Several times in the NT Paul wrote some form of this statement- follow me as I follow Christ. To different groups of people he loved and exhibited spiritual care for, he gives this conditional imperative. Consider for a moment what is taking place- Paul tells them they are to give entrance into their lives to him. His influence was to guide their direction and decisions.
Such entrance had to be grounded in the reality that its end-state produced the pursuit of Christ. This would be manifest in a tender, teachable heart It would elevate Christ’s Lordship over their life. It would promote an eternal value system. It would lend itself to telling others about Christ.
If the above stated wasn’t taking place, it wasn’t godly influence. Even if Paul seemed right, sincere, or quasi-spiritual, following Christ was the criteria for the continuance of his influence in their lives. It isn’t a stretch to say that Paul, without words, was also saying to quit following him if this ever changed.
So what does that mean for us? We must be careful how we leverage our influence as we are someone's "Paul". This means that we ought to be sober about the "what we say", "when we say", and "how we say" as these choices form narratives. These narratives need to direct people to Christ, the furtherance of the Gospel, and the unity of the Church; if we aren't careful, these narratives can do something less than these things.
We must consider who is receiving recognition from our influence- His desire was that his influence would merely be of assistance in growing their pursuit of Christ.
In church (also in the larger view of the family of God), sometimes those who influence us; struggle, change, or even depart. What then? Go to Christ with your hurt - He is your contentment, sufficiency, strength, and comfort.
Be slow to make any significant decisions based upon their influence - We have all seen it in our church experience, a person of influence leaves and several families go with them or they remain but with suspicion in their hearts.
Be on guard for temptations against them or toward others. Who loves disunity? The devil. During these times, he seeks to make us resentful towards those who were influencing us or make us angry at whoever they have targeted as their problem.
Be faithful- continue following Christ. You can’t change what others choose but you do control your choices. Keep seeking Him, His Gospel for others, and His edifying work in others.
Remember - those who influence us are just struggling sinners also. Even the most respected individual in our lives can heed temptations, if ever so subtle. These temptations, if heeded, produce self-importance, they produce division, and they take our focus off Christ. It distracts us with that which appears to be legitimately spiritual.
Be mindful of the above-stated struggle without being suspicious or cynical. The reality is your favorite pastor, staff member, deacon, bible class teacher, or friend could fail prey to temptation; that’s a biblical reality. Let that not discourage us, let it insulate us so we follow others as they follow Christ.
- Pastor Paul