative nature of wise friendship, because you cannot forge a wise life all by yourself.

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