Renouncing Extravagance for God's Glory
The way of the world is like a flock of starling birds—each individual following the subtle, mindless cues of the whole. You may look about and see the host, but individuality is only observed in its likeness to the rest of the flock. Non-conformists are uncommon and are therefore ridiculed; nevertheless, Jesus said the look of the Christian against the backdrop of the world will be as stark as a lightbulb in a dark room.
The contrast between the saint and the sinner exists for the same reason that Christ was distinct from the Pharisees. The primary distinction is that of conduct. I think Jesus summarized the distinction when he said that Gentiles seek after fine clothing, food, and material substance while Christians seek the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:32-33).
As Jesus walked the earth in his short ministry, every movement was directed in the pursuit of the kingdom of God. He came to bring the kingdom, so when he slept, he slept to renew his energies for the kingdom. When he ate, he ate to sustain his body for kingdom work. When he spoke, he spoke like no other man every spoke, because his purpose wasn’t earthly—it was divine. When he walked, he walked to new places who’d yet to hear of the kingdom. When he used his hands, they were for healing and serving in confirmation of the kingdom he brought.
Essentially, Jesus was not of the world, and therefore he didn’t look like the world. The same should be true of those here who profess Jesus as Lord. I wonder, in what ways is your life distinct from society? If your coworkers were to candidly assess your general spirit and conduct, would they see you as distinct from the organization? And if that distinction were there, would they see it as a good distinction?
I’m excited to have the North MacArthur church with us this morning as we bring another Vacation Bible School to the Cayman Islands. Our theme concerns the Biblical prophet, Daniel, and our catchphrase is “dare to be different.” This is a good theme, but it’s important that we note why and how Daniel was different. Being different for the sake of being different may be more damaging than conformity.
I think if we’re doing Christianity right, being different will be a reality, but it will only be a secondary matter. As we study the first chapter of Daniel this morning, we will observe that Daniel was distinct in every way from his comrades, but those differences were the result of far greater pursuits. Notice one of those differences.
Why Daniel Didn’t Abstain from the King’s Food
In Daniel 1:5 it reads, “5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank.” Now look at verse 8: “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.”
What in the mind of Daniel brought this resolve to abstain from the king of Babylon’s food? I believe there are two reasons. But before we look at them, let’s narrow down our options by first asking, “Why didn’t Daniel abstain from the king’s foods?” Two reasons why he didn’t abstain:
1. Daniel didn’t abstain primarily to avoid Levitical ceremonial uncleanness.
You all are familiar with the host of Levitical food laws, i.e., don’t eat pork, don’t eat reptiles, don’t eat anything that swims in the ocean but doesn’t have scales. I don’t think ceremonial cleanness constituted his abstinence from the king’s food.
In verse 12 it reads, “12 Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink.” Levitical cleanness didn’t demand abstinence from everything except vegetables. Levitical cleanness didn’t demand abstinence from wine.
A diet of veggies and water was a diet far more strict than God required of his people. And the text indicates that Daniel was either royalty or nobility in the land of Judah, so dining well would have been customary to him. According to verse 3, Nebuchadnezzar “commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility.”
So Daniel’s resolve not to be defiled by the king’s food wasn’t due to his commitment to Levitical cleanness.
2. Daniel didn’t abstain to exercise civil disobedience.
Daniel was well aware that his exile was divinely willed, and his attitude was exemplary toward his superiors. Through the book of Daniel, the service he gives to his captors is nothing short of outstanding—both to Nebuchadnezzar and his successor. 6:3 says that Daniel prospered exceedingly because “an excellent spirit” was within him. In fact, conspirators sought to find fault in him and could not “because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him” (6:4).
So why did he abstain? Let’s look to two reasons.
Daniel Resolved Not to Be Defiled by Creature Comforts
What was the nature of Israel’s exile in Babylon? It was judgment! In fact, in Daniel 9:2, Daniel was reading the book of Jeremiah, ascertaining the length of time Israel would be required to serve Babylon. In Jeremiah 25:8ff, God said, “Because you have not obeyed my words…This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
Jeremiah prophesied this word of the Lord years before it came to pass. And in Daniel 1:1, “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it,” bringing with him Daniel and his comrades.
Daniel, many years into his Babylonian captivity—long after the initial sins of Israel had been committed, prayed to God in this way: “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day” (9:5ff).
If Daniel’s heart was grieved by Israel’s sins so many years into their captivity, what do you suppose it was at the first—when he and his family were ripped out of the comfort of their homeland and brought to a great enemy nation?
In 1:5, right after Daniel entered the land of his captor, the king assigned to Daniel a portion of the very food the king ate. And in verse 8, Daniel resolved not to eat “the king’s food.” This wasn’t a vacation. Daniel knew it. The need for sobriety was as high as it had ever been because their captivity was divine retribution.
Daniel’s resolve not to be defiled by the king’s food was a resolve not to be pampered in the midst of spiritual warfare. It was a resolve not to be coddled by creature comforts of nobility, forgetting the gravity of his and all Israel’s condition. Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful king in the entire world at this point in history, and you can imagine what kinds of foods were enjoyed by the most powerful man in the world.
Daniel resolved not to blind himself from reality by a drunkenness on the kingly delights afforded him. Daniel knew that luxurious living in a foreign land would be a great danger to his spiritual condition. Daniel wouldn’t forget God by living in luxury—while in a foreign land.
I wonder in what ways our creature comforts have distracted us from the eternal goodness only possible in God. You know, just like Daniel, we are also strangers and exiles in a foreign land. In 1 Peter 2:11 it reads, “11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
I think that we sometimes have it so good that we forget about the kingdom of God; we forget about heaven—not intellectually but practically. Here’s a test for you: Paul said, “My desire is to depart [from this world] and be with Christ, for that is far better.” How many of us would find it better to leave this world, our families, and our belongings behind to go be with Christ now?
The only commendable reason for any of us wanting to stay longer is if we truly, truly are wanting to stay longer because it may be more necessary on the account of those we are serving—so that they can better know Christ and learn to see him as the highest good. But then ask, is that what you’re doing? Is your life such that the whole reason you’re here and living and working and breathing is because you think your service unto the Lord’s church is needed and irreplaceable?
Church, Daniel didn’t have to give up those foods. That wasn’t a requirement of God. He abstained in order to keep himself focused on what really mattered. So perhaps cutting out cable TV is a good thing; perhaps turning off the radio is a good thing; perhaps a simpler life makes a Godly focus easier to maintain.
Daniel didn’t want to be defiled by luxury. I wonder in what ways western society has defiled us. I see little indicators at times in myself—like when I’m tempted to complain about living in a crammed church building. Or when I’m tempted to complain about eating leftovers for three days in a row. Daniel ate vegetables for at least three years straight! I’m like, “Ugh, fettuccine alfredo, salad, grapes, and milk AGAIN!?” That’s ridiculous.
I wonder for you in what ways western society has defiled you. Capitalism in the west is primarily concerned with the pursuit of monetary wealth. Dave Ramsey has some good advice, and to an extent, Miranda and I have followed some of his suggestions. He suggests maintaining always a three month emergency fund. That’s fine—probably good advice.
My two problems with it are these: (1) Most people in the world cannot do that; most people in the world are struggling from day to day. (2) It can displace our trust in God with trust in riches.
Remember when Israel was in the wilderness? God gave them a three month reserve of manna in case of an emergency where he was somehow absent from the world, right? No? Remember Jesus’ model prayer? “Father, give us this quarter our quarterly bread. Amen.” No?
My first challenge to you this morning is this: Assess your life to see in what ways luxury has defiled your hope for salvation; your trust in Almighty God; your aim in life.
Daniel Resolved to Bring God All Glory
Having only eaten vegetables and drank water, “It was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.” After Daniel’s resolve to abstain from luxurious living, he had told the steward over him to test him and his comrades to see how they faired with only vegetables. By divine miracle, they were made healthier. Keep in mind, there’s not much fat in vegetables—yet they were fatter than the others.
The text reads, “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” (v. 9). It reads also, “God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams…and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah…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.”
What happens when a man of God resolves to place all of his trust in God? Two things happen, the man is exalted and God is glorified! Would God have received this same glory if Daniel had merely followed the king’s dietary regiment? No. Daniel lived in a way so as to ensure the glory went to God.
In 2:26-28, the king queried Daniel, “Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?” Daniel answered, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.”
I imagine the temptation would have been to say, “Sure, I can tell you your dream.” Daniel didn’t want any glory, though. He knew glory was for God.
What happens when a man of God resolves to abstain from luxury while simultaneously directing all glory to God? In 2:47, Nebuchadnezzar said, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries.” Pagans glorify God when saints of God live purely and direct their successes to the glory of God.
Why We Are to Be Different
As we get ready for a week of service, encouraging the youth of the Cayman Islands to be different, let’s remember why we are different and how we are different. We aren’t different for different’s sake. We are different because of two fundamental things: (1) Our kingdom is not of this world, therefore we don’t live like this world; (2) Our successes are not gained by personal intellect and human achievement—we know that if we are prospered it is only by God’s hand, and we therefore direct all praise and glory to him.
My challenge as you go forward today is threefold:
Be content with what you have and don’t let life’s luxuries displace your longing for God
Make an inventory of your spiritual condition by asking where your heart truly is—is it with Christ or in a bank account somewhere.
Go forward resolved to make every movement unto the glory of God.