Ethics aren’t always easy. We can watch the latest “Christian-in-the-hot-seat” story on the news and think we know what we’d do if we were in their shoes. We don’t. But we do need to face the realities of living in a culture that no longer views our faith in a positive light. That doesn’t mean we need to panic or develop a persecution complex, but we do need to grapple with the real challenges of living faithful to God in a world that is not.
The good news is that we are not the first generation to try to live faithfully in a faithless world. Faith has always been costly. Ask Paul. Ask Peter. Ask Jesus. We can learn from those who have gone before us–those who shone like stars in the midst of a darkened world. And when I think of those, the first name that comes to my mind is Daniel. Daniel–Jewish exile, lion’s den survivor, faithful to God even in the very heart of Babylon.
What can we learn from Daniel about being faithful?
Key #1: Know where your boundaries lie.
Daniel was probably among the young men taken to Babylon from Jerusalem in the first wave of Jewish exiles around 605 B.C. The king ordered his officials to choose young men from among the Jewish exiles who had potential for serving in his court. These young men were given Babylonian names, issued rations from the king’s table, and educated in the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Daniel was one of those young men. His name was changed from Daniel, “God is my judge,” to Belteshazzar, “Bel, protect his life!” The Babylonians didn’t just change Daniel’s location. Their goal was to transform Daniel’s identity and loyalty.
Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the food from the king’s table. Jewish food laws were probably part of the issue, but there was more at stake. Daniel’s ultimate loyalty was not to the law but to the Lawgiver. Eating from the king’s table would have meant eating foods that had been offered to idols. It also would have meant accepting the king’s patronage. Daniel was willing to serve the king, but he was not willing to compromise his identity or his convictions. Daniel didn’t run around trying to change the king’s practices or force his convictions on the other exiles, but he did insist on remaining true to the core of who he was. It wasn’t just about keeping the law–it was about being faithful to the God who had always been faithful to him.
We can follow Daniel’s example by knowing where our boundaries lie. We live in a complex, rapidly changing world. We need to resolve in our own minds what it means for us to be faithful to Scripture in our circumstances. At what point do we become active participants in sin? Where do we begin to compromise our integrity and identity as people of God? We need to know where our boundaries lie and resolve not to cross them.
Key #2: Speak Truth.
Daniel was a speaker of uncomfortable truths. Three times the kings Daniel served had dreams that Daniel interpreted. None of those dreams were particularly favorable to the king. Who wants to tell the king that his empire will fall and eventually be replaced by the kingdom of a God he believes he has conquered? That the king is going to go mad and live like a wild animal until he humbles himself before the One True God? Or that the king is going do die that very night and his kingdom will be taken by another?
These are not the messages to deliver if you want to gain popularity and power. Daniel refused to play the games of court intrigue. He made no attempt to be a yes-man or tell the king what he wanted to hear. Daniel served well and faithfully, but he also spoke the truth–even when proclaiming the truth was risky.
As believers, we need to be speakers of truth. We are called to speak the truth and speak it in love (Ephesians 4:15, 29). Truth spoken without love can cut deep. Love spoken without truth is only a placebo, making you feel better but offering no real cure. We need both. We are called to use our words to build up, not tear down. We are called to speak truth–even uncomfortable truths–but we are also called to speak in love. It’s our challenge and also our hope.
Know your boundaries. Speak truth. Neither are easy, but both are rewarding. Daniel was able to live faithfully in the midst of Babylon. We can too. Next week we’ll look at two more lessons from the life of Daniel.
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