Saturday, 3 November 2012

What the Bible Says about Peer Pressure

My kids have been struggling with peer pressure the last few weeks.
I call it that.
When their friends are wanting them to do something that they aren't sure they want to do but feel pressured to do.
To feel accepted.
To not be rejected.
One was pressured to learn a dirty ditty.
One was pressured to tell rude jokes.
One was pressured to use coarse language.
All felt unaccepted for doing the right thing.
That's how I heard about it.
I heard about the pain of the rejection.
The pain of standing up to the the pressure.
The pain of the wondering what will happen tomorrow, on the playground of a schoolyard.

Proverbs 29:25 “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” 

You can understand my delight when I found this verse while searching for another this week. A gem to teach my children to help equip them for the next day's schoolyard antics. So I decided to do a little research on the whole topic of peer pressure or as the bible calls it, “fear of man”. This is what I found. I'm pretty sure it just doesn't apply to children and teens as we tend to think in our modern society, for all the examples I found in the bible were of adults. The most infamous of all in my opinion was King Saul.

In 1 Sam 15:24 King Saul confesses it was fear of the people he ruled over that led him to violate God's command to attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belonged to them. He caves into peer pressure. Bit wimpy for a king I think. Not the sort of strong character you would want to see in a leader. So God sends the prophet Samuel to Saul to tell Saul exactly what He thinks of the whole debacle. Let's just say that Samuel doesn't mince words. God accuses Saul, through Samuel, of rebellion, disobedience, divination, arrogance, idolatry and rejecting God and His word. His punishment? He loses his crown.

I was surprised about the divination and idolatry bit. How does that fit? It's pretty strong terminology. According to Vines, divination is the pagan equivalent to prophesying or seeking to control or know the future in anyway other than by God. True prophecy comes from God and essentially requires submission to God's authority says Vines. 

So when God says in 1 Sam 15:23 “For rebellion is like the sin of divination”, God's saying rebellion is a big deal. I like how the Message translates it.

  “ Not doing what God tells you is far worse than fooling around in the occult. Getting self-important around God is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors. Because you said NO to God's command He says NO to your kingship”.

In case you were wondering what God thought about the occult and dealing with dead ancestors have a read of Deuteronomy 18:9-22. Let's just say God says NO with a few exclamation marks to follow. Once again it comes back to teaching my children to persist in walking blamelessly before their God. To actually do everything he asks them to do, even on the playground with all their fears of rejection and tomorrows.

But I didn't want to just teach them that.
I wanted to show them the whole story.
To show them the other side of God's heart for the person who does do what He says, even when suffering from a fear of man.

Isaiah 51:12-16 says that God comforts that person and protects them in His hand. Isaiah also reminds us who God is; the creator of all things, with all authority, all power, all wisdom. And so I sought to explain that to my children. That though it hurts, God offers comfort, a healing balm for their pain. A comfort that is actually tangible in a supernatural type of way when we obey. I want them to understand they don't have to do this alone, in their own strength, but in the strength of the Creator God, who spoke this world into existence with not much more than a single word.

Psalm 118:6 “The LORD is with me, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

John throws some more light on this topic in chapter 12:42-43. Here some leaders of the Jews believed Jesus, but would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue. John says

  “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God." 

Romans 2:29 says God praises the man who's heart is circumcised by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 supports this by saying we are to be a God pleaser not a man pleaser.

And I start to see the whole picture I think.
This fear of man, this peer pressure is really about where I long for my praise to come from. 
Who do I think is more important? 
If God, then I will crave His praise more than I crave that of my peers. 
If not, then I will listen to my peers and friends more than I listen to God and commit the sin of idolatry.

Fear” in the Hebrew means to be afraid and is linked to terror and dread. So fear of man refers to being more afraid of what the man might do or say than what God says. In Isaiah 8:11-13 God tells Isaiah to not fear all the things around him that others in his culture fear but to only fear God. Here the fear of God means to stand in awe of him. To show reverence and respect. It's this showing of reverence and respect that leads us into choosing obedience when it's difficult. Isaiah then had to go and tell King Ahaz that he was fearing man more than God and needed to change his ways. Ahaz of course doesn't listen and it's all a big disaster.

I'm pretty sure this was Jonah's problem too when asked to preach to the Ninevites. His fear of man led him in the opposite direction to what God desired for him. I don't want to do that. I don't want my children to do that. Jonah ran away, was disciplined, then obeyed. I want to obey the first time. To skip the need for discipline. I can see this same principle with the Israelites, when they were told to go into Canaan. They feared man, rebelled, were disciplined for 40 years in the desert then obeyed! The promised Canaan could have been theirs much earlier, but was put on hold because they feared man and refused to budge!

All four (Saul, Jonah, Ahaz, Israelites) knew what God wanted them to do but rebelled against him because of their fear of what others would think, say or do. These are not situations where they were uncertain of God's path for them. In uncertainty we are to pray and inquire of God as to his path. But in all these situations they knew what they were to do. It had been revealed to them. That's why their fear of man was called rebellion.

So this is what I will teach my children. For I am called to teach them the truths of His word.

Ps 34:4 “I sought the LORD and He answered me; he delivered me from all my fears”.

Ps 34:19 “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from then all” 

Proverbs 8:13 “To fear the LORD us to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech”.

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