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  • Writer's picturePaige Uhl

Influence As A Ministry Of Grace

We are living in a culture marked by influence. The word “influencer” has meaning not just in the realm of the ever-expanding universe of social media, but in our everyday interpersonal relationships as well. Everywhere we go, we are influenced in what products we will buy, what food we will consume--or not consume--and what clothes we will wear. This inevitably extends to more serious aspects of our lives, such as how we vote, how we approach worship and faith, and even how we think about the Word of God. What does the Bible teach us about the power of influence? How can we approach our realm of influence in a Christ-focused, Gospel-centered way?

The Inevitability of Influence

This conversation must begin with the fact that influence is an inevitable reality--you are always going to be influencing someone and, in turn, be influenced by someone. This is a Divinely-created reality, instituted by God to help humanity learn how life in this fallen world should go. In Dueteronomy 6:5-7, God commands the people of Israel, 

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and 

with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

In this passage, we get a glimpse into how God designed influence to work in real time. Parents were to impress on their children a heart, soul, and strength love for God by making every conversation a God-shaped conversation. These conversations were to happen in the home, on the road, before bed, and around the breakfast table. "God-talk" spilling out into every moment, the mundane made sacred through intentionality. 

Somewhere along the way, God’s pattern and design for influence got a little muddy. The lines got blurry between what humans hand along that is God-shaped, and what they hand along that is man-made. This was a big controversy when Jesus came to earth, where He was constantly re-writing the narrative from “you have heard it said” to “but I say to you” (Matthew 5). Jesus wanted to strip religious piety of all the additional weights and opinions and standards that had been added on, trying to get back to the “heart of the matter”. As Deuteronomy 6:6 says in the Message translation, “Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you...” Jesus’ whole mission in His conversations with the religious elite was to help them see the fault in their influence because it was all fluff and no substance. 

The Influenced 

Today, the tides of influence still hold great sway over us. I am constantly hearing the voices of peers and far-off influencers in my mind telling me what I should be thinking about things. Do you know whose voice I can’t hear in those moments? The Holy Spirit’s. The societal pressure and the weight of opinions fall heavy on my shoulders like a standard I’ll never meet, a weight Jesus never wanted me to carry. In fact, in response to the religious burdens of His day, Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The Holy Spirit’s voice of authority over my life is stifled in those moments by the voices of outside opinions and personal guilt. 

I have to constantly distinguish between the inner voices I hear that are man’s, and the voice of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit’s voice sound like? Jesus tells us in John 16:7-13. Verse 8 says, “When he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” So, for starters, while the Holy Spirit may speak words of conviction to me, the Spirit will never speak to me in words of shame. Shame is always the work of the accuser and not the power of God in my life. When I hear a nagging voice of shame and accusation in my life, this is most certainly not the voice of the Spirit at work in me. What else does the Spirit do? John 16:13 says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak…” From this we learn that the Spirit doesn’t speak needless words, but derives His messages of truth directly from God Himself. Simply put: the Spirit doesn’t speak in opinions. This doesn’t mean the Spirit can’t speak truth to us through someone’s opinion, but the Spirit will never speak something to us that does not originate in the mind of God. When I hear a voice of opinions trying to sway me, this is also certainly not the voice of the Spirit at work in me. Finally, the Spirit has been given to believers to remind us of our eternal destiny. 2 Corinthians 5:4-5 says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” Paul is talking about the heavenly dwelling place God has prepared for us, teaching us that the Spirit has been given to remind us that we have been promised this reality will be ours someday. The Spirit has been sent to banish our doubts and convict our conscience that we truly are God’s children, and that we need not fear the future. When I hear voices of doubt that cause me to question if I am really God’s child or to feel fear of the future, this is not the voice of the Spirit at work in me. The loudest voice in your life should not be someone on social media you admire, or a close friend you aspire to be like, or even a relative you look up to--the loudest voice in your life must be the Holy Spirit, Who whispers words of conviction, truth, and assurance over your life. I John 4:1 offers this profound wisdom in our task of discerning the voices in our minds: 

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

The loudest voice in your life must be the Holy Spirit.

The Influencer 

Just as we must get into the practice of listening to the voices in our minds, we also need to get into the practice of listening to ourselves in our conversations with others. What do we spend the bulk of our time in discussion about? What tyrades or rabbit trails do we consistently find ourselves going on? What do people leave their time with us thinking and feeling about themselves or others? Ephesians 4:29 invites us into self-assessment of our speech when it says:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for 

building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

From this verse we learn that there are four levels of criteria for assessing how we are using our influence in conversations. 

1. We must consider the quality of the conversation. We learn from this verse that corrupting talk is out of the question. In the original greek, the fuller meaning behind the word “corrputing” is “unwholesome words”. The Greek word “sapros” for “unwholesome” means “rotten or putrefied.” It carries with it the idea of something that stinks of death and decay. My dad often says, “opinions are like armpits..everyone has a couple and they all stink.” It’s a humorous notion, but this verse does beg the question…are your opinions stinky? Do you bother people with the words that come out of your mouth? Are you spreading a stench that makes other people want to plug their nose? Are you breathing death and decay onto everyone around you? James 4:11 tells us not to slander one another. Speech that is used to gossip, tear down, malign, or misrepresent has no place among us if we are seeking to use our sphere of influence for God-shaped conversations. 

2. We consider the goal of the conversation. Paul says our conversations should serve to build others up. Yet, so often, I find people using their words to build themselves up. How many times do you find yourself using words like, ‘I, me, myself, etc...”? How often do you spend your time in conversations with others boasting on yourself, your accomplishments, your looks, your successes? Paul is clear, we don’t engage with others to build on the kingdom of self, to make ourselves look and feel superior. The word for “building up” is word “edify” (oikodomēn), which is actually a construction word used for strengthening a structure. Do your words and your conversations leave people feeling strengthened and encouraged in their walk with Christ? Do you seek not just to make them feel good about themselves in a superficial sense, but to buttress their confidence in who Christ has made them? We are to use our conversations as an opportunity to invest into the lives others and see them edified and encouraged during their time with us.

3. We look at the context of the conversation. I love how Paul adds that short phrase “as fits the occasion”. There are people in this world who are constantly talking. Sometimes they say really good things, but I tend to miss them because I have tuned their voice out. Paul wants us to see that it is okay to not say something because the context is not appropriate for what we want to say. Are you comfortable leaving a conversation in which you barely speak because that’s what the situation requires of you? Do you have a perpetual need to be heard in every conversation you engage in? Are you humble enough to hear the voice of the Spirit telling you not to speak your mind because it isn’t the correct context? I find that when someone is humble enough to think before they speak, I am much more inclined to truly hear the wisdom they have to bring. This is exactly why James says in James 1:19, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…”

4. From this verse, we see that we must consider the outcome of our conversations. Paul calls good, Godly conversation a “ministry of grace to those in need.” Many of us have felt the crushing weight of being “the influenced”, of being constantly told what to think and how to feel beyond what God has commanded in His Word. However, many of us do not recognize it when we impose our own personal standards of holiness, righteousness, and every-day living on those we are seeking to influence. Paul invites us to view those around us as individuals in need of grace. Catch that--they are not in need of a life hack, or a parenting suggestion, or a little "healthy competition". They are in need of grace. Paul says elsewhere in Colossians 4:6: 

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know 

how you ought to answer each person.”

So, we ask ourselves, “Am I handing along the grace I have been given that comes directly from Jesus, or something from me?”

We are to use our conversations as an opportunity to invest into the lives others and see them edified and encouraged.

Handing Along Grace

Influence is inevitable. It’s how God designed this life to work. Paul understood the Biblical model when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” The goal of our lives is not to hand along our opinions or our standards or to build up our own kingdom. The goal of our lives is to make every conversation a God-shaped one, to let the grace of the Gospel spill out of us as we receive it for ourselves every single day. The goal of our lives is to let what the Spirit declares over us be the truest thing about us in our minds and in our interactions. On either side of Jesus’ teaching about the function of the Holy Spirit in our lives in John 16 are His statements in John 15 about abiding in Him like branches on a vine, and His High Priestly Prayer in John 17 where He prayed for all believers to remain sanctified in the truth of God’s Word (verse 17). Only when we are connected to Christ, rooted deeply in the truths of His Word, can we ever hope to influence this world with the Gospel. Let us be people who pass around grace to everyone who needs it as Jesus continues to hand it along to us. 

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