Daniel Determined to Be Pure, Part 2
- Share the story about your mom talking about my purity commitment in the news press.
The fact that my mom put my decision to remain pure out there for everyone to know is embarrassing for many reasons. It’s embarrassing because remaining pure is not a popular thing in today’s culture and now I’m marked by society and culture as one who chooses God’s Word over culture’s norms. My flesh wants to keep that kind of thing to myself and not make it public. In order to remain pure, we have to make a choice and become determined to stick with that choice.
The Preservation of a Distinctive Character (Daniel 1:8-16)
We can gather, just from the first eight verses of Chapter 1, that Daniel was seriously committed to maintaining himself as pure even as he lived right at the heart of a godless culture. What are some specific steps that Daniel modeled for us as we face challenges that are not unlike the ones that he faced? What can we learn, as individuals and families in our time, from the example laid down by Daniel two and a half millennia ago?
1. Preserving distinct character requires a deliberate decision.
Verse 8 says it clearly; Daniel determined that he would not defile himself.
The verse paints a picture of deliberate decisions made in advance. That’s a wise way to construct an intentional framework for good character.
- Discuss how Billy Graham rips cable from hotel room in order to prevent temptation.
2. Preserving distinct character maintains respect for authority.
When Jesus Christ was on trial for His life, he treated the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, with the respect that was due his position. Likewise, repeatedly, did the Apostle Paul. In Daniel 1, Daniel does not lapse into argumentativeness or rebellion against the authorities of the place where God has set him. Look at Daniel’s consistent tone in verses 8 through 12. Daniel is as respectful as he is resolute. Too often in our day, Christians substitute mere belligerence and argumentativeness for Godly separation, and the two are not the same. Daniel stood toe-to-toe with his culture, without a shred of compromise, but he did so respectfully.
God has not called His people to open rebellion against authority. In fact, such rebellion is the moral equivalent of dabbling in the occult, according to 1 Samuel 15:23. Instead, He has called us to shine like stars in the sky in order that others would be turned toward God, according to Daniel 12:3.
3. Preserving distinct character forces reliance on God alone.
There is no way that Daniel could have expected to be granted permission to abstain from Babylon’s food. In effect, he was asking to “take a pass” on the direct orders of the absolute ruler of world’s mightiest empire. He ought to have been killed for even having the impudence to make the request that he made.
Instead, according to verse 9, God had granted Daniel favor and compassion from the chief official. In other words, against the human authority of his time, Daniel moved in reliance on the authority of the living God. If we are going to matter at all in the times and places where we live, we are going to have to do likewise (Proverbs 3:5)
We simply cannot trust in our own wisdom, expertise, cleverness, or charisma to enable us to either (1) successfully stand or (2) make any difference by standing. Whether or not one is comfortable admitting it, the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined and united our culture is a thing of the past. Those that think biblically are in the clear minority. We no longer are able to dominate our culture with the strength of numbers alone, if we ever were so able.
Going forward, perhaps more so than at any other time in our lives, it will be the power of the Holy Spirit then who enables us to have impact on our culture and the lives of the individuals that comprise it. If our presence, and the presence of our children and grandchildren coming behind us, is to matter at all, it will be because God grants us favor.
4. Preserving distinct character requires we be compassionate with lost people.
Daniel’s desire to maintain holiness could have caused an enormous amount of difficulty for Ashpenaz, the leader of the court officials. Ashpenaz was responsible to the king for the well-being, training, and assimilation of Daniel and his friends, and Daniel and his friends intended to avoid that assimilation. Had Daniel chosen to engage in open defiance, or a hunger strike, or any other sort of overtly rebellious behavior, Ashpenaz would have quickly become a casualty in Daniel’s conflict.
Look at how Ashpenaz expresses his fear in verse Daniel 1:10
Daniel could easily have said to Ashpenaz that it wasn’t his problem, but instead, Daniel was gentle and compassionate with Ashpenaz. Look at his tone in verse Daniel 1:12 as he addresses the actual attendant (“guard”) who would be overseeing his diet.
Do you see his tone? While absolutely avoiding compromise, he is unfailingly considerate, compassionate, and kind in his dealings with the people with whom he is interacting.
It is very easy to blast away at both sin and sinners. We are called to confront sin wherever we encounter it, starting with our own lives, but we are also called to express the love of Christ into the lives of those who are yet outside of a right relationship with Him.
5. Preserving distinct character will ultimately win respect for the Lord.
Look at what happens in verse 15. Daniel and his friends committed to stand apart from the feasts of Babylon, and (Daniel 1:15)
How did the superior result of Daniel’s faithfulness affect the leaders of Babylon? Verse 16 spells it out (Daniel 1:16)
The commitment of Daniel and his friends, resolute but respectful, marked not by compromise but by compassion, caused the very government servants of Babylon to respect (even support) their convictions.
It is important for us to remember that we can never be overly friendly with the world. In fact, James 4:4 reminds us that friendship with the world is inevitably linked with hostility toward God. So, we cannot have broad friendship with the world, but, if we are kind but resolute, firm but compassionate, and absolutely clear in our convictions, while taking seriously our obligation to serve others, we can win the respect of the world. Daniel and his friends pulled it off, and we can too.
The Power of a Determined Commitment (Daniel 1:17-21)
1. God blessed Daniel and his friends with superior understanding.
The beginning of verse 17 underscores that God gave Daniel mastery of the things he set out to learn. As Daniel and his friends committed to withstand the mental and moral temptations of Babylon, God gave them the ability to discern clearly and to grasp fully the culture of Babylon even as they kept themselves clean. They hit the nail on the head in living out what we so often describe as being “in the world, but not of the world.”
2. God made Daniel and his friends effective in their life roles.
Not only were Daniel and his friends able to master the intellectual assignments of Babylon, but Daniel himself was given the ability to interpret dreams and visions. Repeatedly down the years of Daniel’s life, in his service to multiple leaders, Daniel would surface as the central influence over the kings of Babylon. He would even be positioned to see King Nebuchadnezzar come to saving faith! (See Daniel 4:34-37).
Had Daniel and his friends compromised and come to blend in with the culture of Babylon, there is little doubt that they would have worked effectively in their lives as Babylonian functionaries. We just would never have heard of them, because there is also little doubt that we would not have today the story of the three friends and their withstanding the fiery furnace (Daniel 3) or the story of Daniel’s coming alive through the lion’s den (Daniel 6). Both of those awesome stories (neither of which is fictional, of course) have roots in the decision made in the youth of these men: The decision to maintain purity.
3. God gave Daniel and his friends positions of great influence.
The King of Babylon positioned Daniel and his friends as Senior Officials in Babylon, as we see later on in Daniel. We know little about Daniel’s specific managerial role, but it is no stretch to conclude that Daniel oversaw the province and city with justice, effectiveness, and righteousness. Because Daniel committed to stand apart from the culture, he was able to influence the culture in a positive direction. To blend in is to forfeit influence. To stand out is to be able to make a difference.