Bad Company & Good Morals
Old Lot earns a pretty bad reputation by the end of Genesis 19 – his virtue compromised by action and association, lasting harm done to his descendents, loss of much of his family because of his inconsistent testimony. Yet Peter tells us that Abraham’s nephew had more depth than we remember, calling him a “righteous” man who was
… oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked: (for that righteous man dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds;)
(2 Peter 2:7-8)
Even if our sons (and daughters) have embraced their parents’ instruction and are trying to walk the narrow path of righteousness, they will have times like Lot when they’re surrounded by people who don’t share their convictions, and simply don’t understand why they are an issue to us. And remember that when Paul said “Evil company corrupts good habits,” he didn’t add, “if you chose them to be friends and co-workers.” Sometimes, they’re unavoidable parts of the situation (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Recently a consulting job took me to a remote job site in southeast Asia. Among hundreds of workers, I only saw two women the whole two weeks. While American business sensibilities seemed to keep outright pornography out of view, the language around me was pretty salty. Thankfully it wasn’t blasphemous, but it was very profane and it was constant.
I was starting to feel vexed like Lot myself, but what really disturbed me was how easily their casual profanity was worming its way into my mind. A flash of frustration or a moment of anger would cue up a word or a expletive I haven’t verbalized in thirty years, and I would recoil. I don’t talk like that – I don’t think like that – but there it was, fueled up and ready to launch. How could I deal with this?
The best thing is to get out of the situation, if you can. Often, you can’t. I was under a contract and 38 hours from home.
If you can’t leave the situation, you can try and change it. Sometimes the offense is malicious and aimed directly at your Christian testimony. You have to meet this head on. But often, I’ve found that the offending person really doesn’t mean any harm. His behavior is simply a habit I’ve stumbled across.
You can ask him to moderate his language or let him know a particular jest wasn’t funny. This may or may not work, depending on the good will of the other person, your relationship and influence with them, and how deeply engrained the habit is for them. Sometimes you can guide the conversation away from inappropriate subjects or topics which cause unnecessary anger.
Or you can buttress your defenses and bear through it. One of the most helpful passages for me is Psalm 1:1, which says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” I find myself asking, “Is the word which tempts me now, is the action I’m considering, a step down the road sinners are walking? Would I be sitting in the same seat as the unbeliever to share this joke or wisecrack? Am I following the advice of wicked men if I entertain this thought, or take a moment to scan over this magazine cover or website – and falling into the same trap which has caught them already?”
Paul says in Ephesians 5:4, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Psalm 1 encourages the righteous man to think and meditate on God’s word instead of joining in the so-called cleverness and wit of God’s enemies. When I heard a string of profanity, or when it tried to break into my own speech and thought, I tried to intentionally think about God and His holiness and goodness to me. And it helped tremendously.
We should do our best to avoid situations which place us in temptation like this, but if they are unavoidable or unexpected, what a comfort it is to remember that “the Lord know how to deliver the godly out of temptations …” Even one who’s already stumbled as badly as Lot. (2 Peter 2:9)