Every person on planet Earth influences others.
True, the sphere of his (or her) influence may be small. In that case the person’s desire is likely to increase the number of people he inspires to follow his teachings and righteous example. Sadly, some people influence others to follow a wrong course for their lives. Such individuals need first to alter the direction they are taking on their own earthly journey. Then they can entice others to join them in following a right course. By following the precepts of Holy Scripture, a person can not only increase the number of people he influences, but also influence those people toward godly living.
As already stated, to influence others toward a godly life, one must first follow such a pathway himself. Peter outlined what traveling that highway is like. It requires that one constantly strive to add to his faith in Christ the attribute of virtue, and that he add knowledge to that virtue, self-control to that knowledge, perseverance to that self-control, godliness to that perseverance, and finally brotherly kindness to that godliness (1 Pet. 1:7). Then Peter promised, “For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). Without doubt, that fruitfulness includes winning souls to the Lord.
The Book of Proverbs offers a most simple and yet profound principle on influencing others in life. One verse declares, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (18:24). Of course, he must be genuinely interested in those to whom he manifests friendship. Otherwise, he is a mere flatterer and a hypocrite. Absalom, one of David’s sons, was such a person. The Bible says that, largely through flattery, he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (1 Sam. 15:6). The moment others see such a person for what he is, they turn away, rather than being influenced by him any further.
Jesus taught that being a leader of others requires humility. He said, “Whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). On the other hand, despite the emphasis on modesty in leadership throughout Scripture, Paul boldly invited others to follow his influence. More than once in his writings he said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Most Christians who lead others in today’s world will say, “Don’t follow me. I am almost certain to disappoint you. Always keep your eyes on the Lord.” Yet, maybe one should be bold, as was Paul, in intentionally inviting others to follow him. Such boldness requires the leader to accept the solemn responsibility of living a life above reproach.
Scripture also indicates that a degree of flexibility on non-essentials in doctrine and practice is helpful in influencing others to live a godly life. In this way Paul declared that he had made himself a servant of all that he might win more to the Lord. To the best of his ability, he sought to understand and relate successfully to both Jew and Gentile, to those under the Law and those without a law, as well as to the weak and to the strong (1 Cor. 9:19-22). He made such adjustments along the way, he said, “So that I might by all means save some” (v. 22).
On the other hand, experience teaches that it is a mistake to seek success as a leader for its own sake. The realm of politics has produced more than ample evidence of those who ply all the tricks of the trade of leadership in seeking merely to influence people to vote in their favor. Rather, godly success as a leader comes as a byproduct of useful living. Thus, what one should seek is to make full use of all God has entrusted to him, in serving the Lord and fellowmen. If he does that, as Paul said, God will give the increase, making his life fruitful (1Cor. 3:9).
Indeed, sometimes one is not aware of the extent of his influence on others. Rarely, if ever, does one realize how God is working in his life in the present to influence others. Usually he must wait several years, then look back, and only from that vantage point can he see the wonders the Lord has wrought in the lives of others through him.
Paul’s life illustrates that point. At one time, others engaged in the unprofitable activity of assessing the quality of Paul’s ministry. To them the apostle wrote, “With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court.” Then somewhat shockingly he declared, “In fact, I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor. 4:3). After all, the extent of any person’s influence on others depends, in part, on gifts and graces that come from the Lord, including the personality with which he was born. Although a person deserves praise for improving in those qualities over which he has control, he would be foolish to take credit for things whose real source is God.
Thus, Paul counseled all not to focus too much on themselves in this life. Rather, they should leave the matter of judging their effectiveness in life with the Lord. He wrote, “Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Cor. 4:5).