to exercise restraint or direction over;
the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others
In Matthew 28: 18-20, we read Jesus’ famous words that have been termed “The Great Commission”. Jesus said, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus told His followers to go and make disciples using His example as the way to accomplish that goal.
Even though the directive of the great commission is captured in Matthew 28, we have to dig into the rest of God’s word to determine the methods by which we are to achieve that directive. If Jesus tells us to reach people in the same way that He reached them, then we need to study and understand how He did that. If we study the scriptures, we can easily discern that Jesus constantly demonstrated the method of influence over the method of control. Jesus’ goal was NOT to establish a worldly rule over people and force them to submit to His commands. In John 6: 15, we can read that Jesus literally withdrew when He believed that the people were going to forcefully try and make Him a king.
Jesus’ real goal was to lovingly convince people into freely choosing to trust and follow Him. Jesus used a lot of different methods to accomplish that goal. He diligently sought to understand the needs of the people he was trying to reach, and He met those needs. It didn’t matter if they deserved it or not. He healed their sicknesses, gave them food, and even raised their dead. He set the example, by living a full and powerful life that people found attractive and were drawn to. Jesus loved people unto death and said things like, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus’ sacrificial, loving, bold, attractive persona drew people in and influenced them to follow Him in a way that no human being was able to do before He was born or since He was crucified.
If Jesus’ method was influence, then that is not only the method that He wants us to use, but it is the only method that truly works. If we really want to impact the world around us, it has to be through His method of influencing people not through our selfish, default method of controlling people. To be fair, control can accomplish a lot of things. For example, parents may be able to control their kids and force them to be “good” kids, but if the child hasn’t truly been influenced to trust in and adopt that lifestyle, there is a good chance they will run wild as soon as they leave the house. False religions may be able to control their congregations through fear and the distortion of God’s word, but they will lack the fullness of life that Jesus promised to His followers. Control does not produce God’s intended result of a willful, loving obedience. That obedience is meant to be anchored by trust and established in His kindness, love, grace and mercy.
If there was ever an instance where control was warranted, it was in God’s relationship to us. An all knowing, all good creator could justifiably control the every move of His creation to ensure a perfect outcome for every situation. However, He chose influence over control. He chose to lovingly and attractively woo us to choose to love Him, rather than to force us. Because in the truest sense of love, a love that He created, it must be chosen and not forced. I believe that the following statements illustrate the difference between control and influence:
- Control is rooted in fear while influence is rooted in trust.
- Control produces short term results, but influence produces lasting results.
- Control produces slaves, but influence produces followers.
- Control creates selfish competition while influence builds unified teams.
- Control suppresses people, but influence empowers people.
Friends, Jesus calls us to walk like Him. God’s good will for His children is that our every action and over every word would provide an intoxicating draw towards our loving Father. His goal is not for us to use the godliness within us and our knowledge of His word to control others into getting in line with our will. The goal is for us to become righteousness, and to influence others with the unexplainable love and life that shines through in the way we live. Our God chose influence over control, and that is His will for us as well. Let’s not strive to control others for our own benefit and comfort, but to unselfishly point them towards our loving Father for their benefit.