Series: A Community of Virtue
Sunday 19th July 2015 – Justus Swart
Dan. 1:1-19; Dan. 6:6-28.
Every single culture that has existed over time has always recognised courage as a quality or characteristic that is worthy of praise. The beautiful thing about courage is that it is not only limited to physical strength. Courage has very little to do with your ability to be a strong person physically but it describes the quality that allows you to act in the face of frightening and sometimes dangerous circumstances. This morning I would like us to focus on the kind of courage it takes to live every single day as yourself, to live true to your convictions. The world tells us that it is often easier and simpler to just conform, to live like everybody else and to just assume the opinions and thoughts of the masses.
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 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. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility — 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. 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. Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego (Dan. 1:1-7). Daniel and his friends had been captured and brought to Babylon. They were chosen to be trained in the culture of Babylon, to carry on the line of the Babylonian heritage and culture. Daniel was taken out of his homeland and brought to Babylon. If Daniel had stayed in his home and life had continued smoothly, no courage would have been required. It is only in these kinds of situations that any kind of courage is really necessary. The same goes for us because if everything went smoothly all the time courage would not be necessary. Courage is a quality that stares fear and trouble in face and carries on going.
We are looking at Daniel who said “No” to the food given to him by the King. Daniel’s courage was at work immediately after his transition into Babylon. He stood his ground to hold his belief and not eat unclean meat. Daniel invited the guard to test his claim and at the end he was healthier than the others who ate the food from the King’s table. We find number of clues in this story as to what real courage is; the kind of courage it takes to be oneself and to remain true to one’s own convictions despite outside influences (Dan. 1:8-18).
The first thing I want to make note of is the ‘favour of God’. I am not against the favour of God and I believe many people have the favour of God. It strikes me as kind of curious and strange that after his whole town is besieged, his family taken away from him, he was taken away from his home, was dragged to Babylon having his name changed against his will; none of that could be describe as favourable. Yet we see that the guard had favour and sympathy for Daniel. This is to show that the favour of God is not what we expect it to be. It is in fact rather unlikely that God will put you in completely favourable conditions. He wants to see and test your faith; He will put you in circumstances that are actively against you. He is not interested in protecting you against difficult circumstances in your life. He is interested in tearing anything away that takes Him out of the centre of your life. He wants to be your total and utmost security so expect that anything else that takes that place will be torn away from you the closer you come to God. This kind of courage does not rely on favourable circumstances. I wonder how many of us have asked for the favour of God in difficult situations and instead of removing the circumstances God sent us someone with sympathy. Then I wonder how many of us have rejected that person because it was not what we asked of God? Daniel invited tests into his life to prove his faith and courage are real. It takes courage for us believers to claim that He is trustworthy in unfamiliar places because we are now asking them to test us. This kind of courage is what God wants to see in His church. He wants to see courage that can claim greatly because we know that He is trustworthy, but not making irrational bold claims that are not true to God Himself.
Is your life sustained by the Word of God to the point that if everything was taken from you, you would still be standing? Would you also be healthier, happier and better than all those around you? This kind of courage is not the kind of courage that seeks to attack others. It is the kind of courage that is completely and totally secure within itself. It is the kind of courage to be true to yourself and your convictions. It is the kind of courage that stands for the truth. It is not an insecure courage that needs the validation of anyone else. I sometimes wonder if Christians know that it is not their job to turn the world upside down but it is their job to find the courage to live truthfully to the Word of God. Do not go out and start a campaign or march against people who do not believe what you believe. Just like Daniel, he did what he believed in and did not break down the King for his food. You will be a far more effective Christian, far more efficient at reaching people if you can live out your belief courageously without squashing everyone around you. That insecurity tries to make everyone conform around you so that you can fit in again. Do not be afraid to stand out. Have the courage that says “I am secure in who I am”. Your job is not to bring every one you know to church every Sunday; your job is to live in step with the voice of God; then they will most likely follow you to church anyway. This kind of courage is not inborn; it is a habit that we have to form.
Taking courage to stand firm in your convictions means you will inevitably attract unwanted attention (Dan.6:3-4). Taking courage for things and holding your ground does not mean that everybody will like you. When you stand for something you believe in, it offends people. And the source of his courage was in his constant prayer; continuously praying and seeking the voice of God. He was doing it all time not only when in trouble. It was a habit that sustained him. Daniel was constantly grounded in the Word of God. Daniel was so located in the Word of God that he did not feel the need to be afraid. We become fearful and insecure because we are cut off from the source of our courage. True courage is linked to God which means that you stand on the most firm and solid foundation.
‘Selah’ is a slowing down to pause and meditate on God’s word. This kind of prayer known as the “selah” is found mostly in the psalms. It means someone who listens to poetry, to music and the music is brought in with a paragraph of something that makes you think and you stop. The “selah” is that pause to make everything quiet to listen to God. It is the kind of prayer that we need more of as a church. It is a kind of prayer that focuses on Jesus, on what God is trying to say to us. It is where you return to the feet of Jesus continuously to give thanks and to listen. The habit of daily praying is one that refuels our faith in the things that are unseen.
A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed. Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep. At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty”. The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.” (Dan. 6:17-24). We all need courage to follow the voice of God because it will undoubtedly lead us into scary situations (Dan. 6:17-24). Sometimes our reputation might be at stake, sometimes we might even have to pull out of a business opportunity because we feel that it counters our convictions, and sometimes a relationship might need to be forfeited if it goes against our convictions. We might be tempted to give up on standing for our convictions when things get tough. Just like Daniel we will not be taken out by any lions. We will not even smell their breath because God will shut their mouths. It is better to be seen as innocent in God’s eyes rather than to be seen as compliant in the eyes of people around you. Daniel did not lift a finger against those who opposed him. Yet we see that; Then King Darius wrote to all the nations and peoples of every language in all the earth: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever” (Dan. 6:25-26). Daniel stood for that. Start your habit of continuous praying now; get into the habit of nurturing your courage to be who you are and to stand on your convictions.