Becoming a Person of Irresistible Influence

by May 21, 2013


Every Christian is called to influence others in some way or another. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

So how do we do that? How do we lead others to glorify God?

Paul was one of the most influential men in history, and in Acts 20 you can see some of the characteristics that marked him (and every influential person). In this chapter, Paul was reuniting with the elders he led in the church in Ephesus, reminiscing about the time they spent together.

1. Influential People Act as Role-Models

Paul told the Ephesian leaders, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia” (20:18). Throughout his meeting with them, he recalled actions he took and qualities he exhibited during his initial ministry there. He wasn’t fishing for praise, he was reminding them because he wanted them to imitate his model of Christ-like ministry. Influential people boldly and unashamedly embody the priorities and values they proclaim.

You can’t lead people from behind. I’ve tried it. It doesn’t work. A few years ago I took my dad freediving through some underwater lava tubes from a long-extinct volcano on our island. After successfully leading him through a few short tunnels, I thought I’d let him take the lead. We took a deep breath, dove down 20 feet to the entrance of a cave a few hundred yards offshore, and squeezed into the tube.

Halfway through, there was a fork in the tunnel. My dad went the wrong way. I pulled on his fin to yank him back, but he shook me off and kept moving forward. I pulled some more, and he yanked again. We fought back and forth for 30 seconds. Finally, my breath almost gone, I had to give up and let him go. I raced through the other tunnel and surged to the surface. I looked all around, but couldn’t see any sign of him. Fearing the worst, I prepared to dive back down. Suddenly he exploded out of the water, gasping for breath. Somehow he had found a way out of the cave, but had to squeeze through a tiny hole. Coughing and sputtering, he explained that he didn’t know it was me pulling him back. He thought his fin was stuck.

The day I almost killed my dad, I learned an important lesson: influencers need to be in front. You need to loudly and proudly live out the priorities you proclaim.

2. Influential People Are Selflessly Humble

One of the most important priorities for a leader to model is humility. As Paul reminded the Ephesians, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility” (Acts 20:18-19). He said, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself,” and he said his only goal as he ministered was this: “to finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (20:24).

Many people have goals that are a little different. They seek to build their own influence and power, or simply to make a name for themselves. Even in church there are people who are people who loathe any behind-the-scenes work that doesn’t build their reputation. They are made in the mold of Diotrephes, “who likes to put himself first” (3 John 9).

But what if we didn’t count our life or ambitions of any value nor as precious to ourselves? Our lives would look a lot more like Paul’s selflessly hands-on approach: “these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me” (20:34). What a great phrase: “these hands.” You can imagine him saying, “You, Stephanos… these hands helped you bring dinner to all the widows in your neighborhood. And you, Hezekiah… these hands helped you write your first sermon.” Paul was radically generous with his time and energy because he understood that if you want to influence others, you just can’t be selfish. With anything.

3. Influential People are Hard Workers

You don’t just drift your way toward influence. Don Carson reminds us in For the Love of God that when we drift, “we drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

When Paul first evangelized in Ephesus, the Western Text of the book of Acts says he preached in the hall of Tyrannus from 11am to 4pm every day. That lines up with the working schedule that most Ephesians followed in the first century. They would labor from 7am to 11am, take an afternoon siesta during the heat of the day, then go back to work from 4pm to 9pm. This implies that Paul was working as a tentmaker in the morning and evening, and during his break time he would go preach to unbelieving Gentiles. Every day.

He probably worked fourteen hours straight, six days a week! Paul himself confirmed this backbreaking pace, saying to the Ephesian elders, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak. … Be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:31,35).

Not, “I did not cease night or day, except for Saturdays, because that’s when I watch football, and Sundays, because that’s my golf day.” Comfort and leisure might be our highest priorities in the West, but influencers understand they will need to repeatedly give up their precious “me-time” for the sake of the kingdom. They will work and pray unceasingly, as Isaiah urged: “You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest,and give Him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:6-7).

Paul worked hard, and in response, “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12).

We’ve all seen televangelists who want to send us a holy handkerchief they’ve touched that will heal all our diseases (in appreciation for a seed-sowing gift of $50 or more). But there was nothing magical about Paul’s handkerchiefs, aprons, socks, or underwear. These were the aprons he used to keep dust off his clothes as he made tents. These were the handkerchiefs he used to wipe sweat off his face as he stood at his booth in the sweltering marketplace.

The handkerchiefs and aprons were symbols of Paul’s hard work, and the miraculous healings were symbols of God’s blessing. God took Paul’s humble sacrifice and used it for kingdom impact across the region. Through Paul’s labor, amazingly, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10). Dozens of churches were planted across Asia Minor during this time, some of which kept their doors open until the early twentieth century!

4. Influential People Are Passionately Committed to Others

Paul said, “I’ve been serving the Lord with all humility and with tears” (Acts 20:19). With tears. Now, it’s not like Paul was the kind of guy who cried whenever he saw a lost puppy in the street. He wasn’t renting romantic comedies and sitting on the couch all night with a box of Kleenex in his lap.

Paul was as tough a guy as you’ll ever meet. He was whipped five times with 39 lashes, beaten with rods three times, shipwrecked three times, and spent a night and a day floating by himself in the ocean, and it doesn’t look like any of that made him shed a single tear. But when it came to the people he was ministering to, the spigot was open. All the time. That’s because he was passionately committed to them and their spiritual maturity, saying, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation” (2 Cor 1:6).

As a result, the leaders in Ephesus loved him just as intensely as he loved them: “There was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him” (Acts 20:37). That’s how people respond when you’re passionately committed to them and selflessly generous toward them. They’re bowled over, because there are so few people in the church or the world who live like that.

Being a person of influence is hard! But when you are, you’re irresistible.