Because of Those Who Sat

Well-known pastor and author Chuck Swindoll, tells the story of an experiment that was conducted a few years ago by psychologist Ruth W. Berenda and her associates. The experiment involved a group of teenagers and was designed to show how people handle group pressure. The plan was simple. They brought groups of ten adolescents into a room for a test. Then each group of ten was instructed to raise their hands when the teacher pointed to the longest line on three separate charts. What one person in the group didn’t know was that the other nine in the room had been instructed ahead of time to vote for the second-longest line regardless of the instructions they heard.


The experiment began with nine teenagers voting for the wrong line. The one they were really testing would typically glance around, frown in confusion, and slip his hand up with the group. The instructions were repeated and the next card was raised. Time after time, the self-conscious student would say that the short line was longer than the long line, simply because he lacked the courage to challenge the group. This remarkable conformity occurred in about 75% of the cases, and was true of small children and high school students alike.


It takes a lot to stand up for what you believe to be right, especially when you are surrounded by people who don’t share your convictions. We read about something similar recently in Matthew chapter 14. In this chapter we find the story of King Herod and John the Baptist. It is the story of a dinner party Herod held for many of his friends. At this party there was dinner, drinking, a girl who danced, a rash oath, and the sickening conclusion where John the Baptist the greatest prophet, the forerunner of Jesus, was beheaded.


You can find the whole story in Matthew 14:1-12, but there are five haunting words that really stand out in this text: “because of those who sat.” Verse 9-10 says: “And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. So he sent and had John beheaded in prison.”


Winston Churchill once said: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” It takes courage to go against the crowd, to not be concerned with what others think, to stand for what’s right.


How often does the crowd sway us? In what ways can we feel God calling us to stand up for what we believe in and not vote for the shorter line, or be influenced by those who “sit”? May we have the courage to stand, the courage to speak, the courage to be the only one.

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