For those of us on a Christian journey that flows in and out of certain categories and labels, there can be a tendency to surround ourselves simply with other Christians who fit a certain label or definition. This could be a good thing, and could be a bad thing, depending on circumstances at the time. There have been times in my journey where finding a particular clique was helpful, but also times where a new clique became a drain on my own spiritual life. While it certainly is comfortable, simply surrounding oneself with those who share similar theology or worldview isn’t the best criteria for deciding which type of Christian to surround yourself with. Scripture, I believe, points us to criteria that is far wiser.
Jesus said that good trees bear good fruit and that bad trees bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43), reminding us that what a certain theology or worldview produces is the ultimate test of health and goodness. Too often we tend to surround ourselves with people who appear to share the same trunk or roots, but far too infrequently do we try to surround ourselves with those who are producing good fruit. The type of Christian you’ll want to surround yourself with are the ones who produce good fruit– because it is the fruit, not the trunk or the roots, that will become a life-giving influence in your life.
The Apostle Paul lists out the Fruits of the Spirit in the book of Galatians, something perhaps many of us memorized in Sunday School as kids. As Paul writes, “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23)
Lately I have been returning to this passage to find hope from what was a season of burnout in my own life. After months of reflection, I realized that much of my burnout was that I had allowed too many voices to gnaw at my mind, and realized I needed to be more purposeful about ensuring those I allowed to influence me were the ones producing good fruit. Labels and categories are ultimately irrelevant– if you want to experience joy, freedom and growth, you’ll want to surround yourself with the voices of those who produce good fruit.
So, when deciding which voices you allow to influence you, I’d turn Paul’s list of spiritual fruit into a set of questions to help decide which Christians you surround yourself with:
1. Are these people loving? And I don’t just mean loving towards those who are perfect clones of the rest of the group– are they loving towards the misfits? Outsiders? How loving a person or group is will be the first sign of whether or not they represent God’s spirit.
2. Are they generally happy? Obviously, no one is happy all the time– we should never expect to be. However, a fruit of the spirit is joy. If a person or group is disproportionately negative and rarely joyful, I’d be careful how much I let them influence me.
3. Are they peaceful? The Bible has plenty to say about living at peace with one another as we follow the Prince of Peace, and I’m finding that surrounding myself with voices who are determined to seek and live at peace is far more life-giving than the alternative. Find the people who are the bridge builders instead of the bridge burners, and let those folks influence you.
4. Are they patient? Or are they quick to bite off your head at the slightest perceived misstep? If you feel like walking with them is walking through a mine field, that’s a good sign you should probably get some distance.
5. Are they kind? Do you and others generally consider this person or group to be nice and kind? Could you say their name and expect others to say, “Oh yeah– I know them. They’re really nice.”? If a person or group lacks a general kindness, you’ll eventually develop a lack of kindness.
6. Do they seek goodness? Are they people passionate about making the world a little less broken? Are the passions of the person or group things of beauty, or something else? If not, don’t waste your energy or time.
7. Are they faithful to Jesus? Which do they talk more about, Jesus or their particular movement? Following movements will burn you out, but following Jesus leads to life. If it’s not Jesus-centered, you’ll live to regret their influence eventually.
8. Are they gentle? Is this person or group one that will lovingly and gently walk beside you, or do they coercively try to get you to conform to the rest of the group? Can they address conflict without being nasty, snarky, or passive-aggressive? Run from any person or group that tries to coercively get you to fit into their mold– we’re called to conformed to Christ, and no one else.
9. Are they self-controlled? The final fruit Paul lists is that spirit-filled people are able to control themselves, able to resist retaliation, and are able to keep themselves in check. The least spiritually safe place to be is around a person or group who lack(s) self control– especially over the tongue.
I remember as a child being told, “be careful who you pick for friends because you’ll eventually become them,” and as a middle-aged adult, I’m realizing that’s quite often true. If you truly want to experience a vibrant spiritual life, try to not simply surround yourself with those you can share a label with— find the people who are loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled.
Because that’s the type of Christian you’ll want to surround yourself with.