This is the second part in a series on "The influential Christian." As Christians, our mission in life should be to have a gospel influence on our society. BBC's mission is: to influence friends who are living in spiritual darkness that they also may know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ. We talked last time about our need to be a godly influence. To put it simply, our mission is to be an influence for the Lord Jesus Christ. We, as believers, are called to influence our society, our culture, our world with the gospel of Christ. God allows us to remain on earth after salvation for this purpose.
Philippians 2:14-16 (NKJV) Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
The scriptures make it clear, God wants us to be a Christlike influence in the world in which we live. I think we all know that. We know that we are to be a godly influence, but how do we do it? How do we influence our world?
In our last study I gave you a formula to aid in our understanding of how we can influence our world: CL + CP + CM = MI. The MI stands for Maximum Influence. If we follow this equation, we will have a maximum influence in the lives of others. Now, since we have seen that God wants us to be an influence, I would hope that all of us would want to be a maximum influence.
If we are going to be a maximum influence, there are three elements that are a must: CL stands for a Christlike Life, CP stands for Close Proximity, and CM stands for Clear Message. If you are living a Christlike Life in Close Proximity to unbelievers, and if you have a Clear Message, you are going to be a Maximum Influence. You will truly fulfill your mission and honor God.
We looked last time at the first part of the equation, a Christlike Life or CL. I really believe that our influence starts here. Before we ever begin to tell others about the gospel message, it needs to have had a transforming effect on our lives. We defined a Christlike life as living in love and holiness.
When believers are living Christlike lives of love and holiness, they will have an influence in society. If you live a life of integrity and truly love others, you are going to make a very attractive impression on those around you.
Now, please understand that as important as it is to live a life of love and holiness, it takes more than this to have a Maximum Influence. This is only one part of the equation. We must understand that all three parts to this equation are essential for having a Maximum Influence. We cannot leave any part out.
So now that we have the first part down and we are living a Christlike Life, what's next? The next part in our equation is CP or Close Proximity. How much influence will you have on people with your Christlike Life if you live it in isolation? In order to influence people, you have to be around them. Now, it's hard to love in isolation, but we can be loving our family and close friends and not loving our neighbor. If you remember from last time, we said that your neighbor was anyone who had a need that you were aware of and were able to meet. There are a lot of neighbors out there who need our love.
Now, some churches try to get Close Proximity by a visitation program where they go out into the community and attempt to evangelize them door to door. How effective do you think that is? How do you respond when the Mormons or a sales man comes to your door? Are you excited to see them? Not if you're like me. I don't want my privacy interrupted by people I don't know trying to sell me things I don't want. I don't like strangers pushing anything on me, religion or products.
When you really need to talk to someone or need some advice, where do you go? Do you seek out a stranger to talk to? No, you seek out a friend. We don't like to talk about intimate or personal things with a stranger. If this is true, how much of an influence will you have in sharing the gospel with strangers? I think we all feel uncomfortable when someone outside our circle of friends tries to influence us about personal, significant matters. We all naturally gravitate toward people we know and trust.
I came to Christ when a friend gave me a gospel tract and asked me to read it. I knew him and trusted him so I was willing to read the tract. I had also seen his life take a drastic change for the better and was curious as to what happened to him.
So if we are going to influence our world for Christ, the most effective approach will be through friendships with those who need to be reached.
In his book "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God," J.I. Packer says this, "The right to talk intimately to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and really care about him. And therefore the indiscriminate buttonholing, the intrusive barging in to the privacy of other people's souls, the thick-skinned insistence on expounding the things of God to reluctant strangers who are longing to get away-- these modes of behavior, in which strong and loquacious personalities have sometimes indulged in the name of personal evangelism, should be written off as a travesty of personal evangelism. Impersonal evangelism would be a better name for them! In fact, rudeness of this sort dishonors God; moreover, it creates resentment, and prejudices people against the Christ whose professed followers act so objectionably. The truth is that real personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other man. We have to give ourselves in honest friendship to people, if ever our relationship with them is to reach the point at which we are justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ, and can speak to them about their own spiritual needs without being either discourteous or offensive. If you wish to do personal evangelism, then-- and I hope you do; you ought to -- pray for the gift of friendship. A genuine friendliness is in any case a prime mark of the man who is learning to love his neighbor as himself."
To influence friends, we must first make friends. This takes work and commitment. You have to move outside your comfort zone. Developing friendships takes significant amounts of time and effort, not to mention some occasional discomfort. It can be hard to get into close proximity with non-Christians. Their language makes us uncomfortable, their value system and activities may even be frightening to us.
Jesus spent his time with people who would have made us uncomfortable.
Matthew 9:10-13 (NKJV) Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."
Jesus hung around with those types of people because they were the ones that needed Him. What good do we do when we spend all our time with Christians?
The "tax collector" was a political office created by the Romans to help collect taxes in the provinces. Most of the offices were filled by Romans, although some natives got the bids. Tax collectors were held in the lowest esteem because of their excessive profits, being placed in the same category as harlots (Matt 21:32). We also see in the New Testament that Jesus hung out with harlots. He befriended those who needed to hear his message.
It wasn't just Jesus who hung out with sinners, Paul did the same thing.
1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (NKJV) to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
He is telling us that he is prepared to accommodate to every class of people. And he is prepared to accommodate in every area of Christian liberty that he might save some. That is, that he might be the instrumentality in the sovereign hand of God in bringing men to Jesus Christ.
The Greek text reads, "and everything I do." Everything he does is for the sake of winning men to Jesus Christ. Paul's own personal interests and desires were totally subjected to the purpose and responsibility that God had given to him as an apostle of Jesus Christ. His entire life was lived in the promotion of the Gospel.
How many believers do you know who live like this? How many of us totally relinquish our rights for the sake of the promotion of the gospel? Not many! At best we could say, "I do some things for the sake of the gospel." But I believe that most believers would have to say, "I do all things for the sake of myself, for the sake of my own interest and desires."
Making friends is not easy and it can be costly and time consuming, so why would we want to do it? We do it because we have a responsibility for making the gospel known. Evangelism is the inalienable responsibility of every Christian. And the most effective way to evangelize is through friendships.
Two centuries ago, the chairman of the ministers' fraternal at which William Carey debated for the founding of a missionary society, said to Mr. Carey, "Sit down, young man, when God is pleased to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid , or mine!" This man was forgetting that God's way of saving men is to send out His servants to tell them the gospel. We are responsible to share the gospel.
There are two motives that should constantly move us to evangelize. First, the love of God and concern for His glory; the second is love to man and concern for his welfare.
Matthew 22:36-40 (NKJV) "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
1. The first motive is primary and fundamental.
1 Corinthians 10:31 (NKJV) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
The chief end of man is to glorify God. We glorify God by sharing the gospel, because in the gospel we tell the world what great things God has done for the salvation of sinners. God is glorified when his mighty works of grace are made known.
Psalms 96:1-3 (NKJV) Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. 2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. 3 Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.
When we share the gospel of grace with a lost sinner, it is honoring and glorifying to God. So, our first and foremost motive in making friends that we might share the gospel, is to glorify God.
2. The second motive that should move us to share the gospel is love to our neighbor, and the desire to see our fellow-men saved. Jesus said we are to love our neighbor and he defined a neighbor as one who showed mercy to someone in need.
Luke 10:36-37 (NKJV) "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?" 37 And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
We are to "go and do likewise" showing mercy to the needy. Who is more needy than a person who does not know Christ.
Galatians 6:10 (NKJV) Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
What greater good can we do to anyone than to share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is not only our responsibility to share the gospel, it is our privilege to do so. It is a wonderful thing to tell others of the love of Christ, knowing that there is nothing that they need more urgently to know, and no knowledge in the world that can do so much good. God cares about people and so should we.
So, the most effective way to get into close proximity with others is through building friendships. As we spend time with people, they will see our Christlike life and we will be able to influence them for the Lord.
Let me add a couple of cautions here: Work on building friendships with people of the same sex. Missionary dating is dangerous. When you try to befriend someone of the opposite sex, it could get complicated. Be careful!
Also, if you feel that you are being negatively influenced by the ideas and actions of the person you are trying to befriend, you might need to back away.
1 Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV) Do not be deceived: "Evil company corrupts good habits."
Proverbs 22:24-25 (NKJV) Make no friendship with an angry man, And with a furious man do not go, 25 Lest you learn his ways And set a snare for your soul.
We need to make sure that we are being a positive influence and that we are not being negatively influenced.
So if we are going to have a maximum influence in our world for the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to work on being a friend and making friends. I think the first place to start is with prayer. We need to be praying for opportunities to make new friends. And we need to be praying for people we know that we might be able to become their friend.
Then we need to look for opportunities to get around people that we can build friendships with. People in our neighborhood, school, work, health club, or anywhere there are people. The opportunities are there if we look for them and work at them. Look for opportunities to help those in need, you can make a friend quickly by helping someone.
Cathy and I had some very mature Christian neighbors when we first moved to Virginia Beach, who had a big influence on our Christian lives. They were always loving and always gracious and we learned a lot from them.
Everybody needs a friend, someone they can confide in and trust in. Someone who will always be there for them.
Proverbs 17:17 (NKJV) A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.
When you are in trouble, you see who your friends are and how helpful a brother can be.
Pastor Mark Scott shares this story, "In 1989 I spoke at the Southern Baptist Sunday School Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Afterwards, an elderly couple approached me. They wanted to know if my father was Hank Scott, and if I had ever lived in Amarillo, Texas. I answered yes to both questions. The man said, 'My wife and I are Christians today because of your father.' They proceeded to tell me their story. Years ago, in the 1950's, they worked hard and always went to bars on the weekend. My dad visited them regularly but he never commented on their lifestyle. When he visited, he would invite them to church, but they always had an excuse not to come. One Saturday morning, a "blue norther" unexpectedly hit Amarillo. In those days, that meant it was hog killing time. This man told me my father came by early that morning and helped them all day, killing and cleaning the hogs. He didn't talk about Christ and he didn't bother them about coming to church; he just helped them do the work that needed to be done. When they were finished, he left. That evening, after the couple had finished eating, the man said to his wife, 'I don't much feel like "honky-tonkin" tonight.' She said, 'Me neither.' So, they stayed home that Saturday for the first time in years. The next morning, they decided to go to church. A few weeks later, they gave their lives to Christ. This had happened more than 45 years before I met them, yet here they were in 1989, as senior adults and the only representatives from their church. For many years, their church has been blessed by their faithful commitment to Christ. However, all those years of service and ministry might never have occurred if a young pastor in Amarillo, Texas had not gone out of his way to gently lead them into the presence of Jesus, first through his actions, then through his words. The cliché is true: People don't care how much you know; they want to know how much you care."
Years ago, basketball coach Pepper Rodgers was experiencing a humiliating season at UCLA. Everyone, it seemed, was mad at him, and no one, it appeared, liked him. One evening, he began to feel sorry for himself. He and his wife had just had a disagreement, and he was feeling quite disenfranchised. He told his wife that the only friend he had was his dog. "And that's not right," he appealed to her. "A man needs at least two friends." So, the next day she went out and bought him another dog.
Most people will never come into a church service like this unless they are invited. They won't look up the word "Salvation" in the yellow pages. The majority of them, flipping through TV channels, will not stop and listen to a televised sermon. They are dependent on someone who cares enough to model and proclaim the gospel to them. You can do this by ministering to others in the name of Christ, by offering them the encouragement of Christ, the compassion of Christ.
We need to be patient, making and influencing friends doesn't happen over night. We are often tempted to be in a hurry and push the gospel on them too soon. Or we get discouraged because they do not respond quick enough. We must remember that God is sovereign in grace and that His word does not return to Him void. I think that Paul's words to the Corinthians are fitting for us:
1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
What a privilege it is to be used of God to make contact with people for the purpose of spiritually impacting their lives in ways that last, not just for this lifetime, but forever.
Years ago, a saint wrote...
"Christ has no body now but yours, No feet, no hands on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes in which he moves compassion on this world Christ has no body now on earth but yours."
Go out, today, in his name, and be a friend to everyone you meet. Let's have a maximum influence in our world.
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