Is it okay for Christians to update their views on ethics and morality? Can we innovate our stance on traditional theology? There’s no doubt that American society has been heavily influenced by Christianity, and still is in large part, but as our societal views change, can we adapt Christianity to fall more in line with changes, making Christianity more palatable to the society? This is the process of assimilation that I introduced in the previous post. It is a process that Daniel and his friends faced. Perhaps their approach will be very instructive to us, as we live in a society that is changing.
Daniel and his friends, as we learned in the previous post, were exiled from Judah to Babylon and conscripted into a training program that would assimilate them into Babylonian society, as they learned to serve in the palace. For exiles, it seemed they hit the jackpot. Of course they would rather be back home in Judah, but at least they could console themselves that they got to be in the palace. Surprisingly, Daniel and his friends don’t view it that way. If you want to follow along with the story, read Daniel 1 verses 8-14.
They ask the king’s chief official if they can substitute the dietary portion of the training regimen with a diet of their own. In this way, they refuse to be assimilated. Yes, they are still willing to enter the training program. But they will not do it in the way of the Babylonians. Why? Because they want to follow the law that God had given them about what is clean and unclean food. The story doesn’t tell us exactly what was wrong with the food, just that it was defiled, which could mean that it had been used in idol worship.
At this point, Nebuchadnezzar’s chief official could easily say, “I’m not dealing with this ridiculousness,” and send them to hard labor, prison or worse, just eliminate them. Daniel and his friends are in no position to be bargaining like this.
But God is at work! If Daniel and his friends wondered if they had been abandoned by God, they were about to see how God was right there all along. As we continue this series of five posts studying Daniel and his friends, keep note of how often God is involved in this story. Verse 9 is the first such mention, when God caused the official to show favor to Daniel and his friends. What’s more, the official knows this is a crazy scenario, because his head could be on the chopping block too! He is responsible to present the king with qualified candidates to serve in the palace, and even admits his fears to Daniel.
Perhaps sensing God at work in this gracious man, Daniel and friends propose a compromise. “Please let us try our diet for 10 days,” they ask. Daniel suggests that they receive just water and veggies for ten days, and the official can judge for himself if it was working. Wise move by Daniel and his friends, right? It’s like a cleanse!
Most of all, it is amazing to watch their passion to live out their faith in God, despite strong temptation to assimilate to the surrounding culture. It would have been so much easier just to give in. They don’t give in, and God was there at work. So the official takes a risk, allowing them ten days on their plan, and what happens? Read Daniel 1, verses 15-21 to find out.
Are you surprised that it turns out that Daniel and his friends are far superior to the others in the program? At the end of just ten days it was obvious that Daniel and his friends were better off. So the official allows them to finish out the whole program that way. After three years, all the people in the training program are presented before the king, and Daniel and friends are the best in class.
Do you see how God is still at work? The writer tells us that in addition to being best in class, God gives Daniel and his friends special knowledge and understanding, and to Daniel he gives the spiritual gift of being able to interpret dreams. Thus they start their jobs serving the king, and we are told that they were ten times better than anyone else in the whole kingdom, even magicians and enchanters.
Think about the trajectory of their lives. They are living in Jerusalem when they are attacked, defeated, ripped from their families, and taken far away to Babylon. There they enter a training program to serve in the palace. At the end of three years they have risen to the top of Babylonian royal society. They go from the deepest depths of loss and despair, to the heights of power and influence. Why? How? Because God was at work, and they remained faithful to him.
There are many ways this story relates to our world today:
Think about the parallel to kids going off to college. Daniel and his friends were leaving their culture, the protection of their families, the spiritual culture of Judah (though admittedly it was apostate in many ways.) Then Daniel and his friends are taken to a whole new culture and spiritual situation in Babylon that was not in line with God’s ways. Consider the choices they are faced with. It is quite similar to what young people face when they go to college.
Sometimes people chose party schools because they want to party. In other words, the principle of “You’ll find what you are looking for,” is so often true. Looking for loose morality? You’ll find it.
But if you are looking for Jesus, you’ll find him, even where you least expect him. Daniel and his friends chose to follow God’s ways in the midst of a pagan culture. And right there they found God at work.
We are the same. Whether at college or at work or at school, we have the choice about whether we are going to follow God’s ways in those places.
We must ask ourselves how we can we live faithfully to God in our world. Daniel and his friends, out of a heart to follow God, were willing dispense with a pagan diet in pursuit of a more healthy lifestyle. They refused to be assimilated.
There is a clear link in this story to how it is honorable to the Lord to pursue a healthy lifestyle. As I have written before in this blog, we need to remember that our body is the temple of God’s Spirit. Thus we are wise to practice a healthy lifestyle, moderation, and abstinence in some cases.
One area that I believe this especially applies is sexual integrity. We live in a culture that no longer views sexual integrity along the lines of Biblical teaching. Even evangelical Christians have changing views. I recently heard stats reporting that growing percentages of evangelical Christians no longer agree with biblical views of sexual integrity (see stats here and listen to podcast here and I also recommend this article, “Why Sexual Morality May Be More Important Than You Ever Thought“.)
We live in a culture that is telling us that it is okay to express ourselves sexually however we want. God teaches something totally different in the Bible. The summary of biblical teaching is that sexual expression is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. Would you be willing to go against the pressures of society and follow God’s way and abstain from sexual expression until marriage? If you read the articles and listen to the blog post I linked above, I think you’ll find solid evidence as to why traditional sexual ethics are actually better for marriages, for families, and for society. Just as Daniel and his friends found with their diet, you will find the same with sexual expression.
This is far from the end of the story, however, for Daniel and his friends. We cannot conclude at the end of chapter one with, “And they lived happily ever after.” In our next post we’ll see how Daniel’s friends are faced with a terrible challenge.