Changing technology means changing terminology. One term now popular is “influencer.” I may have heard this word before, but it has become so frequent that it finally pierced my consciousness. “An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with” (Google Search).
Influence is all around us; it is inescapable. It has always been there, but social media has made it a more powerful and constant presence in our lives. In the broader picture, influence itself is neutral. In fact, it has many godly applications.
First, we are to be influencers: “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. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:13-16). Salt enhances flavor; a little salt goes a long way in making food more palatable. Light is a great benefit as we function more effectively in an illuminated environment. These metaphors apply to believers: our good works are to make such a positive impression on others that they will praise God for our influence.
What does it take to make our spiritual influence felt? Google adds this explanation of why influencers have clout: “The reason they have a powerful influence on their followers is because their opinions are valued. Influencers are real people and often looked at as friends, and audiences are looking for reality that they can emulate and buy into, as opposed to glamorous ads.” As the world moves further from God, Christians are going to stand out more. Yes, there will be ridicule and ostracism by some, but there will also be others looking for conviction, strength, knowledge, courage, etc. Believers will be in a position to advise them only if we project dependable, genuine characteristics that people value.
Peter exhorts: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet 2:11-12). While there is some ambiguity in the term “visitation,” the meaning seems to be that some unbelievers, initially contemptuous of Christians, might be persuaded by the good works of God’s people. Thus the influence of the saved will be a cause for rejoicing when the lost are converted.
In the above Google quote we might substitute “as opposed to glamorous pastors and hypocritical Christians.” The world is shrewd and can quickly spot insincerity; it is looking for hypocrisy and deception as it examines the modern iteration of Christianity. There have been several recent high-profile cases of religious leaders abandoning their faith and last week one even committing suicide. Others are patently materialistic and flaunt wealth gained from fleecing their parishioners. This is a huge turnoff to the jaded. In their minds it justifies their criticism of religion. Therefore, we must take extra care to present ourselves humbly and consistently as true believers who practice what we preach.
Turning the equation around, who are we influenced by? There are myriad forces seeking to influence us for legitimate and illegitimate reasons. We are bombarded by robo calls, door knocks, advertising, celebrity testimonials, sensual imagery, political candidates, coupons, billboards, social media posts, appeals to guilt and/or sympathy, etc. We can only effectively negotiate these ploys by basing our lives on clear principles, consistent values and a secure sense of who we are, what we need and what our obligation to God is. Terms like impulse buy, buyer’s remorse, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) testify to our being caught off-guard and influenced to purchase something against our better judgment. Sin always comes with painful “buyer’s remorse,” and we must learn to see through temptation’s empty promises and avoid it.
Thus the foolish, spiritually weak man falls victim to the seductive harlot (Pr 7:6-27); the wise man flees fornication (Pr 14:16; 1 Cor 6:18). The unlearned and unwary are entangled in a web of lies, but the careful “test all things” (1 Th 5:21; Jn 4:1). The carnal are drawn to the world; the spiritually insightful understand that “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn 2:17).
Some things we must take steps to avoid, but other elements of this world are inescapable. Our society is getting coarser, and sinful words and attitudes are on full display in media and real life interactions. We must develop a “thick skin.” In other words, we must constantly manage and control our impulses so that potential temptations do not spark our curiosity or sensual appetites. For example, wince and recoil every time you hear a curse word or God’s name dishonored. Don’t be blasé and accept it as normal lest you find those words coursing through your mind and even soiling your lips when provoked. We can’t control the speech of others, but we can control the potential influence of that speech (or other sinful display) upon our minds. Be the influencer, not the influenced.