Pulpit Today Sermon
Robert D. Pace
Open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 4 and let’s prepare to read our opening text. As you turn to this passage I want you to know that today’s message deals with “Living with Godly Influence.” It deals with the power our behavior has to influence others.
I also want to pause and admit my mortality. I dare not proceed with today’s message by assuming the title of an “expert” on morality or one that has mastered acts of righteousness. While the Bible tells us to “be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect” I, on occasions, have fallen woefully short of that, and like many in the Bible have failed Christ. I am most thankful for Christ’s grace!
Let us now read God’s Word in 1 Timothy 4:11-16.
1 Timothy 4:11-16
At some point everyone decides what shapes their values. We either let the world define our values, or we become a “law unto ourselves” and we define our values, or we let Scripture define our values. I understand that, to a degree, our culture, friends, and environment shape our values, but God wants our deeply held beliefs drawn from the Bible. It’s the only way we can conduct our lives with godly influence. And we have to realize that our behavior does influence others.
(Example) Behavior Analysts completely understand the principle of shaping public opinion and creating conduct. They know that environment, ideas, images, sounds, colors, music, and use of language affect our behavior. That is why the Cultural Engineers—those with an agenda to upend social values and create new values—take advantage of this principle. But Christians can engage in the same practice for an altogether different purpose. We can model the behavior that brings glory to Christ and urges others to live a godly life.
Paul told Timothy in verse twelve to “show yourself an example” (NASB); the NIV renders it, “set an example”; and the KJV says, “be thou an example.” The verbs used in each version are the same tense—they are action verbs. That means the manner in which we live influences others.
We give permission for others to replicate our behavior when they observe ours. For example, we influence others by our style of dress, by our manner of speech, or by those we choose as our friends. That’s why 1 Timothy 4:16 says: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
(Example) When you were young, how many heard mamma scold your misbehavior with this familiar injunction: “If Tommy jumps in the fire are you going to jump in the fire?” I heard it and I hated it! One reason I hated that cliché is because “the Tommy” I got in trouble with never jumped in the fire; he jumped into things that were fun and “cool”! That’s what got me in trouble!
The reason we have to constantly guard our behavior and “set an example” is because others are not only watching, they are imitating. There is always the possibility that whatever do will influence others to mimic our behavior.
On many occasions Pastors have said, “Christians aren’t perfect, they’re forgiven.” While that statement is accurate, it shouldn’t be interpreted as permission to sin. We can’t excuse ourselves by saying, “Well, I’m only human, so it’s alright if I act less than perfect.” No! The Bible commands us to discipline ourselves to live right. And the answer to “Right Living” involves training. 1 Timothy 4:7 says: “train yourself to be godly.” When you discipline and train yourself in a specific area you get results. For example:
If you discipline yourself with proper dietary and fitness habits you will see positive results.
If you apply yourself to hours of persistent practice with a musical instrument, you will eventually master that instrument.
And when we train ourselves with the principles of God’s Word, it will affect our behavior and, in turn, bless others.
I am convinced many people in the world are looking for that. They want to witness an exemplary role model. That’s why we have to intentionally set an example. It’s why Romans 14:13 says to: “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brothers way.”
Have you known somebody whose character was so exemplary that it brought out the best from others? Their very presence seemed to foster goodness and grace from those that surrounded them.
But then there are people whose conduct is such that it brings out the worst in others. They are dishonest, foul-mouthed, bitter, or constantly use their tongue to injure and slander others. Thus, our actions will either lift or lower the behavior of others.
(Transition) So, how do we train ourselves to set a godly example? There are several ways, but one manner is to study the life of Christ and imitate Him. We can exert godly influence upon others as we pattern our life after Christ.
Living With Godly Influence Requires Imitating Christ
The ancient Greeks said imitation was the highest form of flattery. I suppose that’s true because Jesus is our Example and imitating Him is the preeminent way of glorifying God.
(Illustration) Years ago a young artist painted his perspective of the Last Supper. He unveiled his work before the renowned Russian writer Tolstoy. Tolstoy carefully studied the strokes with his eyes flashing back and forth across the canvass. Finally, Tolstoy pointed to the central figure and said: “You don’t love Him.” The artist replied, “Why that’s Jesus Christ.” “I know,” said Tolstoy, “but you don’t love Him. If you loved Him more, you would paint Him better” (Paul Tan, 7,700 Illustrations, # 5644, Assurance Publishers, 1979).
Most of us are not artists, but the preeminent way we display our love and devotion to Christ is by obeying His Word. That’s why Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” And the New Testament records Christ’s Words, deeds, and discloses even His personality so we could pattern our lives after Him.
But I want you to especially notice Hebrews 12:2. The writer says we should be “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith.” What’s important is the phrase “looking unto Jesus,” because the Greek verb for “looking” has a special meaning. It means “to turn your eyes away from one thing and fix them on something else.” But it also carries a deeper meaning. It indicates the impossibility of looking in two directions at the same time. The marksman aiming his arrow at the target cannot focus on both the target and those behind him simultaneously. He must maintain a single eye. Thus, followers of Christ must focus on Christ and prevent distractions from the world from causing him/her from missing the mark.
(Illustration) On April 24, 1995 America suffered its second worst act of terrorism—the Oklahoma City bombing. After the FBI discovered Timothy McVeigh masterminded the plot, it also disclosed some fascinating insight into McVeigh’s background. Prior to the bombing, McVeigh intensely studied “The Turner Diaries,” a paperback book advocating violence against people-groups. McVeigh studied it so passionately until he eventually perpetrated one the most heinous acts of violence on American soil.
(Insight) Something happens to a person that becomes captivated and transfixed on an object or idea or philosophy or even another person. Whatever persistently captures our attention becomes an altar! Maybe that sounds strange, but this is exactly what happens when we lose our proper focus of life and set our affections on that which is inappropriate. Let me explain: I want to give you an Old Testament definition of an altar. The Bible describes an altar as a place where people met with God. It’s where worshipers brought sacrifices to atone for sin and restore fellowship with God. As we look for deeper significance, we realize that altars connect people with something outside themselves. It bonds them with something transcendent. And when people approach an altar and give attention to it, it becomes a place where they purposely invite an outside entity to affect them. And now you can see how an altar, whether it is a sanctified place of worshipping God or a corrupt place of sacrificing to the world, will either improve us or corrupt us. We are always affected by our places of devotion.
Notice what the book of Revelation says about this.
(Illustration) In the book of Revelation Jesus addressed the church at Pergamum with these words: “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is: and you hold fast My name” (2:13). At first glance, these words could seem to be a figurative characterization of the idolatry and evil that permeated Pergamum. But many scholars believe “Satan’s throne,” which Christ mentioned, was actually the altar of Zeus—a 40-foot statue that overlooked the city. Consequently, as the people of Pergamum connected with the altar of Zeus it horribly affected their behavior. History reveals that the worshippers of Zeus murdered thousands of Christians at this altar. Centuries later, in the late 1800’s, a German archaeologist unearthed this Altar of Zeus and moved it to Europe. More specifically, he resituated it to East Berlin. Soon afterward a German General became mesmerized by it and made frequent visits to the museum to view it. Who was that General? It was Adolph Hitler who would soon slaughter more than six million Jews! You see, that which consumes our attention affects our behavior.
(Application) Young people, you need to carefully determine whose poster you hang on your bedroom wall and who becomes your role model. You may not realize it but there are sinister forces trying to corrupt your life. There is nothing wrong with admiring a genuine hero. It’s okay to imitate people that champion moral values. But there’s One hero that stands preeminent to all others, and His name is Jesus Christ.
Have you ever really investigated the life of Christ?
I’ve never known a psychologist to cure a deranged person with one visit. But Jesus did, and repeatedly! On one occasion He delivered a man filled with 6000 demons with one Word—“Go”!
I’ve never known an ophthalmologist to correct congenital blindness, but Jesus did it instantly!
I’ve never known of a delivery truck supplying enough food to feed 5000 people. But Jesus fed 5000 people from a little boy’s lunch basket!
The only way I’ve crossed lakes is with a boat or skis or by bridge. But Jesus walked across them in sandals!
And I’ve never known anyone to die and three days later decide to live again. But that’s the testimony of Christ and He’s a real hero!
If we believe what the Bible says about Jesus we should follow Him as closely as possible. And Jesus repeatedly urged us to follow Him:
In Matthew 9:9 Jesus said to Matthew, “follow me.”
In Matthew 19:21 Jesus commanded the rich young ruler, “Come, follow me.”
In Mark 1:17 Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
In Luke 5:11 four of Christ’s disciples “left everything and followed him.”
In John 1:43 Jesus said to Philip, “follow me.”
In John 21:19, after the resurrection, Jesus again urged Peter, “follow me.”
This is what God wants. And the Gospel writers use the word “follow” 77 times as it relates to Christ. But there’s more to this word than meets the eye.
(Definition) In the New Testament the Greek word that is translated “follow” is akoloutheo. It describes “a committed attachment with someone to travel their direction.” For example, a football coach has about 60 players on his team. These players are committed to following the coach’s practice schedule, training program, and game-day leadership. The players follow the coach because they believe in his expertise and knowledge of the game. Occasionally, just before the kickoff, a team will gather behind their coach and run onto the field. When the players “follow” a coach like this it’s called, akoloutheo. But there is another important Greek word for “follow” that the New Testament employs. It’s the word, parakoloutheo. The prefix para doesn’t mean we walk behind someone, like a football team follows a coach; it means we “walk side by side and heart to heart with someone.” Parakoloutheo indicates a bonded relationship where the follower is intimately in sync with the leader. This follower has total commitment to their leader. It’s more than a superficial “knowing,” it’s an unbounded, intimate, wholehearted commitment toward another.
I want to illustrate the difference between akoloutheo and parakoloutheo.
(Congregational Participation) (Choose a Church Staff person to stand beside you. Then Pastor says to Staff person:) “I want to determine whether you “akoloutheo” me or you “parakoloutheo” me so I need to ask some questions (1) What is my name? (Wait for answer.) (2) Where is one of my favorite restaurants to eat? (Wait for answer.) (3) What is my hobby? (Wait for answer.) (4) Where was I born? (Doesn’t know answer.) (5) Where did I start school? (Doesn’t know answer.) “Well, I think you “akoloutheo” me, but because you didn’t know some personal things about me you don’t parakoloutheo me—at least not yet. Thank you for assisting me.” (I now call my wife to answer these questions and she answers all correctly. Thus, her intimate knowledge of me infers that she enjoys a parakoloutheo relationship with me.) Now Saints of God, do you see the difference between akoloutheo and parakoloutheo? It’s the difference between following from a distance and being completely bound to someone.
Let’s continue investigating this concept because it’s important to our relationship with Christ. Do you know what makes the 144,000 sealed witnesses so influential and powerful during the Great Tribulation as they minister on earth? Revelation 14 supplies the answer:
Revelation 14:1-5 says: “Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.”
The reason the 144,000 influence multitudes for Christ during the Tribulation is because they are wholly devoted to following the Lamb. They “parakoloutheo” the Lord and are attached to Him with an inseparable bond. They are completely yielded to His guidance, they go wherever He leads, and they do whatever He commands. Consequently, these cannot be ignored. In other words, Christians that are vitally connected to God make a powerful impact upon men! And if you want to influence men on earth you must parakoloutheo with your God in heaven.
(Illustration) Several years ago a young mother in Utah was converted to Christ. She didn’t grow up in Church, so she had developed some habits that weren’t Christ-like. But she wanted to obey God’s Word. The doctor diagnosed her with heart trouble and told her to stop smoking. She knew it set a bad example for her daughter but it was difficult to stop. During a church prayer meeting she shared why it was so difficult to kick the habit. These are her words: “I know smoking is wrong, but every time I come close to quitting I remember three members of our church that smoke and I justify my habit.” You see, our behavior does affect those that know us!
There’s a reason we must commit ourselves to wholly following the Lamb. It is through our godly living that we positively influence others for Christ and help them to live victoriously. Let us strive to live with godly influence.
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, (25) to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24).