The invitations go out every day. They?re in the mail, they?re on our front doorstep, they?re waiting for us at the street corner, they?re lying around the offices where we work, and they?re posted all over the neighborhoods where we live. They come by way of people who are persuasive, passionate, and thoroughly convincing. They?re invitations to walk in the ways of the wise. Invitations to cut corners in order to get ahead. Invitations to pray for those who are hurting, sit with those who are struggling, and walk with those whose life has been paralyzed with pain. They are invitations to strike back at those who have hurt you, sabotage those who stand in your way, and join forces with those who are moving to the front of the class regardless of how they are getting there. They are invitations to cut and run when God calls you to stay put, invitations to sit still when you are called upon to act, and invitations to look out for yourself even when it means someone else will be hurt. They are invitations to forget your wedding vows for a moment?s pleasure, invitations to lie when you need to confess, and invitations to continue to take more and more when you know it is time to give. The invitations are in the mail, but the writer of Proverbs urges us to carefully consider each and every invitation before we act.

The question arises, ?How do I know which invitations to reject and which to accept? Some look so?well, so inviting. Some are written on perfumed paper and sealed with a kiss. Some promise huge dividends if I will only join in on the action. Some tell me that I can?t pass up this ?once in a lifetime opportunity.? Others are drab in their appearance, nothing outwardly to really catch my attention, and they seem so mundane, so boring, and so uncool. How can I know which invitations to accept and which to reject?? That is a great question.

Solomon gives us some good counsel today as he tells us about a godly father and mother who are urging their son to listen to wisdom so that he can avoid the traps and snares of the world. It is an invitation to learn of wisdom?s ways, to walk in wisdom?s steps, and to live wisely in every decision to be made. The father warns his son about another invitation that is in the mail, or rather soon to be waiting on the doorstep the moment the son steps out of the comfort and security of his home and into the harsh and cruel world. It is the invitation of ?sinners? ? those who have no desire to walk with God.

The boy?s father and mother advise him to avoid the invitation offered by the sinners because they know that to accept the invitation will only lead to destruction. The lesson offered by the father and mother is an invitation to learn about the consequences that stem from the company we keep.

This past week while I was working on my sermon Nate was given an assignment to write an essay for his English class. After he finished the paper he let me read it and I was shocked with how relevant it was to the Scripture I was studying for our study today. I?ve asked for permission to read you what he has written because it is so on target. Here it is.

Life is something that you do not take for granted. Life, most people think, is like a box of chocolates, but if you open your eyes and yourself to the world it will smack you in the face. The world is a very cruel and harmful place if you fall into the ways of the world. If you go off on your own, life is a lot more challenging and painful; because you will do what the world wants you to do. If you have friends they can help you choose what?s right and what?s wrong. If you go off on your own then you have no one to help you. So that is why it is good to have friends in your life, but they can sometimes lead you astray. That is why you must choose wisely who your friends are because most of the time the world will manipulate your friends into doing something they should not do. Friends who make bad choices can then try to influence you, but if you pick your friends wisely then they will not lead you astray in the ways of the world. For example, if your friends are invited to go to a party where there is beer, sex, and drugs involved they will not want to go because they know what is right and they will not easily get involved in the wrong thing, or they will not do something they know is wrong. Also, if you let the world get to your head or let kid?s harsh words or rude gestures get to your head you may start to believe that if you were not here in school, at home, in sports?wherever you are?you would be better off. Then you start to act out in inappropriate ways. Doing things like listening to music that constantly has you thinking that you were a mistake or wondering if you should actually be here. Acting out, not thinking about what you say, or how you act. It will get to the point of you constantly thinking about suicide. This just goes to show you how harsh this world and the people on this earth are, but that is what happens when you keep to yourself and you choose not to have the right friends. No one can live this life as a loner and be happy. Everyone needs friends or someone they can open up to and talk to about anything and everything. This is the way that the world cannot get to you, but everyone has to keep in mind that life has many struggles. (Nate Hays, 4/12/04)

It is a harsh and cruel world. He is absolutely right. Solomon knew that the world was harsh; he knew that the world was cruel, and he wanted his son, like all of us want our sons and daughters, to have the wisdom to be able to choose the right friends and make godly choices in life. Let?s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Proverbs 1:7-19 and learn about the influence of the company we keep.

7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. 8 Listen, my son, to your father?s instruction and do not forsake your mother?s teaching. 9 They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. 10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. 11 If they say, ?Come along with us; let?s lie in wait for someone?s blood, let?s waylay some harmless soul; 12 let?s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; 13 we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; 14 throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse??15 my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; 16 for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. 17 How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! 18 These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! 19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it. (Proverbs 1:7-19 NIV)

Solomon begins by telling us that ?the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.? There are many people today who do not understand what it means to ?fear the Lord.? We need to know that there are two things that have greatly influenced us and have left us ignorant concerning this foundational truth. First, we do not know the Word of God. Our understanding of God has been shaped more by television, shows like Joan of Arc and Touched By An Angel, than Holy Scripture. Second, our definition of ?fear? has been defined by stories and images of parents who misuse and abuse their kids. When we hear that we are to ?fear God,? many people immediately see little kids couched in the corner or hidden behind a closet door waiting for an inevitable beating. This understanding of ?fearing God? could not be further from what God desires for us. Dr. David Hubbard writes in his commentary on Proverbs.

?Fear? is best understood as ?reverent obedience.? Although it includes worship, it does not end there. It radiates out from our adoration and devotion to our everyday conduct that sees each moment as the Lord?s time, each relationship as the Lord?s opportunity, each duty as the Lord?s command, and each blessing as the Lord?s gift. It is a new way of looking at life and seeing what it is meant to be when viewed from God?s perspective. (David A. Hubbard, The Communicator?s Commentary: Proverbs. pg. 48.)

Before we can ever gain wisdom for living we must first learn the ?fear of the Lord.? We must so highly value God?s counsel; stand in constant awe of His majesty and glory, so that it leads us to a reverent obedience to His will in all of life. This is the counsel of Solomon to his son and this should be the foundational lesson of every mother and father for their kids.

In verse 8 we read, 8 Listen, my son, to your father?s instruction and do not forsake your mother?s teaching. ?Listen? is a very descriptive word. The Hebrew word used is a verb. It is an action word. It demands the input of energy and effort. It sure doesn?t mean to simply casually hear what another is saying, but it means, ?to hear with attention, to understand, to obey.? The same Hebrew word is used in other places in Proverbs. Let me share a few with you.

10 Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. (Proverbs 4:10 NIV)

19 Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path. (Proverbs 23:19 NIV)

In Proverbs 19:27 the same word is used, but this time the son is warned that if he stops up his ears and refuses to listen then there will be dire consequences that come about because of the son?s choice. Read along with me in Proverbs 19:27.

27 Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19:27 NIV)

Do you hear the urgency in the voice of the father when he takes his son by the shoulders, looks straight into his eyes, and says, ?You?ve got to listen. This is a lesson you cannot afford to miss. If you miss this you are going to have to pay a price, a devastating price.?

The commitment and fervency of the father for his son to learn the lessons of wisdom are greatly needed today. We spend way too much time making sure our kids learn how to have the right look. We spend way too much time teaching our kids how to succeed in sports, social circles, and academics and not enough time teaching them how to walk with God, how to live obediently, and how to live wisely. We don?t have to wonder why this has happened because we can look at how we invest our time and see that we are only teaching them what is important to us. Do we spend time learning wisdom?s lessons or do we spend our time elbowing our way into the right cliques or social circles? Do we spend more time learning how to be a godly man or woman, or a success in our business? All we have to do is take a look at our society and I think the answers to these questions will be quite clear.

Let?s move on. The father says in verse 10, 10 ?My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them.? Sinners are those who have no desire to live their lives in obedience to God. They have determined what they want in life and they are going for it. They don?t consult God to find out what He desires. What He desires means nothing to them. They know what they want and they are going to get it regardless of what anyone else thinks.

The father says, ?Son, if these kinds of folks entice you, do not give in to them.? ?If they entice you?? You don?t have to be around very long to know that the question is not really, ?if,? but ?when.? What does ?entice? mean? How do they go about it? What is their scheme? What?s the scam? What methodology will they use to lure the young man in? Those are great questions. The word that Solomon uses for ?entice? means, ?to be enticed, be deceived, to persuade, or seduce.? The same word in used in Proverbs 16:29 where we are told,

29 A violent man entices his neighbor and leads him down a path that is not good. (Proverbs 16:29 NIV)

Sound familiar? Those who have no desire to walk with God sure don?t want to walk alone. They want to pull others along with them. You?ve heard the old saying, ?Misery loves company.? Sinners love company as well. Let?s face it?we all love company. God has created us to be in relationship with one another. The Great Commission, given to us by Jesus, urges us to go into all the world and influence others for the sake of the Kingdom of God, to make disciples, to invite others to become followers of Jesus, and join in the congregation of those who are seeking after God.

We all have influence. Influence is a neutral force. We can either use our influence to positively affect the lives of others or we can use our influence to negatively affect others. Those who have no desire to walk with God and live their lives in obedience to God will negatively influence or entice others over the long haul.

Let?s continue in our study and examine the scenario the father created to teach his son how sinners would try and influence him. Look with me at verses 11-15.

11 If they say, ?Come along with us; let?s lie in wait for someone?s blood, let?s waylay some harmless soul; 12 let?s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; 13 we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; 14 throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse??15 my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; (Proverbs 1:11-15 NIV)

I can tell you from experience that the invitation offered seems so innocuous, so harmless at first glance. ?Hey, let?s hang out.? ?Come along with us.? ?Let?s roll for awhile.? The whole plan isn?t laid out when the invitation first comes. As a matter of fact, those who are doing the enticing and persuading don?t fully recognize where their path is leading most of the time, they just know that they are going to get what they want. Once a certain comfort level is reached, once a bond forms, once the sensitivities are dulled?then the plan begins to unfold and the darker things become. ?We?re gonna ?jack? somebody. We?ll break into their house and take their money, their jewelry, and everything else. It will all be ours!? They are persuasive. They make it sound so easy, but they don?t realize where their sin will lead them.

Let me give you a real life example of what I am talking about. A few years ago I knew a young guy who was bright, he had a radiant personality, and he had a mom who loved him dearly. Over the course of time I saw him become more and more hard. He stopped smiling. He walked around like he was pulling a ball and chain. He started disobeying his mom and hanging out more with his buddies. Then one day I got a call from his mom asking if I could talk with them. I said, ?Sure,? and we set up a time to talk.

When they came to see me his mom became upset as she told me the story of what had been taking place and the transformation that was happening in her son. He wasn?t just hanging out with his buddies, but his buddies were gang members. He had started smoking weed and openly defying his mom. I said, ?Buddy, you?ve got to realize that your mom is speaking from a heart that loves you. She doesn?t want you to ruin your life. These buddies of yours won?t be there for you when you get in trouble, but your mom will always love you.? Well, he didn?t listen. He really felt like the guys were like family to him; that they would be best friends forever.

About one year later I got a call from his mom again and she told me that he was in jail. He had been arrested for carjacking and was now in the county jail. When I went to see him they took me to the top floor where he was in solitary confinement. He was caged like an animal, shackled like a dog on a chain, and wearing county orange.

We sat at a table and he wouldn?t even look at me. We talked for a little while and then I asked, ?Have any of your buddies been to see you?? He said, ?No.? His mom had been to see him, but none of his friends. No cards, no phone calls, no goodie baskets, no offers to pay his bail?nothing.

I will assure you that when he first started hanging out with his buddies they never told him, ?One day we are going to take a man?s car at gunpoint and then we?re going to watch you hauled off to jail.? He would have run for his life if they had told him the whole story. Slowly he was lured in. Step by step by step he put on the county orange and walked into solitary confinement. That?s the way it works. Solomon puts it another way. He writes, 3 A man?s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD. (Proverbs 19:3 NIV)

Isn?t that the way it works? We turn aside from God?s counsel and find ourselves in a fix. At that point do we stop and say, ?I?ve messed up. I?ve made a shamble of my life. I?ve embarrassed my family. I can?t live this way any longer.? No way! We blame God. We say, ?If God loves me why would He allow me to be in this mess?? These are the words of a fool; the words of a person who find himself in a fix over and over and over again.

I want you to notice something the father shares with his son that is so relevant, so descriptive, of our wayward hearts. The father says, beginning in verse 15,

15 my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; 16 for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. 17 How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! 18 These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! 19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it. (Proverbs 1:15-19 NIV)

You have to give some thought to the dad?s statement or you will read right over it. He tells his son not to go along with them for the second time, then he says ?their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood.? Do you hear it? These are young men who are living with reckless abandon. They don?t give thought to anything. They just do what comes naturally. They are driven by their emotions. They ?rush, they are ?swift,? not to do good, but to run away from everything that God desires for them. Then in verse 17 the father says, ?How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds!? Dr. Hubbard writes,

This time the criminals are more stupid than the bird that will shun a snare set while it is watching. But the lying-in-wait and the secret lurking which they described so vividly in verse 11 are the height of stupidity, since the sinners themselves are their own prey, the ultimate victims of their crimes. Like drunken cats they have stalked their own tails; like tipsy hunters they fired into the moving bushes only to shoot their own feet; the very feet that run in the eagerness to work their evil crimes, violently hurrying to shed blood (v.16) are maimed by their avid greed. (David Hubbard, Communicator?s Commentary: Proverbs. p. 53.)

Nobody would be foolish enough to set a trap for a bird with the birds looking on, but we as people are so driven by our sin nature that we will run full speed into the traps and not think a thing about it. This isn?t just true about the young?this is a truth for all of us. Stop and think about this with me for a minute. Would a young woman who has a committed husband and two beautiful kids really have an affair with a good-looking guy at work who has come on to her and risk ending her marriage? Absolutely! It happens every day. Would someone with a high paying job and paying his bills really embezzle money from his boss? You better believe it! Happens every day. Would a high school girl who is in the National Honor Society and headed to college really buy the lie that he is ?not like other guys?? Come on, girls get pregnant every day by guys who are not like the other guys. Would a man who put in 40 years for the company, was a model of integrity and loyalty, and was never written up really get arrested because he was involved in an on-line child pornography ring? Don?t kid yourself. Could a young guy who is a leader on his football team be persuaded to join in a gang rape in the parking lot of his school?s stadium? Ask a young man in Stephens County who went to trial for the crime.

People of all ages must heed this lesson. We are not only influencing people every day, but we are open, wide open to being influenced. We need to be careful about who we are allowing to influence us. God wants us to be influenced, but He wants to do the influencing. Will you listen, give complete attention to His lessons, and then follow in willing submission to His will and plan for your life? Will you acknowledge that you don?t know what is best for your life and allow His plan to be the joy of your heart? I know that apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ this is an impossibility, but if we will surrender our hearts to Jesus then He can begin to transform our hearts, and teach us His ways, and give us a peace and joy that is beyond our comprehension. Won?t you invite Him in?

The Company We Keep…
Proverbs 1:7-19