Walking in the Favor of God: Culture

This week, we continue our message series, “Walking in the Favor of God.” Last week, we were reminded of the battles that we all face; that we are in constant warfare. However, for those who remain faithful to Jesus through them all will be the ultimate victory and a great reward!

This morning, we’re ironically going back in history about 2,600 years to a person who actually became a spoil of war themselves; Daniel.

We first encounter Daniel in his teen years, guesstimated to be fifteen years old, living in Judah. He was a member of the royal family. In an instant, however, his life is turned upside down and he is thrown into an unbelievably difficult situation.

Most of us here have experienced a time in our lives when everything changed in an instant. That moment when everything is going fine and then the unimaginable and completely unexpected becomes your painful reality. That time when you think that perhaps you’re just in the middle of a nightmare and will soon wake up from it only to realize that the nightmare is your reality. Words cannot describe the feeling of having your world torn away from you like this.

God allows King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to overthrow King Jehoiakim of Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar takes, as the spoils of war, items from the temple of God and young men from the royal family who were handsome, without physical defect, intelligent, well informed, and quick to understand new things. Daniel fit this category along with three others. Who would have thought that being intelligent and attractive was a dangerous thing?

Can you imagine, though, being stripped away from your family, your friends, your home, your country, and being forced to personally serve the very king that did all of this to you? Not only was Daniel forced to serve his own enemy, but this king made every effort to strip away who Daniel was. He was forced to learn a new language, a new culture, and even to take on a new name. It would be understandable for someone in that position to fight and resist this king and his officials every step of the way; rebelling against those who hurt you and the ones you love.

Even though Daniel was young, he chose the high, but difficult road and instead walked in the favor of God and man, even in the favor of his own enemies. Daniel trusted God and was committed to follow His ways no matter what his circumstances were. We find that Daniel’s commitment to live life God’s way was quickly put to the test.

Daniel 1:4-17
4b He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians (or Chaldeans). 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.

6 Among those who were chosen 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.

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

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.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to assimilate these four Israelites into the Chaldean culture. For three years, they learned their language, literature, to eat their food, basically to speak, think, and act like a Chaldean. In the same way, there is constantly a battle between the kingdom of God and the world’s culture; for a follower of Jesus to either live life God’s way or the way of the world.

We find no indication that there was any resistance from Daniel and the other three to learn about the culture of the Chaldean’s, however, Daniel adamantly refused to live out parts of that culture. He knew where he came from, who he was, and most importantly who’s he was. He was God’s and it was God alone whom he would live for, regardless of the cost. Using wisdom, Daniel found a way to prove that God’s ways were better.

We see that the culture of the world around Daniel didn’t change him, but rather, Daniel changed the culture around him for the better. He eagerly learned all about the culture of the world around him and embraced much of it. However, when the culture of the world around him contradicted the culture of God’s Kingdom, Daniel resolved to live out God’s will and not to submit to the world’s culture.

This line can be difficult to draw at times. Unfortunately, the church has a long history of resisting culture totally and completely instead of walking in the favor and wisdom of God. Just as an example, some people were raised equating visiting the movie theater as being evil. In fact, how many of you here this morning were raised with this perspective? This cultural event, however, is obviously morally neutral in and of itself. It is neither moral nor immoral to view a movie, depending on its content.

When the church chose to step into this realm of our culture instead of resisting it, Christian films were produced that have changed the eternity for millions of people. Through just the Jesus film itself, over 200 million people in 1,435 different languages have given their lives to Jesus and billions have seen and heard the gospel message through it. Can you imagine if the church took a hard stance against culture in this case instead of embracing it and using it as a tool to relate with and impact the lives of people?

James 4:4-6
4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

God gave Daniel more grace, or more favor. In the New Testament, we just read that God still gives more grace, or favor, to anyone who chooses to humble themselves. We humble ourselves when we choose to learn about the world in which we live just like Daniel did. We must remain teachable and learn how to correctly draw the line between the world and the things of God.

We cannot become enemies of God by living as the world does when it would contradict God’s Kingdom culture. God’s ways and His Kingdom culture must always trump the culture of the world around us within our own lives. However, we also cannot choose to become enemies of God by choosing to label as evil and choose to avoid something in our world that God labels as culturally neutral and could be used as a tool to reach people with the gospel.

1 Corinthians 9:19-27
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

In the same way that Daniel willingly learned the culture in which he had become a slave within, the apostle Paul became a student of the culture wherever he would go. He obviously never compromised the gospel, but rather, became all things to all people as to relate to them and to present the gospel to them. The gospel message never changes nor do God’s standards for living change even as God, Himself never changes. However, much about the way in which we live and the way in which we present the gospel must change.

We, of all people, should be able to understand the dangers that we present to the gospel when we remain a stick in the mud and refuse to adapt to the culture in which we live. Every day, Amish buggies drive right past our front door. They are ones who embrace and believe in the same gospel that we do, salvation through Jesus Christ. They possess and stand on the same Bible that we do, including the scripture that I just quoted from Paul. However, how many people are they reaching and leading to Jesus?

They have resisted cultural change and have now created a rift between them and the people that Jesus gave His life for, the people that He commanded them to disciple. They may be separate from the world, but that man-made separation is different from the God-desired separation because it shuts off the world from the gospel along with the believer from the world.

We need the wisdom of God to know how to walk in the favor of both God and man even as Daniel and Jesus, Himself did. We need the wisdom of God to know what parts of culture around us to embrace and which parts of the culture to deny. This requires us to be students of culture and worldly living as to find those “UNKNOWN GOD” altars (Acts 17) that enable us to relate to that culture and present the gospel through that relationship.

God gifted and used Daniel in powerful ways to reach out to and even to win over for God the very King who chose to be the enemy of Daniel and his people. Though it was a fine line between honoring and serving King Nebuchadnezzar and honoring and serving God above all else, Daniel found that line and wisely lived with it always in mind and always hard set. Daniel and his three companions were put to the test and found to be ten times better in matters of wisdom and understanding than anyone else in his kingdom (Daniel 1:20).

God so richly gifted Daniel that he was not able to only interpret a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, but also to receive a word of knowledge to know exactly what the dream was without being told by the king. This changed Daniel’s fate from being sentenced to death to being honored and exalted into a high position over all of Babylon and its wise men (Daniel 2). It also resulted in this same king who was the enemy of God’s people to proclaim, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries. (Daniel 2:47)”

When we choose to walk in the favor of both God and man, God is able to do the miraculous. He is able to change not only our fate, but even the hearts of our very enemies. He is able to transform our circumstances in an instant from dire and dreadful to bountiful and blessed! Even the most resistant person to the gospel can be radically transformed by it if we learn to live wisely and to truly follow God’s lead.

Through Daniel’s difficult choice to walk in the favor of both God and man, Daniel unlocked an amazing increase of trust and was even told by an archangel that he was highly esteemed by God. Join us next week as we continue to go through Daniel’s life and learn how we, too, can walk in the favor of God.

This morning, however, God is reminding us that for the one who actively puts their faith in Jesus, nothing that happens to us is accidental. God is allowing our circumstances for a divine reason and, though painful for a season, is ultimately for our good and an opportunity to be promoted and richly blessed.

Like Daniel, we must choose to trust in God even when life doesn’t make sense. Even when everything that we know and love is stolen away from us and the pressure is on to become someone we are not, God is still there and still working. His desire is not to harm us, but to give us a hope-filled future and an abundant life. We simply need to trust in Him, faithfully following and serving Him, through the dark season of trial until it ends and brings us into a season of blessing and reward!