Rev. Dr. Duke Jeyaraj
In a month when the world celebrates Friendship Day, it may be a good idea to think about handling peer pressure.
Peer pressure. Each day it jabs at you as you rub shoulders with your pals at High School. Time and again it nudges you as you walk hands on shoulder with your buddies at College. Repeatedly it bumps into you as you jostle with the people at your work-spot. There are friends in your world who pressure you, prod you to do things that you pretty well know won’t please the Lord. “A sip of Rum won’t rub away your saintliness,” your associate remarks in an attempt to make you somehow join him in drinking. “What’s your opinion about him? Come on speak up!” your mates coax you to join their round table conference where nothing but backbiting and gossip are going on. “You really haven’t lived if you haven’t yet made a visit to this salacious site,” your Internet-insane chum says cajoling you to copy his porn-site visiting habit. One of the reasons why urban 13-17-year-olds have sex is because their “friends have it” (according to a survey published in Outlook magazine). Well, don’t tell me that you haven’t faced peer pressure in your life and existence. You certainly have. And absolutely will. Hey listen – Jesus actually predicted that each of his followers would encounter peer pressure! He did not preach, “If the world hates you…” Instead He preached, “When the world hates you…” (John 15:18). Did not our Lord say, “Everyone will hate you because of your allegiance to me. But those who endure to the end will be saved” (Math 10:22)? Can we not say that on the basis of this verse handling peer pressure (among other sorts of pressures) is a matter that is so important it concerns our eternal salvation?
A DIRECT COMMAND
Did you know that there is a direct command in the Bible that we must not bow to peer pressure? The Bible does not mince words when it says, “Do not join a crowd that intends to do evil. When you are in the witness stand, do not be swayed by the opinion of the majority” (Ex. 23:2). Caleb took those words from the Law of Moses pretty seriously it seems. Otherwise, these daring words would not have flowed from his mouth when he stood in the witness-stand with the entire nation of Israel watching him, following his crew’s return from scouting the land of Canaan: “Let’s go at once to take the land. We can certainly conquer it!” This was in direct contradiction to the report given by the rest of the members of the spy crew. They all were unanimous in saying, “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are! The land we explored will swallow up any who go to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. We felt like grasshoppers next to them, and that is what we looked like to them!” (Num. 13:30-33). But Caleb refused to bow to the sheer peer pressure that would have been mounting on him to alter his report so that it too would sound negative like his colleagues’! And mind you Caleb was forty years old when this event happened – an extremely youthful age when you take into consideration that people lived for many hundreds of years in those times (Num. 14:6). Oh, for more Calebs in this crooked and depraved generation of young people! Calebs who will take God’s command that we must not follow the crowd in doing wrong, come what may!
What do we do when our buddies burden us to do things that our Master won’t have us do? Clueless? Got no answers? Well in God’s Word we certainly have some clues and answers to this perennial problem of youth. Want to hear them?
Making Jesus as our best pal ever is the best defence against the lures of Peer Pressure! Wondering how? Take a good look at Peter and you get to know. See Peter closely and this lesson will sink into your system. There were times when Peter and Jesus were close and cozy. Peter knew that it was a foregone conclusion that Jesus was going to be forced to carry the cross and he would finally be crucified on it. So in his heart he too decided that he would “deny himself and take up his cross” and follow His Master just as His Master taught them to (Mk. 8:34). That was why – I suppose – he flatly said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you!” when Jesus predicted that one of the twelve disciples would betray him (Luke 22:33). He felt that close and committed to Jesus. But then as we pretty well know Peter ended up denying Jesus. Three times out. What went wrong? Simple. Mathew records that when Peter was following Jesus he was following him from “far behind” after his arrest (Matt. 26:58). Mathew – I believe meant more than a geographical distance. He meant there was a spiritual distance between Jesus and Peter. He was drifting away from a warm and wonderful relationship with his Master. Just 11 verses and a short while later, Peter ended up denying Jesus (Matt. 26:69-75). This was the message that crystallized in my heart as I kept reading Matthew 26:58-75: “If you follow Jesus from a distance you would soon end up doing things that would displease him.” If only Peter had maintained his closeness with his Master he would have withstood the pressure put on him as he sat in the courtyard with those who were not clearly in sympathy with Jesus. From the way they eyed him suspiciously Peter knew he would be in trouble if he admitted that he was indeed Jesus’ most outspoken disciple. Peter was hanging out with a crowd hostile to Jesus without being close to Jesus. A potentially deadly combination that ultimately bust Peter’s spiritual fuse and rocked his commitment to Christ. The result was predictable: he ended up swearing that he did not know the Man who in his very first recorded sentence to Peter in Mathew’s Gospel told Peter to make him known (“Come, be my disciples, and I will show you how to fish for people!” – Mathew 4:19).
Have you made Jesus your best friend as yet? Well if there is anyone who can be called “a Friend who sticks closer than a brother,” it’s got to be Jesus (Prov. 18:24). Only sin will increase the distance between Him and you (Isa. 59:2). And if you ask Him to forgive your sins and stick close to him, the pressure from your pals to do things that displease Him will dwindle away, I bet. How do we get close to Jesus? By spending lots of time with him. By lapping up His Word hungrily. By taking the deliberate time-off from our busy worlds and standing still in his presence to have heart-to-heart talks with Him. If we inculcate this habit of constantly enjoying a close walk with our Maker, there will come a point in our life when we automatically say what the Psalmist said, “One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin!” (Psa. 84:10, MSG). Yes, it is living in his presence day in and day out that defuses the pressure on us to dwell in the “tents of the wicked” (Psa 84:10, KJV).
In summary, if you fall in love with Jesus chances are that you will not fall in line with the lousy ways of your filthy friends!
In order to escape the deadly effects peer pressure can have on our lives there are some friendships (actually fellowships) we must break. That is right – destroy outrightly! But I can almost hear you arguing, “But even Jesus was called as a ‘friend of sinners!’ – wasn’t he? ” Of course, he was! But his closest pals were never the cheating tax-collectors and the captivating prostitutes but Peter, James and John – three men who left their all to follow Him and later would not hesitate to die for Him! Jesus tried to lift the sinners to His level in the times He spent with them – He never stooped to their level. His goal of mixing with them freely was to evangelize them and not let his morals be eroded by them! Also, we must note that He reserved his thick friendship only for His disciples. In fact, he met them “often” in an olive grove – something He did not do with his “sinner” friends (John 18:2). Following the model of Jesus we can have a circumspect friendship with our unbeliever pals without having close fellowship (while reserving that with friends who closely walk with the Lord)! He by His personal example and model teaches us to say “No” to friends who call us for “ungodliness” thereby helping us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11,12).
Ask Rehoboam why he brushed aside the sensible advice to ease the great pressure his father Solomon put on the people of Israel. He would talk about another kind of pressure – peer pressure. His youthful buddies boosted his ego and tutored him to reply to a delegation that had come to meet him in this harsh manner: “My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist – if you think he was hard on you, just wait and see what I’ll be like! Yes, my father was harsh on you, but I’ll be even harsher! My father used whips on you, but I’ll use scorpions!” (I Kings 12:1-14). This peer-pressure-inspired rude reply eventually led the split of Israel into two Kingdoms – we can say that.
Oh, how many times foul friends have lured many a Christ-following youth to sin? Countless times. What is the solution? It is to willfully sever yourself from friends who seduce you forget your devotion to Christ. That is what Paul has taught us to do. Paul warned that the Corinthian believers must steer clear of some folk who argued that one could just feast and get drunk – enjoy life to the full – the reason being that “tomorrow we die” (and there was no resurrection from the dead and judgement before God to panic about – I Cor. 15:32). He plainly wrote, “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for ‘bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t even know God” (I Cor. 15:33-34). One version of the Bible renders that passage this way: “Don’t let yourself be poisoned by this anti-resurrection loose talk.” What Paul was teaching the Corinthians was in line with a present-day proverb that goes, “If you sleep with dogs you will get fleas!” Jesus would agree with Paul’s suggestion that we should cut ourselves from corrupting chums for he said, “Even if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…” (Matt. 5:29). What was Jesus getting at? It is probably this: “Your friend may be as dear to you as your eye. But cut your relationship with him if he causes you to sin against me!” (The imagery of “eyes” being compared to people is very much in the Bibles – See Dt. 32:10, Psa. 17:8 and Zech. 2:8). Your buddies may seem to you as the apple of your eyes. But it what they say is against what God says, you must steer clear of them because we are told to “guard” the Lord’s teachings which are to be the “apple of our eyes” (Prov. 7:2).
In short, one sure way of sending peer pressure packing is to pack off our persistently perverted pals!
When young people give in to peer pressure, they feel good for the moment. In fact, Jesus himself said, “If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own…” (John 15:19). But even some of the worldliest people will tell you that the warmth the world showers on you will be at best temporary. For example, famous American actress Marilyn Monroe once said, in an interview given at the fag end of her life: “Fame doesn’t fulfil you. It warms you a bit, BUT THAT WARMTH IS TEMPORARY!”
The story of the younger son – the prodigal son – which Jesus narrated is very familiar to us all. This son too was probably incited by his friends to somehow parcel away his portion of his Pop’s property. Armed with a lot of cash he threw parties (for who else, but his comrades). But when he was low on cash, and it is quite possible his so-called friends left him. One day he was feeding his pals. Pretty soon he was feeding on what was given to the pigs! Sad story, indeed! Had he had contemplated on some of the proverbs of Solomon, which he must have surely had access to as a Jewish youngster, he would not have wrecked his life. He must have read these stirring words in Proverbs that directly warned him of fair-weather friends. He had no time to chew and act upon these well known Proverbs: “My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them!…Don’t go along with them, my child!…The poor are despised even by their neighbors, while the rich have many ‘friends’ (meaning so-called friends who are not really friends)…Wealth makes many ‘friends’; poverty drives them away…” (Prov. 1:10-15; 14:20; 19:4). In short he missed the repeated message of Proverbs: the very same friends who egg you on to commit a sin may not hesitate to throw an egg on your face when you suffer as a result of your sin!
Quite often we bump into characters in the Bible who were let down by their close friends. You cannot miss how hurt David was when you read this: “As for this friend of mine, he betrayed me; he broke his promises. His words are as smooth as cream, but his heart is war. His words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!” (Psa. 55:20-21). Job (6:15-23) and Jeremiah (20:10) had similar experiences.
Go over these sob stories of those ditched by their bosom buddies at the time when they desperately needed them. Once you have done that – contemplated that – chances are that you will not be pressured by these very same people to let down “the Friend closer than a brother” – Jesus! Agree?
Apart from his family (seven of them) no one took seriously Noah’s preaching that there would be a flood seriously. I am sure there were quite a few to make jokes about this judgment-preacher (II Pet 2:5). Some probably told Noah, “Look at those short pants! Hey Noah, expecting a flood?” Sure these sort of jokes must have put pressure on Noah to quit. But he did not quit. He kept doing what God wanted him to do. Faithfully.
Nehemiah was busy rebuilding the broken walls of Jerusalem. It was then that he heard this acidic remark from Tobiah: “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked on top of it!” (Neh 4:3). Would Nehemiah yield to this pressure that was put on him to quit doing what God called him to do? By no means. The wall rebuilding project was completed (Neh 6:15).
Like Noah and Nehemiah did, it is my prayer that you would withstand peer pressure to complete what God has called you to do and consequently enjoy the divine pleasure in your life.
Well, peer pressure can be handled perfectly well only if you will draft into your life these simple, Scriptural and pragmatic steps. You can count on it!
(This article by Rev. Dr. Duke Jeyaraj was published in the August 2021 edition of Aim Magazine published by the Evangelical Fellowship of India; Duke is the founder of Grabbing the Google Generation from Gehenna Mission, the G4 Mission. Find out more at http://www.dukev.org. Or WhatsApp +91-8886040605).