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Faith in the Fire: God’s In Control #1 – When They Call For Compromise

03 Apr

faith under fireWe would need to go to the grocery store to find the opening illustration for the sermon series I want to begin today. Rummaging through the items there, you would found the analogy on the side of a half-gallon carton of milk. The words: “Grade A, Pasteurized, Homogenized Milk.”

Pasteurization has to do with heating the milk to a certain temperature and holding it there until certain harmful bacteria are killed. Before the days of pasteurization, people would occasionally die from drinking a glass of milk. Homogenization is the process of mixing up the milk until it has a uniform consistency. We might say it is fully blended. You can always recognize non-homogenized milk because the cream separates and comes to the top.

It occurred to me this past week that homogenization is exactly what the world wants to do with Christians. The world wants to shake us up and blend us so effectively that there is no longer any difference between us and them. The cream no longer comes to the top. It is no longer a separate substance.

Once you’ve been a Christian for awhile, of course, you realize that, while that is what the world around you wants, it isn’t what God wants. He doesn’t want the cream so mixed up with the rest of the milk that there is no difference. He wants us to resist becoming “homogenized” with the world. Yet, staying with our analogy, He hasn’t called us to leave the bottle of milk either. (I believe somewhere I’ve heard the phrase, “In the world but not of the world” used among Christians.) In our day, that is no small assignment. But then again, it never has been.

So how do you pull something like that off? How do you maintain a dynamic, no compromise faith in a deluded world that wants to homogenize you?

This morning we begin a new six part sermons that I’m going to call “Dynamic Faith in a Deluded World.” The idea behind it is this issue of not becoming homogenized with the world. In the process of the world shaking the Christian up, God wants the cream to come to the top, and not to be reduced and dispersed so it is no longer seen.

We’ll turn then, to the first message, which I’ve called “When They Call For Compromise.” Compromise is the most common and straight forward means used by the world to homogenize Christians.

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY gives as the third definition under the word Compromise, “A concession to something detrimental…”

If you can be made to abandon key aspects of your faith by compromising what you believe, homogenization will be simple and complete. Watch for the call to compromise as we read the story in Daniel, chapter one.

It begins with the military defeat of what remained of the once powerful nation of Israel and the deportation of certain young men who survived the siege of Jerusalem. The time was 606 B.C.

A. A new home (vv. 1-2)
Daniel 1:1-2: “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. {2} And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god

No longer were they surrounded by the things of God in Jerusalem, and no longer would they have the influence of their godly parents and teachers.

B. New knowledge (vv. 3-4)

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility–{4} young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.”

Imagine four Hebrew boys, teenagers, being snatched from their lovely homes in Jerusalem and moved to faraway Babylon. Since all of them were princes, belonging to the royal family, they were probably not accustomed to this kind of treatment.

It is too bad when the youth of the land must suffer because of the sins of the parents. The Jews had refused to repent and obey the Lord, so (as Jeremiah had warned) the Babylonian army came in 606-586 B.C. and conquered the land.

The policy of taking the youngest and strongest among the survivors of a defeated nation was common in that day. It insured a good flow of slaves for the conquering king to employ in his service and also made it certain that the defeated nation could not rise again against its conquerors.

The old Jewish wisdom had to go; from now on it would be the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of Babylon. They had to learn the wisdom and the language of their captors. The king hoped that this “brainwashing” would make better servants out of them.

In v. 3 we see what fine specimens these four lads were: they were physically strong and handsome, socially experienced and well-liked by others, mentally keen and well-educated, and spiritually devoted to the Lord.

Conservative scholars have placed Daniel and his friends who were among these captives somewhere in the age range of early teens. The next verses describe the plan for re-socialization. It was a clear, out-in-the-open effort to homogenize believers.

But a difficult trial lay ahead of them: the king wanted to force them to conform to the ways of Babylon. He was not interested in putting good Jews to work; he wanted these Jews to be Babylonians!

Christians today face the same trial: Satan wants us to become “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:1-2). Sad to say, too many Christians give in to the world and lose their power, their joy, and their testimony. Note the changes that these young men experienced:

C. New diets (v. 5)
“The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

For the next three years, the four youths were supposed to eat the king’s diet, which, of course, was contrary to the dietary laws of the Jews. No doubt the food was also offered to the idols of the land, and for the Hebrew youths to eat it would be blasphemy.

D. New names (vv. 6-7)
Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. {7} The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.” The world does not like to recognize the name of God, yet each of the four boys had God’s name in his own name:

Daniel (“God is my judge”) was changed to Belteshazzar (“Bel protect his life”). Bel was the name of a Babylonian god.
Hananiah (“Jehovah is gracious”) became Shadrach (“the command of the moon god”)

Mishael (“Who is like God?”) became Meshach (“who is like Aku,” one of the heathen gods);
Azariah (“Jehovah is my helper”) became Abednego (“the servant of Nego,” another heathen god).

The Babylonians hoped that these new names would help the youths forget their God and gradually become more like the heathen people with whom they were living and studying.

The Babylonians could change Daniel’s home, textbooks, menu, and name, but they could not change his heart. He and his friends purposed in their hearts that they would obey God’s Word; they refused to become conformed to the world. Of course, they could have made excuses and “gone along with” the crowd. They might have said,  “Everybody’s doing it!” or “We had better obey the king!” or “We’ll obey on the outside but keep our faith privately.” But they did not compromise.

They dared to believe God’s Word and trust God for victory. They had surrendered their bodies and minds to the Lord, as Rom. 12:1-2 instructs, and they were willing to let God do the rest.

Daniel 1:8-16 (ESV)
8  But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.
9  And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs,
10  and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.”
11  Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah,
12  “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.
13  Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”
14  So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days.
15  At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.
16  So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.

Daniel asked for a ten-day test, which was not very long considering that they had three years of training ahead of them; the head servant agreed with their plan.

The servant was afraid to change the king’s orders, lest anything happen to the youths and to himself, so Daniel’s proposed test was a good solution to the problem. Of course, God honored their faith. The boys were fed vegetables and water for ten days, thus avoiding the defiled food of the Babylonians. At the end of the test, the four lads were healthier and more handsome than the other students who ate from the king’s table.

“When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).

Daniel 1:17: “To 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.”

A test for ten days is one thing, but what about the three-year course at the University of Babylon? The answer is in v. 17: “God gave them . . . ” all that they needed! He enabled them to learn their lessons better than the other students, and He added to this knowledge His own spiritual wisdom.

Daniel 1:18-21 (ESV)
18  At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar.
19  And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king.
20  And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.
21  And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

The “magicians and astrologers” in v. 20 were the men of the kingdom who studied the stars and sought to determine what decisions the king should make. They also claimed to interpret dreams.

Certainly Daniel and his friends did not believe the foolish religion and practices of the Babylonians, but they studied just the same, just as a Christian student must do when he attends a university today and is told to learn “facts” that he knows are contrary to God’s Word.

The king himself had to admit that the four Hebrew lads were ten times smarter than his best advisers. Of course, this kind of reputation made the astrologers envious, and it is no wonder they tried to do away with the Jews in later years.
What we have, then, in this passage is clearly a call from the world to compromise and it is no different in principle than the world’s call for God’s people to compromise in any other age, including our own. Yes, the circumstances are usually different, but the issue is always the same.

Someone has written, “Compromise is always wrong when it means sacrificing principle.”

Not all compromise is wrong. There are times when compromise is permissible or even desirable. Remember the dictionary definition of compromise? “A concession to something detrimental.” Note that Daniel and his friends didn’t object to the classes they were assigned to take or the new names then were given. Though they probably didn’t like being given pagan names in place of the ones their parents had given them, they were willing to concede these things. But eating the King’s choice food
was a clear violation of God’s law. That concession could not be made.

When the world calls on us to compromise then, we need to:
1. Be Reasonable. Know the difference between wrongful compromise and allowable concession. Every call for compromise need not be met by strong opposition by God’s person. A Christian should pick his battles carefully. It is only when God’s principles are at stake that we can refuse to be conformed.

When we are called to compromise, we need to know the difference between wrongful compromise and permissible concession. We see it illustrated here in Daniel. These men didn’t object to all that was put upon them. Only the thing that caused them to violate the law of God.

2. Be Resolute.
Look back at verse 8: The words to note there are those translated “made up his mind” or “resolved.” The Hebrew word behind that phrase was one often used to describe the making of a rope. Individual strands or fibers are gathered up and placed side by side, then twisted into a rope. Their combined strength makes a strand that is difficult to break.

The time does come to make up your mind and take your stand. When that time comes, stand!

After Daniel determined that this was an issue for which there could be no compromise, he gathered up every strand of his resolve and made a decision.

A big reason why many compromise, even when they don’t want to, is that they never come to this kind of decision. They know something is wrong, but they beat around the bush, hoping the unpleasant decision will somehow go away. Or, perhaps they try to somehow accommodate the best of both worlds.

It reminds me of the guy Paul Harvey described one time. His words were, “Remember the uncertain soldier in our Civil War who, figuring to play it safe, dressed himself in a blue coat and gray pants and tip-toed out onto the field of battle. He got shot from both directions.”

We need to be resolute. We need to make up our minds. If we don’t, we’ll soon be homogenized. We’ll be no different than the world.

3. Be Respectful.
1:8: “…so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself.”

I suppose that Daniel could have gone on some hunger strike or something, but he didn’t. He could have protested loudly. Instead, he sought out the commander and respectflly told him his dilemma.

Remember that unbelievers around us need to see a good example so they, too, can be saved. A resolute stand doesn’t mean you should be mean-spirited and disrespectful. This is precisely where many Christians lose the battle and become just like the world.

I’m told that between two farms near Valleyview, Alberta, you can find two parallel fences, only two feet apart, running for about a half mile. Why are there two fences when only one would do? It seems two farmers, Paul and Oscar, had a disagreement that erupted into a feud. Paul wanted to build a fence between their land and split the cost (a reasonable thing to do) but Oscar was unwilling to contribute. Since he wanted to keep the cattle on his land, Paul went ahead and built the fence anyway.

After it was completed, Oscar said to Paul, “I see we have a fence.”  “What do you mean, ‘we'” replied Paul. “I got the property line surveyed and built the fence two feet into my land. That means some of my land is outside the fence. If any of your cows set foot on my land, I’ll shoot them.”

Oscar knew Paul wasn’t joking, so when he eventually decided to use the land adjoining Paul’s pasture, he was forced to build another fence, two feet away. Oscar and Paul are both dead now, but their double fence stands as a monument to their stubbornness and uncalled for disrespect. Being right and doing right does not give us a license to be disrespectful of others. There really is no place for a cantankerous saint of God.

Daniel first sought permission from the commander of the officials to be excused from eating the king’s food. Does that mean if the commander had said “no” he would have gone ahead and defiled himself with the food? No! But it does indicate that, whenever something can be done respectfully, it should be.

Romans 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

4. Be Resourceful.
Don’t you think that proposal reflects some careful deliberation and wise, resourceful consideration? I think it is reasonable to believe that, after Daniel made up his mind he would not defile himself with the king’s food, he spent some time considering how to approach the overseer.

Even when intentions are good and God is please with a decision, we must be wise in our approach to the world. You might remember Jesus’ words  were “wise as serpents and cautious [innocent] as doves.” (4)

Being on God’s side doesn’t excuse us from seeking a wise approach to dealing with the world. We must not be reckless in this area. Such seeking of wisdom is based at least partly, on human effort and concern for what is wise.

Two New Testament verses come to mind that are directed to Christians today on the subject of giving a wise response to the world when we have the opportunity:
Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.”

1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

You don’t avoid the world’s homogenization by being a willful dim-wit to wisdom.

I don’t believe God hands a person wisdom like Daniel and his friends exhibited here without their human effort being involved. Do you seek wisdom to know how you should respond when the world calls for compromise?

Conclusion
An interesting thing to watch for from the window of an airplane is the winding path of the rivers below. No two waterways are alike, but they all have one thing in common: they are all crooked. They get that way because they conform to what stands in their way. Another way to look at it is that they follow the path of least resistance. Yes, rivers are crooked because they take the “easy way.”

We, too, can become crooked if we always take the easy way. The things that have been suggested here today from Daniel 1 are not the easy way. They take courage, conviction, and commitment. But if we practice them, they will yield a life that is straight as God intended – and we won’t be homogenized.

 

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2016 in Sermon

 

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