No one escapes peer pressure.
This past Christmas our congregation presented a vignette of two guys discussing the demands of Christmas decorating as imposed by their neighbors. In a powerful and humorous way they poked fun at those who feel “forced” to decorate their homes to maintain the “unofficial” standard of their subdivision. If our neighbors the Petersons spend significant time, money and effort decorating their home to honor the birth of Jesus, shouldn’t we do the same? If we don’t, does it reflect badly on our commitment to the faith? It was exaggeration for effect, funny stuff, but with a twinge of truth. Peer pressure sneaks up on all of us.
For the most part, I consider myself independently-minded. Those who know me best would likely agree. Some might even say I’m to blame for putting the prefix “non” in the word “nonconformist.” And yet, on the way to the office early this morning, I had to acknowledge that I, too, am subject to peer pressure. I only live a couple of miles from work. It’s a simple route. The road leading from my subdivision to the main thoroughfare delivers me to a stop light less than a block from our church. The speed limit begins at 40 mph but slows to 30 mph as it passes by a large public park and enters the city limits. It was still dark this morning as I pulled onto the main road. At first there were no cars in sight, but as I passed several other subdivisions and cross-streets two cars, then three, pulled out behind me. It’s a good black-top road that tempts even safe drivers to exceed the posted limit. But I’ve lived there awhile and know it has become a favorite spot for local police who love shooting their radar guns.
The three cars following me seemed oblivious to the posted speed and the tendency of local officials to police the traffic. The “one-car-length-for-every-ten-miles-per-hour-of-speed” rule did not seem to apply this morning. I’m no expert on safe driving distances, but the guy behind me was following so close I could not see his headlights. I could feel peer pressure start to build. Although I had entered the 30 mph speed zone, my speed began to increase first to 35mph and then, before I realized it, approached 40 mph. When I became aware of the pressure their influence was having, and glanced at my speedometer, I gradually slowed to the legal limit. It was only a moment or so, but I smiled to realize how susceptible I was to the behavior of those around me. As soon as we reached the multiple lane portion of the road, my fellow travelers roared past me, as if to say, “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”
Don’t you just love peer pressure?
I see the influence of peer pressure in people’s lives all the time. People let other people create feelings of inferiority, fear or even anger by their behavior or words. Who hasn’t felt the social pressure to dress a certain way, to engage in polite conversation, or even found themselves agreeing with something they completely reject, just because they didn’t want to make others feel uncomfortable? It often amuses me to hear someone express and opinion by saying, “Everyone I talk to feels the same way.” Knowing what I know about peer pressure, I’m sure their survey of “everyone” was mostly a survey of like-minded friends, or asked in such a way that their own strong opinion was obvious, and to keep from arguing, everyone just agreed. It is human nature to “go along to get along.”
But going along with popular opinion is not what God asks us to do. I’m not suggesting faithfulness as a Christian requires an offensive disposition. Jesus was gracious, but still willing to do the right thing, even when it was not the popular thing. He shocked his own disciples by entering a conversation with a sinful woman who came out to draw water from the public well at Sychar. Simon the Pharisee was surprised that Jesus allowed a known prostitute to anoint his feet with precious oil and dry them with her hair. And when he entered the home of Matthew to meet his outcast friends, Jesus’ critics asked His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and known sinners?” Jesus replied by quoting the Old Testament prophet saying, “Go and learn what this means for God has said, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to reach the righteous, but sinners.”
Mostly Jesus was gentle towards his detractors and gracious towards those outside a saving relationship with God. But when the defenders of religious traditions became self-righteous towards Him or towards the lost, Jesus became adamant in defense of His own nonconformist behavior. His detractors objected saying “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”
I’m not suggesting all Christians become nonconformists, or that we toss out all traditions as wrong. We are told in the Bible to speak the truth with love. And God Himself established some traditions and practices for the benefit of remembering important teachings. But we can never allow the strong opinions of some to kidnap the mission of all Christians to reach the lost while strengthening the saved to live bold and courageous lives of Christian witness before a nonbelieving world.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” Mark 1:35-38
- Share an example of peer-pressure you have had to resist.
- What did Peter want Jesus to do that was not His main purpose?
- What is the main purpose of every Christian and every Christian church?
Stephen Hower, Pastor
Challenging the status quo to awaken an appreciation for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Phil. 3:13,14 (and to lower my golf score)
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