The Book of Proverbs is adamant that the way of wisdom is not a solitary path trodden by disciplined individualists. It is a venture, even an adventure, in which you “become wiser still” (9:9) or “gain in learning” (1:5) by associating with others. In another place, Proverbs says: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (13:20), emphasizing that the process of interaction with others who love learning and the life of trusting God helps you. Using different words from Proverbs: “Iron sharpens iron, as one person sharpens another” (27:17).
Normally, in reading Prov. 13:20, I stop at this pleasant thought, but today let’s read to the end of the verse: “but the companion of fools suffers harm” (13:20).
When I first read the verse I was expecting an exact contrast: if associating with the wise makes you wiser, then associating with the fool makes you foolish. But Proverbs wants to take us elsewhere: associating with fools, with those who can’t control their temper and speech, and are deficient in good judgment, actually harms us.
Of all the decisions you make in life, one of the most important is distancing yourself from the fool. By hanging around with him or her too long, you don’t just run the risk of imitating their foolishness. They actually harm you. Proverbs is that sobering.