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I wonder if you’ve ever found yourself in a situation, when you have been out with friends or when you have been at work, for example, when you have been with a group of people and the behaviour turns from being rowdy, good fun to crossing a line that you are uncomfortable with? Perhaps the conversation and the banter gets a bit close to the knuckle or becomes gossip or a bit malicious or full of innuendos. Maybe the wine and beer has been flowing, which has been fine, but now it is getting a bit too drunken and you are beginning to feel uncomfortable with how that is impacting how people are now behaving.
A couple of years ago, I was going out for dinner with a friend of mine who works in Christian media - and we were with a couple of very famous Christians from the US who shall remain nameless. The purpose of the dinner out was to see if these American guys would fund a major youth work project I was launching. Quite simply, that night I was chasing their dollar! Dinner was fine, but as the evening wore on, their conversation became less and less appropriate and I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. Now, I wanted their money for my project – pure and simple, so if I said anything or left the meeting, I knew that it would cost me tens of thousands of dollars. But if I stayed, I would be compromising myself more and more. I really wrestled with it, I’ll be honest and the temptation to stay and join in with the conversation was strong. But after a while, I knew that this was not the right thing to do so I made my excuses and left. Needless to say, I never saw them again and I didn’t get the money but I am still convinced it was absolutely the right thing to do.
But tough as it is, as Christians, we know that we should be behaving in a different way: staying sober enough to retain control of ourselves or avoiding destructive conversation. Sometimes it’s easier to say nothing than to stand up for what we know is right and true as a follower of Jesus. Peer pressure has an immense hold over us. We think it’s just for children and young people - but I think peer pressure remains just as strong through our adult life.
In this passage we’ve heard read from 1 Peter today, we are given some instructions about how we are to live our lives as Christians particularly in the light of peer pressure that we face. It’s a pretty straight-talking passage and the guidance to us is very clear. So let’s see what Peter has to say to us through this passage - and if you want to follow it with me, it’s on page 251 in the second half of our pew Bibles, the New Testament.
In this passage, Peter is calling us to stay strong and stay distinctively Christian, despite the social pressure to conform. And that takes a strong and courageous spirit, as Peter points out in verse 1: “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same intention”.
As we thought about in previous weeks, Christ is the pattern for us as an example of someone who stayed strong even when he was deeply misunderstood. And Peter says here, that, like Jesus, we are to arm ourselves with the same intention…
How do we resist peer pressure and live out our calling as Christians? Well, Peter outlines 4 steps for us here…
1. We must develop a new mindset
We need a mindset of strength and discipline so that we can stay strong in faith, no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And that can only happen when we confidently claim our new identity as Christians.
The truth is that, since we have become followers of Jesus, we are not the same as we used to be - and we need to be confident in who we are.
The old Steve, the old ‘Me’ who existed before I became a Christian, would quite happily have engaged in that conversation with my American colleagues and it was tempting for me to slip back into that old way of being. But I had to stay strong and say, “No – this is not who I am anymore: I am a different person now”.
And Peter lays this on the line for us in verse 1: “Whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin”.
As Christians, we have finished with sin. Full stop.
That doesn’t mean that we will never sin again. It doesn’t mean that we will never get things wrong again or that we won’t sometimes be tempted to behave as we used to. But the sinful life is no longer our starting point, it does not define who we are.
You are not defined by your sin or your propensity towards sin: you are a beautiful, wonderful, amazing child of God with the Spirit of God dwelling within you.
And if we want to resist peer pressure, the first step is to develop a mindset that claims that truth for its own: to be able to say, “No, I am not that person any more. I am different now…I am finished with sin”.
And that leads on to the second step for resisting peer pressure
2. Make lifestyle choices out of that new mindset
Peter says in verse 2: “So live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God”.
So in all the minutiae of life, in the course of our ordinary 9 to 5, if you like, we must be resolved to do the will of God rather than pursue our own human impulses.
God first in everything we do and say…
The will of God is our guiding principle in life and he then goes on to contrast this with the type of behaviour which is to be avoided; it’s a fairly random list really, but covers a lot of types of behaviour that we know doesn’t really stack up with our calling to be a follower of Jesus. I think this is the crux of his argument is this: we can either live our lives by doing what God wants us to do or we can live our lives by doing what other people want us to do.
And here is the issue in verse 4 that so often causes us pain as Christians: “They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses…”
That is peer pressure, isn’t it? And that is where the rub comes for us, because we want to be popular and liked and seen to be in with the crowd and we don’t want people to think that we are now ‘hoilier-than-thou’ or being judgemental towards them, or being a bit pious, or a stick in the mud who doesn’t know how to have a good time.
Well, read the Gospels in the New Testament: Jesus was often found at parties and weddings and celebrations. More often than not, you could find him where the wine was flowing and the music was playing and the dancing was happening and the laughter was raucous and loud. Jesus was no party-pooper – he knew how to have a good time. But he also knew his limits, he had clear boundaries and he was able to say, in a non-judgemental way, “Thus far and no further for me, please”.
And that’s what we’ve got to learn to do for ourselves so that we can still have a good time and enjoy life but not give in to peer pressure.
And in the light of that, Peter makes a factual statement: not as a warning or a threat, but merely as a fact in verse 7: “The end of all things is near”. Some day, Jesus will return and the current order of things will be wrapped up and our lives, fundamentally, are a preparation for that moment. So Peter says in verse 7, “Be serious and discipline yourselves…”
Being a Christian is not a hobby, it’s not an optional extra to be fitted around the rest of life. It is a lifestyle of spiritual discipline: not so that we can’t have any fun or enjoy life and have a laugh - but so that we get the balance right, despite the pressure we may face.
So, first – develop a new mindset.
Second – live your life in the light of that new mindset.
3. Be motivated by love for others, not a desire to be popular
Peter makes his priority quite clear in verse 8: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another…”
You’ve heard enough of my sermons by now to realise my conviction that the Christian faith is all about ‘love’. ‘Love’ is the very heart of the Gospel and it is what our lives are all about: love for God and love for one another.
Increasingly, St. Andrew’s must become a church hallmarked by love. It must increasingly be a place where people are loved and not judged; a safe place where we can be vulnerable and make mistakes and be comfortable in the knowledge that we will still be loved and welcomed, no matter how much we have got things wrong. Sometimes we will get it right, sometimes we will get it wrong. And each one of us needs to be sure that failure in our walk with God will not result in the loss of love and support from others.
We need to be constant in love for each other.
No matter what – keep loving, keep loving, keep loving…
And as Peter says here, that is so important because “love covers a multitude of sins”. We all get it wrong on occasion – we all mess up, don’t we? But if we love each other, then mistakes are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten.
And a church that lives by that rule is a church that will become a real community haven because more than anything else, we all want to receive unconditional love and forgiveness, don’t we?
And so Peter fleshes this out a little further in verse 9 when he writes, “Show hospitality to one another without complaining”. Hospitality, as I have said before, is about far more than drinking coffee together after a service. Hospitality is about absolute acceptance of one another; for good and for bad and without judgement. Hospitality is about the unconditional welcome that we can give to one another, both when we are succeeding in the faith and when we are failing in the faith.
So show hospitality to one another without any judgement - and in that way, we can resist peer pressure without coming across as self-righteous or having a pious attitude. We can resist and live out the Christian life. And if we do that with an attitude of non-judgemental love towards others, then we will be respected for who we are, what we believe and how we choose to live.
So, develop a new mindset, make lifestyle choices out of that mindset - but do so in a way that is always loving and never judgemental.
4. Use the gifts that God has given you to build positive relationships
As we make alternative lifestyle choices and choose not to go with the crowd but resist the peer pressure to do so, it is tempting to move away from the people we have previously mixed with in an attempt to somehow keep ourselves ‘pure and holy’.
But Jesus didn’t do that: he was renowned for going to parties with prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners and hanging out with the people on the margins of society. But rather than doing so in a way that led him to get involved in ungodly behaviour, he hung around with these people out of a desire to love and serve them. And that is the same for us too.
Peter says in verse 10: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” That’s an important point to remember: God has given each one of us spiritual gifts; they are God’s grace towards us and should be treated as such and they are to be used for ministry as we seek to love others.
And then Peter breaks these gifts down into two primary categories: gifts that relate to worship and gifts that relate to pastoral care for one another. Verse 11: “Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God”. That means the preacher, those who do the intercessions, those who give the readings from Scripture the welcomers at the door, those who give out hymn-books and so on: whoever does the speaking, do it as one bringing words from God. And then, in the same verse: “Whoever serves must do so with the strength that God provides”. And that is a broader category of ministry, of course, encompassing love and care that we show to others in our everyday lives.
So even if you struggle with the lifestyle choices of a friend or colleague, you must not judge them or walk away from them. God has given you gifts to build a stronger relationship with them: so speak to them the words very words of God and love them and serve them to the best of your ability
So in conclusion, then, we are called to live counter-cultural lives; not giving in to peer pressure and doing what others want us to do but seek instead to do the will of God in our lives. How do we do that?
We develop a new mindset as a follower of Jesus.
We make lifestyle choices from out of that new mindset.
We do not judge others or separate ourselves from them in some pious way.
We continue to love and show hospitality and to respect and to serve.
In this way, we will resist the peer pressure and we will live the life to which we are called as a follower of Jesus. It is a counter-cultural calling and not an easy one to live out - but it is who we are and it is who we are destined to be. This calling is a privilege – and in the power of the Holy Spirit – it is possible for us all.
Jesus calls it “life in all its fullness” – and we can embrace that and live it out.