There are a lot of obscure people mentioned in the Bible, people we know little or nothing about whose names are recorded for eternity in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Then there’s Menander. Strangely enough, his name never appears in the pages of Scripture, but something he said resonated so well that it made the final cut. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul quotes Menander when he writes,
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character. ‘”
The reason Paul quotes this obscure and ancient Greek poet is simple: they both understand the Gravity Principle. The Gravity Principle states that sin makes it harder to lift someone up than drag someone down.
Don’t Get in the Water
It is the same reason they teach people in water rescue courses not to get in the water with drowning victims if you can at all avoid it. Shout instructions to them, toss them a floatation device, throw them a rope, reach out with a pole for them to grab, but don’t get near them! People who are drowning don’t care about you; they care about their next breath of oxygen. Get within arm’s reach, and they will instinctively shove you under water in their efforts to stay afloat. Then, instead of one victim, there could be two. Drowning people are bad company.
In a spiritual sense, the world is filled with people who are drowning. They’re drowning in sin and unbelief. As followers of Jesus, we want to help. We know that Jesus calls us to love one another, to share the gospel with everyone, to reach the lost, and to follow in His footsteps – after all, wasn’t He a friend of sinners? In that sense, don’t we have a mandate to spend time with ‘bad company?’
The answer, of course, is yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to jump in the water with them. As Christians, we are free from our bondage to sin because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. One day sin will no longer be an issue (That is literally the best news in history, and if you have questions about it, you should absolutely leave a comment on this blog).
However, even though we are free from sin, we are not yet free from our struggle with sin both in our own lives and in the lives of others – and we won’t be until Jesus returns. The moment we forget that, we run straight into the Gravity Principle and a serious risk of living out Proverbs 26:11,
“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.”
(Paul outlines this beautifully in Romans 7:13-25, by the way).
How many times have you seen people in toxic relationships compromise in an attempt to make things work or watched someone sacrifice their moral standards because they want to be part of a particular group? It happens all the time. These are common problems—they are exactly what the Gravity Principle explains.
Sometimes we mislead ourselves into corruption because we want to fit in or feel loved. Other times we mislead ourselves into corruption because we want to help someone else or be a witness to a group we admire or care about. Whatever the case, we make up excuses that are good, but not good enough. We lead with goodhearted intentions rather than biblical truth. It may feel right, but it isn’t (Say hello to Proverbs 16:25).
How to Help the Drowning Without Drowning Ourselves
Every person has a soul, and every soul matters to God. How, then, can we reach those drowning souls with good news without drowning ourselves?"Every person has a soul, and every soul matters to God. How, then, can we reach those drowning souls with good news without drowning ourselves?" -Jon Smith #collegiatedisciplemaker The Gravity Principle: How to Love Others Without… Click To Tweet
Instead of jumping in with bad company—compromising in a toxic relationship, sacrificing to fit in with a group, corrupting ourselves in vain attempts to help others—here are four ways you can love others while defying the Gravity Principle:
One: Don’t do ministry alone.
Ever hear the phrase, “Many hands make light work?” This is that. Spiritually speaking, if you feel the burden of reaching out to bad company, you’re much more likely to help someone when you have other people—good company—reaching out with you. It’s also a kind of safety in numbers thing.
Two: Have accountability.
There are a lot of verses in the Bible that circle the topic of accountability. Having someone in your life to ask you hard questions—and even intervene, if necessary, in order to keep you on the right path—is a huge benefit that you are never too mature to do without. So, if, for whatever reason, you must keep bad company, don’t forsake accountability. Seek it out, set it firmly in your life, and it will help you defy the Gravity Principle.
Three: Get Swole
That’s right, hit the spiritual gym. If it feels like a cliché, that’s only because it’s true. The stronger you are, the more equipped you will be to resist the temptation of sin and corruption. Work on being wise enough to see temptation coming and avoid it. Focus on being humble enough to recognize your limitations and stay within them. Practice being bold enough to stand up for what is right when you are faced with the opportunity to do what is wrong even a little. Handle the Word of truth rightly, as 2 Timothy 2:14-15 exhorts.
Four: Know when to cut bait.
The easiest way to defy the Gravity Principle is often the hardest: admit that it’s true and walk away. It’s okay. It is often the smartest play. It might make you feel bad, especially if it’s someone you care about, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The recovering alcoholic probably isn’t the best person to do bar ministry, and no one would fault them for that. If, for whatever reason, you are not in a position to love and reach a person without drowning yourself, be humble enough to walk away and trust that God will bring someone else in their lives to do what you cannot.
You Aren’t Jesus
While we are called to follow in Jesus’s footsteps and be His good-news-bearers in this world, we do well to remember that we aren’t Jesus—He was completely without sin; we still battle our sin nature.
Jesus knew this about us. It’s why He said in Matthew 10:16,
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
As you engage with the broken world around you, remember the Gravity Principle. You can’t do the world any good if you yourself are drowning.