There is a continual contest between the spirit of a man on the inside and his surroundings on the outside. A man’s environment affects his choices, and his choices affect his environment. But man’s will has the upper hand. The circumstances of a man’s life may be against him, but he can choose to think right and do right in God’s sight. On the other hand, his situation in life may be conducive to serving God, but he may rebel against these good influences. This is the difference between a person’s will and his environment. His surroundings can influence and even strongly affect his decisions, but overall his environment does not determine who he is. His will, however, determines the kind of person he is regardless of whether the surroundings are for him or against him. That same will also determine to some extent what his environment is: the clothes he wears, the kind of house he owns, the vehicle he drives, and the friends he chooses. The way a man arranges his surroundings is a projection of who he is on the inside.
If you try to change a man by changing his environment for him, you have no guarantee that he will change. We should of course encourage a person to surround himself as much as possible with godly influences. But a man must change his mind first. If he changes his thinking, he will change his surroundings in the ways he can and he will endure the parts of it he cannot change.
Changes in a man’s conditions in life, for better or for worse, do not necessarily change him. You can leave a child a big inheritance, but will that make him better? It may make him worse. You can leave him money, land, or a house, but if he does not take care of what he has now, he will not take care of what he receives then. You may change the amount of possessions he has, but you cannot change the level of responsibility he has because that must come from inside him.
There is an upside to all this. Adverse circumstances in life do not have to adversely affect us. For instance, many children have ungodly parents. Their mother and father set a terrible example for them. Do children who grow up in an evil environment have any hope of doing better? Can they rise above these circumstances? The Bible says they can. Ezekiel spoke of the son of a bad father who “seeth all his father’s sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like” (Ezek. 18:14). The guidance of a godly father is a wonderful blessing to children, but sometimes having an ungodly father is the very thing that opens the eyes of a child and leads him to decide not to be like his father. This is why people give opposite answers to the question “Who influenced you most to become a Christian?” One person answers, “My father. He was a good man and he made a big impression on me.” Another answers, “My father. He was a wicked man and I decided I did not want to follow his example and end up like him.”
Paul kept a good outlook in spite of bad circumstances. He suffered numerous persecutions and tribulations, and yet he said, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (II Cor. 7:4). When he was a prisoner, he said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11).
You and I cannot change all that we would like in our surroundings, but we can make sure we are the kind of people we should be regardless of them.