“He who walks with wise men will be wise,
But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
A story is told of an old farmer who entered his mule into the prestigious Kentucky Derby. Many looked on with amazement while others laughed and shouted ridiculing remarks at the old man.
Finally, someone approached the old farmer and stated what everybody was thinking, “Sir, this race is only for the finest thoroughbreds in the country. Why are you entering your mule in a contest that he cannot possibly win?”
The farmer quickly replied, “Oh, I am not entering my mule in this race to win. I just thought the association might do him a lot of good!”
And indeed our associations in life will either do us a great deal of good or a great deal of harm. Our associations, or the company we keep, is the theme of Proverbs 13:20.
Proverbs makes clear the fact that we are impacted by our associations in life. As Proverbs 13:20 states, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Why will our association with the wise help us to grow wise? What is it about the life of the wise man that can help us to grow wise?
The life of the wise man is characterized by humility. A wise man is open to instruction. Proverbs 12:15 declares that “a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” It takes a humble man to listen to and accept counsel. It is pride that keeps men from listening to counsel and advice.
Pride is the attitude that declares, “I am better than you, smarter than you, and do not need your counsel.” Proverbs 15:31 states, “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.”
We need to develop associations with wise men and learn from the way in which they humbly receive counsel. We also need to humbly receive the counsel of the wise to us. Proverbs 25:12 declares, “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear” (NIV).
The life of the wise man is also characterized by credibility. A wise man can be trusted. A wise man lives a consistent life in both public and private. A wise man’s conduct is exemplary because it is lived in accordance with the Word of God.
We need to develop associations with wise men and learn the value of living an honest life. We need to learn that credibility must be earned and maintained by a life lived consistent with God’s Word.
The life of a wise man is further characterized by accountability. A wise man humbly accepts the advice and counsel of others because he knows that he has blind spots which can damage his credibility. Therefore, a wise man welcomes the advice of those who can help him to understand and deal with his blind spots.
The life of a fool, on the other hand, is characterized by stupidity. A fool will not listen to advice. Proverbs 1:7 records that “fools despise wisdom and instruction,” and verse 22 declares that “fools hate knowledge.” Proverbs 15:5 states, “A fool rejects (despises) his father’s discipline.”
One of the main differences between a wise man and a fool is the ability to listen to and accept advice. Proverbs 23:9 records, “Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words.”
The life of a fool is also characterized by a lack of credibility. Because a fool will not listen to the advice and counsel of others, he is often overcome and ruined by sin and trouble. Proverbs 12:15 states that “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” But because a fool will not listen, he recklessly sets off on wrong paths.
Proverbs 23:19 states, “Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path.” Listening is a prerequisite to wisdom and wisdom is a prerequisite to keeping our hearts on the right path.
Finally, the life of a fool is characterized by an “I’ll do things my way” attitude. The fool does not want to be held accountable for his decisions and directions in life. He is only interested in doing things his own way without anyone to ask the hard questions that help keep men on the right path.
Therefore, in light of the things that characterize the life of the fool, we should not seek to associate with such men who have closed their ears to wise counsel and set their lives on a self-destructive course.