“Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked” (Proverbs 25:26).
This is an alarming proverb because we do not expect to read “righteous” and “muddy” or “polluted” in the same breath. Most of the other proverbs in this book have clean delineations between the righteous and the unrighteous. (Example from Proverbs 12:5: “The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.”) But here the black-and-white division is smudged, and we have varying degrees of gray and murkiness of water. What has happened?
Have you ever “given way” (or in the NKJV “faltered”) before the wicked? What does that look like?
I picture the young man in the first chapter of the book. He is receiving instructions from his father:
“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (verse 8).
It seems like he’s a good lad. He is submitting respectfully to his father’s lecture, at least. But it is evident as we listen that there is a tendency, in a mixed crowd, for good boys to go bad rather than bad boys to go good. Perhaps it is what C.S. Lewis refers to as a desire in people to be in “the inner ring.” Or what the Bible often calls the fear of man, or a lust to be liked in the world. The father in Proverbs 1 says to watch out for it, or before you know it you will be part of a gang. At the end of the father’s scenario the fictitious young man is a full-blown hoodlum and destroys himself.
But there are more subtle ways of being “muddied” and “polluted,” too. How about the way we change our behavior, ever so slightly, depending on the company we’re with? When we are with a group of Spirit-filled Christians we pray in the restaurant. We say things like, “I want to tell you what the Lord is doing in my life.” But when we get together with a group of very sophisticated and intellectual Christians who don’t talk that way but prefer to talk about some impressive book they’re reading, we tone down the talk about Jesus. We refer to the brand of our theology instead.
Guard your heart and your purity. Let us watch for the subtle pollutions as well as the gross.