In February 2014, the president of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan made history by being the first Nigerian president ever to suspend a governor of the central bank under a democratic dispensation. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was occupying the office at the time. A strong willed outspoken man, who would not succumb to pressure or fear from a group he called “Vested Interests” in a talk he delivered to a group of young people which went viral online. Sanusi chose to be speak –up against mighty men and institutions, perhaps against advice of caution by friends and associates. It could be argued that he also has some powers backing him since he’s not the son of a nobody; still he did what would not be easily forgotten in history. Judging by his utterances, he foresaw the outcome or consequences of his actions, despite this, he would not succumb to fear or pressure from any quarters. He would not play ball with the big boys, he chose rather stand on the other side.
Peer pressure is defined as social pressure by members of one’s peer group to take a certain action, adopt certain values, or otherwise conform in order to be accepted.[i] It is a kind of pressure which leads people to make decisions that they wouldn’t have made if no one was watching. Those who can stand above peer pressure are also those who can take the heat of being tagged as weird or social outcasts and also the heat of falling out of favour with the happening people. One may be oversimplifying Sanusi’s case if it is regarded as social pressure, his is rather a career or political pressure from the powers that be, but they’re similar in the sense that they both deal with acceptability.
It is a common phenomenon for the older generation to tag peer pressure as a disease of the younger generation. Even though its effects are more devastating in the teenage years because that’s when one’s life is shaped, peer pressure doesn’t live with teenagers or young adults only, it affects every age group. Those who are not affected by it are men and women of principle, courage and strong will, which could be teenagers or the elderly.
I’ve seen a man give birth to an extra child in order to catch up with his friend’s number. Some compete in terms of cars; they’d do anything to get a better car than their friend. Some men only need to be accused of slavishness to their wife and they’d show how much of a master they are before their peer. Needless to cite is the example of grown women and their silent competition with one another in various regards. To be a victim of peer pressure is easy; all it takes is the thought that one needs the approval or support of a group of persons in order to achieve an aim or maintain a status. It’s all about self image in the sight of those that seem to matter; and it needs to be said at this point that peer pressure sometimes lead people to do positive things.
It is the case that some men singularly pressure the world around them into noticing them and earning their respect even though they may be acting counter cultural either positively or negatively. Some negative examples that show up from recent history might be Islamist terrorists and homosexuals. They have guts, and by whatever means, they have made the world notice them. Homosexuality in fact, has become the new pressure on this generation. People like me, who are anti-homosexual-lifestyle, may become social outcast in the near future, and if one refuses to take a stand, one might be pressured into silence or speech in favour of the “alternative lifestyle”. Some positive examples readily available in history may be names like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who singularly pressured the world around them into noticing them and earning their respect.
Sometimes, except one looks closely, someone operating under the influence of societal acceptability might be mistaken for one who is seeking to singularly pressure the world around them. Such was the case with many who became social media activists overnight in response to a strong willed Nigerian Senator who stood up in defence of his marriages to under aged women. Call him a paedophile, at least he had the courage to say, “Here I stand”; the kind of courage lacking in many followers of Christ today. “Let’s not cause division”; “don’t be ‘a holier than thou’”; “Let’s be realistic”; “Are you saying they’re all wrong?”; “The world is changing, don’t get left behind”; “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”; such are statements which have become the slogan of today’s brand of Christianity. Statements which do not make you stand anywhere but here and there. And these are not in tandem with the motto of Biblical Christianity which was summarized in the courageous words of Peter when he said “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:39).
“Here We Stand” is an easier mantra than “Here I Stand”. It’s easier to pursue an unpopular cause when you have people of like minds around you who are willing to stand together with you. But “Here I Stand” connotes a strong belief in a cause and a desire to pursue it till the last breathe whether someone believed with you or not.
Those who successfully worshipped God and found favour with Him have been those who were willing to stand with Him whether the world believed or not, and they were not ashamed of their aloneness. A man named Enoch was accounted as one who walked with God for 300 years until God took him (Gen. 5:22). Whether someone believed with Him or not was of less importance to him, what mattered was that he was walking with God. Such was the case of Daniel, Joseph and Joshua who was credited with the statement: “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). As a follower of Christ, once you know you’re doing what God desires, even if it seems you’re alone, you’re not, God is with you and all that is required of you is to have the courage to say “Here I Stand”.
The story of Jesus Christ has its way of convicting hearts into deep emotional thinking and commitment when they hear it in its true light, but this commitment can be short-lived if not nurtured as expressed in Christ’s parable of the sower and the seed as recorded in Matthew chapter thirteen. When the sower’s seed fell on rocky places, “where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.” (vs. 5,6). Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop (vs. 7,8). Jesus explained further by saying: “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. “And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” (vs. 20-23).
This parables gives two reasons why those who accept Christ don’t grow to the level of being able to stand by their belief in Christ in the face of social acceptability or political correctness. It reveals that one may not be able to affirmatively say “Here I Stand” if they don’t carefully consider what has been heard and accepted from the onset; they may get excited about their newly found faith but cannot withstand criticisms or answer difficult questions which may result in covering of one’s head in shame where one ought to say “Here I stand”. The second reason may be that even though one understands so well the truth and has grown to love Christ, he/she values riches, fame, pleasure and earthly honour more than heavenly honour and thus it may be difficult to take a stand for heaven when it makes one stand in variance with riches, fame, pleasure and earthly honour.
On the other hand, it also shows why one who will say “Here I stand” in the presence of whoever and wherever no matter what is at stake may be able to do so unflinchingly. It is because they heard the word and understood it. A proper understanding of Christ’s commitment to us and what he gave up in order to save us in needed in order to be unashamed about whatever stand one takes for Christ’s sake. They understand Christ’s words when He said “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38); they understand it and they are willing to commit to it.
Moses, it was recorded, chose “to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25); He, like other men of faith whose stories were recorded in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, were not afraid nor ashamed to take a stand for God before men and angels, because “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:16). Moses didn’t postpone his time to stand for principle until a favourable season by rationalizing. He understood that now is always the time.
Ellen White writes:
“Now is the time for God’s people to show themselves true to principle. When the religion of Christ is most held in contempt, when His law is most despised, then should our zeal be the warmest and our courage and firmness the most unflinching. To stand in the defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few–this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason”[ii]
Our test comes when champions are few and we’re able to say “Here I Stand”. When our commitment to “live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” is infectious even to erstwhile non-believers, who would as a result of our unflinching stand, take a stand for God as well.
A story is told of a centurion named Sempronius, In the winter of 320 AD; Licinius was emporer of the East, he “broke his agreement with Constantine, Emperor of the West, in the Edict of Milan to end the persecution of Christians. Lucinius ordered all Roman soldiers to renounce Christianity and to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. Licinius was persecuting Christians at this time. His edict reached the Thundering Legion at Sabaste, and the order was passed down to the legionaries. Forty Christians in the legion withstod threats, beatings, and torture and refused to obey the edict, choosing instead to obey a higher authority: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them“”
In retaliation, the legion marched the men to a frozen lake where they were ordered to remove their armour and clothing and stand naked, as a form of torture to death, on a frozen lake. The legion lit a large fire on the shore with a warm bath and food to tempt the Christians to make the pagan sacrifice, renounce their Christian faith, and save their lives. The commander told them, “You may come ashore when you are ready to deny your faith.” The men began to pray,
“O Lord, 40 wrestlers have come forth to fight for Thee.
Grant that 40 wrestlers may gain the victory!”
The mother of the youngest legionary was present, and she enticed her son to abandon the others. There was a centurion named Sempronius on the shore at the warm house. On the ice, the remaining Christian legionaries continued to cry out, “O Lord, 40 wrestlers have come forth to fight for thee. Grant that 40 wrestlers may gain the victory!” In response, Centurion Sempronius confessed Jesus as Christ, removed his armor, weapons, and clothing, and joined the 39 remaining Christians on the lake. The next morning the Forty Martyrs of Sabaste were found on the ice and forever recorded their faithful resistance in the annals of history.
There exists an eyewitness account of the 40 martyrs, which includes a message by the martyrs to family and friends.[iii]
A majority today have not yet resisted to the point of giving up their lives, rather we struggle with giving up our coolness in the eyes of friends; we struggle with looking weird because we don’t act, talk, dress or eat like those we wish to impress, and for these flimsy reasons, we fail to take a stand. Jeremiah asks “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer. 12:5).
Jesus wondered in Luke18:8, whether He would find faith on earth when He returns; The world needs men—“men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”[iv]
[ii] Ellen G. White, Sons and Daughters of God, pg. 201
[iv] Ellen G White, Education, pg. 57