I was a teenager in the 60’s. (Before I lose you while you do the math, I’m in my 50’s!) That was a time when the walls of cultural and religious norms were torn down. The culture encouraged us to live as we pleased! One of my favorite songs of that era is “Born to Be Wild”! And deep down that is how I feel. Let me do what I want to do and leave your rules to yourself! Obedience is hard for me. If you are honest, you might feel the same way!
I was a teenager in the 60’s. (Before I lose you while you do the math, I’m in my 50’s!) That was a time when the walls of cultural and religious norms were torn down. The culture encouraged us to live as we pleased! One of my favorite songs of that era is “Born to Be Wild”! And deep down that is how I feel. Let me do what I want to do and leave your rules to yourself! Obedience is hard for me. If you are honest, you might feel the same way! God’s call to obey goes against the grain of our natural inclinations; as sinners born into a fallen world, we are all born to be wild. But God pulls us in another direction by his love. He calls us to obey him out of his concern for our best. Sometimes that means we must make hard choices.
What do you do when faced with a difficult choice to obey God or not, especially when the negative effects of compromise seem insignificant? The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire reveals how one man faced such a decision. It is the story of Eric Liddell, a 1924 Olympic runner. Eric believed that Sunday was to be a day devoted to God, just as the Jewish Sabbath was. When he learned that one of the heats for his race was on Sunday, he was confronted with either dropping out of the Olympics or disobeying what he saw as God’s will. What difference could it possibly make whether he ran on Sunday in the larger scheme of things?
Liddell also faced the pressure of the British Olympic commission. After learning of his decision not to run, they called him into a meeting to convince him otherwise.
Eric Liddell chose to obey even when it didn’t seem to matter to anyone but God. He had much in common with Daniel. Both were men of integrity who were challenged by difficult decisions of obedience. In both cases logic might say, “What difference does it make?” Let’s look at the story in Daniel
Read Dan. 1:1-8a.
In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon advanced against Jerusalem and laid it under siege. Now the Lord delivered King Jehoiakim of Judah into his power, along with some of the vessels of the temple of God. He brought them to the land of Babylonia to the temple of his god and put the vessels in the treasury of his god.
The king commanded Ashpenaz, who was in charge of his court officials, to choose some of the Israelites who were of royal and noble descent –young men in whom there was no physical defect and who were handsome, well versed in all kinds of wisdom, well educated and having keen insight, and who were capable of entering the king’s royal service– and to teach them the literature and language of the Babylonians.
[So at this point we know that Daniel was a young man related to the royal family of Israel; he was handsome and sharp; therefore, he was taken captive into Babylon to serve the king.]
1:5 So the king assigned them a daily ration from his royal delicacies and from the wine he himself drank. They were to be trained for the next three years. At the end of that time they were to enter the king’s service.
[Skip 6-7 and go to verse 8]
1:8 But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine.
From Daniel we learn to make up our minds to obey God! He was committed to God and determined to follow him, just as we saw was true of Eric Liddell. Both resolved to obey God whatever the cost, even in something seemingly unimportant.
Too often instead of making up our minds to obey God no matter what, as these men did, we choose to compromise when faced with situations where obedience is hard, especially when it seems meaningless from the earthly standpoint.
Now, you may be asking, why should I obey God anyway? Sometimes in our culture God’s ideas can seem a bit outdated! What’s the big deal whether I obey when it’s something small, something that doesn’t seem significant?
The first reason that we make up our minds to obey God is because it is God’s best for us, whether we can see it or not.
Look at Jesus’ words in Mt. 7:24-27. Just keep your Bibles open to Daniel and we’ll put all the other verses up on the screen.
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, and it collapsed; it was utterly destroyed!”
I picture Galveston! A great image of how our lives will self-destruct when we fail to obey.
God’s words aren’t given to hurt us; they are for our good. As the designer, God knows how his design works best! We cannot see the future; we cannot know where our choices lead us, but God does, and he uses his word to guide us.
We make up our minds to obey because it’s God’s best for us and also because we love the One who so loves us.
If we love Jesus, we desire to please him. Love and obedience are inseparable. It is impossible to love him without obeying him. Jesus said it flatly in John 14:15:
As a child, my strongest motivation to be a good girl was to please my parents. If you have no inner motivation to please Jesus, you need to work on your love relationship with him. You need to focus on his wonder and his greatness and his love for you. When we know that he loved us enough to come to earth and die for us, we love him back. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”
Even what seems insignificant to us matters to God. He calls us to make up our minds to obey him, even in the small things, those things that appear to be no big deal. Our obedience in the small things reveals how much we truly love him.
When we realize how great his love for us is, we respond in love for him, and we make up our minds to obey, knowing it’s God’s best for us. We also obey because it opens channels of blessing.
Think about the blessings to these four boys in our story who obeyed without compromise. When their three years of training were over, they were found to be ten times better than the king’s own magicians and astrologers according to Dan. 1:20! God blessed the four young men with wisdom; consequently, they became a blessing to the king by serving in his court. The rest of the book of Daniel proves how invaluable they were to him.
When we obey, we are blessed and we bless others. We show them glimpses of godliness, and they see an unusual commitment in us, just as they did with Eric Liddell. They see that we are sold out to something bigger than ourselves.
So we make up our minds to obey God because it’s best for us, because we love him, and because it opens channels of blessing to us and those around us.
There is another thing for us to consider as we think through what it means to obey God in light of Daniel’s situation here in Dan. 1. Obeying God includes submitting to earthly authorities according to his commands.
We won’t read the list of all those to whom God calls us to submit, but when human authority is set up, we are to obey it. An entire section of 1 Peter deals with such authorities, but we’ll simply read the command in 1 Peter 2:13-15:
Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.
We are to obey human institutions for God’s sake by doing what is good or other translations say doing what is right. And generally, it is good and right to obey the laws and rules set up for us.
But what if they ask us to do something that isn’t good? What if we face a situation such as Daniel did where obedience means that we cannot obey God?
If we can’t obey God and man, we obey God, who is the higher authority. We don’t submit to sin. We submit when it involves doing what is right.
In Acts 5 Peter and the disciples faced imprisonment from the Jewish authorities for proclaiming Jesus, but they said, “We must obey God rather than people.”
We read two stories about Daniel this week: one from his teenage years and another that occurred decades later. In both cases he knew that he could not obey the authorities. In the first story, he was able to get the order changed; however, in the second story, the king’s order was an unbreakable edict. Daniel had to disobey. You remember that the edict declared it illegal to petition anyone other than the king, even a god.
Turn to that story in Dan. 6, and look at his response to the edict in v. 10.
When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem. Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously.
Why was Daniel openly praying when it was illegal? I am sure years before, he had made up his mind to pray three times a day facing Jerusalem. Why? To answer that, we need to go back hundreds of years to the time that Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem. At that time Solomon anticipated the situation that Daniel faced and prayed about it.
We see the relevant part of the prayer in 1 Ki. 8:46-51:
The time will come when your people will sin against you (for there is no one who is sinless!) and you will be angry with them and deliver them over to their enemies, who will take them as prisoners to their own land, whether far away or close by.
[Daniel’s situation exactly]
When your people come to their senses in the land where they are held prisoner, they will repent and beg for your mercy in the land of their imprisonment, admitting, ‘We have sinned and gone astray; we have done evil.’ When they return to you with all their heart and being in the land where they are held prisoner, and direct their prayers to you toward the land you gave to their ancestors, your chosen city, and the temple I built for your honor, then listen from your heavenly dwelling place to their prayers for help and vindicate them. Forgive all the rebellious acts of your sinful people and cause their captors to have mercy on them. After all, they are your people and your special possession whom you brought out of Egypt, from the middle of the iron-smelting furnace.”
Daniel was praying according to scripture, toward Jerusalem and the temple. He was being obedient to what God expected of his people when they were taken into exile. While we might have decided it was unimportant, Daniel obeyed.
So we obey earthly powers when we can do so and still obey God by doing what is right. When we can’t do both, we must obey God. However, Daniel shows us by example that when possible, we may appeal.
In one situation it was possible for Daniel to appeal but in the other, he could not.
Let’s go back to Dan. 1 and read about his appeal, beginning in v. 8.
But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the royal delicacies or the royal wine. He therefore asked the overseer of the court officials for permission not to defile himself. Then God made the overseer of the court officials sympathetic to Daniel. But he responded to Daniel, “I fear my master the king. He is the one who has decided your food and drink. What would happen if he saw that you looked malnourished in comparison to the other young men your age? If that happened, you would endanger my life with the king!” Daniel then spoke to the warden whom the overseer of the court officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: “Please test your servants for ten days by providing us with some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who are eating the royal delicacies; deal with us in light of what you see.” So the warden agreed to their proposal and tested them for ten days.
At the end of the ten days their appearance was better and their bodies were healthier than all the young men who had been eating the royal delicacies. So the warden removed the delicacies and the wine from their diet and gave them a diet of vegetables instead. Now as for these four young men, God endowed them with knowledge and skill in all sorts of literature and wisdom – and Daniel had insight into all kinds of visions and dreams.
What was involved in Daniel’s appeal? First, there was an underlying acknowledgement that authority comes from God.
Daniel clearly accepted the authority of those over him. He went to those in charge and asked permission not to eat the meat and drink the wine.
We saw in 1 Peter that God sets up authority because of the fallen nature of our world. God uses government to punish those who do wrong and reward those who do right. Because of sin, we cannot get along without established order.
Although the scriptures do not tell us that Daniel and his friends prayed when faced with the food dilemma, we see Daniel pray at every opportunity throughout his lifetime. I am sure that he prayed in this situation as well. We must pray and ask God to give us favor before those to whom we give our appeal. The Scripture says that God made Daniel’s supervisor sympathetic to him. God moves hearts.
As we appeal, we acknowledge the authority and pray, but we also position ourselves with humility and entreat them with respect.
Throughout this story, Daniel showed deference and respect to those who supervised him and his friends.
When that failed to work, Daniel tried one more idea, which may work for you in certain situations. The next principle of appeal is to ask for a trial period if possible.
When I went on my first mission trip to Kazakhstan, I met with about eight women at their small church. They were facing some tough issues that we don’t face so often in our American culture. One woman’s Muslim husband had forbidden her to attend church. So she regularly lied to him, saying that she was shopping, when in reality, she was at church. Clearly, God says that we are not to forsake the gathering of believers. It is like food to us. We cannot exist long in a healthy state without the community of Christ. But we aren’t to lie, and we are also to submit to our husbands. I remember sitting there desperately praying for wisdom. And then I thought of this story in Daniel and the appeal that he made. I suggested that she ask for a test, respectfully asking him for permission to go to church for a month to see if she was a better wife when she attended church. He could test the results of church attendance! Of course, such tests are risky if you don’t plan to be a better wife! I wish I could tell you how it turned out, but I don’t know. But I do know it was the right way to handle it.
The final principle for appealing is to leave the consequences to God.
God alone controls the outcome of the appeal or the refusal to obey if there can be no appeal. We are in his hands. Sometimes we go into the lions’ den and sometimes we are spared from it. Sometimes we come out unscathed but other times we have scars to show from our ordeal. But in any case, we trust our God and believe that blessing will come from our obedience, no matter how small it seems. We believe that others will see our love for God and will be blessed by the glimpse of godliness that we show through that obedience.
Make up your mind today to obey God, whatever that means in your life. Love him enough to follow him fully and give forth glimpses of godliness to your world.