Pastor David B. Curtis


Becoming People of Influence

Matthew 5:13-16

Delivered 05/07/2000

Two years ago Rich and I, as elders of Berean Bible Church, developed a mission statement for our church. We wanted to clarify where we were going as a church so we could take the appropriate steps to get there. We boiled it down to twenty two words.

Our Mission: to influence friends who are living in spiritual darkness, that they also may know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ.

We believe that this is why we exist as a church, and this is also why we exist as individual Christians. We believe that if you understand this to be your mission, that you will live in such a way as to carry it out.

Deep in the heart of every believer there is an awareness that we are on this planet for purposes greater than having a career, paying the bills, loving our families, and fulfilling our roles as upstanding citizens. One of the primary reasons we remain on this planet is to help others in their spiritual walk. We see this principle set forth by two passages in Philippians:

Philippians 1:23-25 (NKJV) For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. 25 And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,

Paul's desire was to depart this planet and be with Christ, but he knew that his remaining here would benefit the Philippians. Thus, he saw that his purpose for living was to help others in their spiritual walk. To live for Christ was to live to help others in their Christian walk.

Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

We are to esteem others better than ourselves and thus live to see the best interest of others fulfilled. The whole Bible bears out the fact that Christianity is "others" oriented. This is why when people live simply to promote their own interest and desires, they live empty lives; void of any real meaning.

This morning I want to focus on the words "To influence friends" in this mission statement, but before we look at those words, let's try to clarify some of the other points.

The first thing I want you to see is that this is the mission statement of those who are living in "the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ." We are all called to this end. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded:

Matthew 22:37-38 (NKJV) 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.

God, as our creator, commands: we are to love Him. This is the greatest command. What does it mean to love God? Jesus put it this way:

John 14:15 (NKJV) "If you love Me, keep My commandments.

Our love for God is demonstrated in our obedience to His commands; the first of which would be to believe in Him.

Acts 16:30-31 (NKJV) And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

This is a command. We are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is more than simply believing that He exists. It is trusting that He is the Lord, the savior of all who put their trust in Him. It is understanding that apart from trusting completely in His finished work on Calvary for my sin, I will pay for my own sin throughout eternity in Hell.

We show our love for the Lord out of a delight to obey His commands.

1 John 5:3 (NKJV) For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

Loving God is not a burden - when you really love someone, you delight in doing things for them. Loving God is finding our joy, our delight, and our satisfaction in Him.

Psalms 16:11 (NKJV) You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The God who created us created within us a desire for happiness that is only fulfilled in Him. Only as we live in a love relationship with Him will we know the fullness of joy. For a more in-depth study of joy, see the message, The "Joy" of Loving Christ.

Loving God brings full joy to our lives, and it is our calling to share this great joy with others that they also may live to the end for which they were created.

"...who are living in spiritual darkness...."

We believe that we should be an influence to those who are living in spiritual darkness. What does it mean to live in spiritual darkness? Spiritual darkness is used in the Bible in two ways:

1. Those who don't know God, the unsaved, are in spiritual darkness.

Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

The "us" here is Christians. As believers, we have been delivered from the power of darkness. By our faith in Jesus Christ, we have been brought into His Kingdom and given eternal life. We are children of light. So, spiritual darkness is used of those who are lost in sin, the unsaved. Our mission is to share with them the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. Spiritual darkness is also used to refer to believers who are walking in ignorance of, or disobedience to God's Word.

Romans 13:11-13 (NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.

Paul says, "let us cast off the works of darkness...." which would be speaking of believers living in disobedience.

1 John 2:10-11 (NKJV) He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

A Christian, someone who has been delivered from the power of darkness, can walk in darkness by living disobedient to the Word of God.

So, our mission is to take the gospel to the lost, and also to exhort believers to live in obedience to Christ. We are to be involved in calling both the saved and the lost to live in the light of obedience to God's Word.

According to this mission statement, we are "to influence friends". I believe that this is a direct mandate from Scripture.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NKJV) "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

When Jesus said, "you are... salt and light", he was speaking to his disciples.

Matthew 5:1-2 (NKJV) And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

The question for us is, "Do these words apply to us as well?" I would say that they definitely do. All through the Scripture, Christians are called "lights." In the book of Revelation, the churches are called "candlesticks". All believers are to be salt and light.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is putting forth principles for living in His kingdom. If we live according to these principles, we will be salt and light.

Salt has a preserving influence against that which, left to itself, would soon putrefy and rot. Light not only reveals the true state of things, it also dispels darkness and illumines. The light of the gospel, as it shines forth in the life of those who follow Christ, dispels spiritual darkness and reveals the true nature of evil.

I think it is obvious that the general tendency of society is to become increasingly morally corrupt and rotten. That is not only true of past generations, it is true of our own present day. Are there definite signs and indications of increasing moral decay in the world in which we live? Indeed there are! Adultery, fornication, perversion, abortion, and lying are pervasive in our day.

This is something which ought to greatly concern those who seek to follow the Lord. When moral decay and spiritual darkness prevail, it is an indication that there is a lack of the presence of salt and light, or that the salt and light are no longer effective. According to Christ, salt that is no longer salty is worthless. Much of today's Christianity is worthless in terms of being salt and light. It has lost its power to restrain evil and to be a source of the true light of the gospel. We need to be praying that God will bring about reformation and revival so that once again, God's people will be salt and light.

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without light? It's almost impossible to imagine. Remember when New York City had that massive power failure? The whole city shut down. Under the cover of darkness there was rampant looting and violence and widespread panic ...until the power was restored and the lights came back on. People will do things in the darkness that they would never do in the light.

In our text, Jesus looks at his followers, and he says to them and to us, "You are the salt of the earth..., you are the light of the world!" In other words, "As my followers, I want you to live a distinctively different kind of life in the midst of a dark and decaying world. You are my only strategy for transforming the world!"

However, this presents quite a challenge. C.S. Lewis was right when he said, "The best argument for Christianity is Christians - their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the best argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, when they are narrow and repressive. Then Christianity dies a thousand deaths."

Let's look at our text to see what we can learn about becoming people of influence - contagious Christians - salt and light in the world in which we live.

A first truth implied by our text is obvious: To have impact, we, as the followers of Jesus, must move out of our comfort zones into a world of need - into the lives of the people God is seeking to transform.

Becky Pippert says, "If Salt stays in the saltshaker, then it's just a nice table ornament." Salt in the shaker is filled with potential but with no impact, because there can be no influence without contact! I think there can be little impact without being a friend! Aren't you uncomfortable when someone outside your circle of friends tries to influence you in spiritual matters? We naturally gravitate toward people we know and trust. Friends listen to friends. They confide in friends. They let friends influence them.

Proverbs 27:6 (NKJV) Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
Proverbs 27:9 (NKJV) Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man's friend gives delight by hearty counsel.
Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV) As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.

The point here is that friends influence us. I think that you all would agree with that.

If light doesn't venture out into the darkness and shine out there where it's needed most, then God's truth will not be seen.

Now, while this seems obvious, I wonder how many of us actually have made it a priority to spend time with "people living in spiritual darkness" in order to influence them.

I wonder how many of us are willing to move out of our comfort zones in order to make new friends that we can have an influence on: building bridges of friendship with them on their turf, so that the salt and light of Jesus can influence them. The truth is most of us look into the darkness of our world, and we see irreligious people doing the things irreligious people do, talking the way irreligious people talk, looking the way irreligious people look and it makes us uncomfortable. And we want them to change simply because if they do, we won't feel so uncomfortable when we are around them.

So instead of moving into their world, we close ourselves off from them - we build walls of judgment and fear and labels that keep those people away from us so we won't get infected by their problems or lifestyle. The result is - we stay "pure" while people remain in darkness because no one reaches out to meet them where they are!

But Jesus challenges us to adopt a different strategy - a strategy he modeled for us - instead of requiring people to move towards us, we make the choice to move towards them in their world. This has been God's strategy to reach the world from the beginning. It's the story of the Gospel. John writes:

John 1:4-5 (NKJV) In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
John 1:14 (NKJV) And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus, the light of the world, came to us while we were still living in darkness. And while he lived among us in human form, Jesus made it a priority to spend time with the kind of people the religious leaders of his day would have nothing to do with - prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, "sinners". He ate in their homes, he went to their parties, he talked with them on their streets, and each time he reached out to touch them with his love!

Today, Jesus commissions each one of us, as his followers, to adopt his strategy. To move out of our church buildings, our Bible studies, our small groups and make it a priority to spend time with irreligious people on their turf - building bridges of friendship with them so that the love of Christ can influence their lives.

This leads to a second truth: If we want to have influence, not only must we make contact with the world, but we need to maintain our Christlike distinctiveness in the midst of the world. Jesus says:

Matthew 5:13 (NKJV) "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

Again, this seems obvious: For salt to have influence, its got to be salty. For light to have influence, it must be allowed to shine!

Some of us have figured out that we shouldn't separate ourselves from the world. Our problem is that we are so fully immersed in the world and the lifestyle of the world that there is no difference between our lives and those we are trying to reach. Jesus says salt that claims to be salt, but isn't salty, is worthless, irrelevant, good only to be tossed into the street so people can walk on it. It's foolishness to have light and not allow it to shine, because what good is a lamp if it's covered?

Let me be very clear about this: This is not a call to act "holier than thou!" Nor is it a call to see it as our job to point out how our lives are superior to those around us. That's not being salt and light; that's just being obnoxious. Again, we are invited to imitate Jesus who had this profound differentness that drew people to him and created a spiritual thirst in them that made them want to get right with God. He never compromised the truth. His lifestyle was always above reproach, and yet, people came out of the woodwork to get close to him. Why? Because in his differentness, people still felt acceptance and love.

What might that look like for us? It will be different for each of us. Let me give some examples of what it might mean to become people of influence in our kind of world.

Some of us will stand out as salt and light and point people's attention to Jesus through our authenticity. In a world that values image over substance, someone who models authenticity will stand out. Lack of authenticity, or hypocrisy, by those claiming to be Christians is one of the top reasons people give as to why they have rejected Jesus and Christianity. If we want to be salt and light, be authentic! Authenticity is not the same as perfection. Because no one ever fully lives consistently with who they say they want to be, we all fall short. Authenticity has to do with being honest about our desire to become all God intended us to be, and moving towards that ideal while being honest about those areas where we have fallen short.

I read a story that serves as a good example of this: A woman , after attending a Bible Conference, decided to go across the street and talk to her neighbor. They had lived across the street from each other for years sharing an occasional wave, but they never spent any time together. So she decided that it wasn't too late to start. She brought over a flower arrangement and said very simply, "I need to ask your forgiveness. I have been a terrible neighbor. I knew you had gone through some hard times, but I just never took the time to see if there was anything I could do to help. I am really sorry and if it's not too late, I'd like to start being a better neighbor and friend today."

This neighbor invited her in, and they spoke for about an hour. That's authenticity! That's salt and light! And when the world sees it, it says, "WOW... that's different! Where did that come from? I'd like to get to know a God who can help people become that authentic!"

For some of us, being salt and light is going to mean living out our faith with integrity in those places where God calls us to spend our time each week by being obedient to Him, even when its costly!

Here's an example of how this might work in the marketplace: Maybe you work in a place where everybody fudges on their expense reports. The script is, "We are all overworked and underpaid and this is just a way to get what we deserve." Or maybe to get ahead there is a not-so-subtle pressure to cut ethical corners, to mislead customers, to make promises you never intend to keep, just to cut the deal.

In those situations, we have a choice . We can say, "I don't like the darkness in my workplace so I am going to quit my job and join a Christian company." Or we can cave in and buy into the culture that says, "Do whatever it takes to get what you need." OR we can be salt and light - with quiet confidence in a loving God, we can simply choose to trust God enough to live in obedience to Him without compromise. We make the choice to play by the rules, tell the truth, and keep our word, live out our faith, without pointing the finger at others or calling attention to ourselves. Over time, that choice is going to make a difference and lead some people to ask about what it is that makes us different.

Some of us will stand out as salt and light and point people's attention to Jesus through our God centered marriages and homes. When a husband treats his wife with loving respect, and a wife lives in loving subjection to her husband, people notice. When parents lead the home, and children live in obedience to them, people notice.

Albert Schweitzer said, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." Now, I don't know that example is the only thing, but I do think it is the main thing.

Have you ever heard the expression, "A friend in need is a friend indeed"? Do you believe it? Do you understand it? For a long time, I didn't - it is not the clearest. I wondered why in the world someone who is in need should be considered a genuine friend. I now understand it to mean, that someone who is a friend to you when you are in need, is a true friend. THAT I believe!

How important are friends? Very! And let me say that we need to work at making friends both inside and outside of the church. A study interviewed people who had recently dropped out of church. It asked two questions of those dropouts: 1. Why they dropped out, and 2. What would most influence their choice of a new church home. The answer regularly given to question number one was, "I did not feel part of the group." The response to the second question (nearly 75%), was, "the friendliness of the people."

A challenge many of us face is that most of us are too busy to cultivate friendships. We believe in friends, but we have other priorities focused on the secular goals of life. Our busy calendars act as a barrier to our Lord's teaching that we really do need each other. Therefore, we have many acquaintances and few friends.

The Old Testament commanded the Jews to create cities of refuge, a place where a person could go and be safe after committing a sin, a place where people could not throw stones or take out revenge. I believe Christian friendships are the modern counterpart of a city of refuge. Many of us need safe places, safe relationships, where we can go when our lives are messed up; when we have ugly wounds that need bandaging; haunting fears that need comforting; hurtful loneliness or joys that need sharing. I believe one way to love, as Jesus loves, is to be a refuge for each other.

People don't want to listen to a cassette of some sermon when the bottom drops out. They want a place to cry; a person to care; someone to bind up their wounds; someone to listen; the security of a few close, intimate friends who won't blab their story all over the church, who will do more than say, "I'll pray for you." They want a refuge.

Becoming a person of influence, living a distinctive "salt and light" kind of life, will mean finding that one person who needs us and loving them as Jesus would love them - with no strings attached. Few things will influence a person for the kingdom like authentic self-giving love!

Listen to a letter from a person who was impacted by that kind of love:

I was in total despair when my wife died after a long fight with cancer. I went through the funeral like I was in a trance. Later that night, I felt like I just needed to get out, so I went for a walk at about 9 o'clock . But I didn't walk alone. My neighbor, a Christian whom I knew had been concerned about me, saw me leave the house , so he came outside to walk with me. I just kept walking. He walked beside me all night, and all during that walk, he never even said a word. As the sun was coming up, all he said was: "Let's go get some breakfast." I am not a Christian, but a religion that can produce the kind of love my neighbor showed me is something that I want to find out about.

Nothing shines in a dark world like authentic, Christlike, unconditional love! And every single day, we can be sure we will rub shoulders with someone who needs to experience Jesus' kind of love; someone who is hurting and needs a listening ear or a loving touch; someone lost who needs a helping hand. And as they receive it from us, who take Jesus' name, it will draw their attention to the Father who sent his son Jesus to make that kind of love available.

You know, when the lights go out and the world gets dark, it's amazing the influence a single light can have. Jesus looks at his followers and he says, "You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. You are my strategy for transforming the world."

So, our mission is: to influence - we do this by how we live and through the proclamation of the gospel message. We are to influence friends - those who know that we love and care about them, those we have spent time with building relationships. Who are living in spiritual darkness- those who don't know Christ, they have never trusted Him for their salvation. And also, those who are Christians but are not living in obedience to the Lord. That they also may know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ - please note that the word "also" implies that you know the joy of loving the Lord Jesus Christ. Everybody wants to be happy. And the only way for man to truly be happy is to live in fellowship with the God who created him. Our happiness and joy comes from God, and God alone.

I pray that each and every one of us would accept this mission statement as our own and live each day in light of it.

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