Author: Jason Poling
“Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33
One of the biggest things I struggle with as a parent is how to protect my kids from “bad company” but also teach them how to reach “bad company” with the gospel. Talk about a balancing act! It can begin to feel like a spiritual version of walking the tightrope across Niagara Falls. And when it comes to my kids, the potential for them to fall away from Christ is far more frightening to me than any physical fall.
But the biggest weight on my soul comes from God’s own instruction in His Word. He clearly has a “separation agenda,” evidenced in the consistent calls to His followers to be careful in their associations. Take Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth, for example. Remember, this is the Apostle Paul…probably the greatest missionary the world has ever known. If anyone reached “bad company” with the gospel, it was Paul! But here he says: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers…what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). We have restricted the application of this passage to marriage, but Paul had a broader separation agenda in mind than one’s choice of spouse.
Yet, Paul earlier gives to that same Corinthian church what appears to be a different teaching: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
So which is it: do we separate from unbelievers or associate with them? And what does this mean for parenting? Here is how I am currently understanding all of this as I formulate my own parenting plan. I merely give these thoughts as my own incomplete attempt to process God’s Word on this subject. You may come to different conclusions. I welcome your thoughts so we can mutually learn together.
- We are not supposed to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out with unbelievers, perhaps especially on our own. (This makes sense of 2 Corinthians 6 for me).
- However, we are supposed to reach unbelievers with the love of Jesus Christ. But this comes primarily from verbally testifying of the gospel, living godly lives, and inviting unbelievers into the welcoming fellowship of the Church. (This makes sense of 1 Corinthians 5 for me).
- Kids are different than adults. No one denies that they are more susceptible to peer influence. And they are still forming their beliefs, where most adults have become more certain of theirs. If spending too much time hanging around unbelievers can adversely affect adults (as we see in 2 Peter 2:7-8), many would argue it has an exponentially greater effect on children.
- Yet, in all of this, we are to remember and teach our kids that we all are “bad company.” The only difference between a believer and unbeliever is not that one is “better company” than the other, but that one desires to be in the company of Jesus and the other does not. We certainly don’t want our kids to become judgmental as we separate them from unbelievers, but to become empathetic about the plight of those without Christ. Our hope is that this Christ-like empathy will lead our kids to engage in a “Jude 1:23” ministry of mercy someday.
So perhaps we should view kids more like missionaries-in-training. When someone desires to go on the mission field, we don’t immediately send them out. Let’s train our kids to handle the pressures of the mission field and remain faithful to the call of the gospel. (click to tweet)
Our kids are not ready at young ages to spend a lot of unsupervised time with other kids, especially kids from unbelieving households. As they grow older, and stronger in the convictions of their faith, we can begin to slowly allow them opportunities to interact with unbelieving kids. But even as we do this, we must be actively communicating with our kids and also reminding them that the goal is to invite unbelievers into the fellowship of light, not to be invited into the fellowship of darkness.