The director of Public Prosecutions in the UK recently announced that she is considering a complaint against Brexit campaigners, alleging that they exerted ‘undue influence’ in their messaging to voters. The claim is that the financial incentives promised are spurious and unrealisable.
Out of interest I looked up the technical definition of ‘undue influence’. It is a legal term defined as: ‘influence by which a person is induced to act otherwise than by their own free will or without adequate attention to the consequences.’
Whether this is true in the case of Brexit, is not what I am interested in right now—it could probably be true of every election. Rather, I am interested in the possibility of ‘undue influence’ in the christian life.
All of us have influences, and all of us are influencers. You might not think so, after all you live a quiet life, you don’t rock the boat, you don’t seek to impress anyone, or be impressed, how could you possibly be an influencer? Well, because influence is relative. Older siblings have younger siblings; fathers have sons; mothers have daughters; preachers have hearers; elders have assembly members, and the list could go on. We are all leaders in some dimension, and we all exert some kind of influence.
This was what was on Paul’s mind when he wrote the Galatian epistle; “For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh” (Gal 6:13).
The problem in Galatia was legalism. Into the churches had come influencers who desired that all the Gentile converts be circumcised so that they were exactly like they were. The pressure was so intense that even some of the ‘pillars of the church’ (2:11) were to blame, and Paul had to ‘withstand’ Peter to his face—which is much better than doing it behind his back! Even these pillars had people who were influencing them—‘they who seemed to be somewhat’. What a mess.
But Paul’s point is simple—‘you want to be circumcised, then you also need to keep the whole law (5:3). But you know that you can’t keep the whole law, so don’t allow yourselves to be put under bondage. Even those who are influencing you don’t keep the law; all they are doing is boasting in your conformity to their standards!’ (My paraphrase).
We should not take this warning lightly, or fail to miss the corollary. It is possible that we have standards that are extra-biblical and we seek to impose them on others. We have developed habits (maybe even good ones) that help us and keep us disciplined and focused, but it is possible in our enthusiasm we force them on others and they become a yoke of bondage (2:4). It might even be that we exert influence to ensure an outward ‘standard.’ Paul was in no way allowing them liberty to live how they wanted–he deals with this in 5:1—but he was warning them against deliberately adding layers to their christianity, imposed by others, because even the imposers were unable to reach the standard! This is the christian version of ‘undue influence.’
Dear christian, copy in others, what you see of Christ. Examples are important, but take every example to the book before you copy it in your life. If you can’t say of the influence what Paul said of Himself—‘imitate me, because I imitate Christ’ (1 Co. 11:1)—then leave it out. And be very careful before you insist on conformity to your own standards. You might be imposing them merely to impress others.
Mervyn Hall and his wife are in fellowship in the assembly that meets in Hebron Gospel Hall in Bicester (UK) and is employed as a business consultant to the Healthcare industry.