The Proximity Effect

Sooner or later nearly every church is contaminated by contention. Like cancer, it infiltrates furtively at first and goes undetected. But eventually, it metastasizes and permeates the body, resulting in severely depleted strength. Or death.

Toxic Intruders

Paul used a lot of ink exhorting Christians to encourage one another, build each other up, love one another. He was following up on Jesus’ instruction: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34–35).

Satan’s most effective tactic for destroying a church is to infiltrate it with those who are divisive. He chooses intruders carefully: they are often persuasive, charismatic, invariably wearing a mask of love.

And they are toxic!

Don’t ever be influenced by destroyers of unity. They are contagious—a hazard to your spiritual health. “I urge you, brethren,” wrote Paul, “note those who cause division . . . and avoid them” (Rom 16:17).

If you give a sympathetic ear to the disrupter of unity, you become a partner in the crime of conflict. “[D]on’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil way, making you his partner” (2 Jn 10–11 MSG).

Paul counseled Titus that after trying twice, “have nothing more to do with a person who causes conflict, because you know that someone like this is twisted and sinful” (Ti 3:10–11 CEB).

If you get sucked in by a divisive person, you will be polluted. Don’t bathe in dirty water.

Proverbs 6:16-19 tags seven things that are detestable to God; the final one being a person “who stirs up trouble among brothers.”

Don’t give a divisive person the keys to your church.

Friends or Foes?

Now, let’s switch gears and talk, not about church matters, but about those you hang out with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered Germany’s greatest literary figure, said, “Tell me who you spend time with, and I will tell you who you are.”

You may think you’re strong enough to buck the pull of the profligate, but that’s naïve. The apostle Paul said it this way: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33 ESV).

The words and actions of those you spend time with influence your disposition, decisions, and direction. It goes both ways: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prv 13:20).

The character of your companions rubs off on you, for good or bad: work behind the perfume counter, and you’ll smell like perfume; work in the fish market, and you’ll smell like fish.

Ask this question about the company you’re keeping: Is this relationship moving me closer to the Lord or further from him?

Nor is it just about personal relationships. You are also influenced by what you read, what you watch, where you go. The environment you choose sculpts you into its image. It’s been called “the proximity effect.”

Choose your company carefully. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God” (Ps 1:1 TLB).

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