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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2012-09-02

Text: Daniel 1:8

I would like you to imagine for a moment that you are going to get married soon. The wedding is now only two weeks away and all the preparations have been made. But something happens: Your grandma who is not a Christian tells you that she wants you to follow the family tradition of paying your respects to your ancestors at the tea ceremony on the wedding day. You and your fiancé are to stand before the altar while she offers joss sticks and prayers on your behalf. You try to tell her in the most loving way you can that as Christians both of you cannot do this. But she gets upset and complains to everyone about how unfilial you are, and that she will not attend the wedding. What will you do?

As long as we live in the midst of an ungodly world we will face situations like this one. As Christians we are to be in the world but not of the world. That means that we need to take a stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may effectively resist the pressures of the world to compromise our faith and values. To do this, we must have only one faithful guide of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable – The Bible, which is God’s Word. We must have firm convictions from God’s Word and apply these convictions in our daily life. But doing this is not easy. It may cause us much inconvenience and it may even cause us to lose some things we like. So how can we be convinced to do it? There is one way to be convinced. It is to be inspired by the godly examples of people who dared to take a stand for the Lord at great cost to themselves.

This morning, I would like you to consider the example of Daniel. Daniel does not need much of an introduction to us as he is one of the most well-known persons in the Old Testament. Children who attend Sunday School love to hear stories about and especially about Daniel in the Lions’ Den. One of the choruses that we used to sing goes like this “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone. Dare to have a purpose firm and dare to make it known.”

But there was one instance in which Daniel did not have to stand alone. He had three friends to stand with him and their names were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Like Daniel, they were Jewish youths of either royal or noble blood and they were the cream of the crop of all the youths in Jerusalem. Thus they were described in Daniel 1:4 as “Children in whom was no blemish, but well-favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and to whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.”

These four youths had grown up in Jerusalem with all the best tutors the royal courts of Judah could afford, and with a very promising future ahead of them. But one day all their hopes and dreams were shattered. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and took them into captivity. He planned to convert them into learned Babylonian advisors by putting them through a 3-year intensive conversion course in his royal academy. They were only about 15-20 years old when they were brought to the city of Babylon, where they were to spend the rest of their lives.

We can imagine how they must have felt to be taken away from their home to a strange place far away. But when they arrived at Babylon they might have been awed by what they saw as it was then the greatest city in the world, famous for its “Hanging Gardens” which became one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. ButBabylon was also a place of pagan idolatry. It had no less than 8 large temples, each dedicated to a different god. Nebuchadnezzar was a very religious king. He provided regular offerings and clothes for these gods. All the meat that was cooked in his royal kitchens was probably from animals that had been sacrificed to these gods. And the wine that was consumed in his palace had probably been used in ritual libation offerings to these gods. Whoever ate this meat or drank this wine was therefore considered to be sharing a fellowship meal with these gods.

And this became the first issue faced by Daniel and his 3 friends. In this passage (Daniel 1:5-16) we see that they had the privilege of eating the best food in the whole of Babylon. But they refused to eat it. That was a very risky thing to do. They could be expelled from the royal academy or worse, they could be executed for refusing to receive the king’s provisions. But despite these possible outcomes Daniel courageously requested for a ten-day trial period, eating nothing from the king’s table but common cereals like wheat or barley [That is what the word “pulse” in v.12 means] and drinking nothing but plain water.

God honoured their obedience, and after ten days, they were miraculously healthier and stronger than any other scholars in the royal academy. So for the rest of the 3 year course, they were allowed to continue taking this simple diet. And by the end of those 3 years, they outshone all the rest in wisdom and scholarship. They all passed the king’s personal examination with flying colours and became his most trusted counsellors. This does not imply that we should take a similar diet if we want to be stronger and smarter than everyone else. The outcome was entirely God’s doing and had nothing to do with making a ‘healthier choice.’ But it had everything to do with making a ‘godlier choice’ – a choice to obey what God has given in His Word.

It is clear that Daniel knew what God had given in His Word. He knew that the laws of God prohibited eating any food that had been offered to idols. This is found in Exodus 34:14,15: “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice.”

According to Psalm 106:28,29, God severely punished some Israelites with a terrible plague for eating food that was offered to an idol called Baal-Peor during their journey to Canaan – “They joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. [The term “dead” here refers to the lifeless idols.] Thus they provoked Him to anger with their inventions: and the plague brake in upon them.”

Daniel probably knew these passages from Word of God, as he had learned them from the time he was young. He had developed solid convictions from God’s Word. And it was his solid convictions that made his three friends join him in taking a courageous stand for their faith. This is brought out in Daniel 1:8 – “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”

What we want to know now is: How should we apply this to ourselves? Many of us will face situations which are quite similar to Daniel’s. Perhaps you live or work in an environment where you are under tremendous pressure to conform to idolatrous or sinful practices. If you don’t conform you may be penalized, ostracized or even lose a promotion. E.g. In the present ‘hungry ghosts’ month your colleagues may ask you to contribute to a fund for hungry ghost month events. Or perhaps your boss has assigned you to organize this year’s Dinner & Dance for your company – which is usually filled with drinking and worldly entertainment. Those who are in National Service know that you are supposed to report back to camp by 2359 hours. However through unavoidable circumstances you sometimes report back just after midnight. What time will you record at the guardhouse when this happens? Perhaps you are given the task to entertain some business clients from overseas prior to their signing of an important contract. What will you do if they want you to take them to Marina Bay Sands to gamble, or to a red light district?

Sometimes there are other Christians around us who have compromised. That makes it even more difficult for us not to compromise because people will ask, “How come this person who is a Christian can do this but you cannot?” Whenever you face situations like this, please remember the example of Daniel and his friends in this passage. There are several lessons here that we should apply in order to live an uncompromising life in an ungodly world.

1. Remember that Promotion and Favour Come from God.

We observe that Daniel and his friends did not plot and scheme to work their way up the ranks of the Babylonian bureaucracy. They did not try to curry favour with the boss or use flattery to get what they wanted. The other scholars in the course may have done these things. But it was God alone who helped these 4 young Jews to move upward. We see this in v.9 – “Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs.” Look also at v.17 – “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom.”

This illustrates the principle that is stated in Psalm 75:6,7: “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.” One of the great temptations we face at work is to do what everyone else does to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, and to accept this as part of the ‘office culture.’ Instead of working hard and doing their best in the projects assigned to them, they seek for an easier route to the top: they cultivate good relationships with certain key people and they rely on their sweet-talking ability to get into their ‘good books.’ We must never do that. We should simply do the very best at work in an honest and fair manner, and let God do the rest.

We must never seek to please our superiors at the expense of our convictions. For example, if your boss promises to give you the raise or promotion you have always wanted, provided you are willing to help him by ‘cooking the books’ or by shortchanging some clients, or by having a secret love affair with him, what should you do? Decline the offer immediately! Forget about that raise or promotion! It is not from the Lord. Remember that promotion and favour come from God, and He will honour you if you honour Him. This brings us to the second lesson we can learn from Daniel:

2. Subordinate Your Needs and Desires to Doing the Will of God.

In our passage we notice that the issue at stake was food and drink. Daniel refused to allow his basic need for these things to keep him from doing the will of God, and so he humbly requested for the kind of food and drink that would enable him and his friends to do God’s will. It was a good thing that his request was granted. But what if it was not? What if Melzar had thought that these 4 young upstarts were just being too difficult and fussy about their food and he said, “I am sorry, but this is all the food and drink that you are going to get. You can’t have special treatment. Just eat the same food as everyone else.” What do you think they would have done then?

I believe that they would have starved to death rather than give in to their hunger and thirst and compromise their convictions. We all know that food and drink are basic necessities which we all need in order to live. And the Devil has often used food and drink to make people compromise. When Adam and Eve fell, the issue was that of eating the fruit which God had specifically commanded them not to eat. When the Israelites were on their way to Canaan they fell several times into the sins of doubt and discontent, and most of the time it was because of food and drink. When Christ was fasting in the wilderness after for 40 days, the Devil tempted Him to turn the stones around him into bread to satisfy His intense hunger.

But Jesus refused to do this. He said: “…man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Keeping God's Word was more important to Him than fulfilling His immediate need for food. On another occasion, our Lord refused to allow tiredness, hunger and thirst to prevent Him from bringing a Samaritan woman to salvation. And when His disciples expressed concern that He should eat, He said, “My meat [food] is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

This should be our conviction as well. Have you sometimes put your immediate needs above doing the will of God? When your alarm clock rings in the morning, do you get up immediately reminding yourself to start the day with your daily devotion, or do you give in to the stronge urge to sleep a bit more and skip your daily devotion?

When I was a Sunday School teacher years ago, one of the most common excuses that my students gave for being late for class or absent was, “I am so sorry but I could not wake up!” But when it comes to getting to school or to work on time during the week, waking up doesn’t seem to be a problem. Let us not allow tiredness or slothfulness to prevent us from doing God’s will. Doing God’s will must be so important to us that we would willingly overcome any obstacle or inertia, and endure any inconvenience to do it. Brethren, we must subordinate our needs and desires to doing the will of God. It should become a conviction for us – and this brings us now to the third and most important lesson that we can learn from this account.

3. Develop Firm Convictions from Scripture.

What made all the difference in the way that the four youths responded to their situation, is found in v.8 – “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat.”This is the turning point in this whole chapter. The words “purposed in his heart” give us the key to success in making an uncompromising stand for the Lord. It means to establish, to set or fix something so firmly that it becomes unmoveable and unshakeable. In modern English we would call such a thing a conviction. Convictions are truths and directions we are so sure of and convinced about that nothing can ever make us move away from them. Convictions are what you need in order to live as a Christian in an ungodly world. Your convictions are the backbone of your spiritual life. They keep you from being easily swayed by any strong influence or peer pressure. Convictions give you the stability and steadfastness to keep on going even when everyone around you has fallen away and you are the last one standing.

If you want to be a person that God can use for His glory, you must have firm convictions. And these convictions must be entirely your own. You cannot depend on someone else’s convictions. Some Christians have great courage to do what they ought to do, but only when they are under the shadow a spiritually mature leader, like their Sunday School teacher or their Cell Group leader. But when they have to stand all alone on their own, they give in to the pressures around them.

This may happen to you when you go overseas for study or for work. You will not be able to stand on your own if you depend on someone else’s spiritual convictions. You must develop your own convictions. But how can you develop your own convictions from God’s Word? I would like to suggest two steps you can take to do this. The first thing is to make sure that you…

a. Understand it.

Whenever you read, study or hear God’s Word, discipline yourself to understand it. Make every effort to absorb it and assimilate it into your life. Feeding upon God’s Word is like eating food. Unless the food is properly digested, absorbed, and assimilated into your body, it is of no use to you. In the same way, unless you fully understand what you must obey and why you should obey it, it will never become your personal conviction. As Psalm 119:34 says “Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”

If you do not understand a certain scriptural teaching, it will be immensely difficult for you to live by it. If I were to ask you, why you should do a certain thing that the Bible teaches, and all that you can say is, “Am not so sure, but I think it is good to do it.” or “My pastor says so.” or “It is taught in my church.” then this shows that you have not yet understood the scriptural rationale behind it.

Let us take Daniel’s convictions about the king’s food as an example. What do you think would have happened if he did not fully understand God’s command not to eat food that was offered to idols? Or what would have happened if he thought that this command applied only to Jews who live in Israel, and not to Jews like him who live in a Gentile city like Babylon? (“When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians do.”) Or what if he did not see how eating such food could affect his relationship with God? I think the answer to all these questions is quite obvious. Daniel could never have had such boldness to take a stand, if he had not fully understood it. He would have faltered and succumbed easily to the pressure to conform.

But if we could travel back in time and ask him, “Daniel, why don’t you want to eat all this good food? What’s wrong with it?” I believe that he would have been able to give us a reasonable explanation for his convictions. Perhaps he would answer our question like this, “God has revealed in His Law that He hates all idol worship. All this food has been used for idol worship. Eating it would make me a participant in idol worship and that would make me break the first commandment God gave – ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.’ Although I am not in Israel, I still belong to God in this foreign land, and I stand in a covenant relationship with Him. So I must obey His commandments no matter what it will cost me.”

If you want to be like Daniel, make sure that you have a good understanding of whatever command you have to obey. Check the scriptural basis for it. Has God really said it? Does God really require it of you today? Then relate it to all the other scriptural teachings that you already know. Does it contradict any of these teachings, or does it fit in well with them? Clear away all the doubts you may have by asking questions. Don’t be satisfied until you have a good grasp of it.

It must be mentioned at this point that there are some doctrines that cannot be fully understood by our finite minds until we see the Lord in heaven – Like the doctrine of the Trinity, or the fine balance between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. But whatever God has made clear in His Word and has meant for us to understand in this life, we should do our very best to understand them and obey them.

There is one good way to know if you understand a scriptural teaching: See if you can explain it to someone in your own words. If you are able to do this, then you can say that you have really understood it well. Then you should proceed to the next step for developing scriptural convictions. After understanding it, you must:

b. Believe It.

Why is this step necessary? Because it is very possible to understand what Scripture teaches, and yet not believe it. To believe a teaching of Scripture is to give it great value and credibility. Believing means acknowledging that it is trustworthy, reliable and dependable. This necessary step can be seen in a phrase that Paul used twice in his first epistle to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul said – “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” In 1 Timothy 4:9 when Paul was teaching about the value of godliness for the present and future life, he used the same phrase, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.” This is what a conviction is all about – something that is faithful, dependable, and so full of weight that it demands our application.

If all that Daniel had was just a good understanding of God’s command regarding food offered to idols he might not apply it. If he did not regard it to be faithful, dependable and worthy of all acceptation, he probably would not have applied it to his situation in Babylon. Why bother to take it so seriously if it is not worthy enough to risk his own life for it?

The same thing applies to us now: We may fully understand what God’s Word teaches on difficult ethical and moral issues. We may even become experts in the fine little details of these issues and be able to teach others about them. But this alone does not mean that we personally believe it and will apply it faithfully in our own life, because we may still regard it as something outside of our lives, as something that we have little or no personal involvement in. We have to take the additional step of believing the teaching. By doing this, we involve ourselves in it personally, and become fully committed to apply it with God’s help. And when we have done that, then and only then does it become a full-fledged conviction that will help us to live an uncompromising Christian life in an ungodly world.

Will you be like Daniel who brought glory to God even as a young teenager, when he purposed in his heart to keep His commandment? Or will you compromise under pressure from the world because you have no convictions? If you really want to live your life for the Lord Jesus, you must have convictions!

The same thing applies to those who are still outside Christ. If you are to be saved you must have three convictions from God’s Word: (1) You are a sinner and cannot save yourself from sin and eternal death; (2) Jesus Christ is God’s only provision to save you; (3) You will be saved when you turn away from your sins and turn to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. If you understand and believe these, so that they have become your convictions, will you now act upon them? May the Lord help all of us to build solid convictions from God’s Word and keep them well.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25