For some, the reality of the decline of Christianity and churches in this country is unthinkable, a hard pill to swallow. How are we going to survive if America isn’t “Christian”? Christianity has had a good run in the U.S for over 200 years, and in some ways I think we let that go to our heads. We liked being popular. Is the concern that we are losing ground more about losing power and influence than it is about faith? If it gets worse are we going to revolt, take up arms, and re-conquer America in Jesus name? Is that what Jesus wants us to do? Crusades ring a bell?
One thing that we will not read about in the book of Daniel is a slave uprising or revolution. I’m sure there were Hebrews that wanted to overthrow their captors, and probably attempted minor insurrections during their captivity, but Israel wouldn’t become an independent nation again until 1948, that’s well over 2,500 years. Yikes!
Daniel is several generations removed from Israel’s heyday, around 1020-722 BC. By the time Daniel came on the scene Israel had already been through a civil war that split the nation in 930 BC. The Assyrians conquered them in 722 BC, and then the Babylonians in 597 BC. He didn’t really know what a “Jewish nation” was. So when we think about losing our “Christian” status as a nation, it kind of pales in comparison and can help us keep things in perspective. The kingdom of God is in our hearts. It’s not a nationality or place on the map. It’s not political. “Christian nationalism” isn’t Biblical, and shouldn’t be a thing.
I’m sure Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah would rather have been in a place where worshipping God was not only accepted, but encouraged. But, the reality was they were in captivity, and instead of giving up, giving in, selling out, or abandoning their faith, they trusted God to get them through it. This strategy pays off, and offers us some alternative solutions for maintaining our faith in a hostile environment. Let’s take a look.
“17To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. 18At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. 21And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.” Daniel 1:17-21 NIV
These verses reveal something interesting about God. It appears that He’s not opposed to everything. Verse 17 tells us that God gave these four young men “knowledge and understanding in all kinds of literature and learning”. The “knowledge and learning” being referenced here is Babylonian. So apparently not everything in Babylon violated God’s law or created a moral dilemma. God didn’t object to them learning some new stuff.
One of the reasons people have such a hard time with Christianity is all the rules, the things that are “forbidden”. Yes, the Bible contains laws, commands, and instructions on things that are sinful or wrong, that we aren’t supposed to do or engage in, but the list of stuff we can do is so much bigger. Despite Christianity’s pharisaical amendments to God’s law, not everything in life is a moral issue or decision. God’s instruction is in place to protect us from sin, things that are not beneficial, good for us, or part of His will for our lives, but contrary to popular opinion God really isn’t a cosmic party pooper. He really does want us to enjoy life.
“23You say, “I am allowed to do anything” but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. 24Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NLT
According to Paul, we do have to consider not only how our actions affect us personally, but how they affect others as well. Newton’s third law of motion is: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Everything we do, right or wrong, has consequences and repercussions affecting those around us, so we do need to be careful and keep that in mind.
Another really cool thing that could be going on here is that while the Israelites are learning, they are interacting and building relationships with the Babylonians, getting to know them. For all we know they had Babylonian friends. Relationships can open up opportunities to share our ideas, opinions, and even faith. I would imagine that there were a few Babylonians that actually changed their minds, believed, and became God followers just being around these young Israelites. In fact, there is proof that their influence from a spiritual perspective reached all the way to the top, more on that later. Just interacting, talking, or even being friends with someone doesn’t necessarily mean we are compromising or defiling ourselves. Sure, there is a possibility we might be easily influenced, but if we are spiritually mature and our faith has a solid foundation, we will be less vulnerable. After all, if we don’t speak to unbelievers, how will they know God at all?
“19Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NLT
Paul’s strategy of being “all things to all people” can also be applied here, but don’t miss verse 23. There are limits. It doesn’t give us a license to do whatever we want. The Apostle Paul isn’t telling us to get high so we can bring drug addicts to Christ. In order to win or convince some to follow Christ, Paul is willing to engage in other cultures, BUT he draws the line by saying, “I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ”.
This chapter also reveals that these four young men applied themselves. They studied, learned, and worked hard, even while being oppressed. They became “all things to all people”, built relationships, and made one heck of an impression on Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The king was so impressed that he thought they were 10 times better than his own people. This illustrates that when we do things well and the right way people notice. It makes an impression. When people are impressed, they are inspired. Inspiration leads to imitation, and so on. Lives and hearts are changed in this way.
Unfortunately humanity, and even Christianity at times, is under the impression that anger, outrage, intimidation, and violence are the only ways to bring about change, but Daniel gives us an alternative. No, it doesn’t guarantee victory or mean that we are going to earn a spot at the king’s table. It might even get us killed, but it can make a difference. Jesus, who actually makes an appearance in the book of Daniel, employs a similar strategy. If truth be told, and I’m telling it. Jesus came up with the idea long before Daniel. Here it is:
37‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (if we love truly love God, we will obey his commands.) 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-38 NIV
P.S. We have to love and pray for our enemy’s and those who persecute-oppress us too.
Love y’all! Have a great weekend!!!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC