The Bible has a lot to say about the power of influence. What can we do to avoid being negatively influenced and to seek positive influence?
Solomon warned, “Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go” (Proverbs 22:24). Almost 3,000 years later, it’s still a bad idea to include angry people in your circle of friends (or even your news feed). Why? “Lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul” (verse 25).
Maintaining a friendship with people who are regularly angry—or worse, furious—will influence us. The more time we spend with angry people, the more likely we are to learn their ways and start adopting their habits. That relationship will have a direct impact on who we become.
That’s the power of influence. It changes people. It doesn’t always mean a bad change, but the Bible spends a lot of time warning us not to underestimate the impact of influence in our lives. Solomon also wrote, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Paul warned the Church, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Corinthians 15:33, Berean Study Bible).
There’s no way to switch this process off. We can’t become a “companion of fools” and expect not to be influenced by those same fools—but making it a priority to walk with the wise will guarantee a far more positive influence in our lives.
(What is wisdom and how can we get more of it? Read “The Importance of Wisdom and How to Become Wiser” for more on that subject.)
What Israel can teach us about influence
The story of Israel is a case study in the power of negative influence. God was sending them to destroy the Canaanites—wicked nations who offered their false gods “every abomination to the LORD which He hates . . . for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31).
But Israel didn’t follow through. “They did not destroy the peoples, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them, but they mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works; they served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan” (Psalm 106:34-38).
Influence was at work. Influence is always at work.
But not all influence is created equal. There are three factors that directly impact the strength a given influence has on us: proximity, respect and repetition. If we want to alter the amount of influence someone (or something) has over us, we can start by adjusting those factors accordingly.
This is the most straightforward factor. How close are you to the influence? Lessening its impact means putting some distance—real or metaphorical—between it and you. If you’re not near it, it’s going to have a harder time pulling you in. And if it’s a good influence that you want to have a greater impact in your life, well, get closer.
That might mean going out of your way to avoid certain people or making an effort to spend time with others. Or it might mean putting some objects (like your Bible) within arm’s reach, while making others (like a phone full of distracting apps) harder to access.
Of the three factors, respect is the only internal one. It can have the greatest impact on what influences us—while being the hardest to change. We naturally want to be like the people and concepts we respect. Respecting someone who exerts a negative influence can make it that much more difficult to break free of it.
The key here is to spend extra time making sure we respect what God respects—and hate what He hates. The more we study His Word to find out what those things are, the more we’ll prime ourselves to respond to positive influences (and ignore negative ones).
Whereas proximity is about our distance from a given influence, repetition is about how often we encounter that influence. The two go hand in hand—the closer you are to an influence, the more likely you are to encounter it on a regular basis.
But repetition is sometimes easier to change than proximity. Even when you can’t change the distance between yourself and an influence, you might be able to change your routine in a way that brings you into contact with it more (or less) frequently.
Choosing the right kind of influence
If we are close to something, value it and routinely spend time with it, we’re more likely to internalize it and let it change us.Changing any of those factors will change the strength of an influence in your life. You might not always be able to change all three of them, and you might not be able to change each of them to the same degree, but every little bit helps.
If we are close to something, value it and routinely spend time with it, we’re more likely to internalize it and let it change us. If we’re far from it, disgusted by it and actively avoiding it, we’re more likely to remain unchanged by it.
By keeping some of the Canaanites around as their neighbors (proximity), developing an interest in their customs (respect) and continually mingling with them (repetition), Israel came “to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9). This resulted in their own destruction and captivity.
Conversely, the apostle Peter (who considered himself a “sinful man” in Luke 5:8) was positively influenced by the 3½ years he spent with Jesus Christ—years that were filled with proximity, respect and repetition of a better influence. When Jesus asked if the disciples wanted to give up and walk away, Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Influence is a powerful force, and for good or for ill, it will shape us. As Christians in progress, our job is to be aware of two important truths about influence.
The first truth is this: We can actively choose who and what we’re influenced by. How? By adjusting the proximity, respect and repetition involved. Our responsibility is to pursue godly wisdom and steer clear of foolishness.
The other truth is this: Just as the lives of others can influence us, so, too, can our lives influence others. Whether that’s an influence that other Christians seek out or seek to avoid depends almost entirely on us.
This article was written at a reader’s suggestion. If you’d like to suggest a topic for future editions of “Christianity in Progress,” you can do so anonymously at lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas. We look forward to hearing from you!