When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, he challenged followers of Christ to press on toward the goal of knowing Christ. He even warned them to avoid people that would distract them from this goal. Paul wrote:
Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.” (Philippians 3:17-19, MSG)
Paul understood that avoiding “dead-end friends” would have a direct bearing on our growth. Author and pastor Rob Ketterling made a powerful observation that I believe captures the essence of Paul’s words. He said, “Our relational circle has an effect on the direction and speed of our lives.” Consider these two dynamics:
1. The Direction of Your Life
The right people will direct you in the right direction, and the wrong people will direct you in the wrong direction. This isn’t rocket science. Paul said, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Ketterling observes that “bad company” actually refers to two things: bad people and bad teaching. In other words, the people you hang out with and the teaching you expose yourself to will lead your life in a specific direction. They can lead you down a dead-end street or drive you toward health and growth.
Paul reiterated this point in his second letter to the Corinthians when he said, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (6:14). And Solomon said, “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble” (Proverbs 13:20). As a leader, failure to choose your friends carefully will lead you into the disease of mindless mingling.
2. The Speed of Your Life
Your closest relationships are not only like a compass in your life, they’re like the gas pedal too. They’ll determine the direction of your life, and they’ll help you get there faster…for good or bad.
You can stumble faster or realize success faster. You can spiral out of control faster or you can live to your full potential faster. If your friends are running toward a goal that’s important to both of you, not only will they help you stay focused on your goal, but they will help you reach your goal quicker.
Psychologist Ed Diener found that “The happiest people have high-quality social relationships.” Notice he didn’t say, “social relationships,” he said, “high-quality social relationships.” And social psychologist Dr. David McClelland, from Harvard University, calls the group of people with whom you habitually associate your “reference group.” According to his research, your “reference group” determines as much as 95% of your success or failure in life.
Charles “Tremendous” Jones highlighted this truth when he said, “You are the same today that you are going to be in five years from now except for two things: the people with whom you associate and the books you read.” And Jim Rohn said, “We are the combined average of the five people we hang around the most.” Both men understood the direct impact people have on the direction and speed of your life. This is one reason I’m a fan of small groups. Small groups are a place to belong and become.
So if you don’t like your life, take a close look at your friends. Maybe they’re just helping you go farther, faster in the wrong direction. In fact, show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future. Proverbs 12:26 says, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” All friends push you farther, faster. The only question is, which direction are they pushing?