We are all influenced by the actions and lives of others. Friends, peers, teachers, and coaches help mold us as we grow. People at work and neighbors can do or say something that changes us. Even casual or chance meetings can alter our lives. So the point is anyone can influence us if they have a moment to do so and if we let them.
Clearly, the more time I spend with someone and the way I think of a person affects his or her chance to influence me. And since most of us spend more time with family and we love them more, it makes sense they have the greatest influence on us. There may be moments when this is not true, but over a lifetime I believe most of us look to family for greatest support.
Like it or not you have an influence on people. Do you have a family, well then you have an effect on others. If you work with people or have neighbors, then someone is watching you. Are you reading this article after picking up the bulletin at services Sunday morning; then you had the chance to influence almost two hundred people. So the question is not if your actions and words will touch others, but how they will affect those who see and hear them. (Matt. 5:14-16)
I am not suggesting everything you do or say will deeply move people, but you never know who is watching at that moment or what will stir someone. It is even possible to be a good example most of the time, but in weakness do something that hurts others. Take for instance the apostle Peter, he did much for the cause of Christ, including ushering in Gentile converts, but in one weak moment he did harm. Peter ate with the Gentiles in Antioch until men from James came to visit, and then he withdrew himself. Barnabas and other Jews followed his harmful lead and so Paul said Peter was to blame. (Gal. 2:11-14)
It is not always easy to let your light shine or to live right every second of every day. You know what I am talking about if you have ever gotten caught in that gotcha moment. (Matt. 26:69-75) Your guard is down just a little while, and in an instant you are mad and say something you should not. Then something catches your eye and you look over only to see the little face of your son or daughter looking back at you. How do you feel at that moment? Is there much you would not give to get that flash in time back? But it’s done and you cannot get it back, and you know it is one piece of your influence on your child.
The apostle Peter was a man of authority, and so his influence was high when he failed. The same is true for parents when they stumble before their children. Thankfully we usually have more time than just a moment of failure, and so we can work to restore our influence. This is what Peter did and is what most parents do. So when you do or say something you should not; repent, ask God’s forgiveness, and do better. (Acts 8:22)
While God is ready and willing to forgive me, it is better to avoid sin to begin with. This is true when you think about how someone else may lose his soul by following my sin. I want to be the right example to all people and most of all I want to be right with God. None of this can happen without me accepting my place as a role-model for Christ. (Gal. 2:20) This is not about pride because the only way anyone can influence others for good is through Christ.
How can I give myself the best chance to live a godly example, all the while admitting I am not perfect? Let’s start with this last point, “I am not perfect.” Yes, part of being a good example is letting people see how to respond when we sin. Unfortunately this is not the world we live in to say “I was wrong” and “I am sorry.” Instead we excuse ourselves or deny guilt to save face. I should never blame others for my failures or think their sin somehow lessens mine. Instead, we need to show what God wants from us when we fall. (1 John 1:8-10) The Bible teaches Christians to confess, repent, and ask God’s forgiveness when they sin.
If I want to influence people for good then I need to assume people are always around. I may want my actions to stay between us and my words for your ears only, but it does not always turn out that way. How many times have we thought a heated argument would stay private, but word gets out? Someone may just be around the corner and hear everything we say. Besides, even if I can keep it between me and the other guy, I do not want to hurt my influence nor do anything to cause another to sin.
The right influence, the best influence, comes from a life patterned after Christ. (1 Peter 1:22-24) It is a life seeking what is above and a mind focused on the same. (Col. 3:1-2) Godly influence comes from understanding the difference between the seen and unseen; and the temporary and eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17-18) So what influence do you have on people when they look at your life? Would you inspire them to faithfulness and zeal? Influence is something we have and do, so let us all work on being the right example.