When Good Kids Make Bad Friends
Dr. Jim Denison
Last weekend our family visited Janet’s parents in the Ozarks of north Arkansas. And so I got to do my favorite thing: floating down the White River, fishing for trout. I have never seen clearer, purer water than is in that river. I could even see the log in the river I hung three hooks on.
What a contrast from the fishing hole I used to visit growing up in Houston. You had to climb over barbed wire to get to it. There were beer cans and bottles scattered everywhere, the bank was all mud and rocks, and the water was so thick you could walk on it. But it was my fishing hole—at least until the day the owner saw me and chased me out with a shotgun.
The difference between the White River and my old fishing hole? The sources of the water—Ozark streams and Houston rain.
What sources determine who and what we are today? The direction our lives will take, the people we will become?
Two weeks ago I reported some sobering facts about teenagers today. Among them: nearly half drink alcohol weekly; 45% have used illegal drugs; 100,000 take a gun to school every day; 2,000 commit suicide daily; 40% say they are sexually active; 20.1% of teenage girls will have had an abortion by the time they reach 20 years of age. What is the source of these self-destructive decisions?
Not their parents, we can assume. What parents want their children to abuse drugs or alcohol, to commit sexual sin or suicide? Popular culture has its role in glamorizing such behavior, to be sure. But as we’ll discover today, the most formative single influence on our youth is the friends they choose. And that influence remains with us for the rest of our lives.
So any series dealing with our key relationships must focus on friendships. How do we choose good friends? What do we do when good kids make bad friends? On this subject, I need to be very simple and very direct. We’ll look to Jesus for the crucial and practical guidance we all need today.
First, how do we choose good friends?
As though your future depends on them, because it does
First, choose them as though your future depends on them, because it does.
In our text, Jesus called these disciples his “friends.” He promised that he would “lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). He says that he will not call them servants but friends (v. 15). Now, how did he choose them?
It is an interesting fact that our Lord prayed all night long only once in recorded Scripture. How significant must an issue be for Jesus to pray over it all night? Here was the decision facing him: who would his disciples be? Whom would he choose for his closest followers, his best friends?
About this crucial issue, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). These are the very men Jesus addresses in our text as his “friends” (John 15:15). He knew that the future and ultimate success of his life and work would depend on them. So should we.
Psychologists know that in adolescence, peers typically replace the family as the center of the person’s social life. Adolescents become more physically and psychologically distant from their parents, and friends move to the center of their relational world.
Then, as peers become more dominant, they shape our identity and life purpose, the very decisions which are formative for our lives and futures.
And these peer relationships are especially influential in introducing adolescents to problem behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual immorality. As we determine who and what we will be, our friends play the crucial role.
Note that Jesus prayed about this issue. He didn’t just think hard or reflect well—he prayed to his Father. He knew that God has a will for us in this matter.
So allow me the question: have you prayed about your friends? Have you consulted your all-knowing, all-loving Father on this issue? Choose your friends as though your future depends on them, because it does.
By your values
Second, choose your friends by your values, not your values by your friends.
Jesus chose for his friends some unusual candidates, to say the least: fishermen, tax collectors, and poor peasants. Not the rabbis, priests, or officials we would expect him to select. Why? Because Jesus knew these men would be teachable and leadable; they would depend on the power of the Holy Spirit and not their own abilities. He knew his purpose for them, and the values he wanted them to live by.
He says so plainly in our text: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (v. 16). Jewish students typically chose their rabbi, but this rabbi chose his students. He chose his friends to “bear fruit,” to fulfill his purpose for their lives and ministries. Jesus chose his friends according to his values, not his values according to his friends.
How often we are shocked at the “good kids” who are arrested for drug possession, or become pregnant, or get abortions. The simple fact is: they didn’t choose their friends according to their values, and in time their friends’ values became their own.
Bad lowers good far more often than good raises bad. Apart from a miracle of God’s power, you cannot change your boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse, your friends. When the tide goes out, every boat in the harbor sinks lower.
In 1921, Norman Vincent Peale saw Henry Ford standing beside his car in front of a railroad station. He approached Ford, introduced himself, and told him how much he admired him.
Ford responded with a strange question: “Who is your best friend?” Without waiting for an answer, he scribbled on a piece of paper these words: “Your best friend is the person who brings out the best that is within you.” He signed it, “Henry Ford.” Then he said to the young Norman Vincent Peale, “Think about that and always associate yourself with the best men you know.”