We are continuing in a sermon series on the life of Daniel, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Daniel teaches us how to be unshakable no matter what happens to us. He was able to thrive through all kinds of tests and each time he passed a test, God made sure he was blessed. God always tests us before he blesses us. Today we’re going to look at how Daniel handled the test of being belittled for his faith.
The Bible says, “Do yourself a favor and learn all you can; then remember what you learn and you will prosper.” (Proverbs 19:8) That’s good advice for anyone who wants to be successful in life. Learn all you can. That’s what Daniel did when he was captured and taken back to Babylon and put into a three year assimilation school. The Bible says, “Always remember what you have learned. Your education is your life, so guard it well.” (Proverbs 4:13) Learning all you can is extremely important to the Judeo/Christian faith. That’s why as Christians spread throughout the world, into every nation and every community, they built schools and next to those schools they built hospitals. Our faith is a preaching, teaching, and healing faith. God cares about our body, mind and soul. To be successful in life, to thrive no matter what, you have to keep learning. The Bible says, “Wisdom brings strength, and knowledge gives power.” (Proverbs 24:5) As we go through our lives we need to learn things that will make us wise, for wisdom will make us able to endure the tests we will face in life.
As a child Daniel learned all he could about his God and how to be a blessing to others. He had learned his lessons well by the time he was captured by the Babylonians and taken back to Babylon as a prisoner of war. Once there, Daniel and his three friends were put into a special training program. The Bible says, “King Nebuchadnezzar commanded: ‘Select young men… and make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning… Teach these young men all the language and literature of the Babylonians… They are to be trained for three years, then some will [be selected to] serve the king after they graduate.” (Daniel 1:4-5) That sounds like a great opportunity for Daniel and his three friends, and it was, but here’s the problem: they were going to have to learn things that went against their faith. They were going to have to take courses that went against what they believed: Babylonian Magic 101, 201, and 301; Introduction to Fortunetelling and Advanced Fortunetelling; Major and Minor Deities of the Babylonian Empire and How to Worship Them. And yet God was with them. The Bible says, “God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of that time.” (Daniel 1:17) They used the aptitude and ability God gave them to learn all that they could, because with knowledge comes power to influence others and bless others. They were going to be tested before they could be promoted.
Daniel and his three friends had already passed the TEST OF MAJOR CHANGE when they were taken away off to Babylon. They had passed the TEST OF PEER PRESSURE by negotiating a new meal plan with the chief officer even through all the other boys were more than happy to eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine. Now they were facing an even greater test: CAN YOU STUDY IN A PAGAN SCHOOL AND NOT LOSE YOUR FAITH? If they can pass this test, if they can endure being belittled for their faith, they will get promoted to an even greater position of power and influence. God always tests you before he blesses you. He tests you with stress before he blesses you with success.
The Babylonians were pretty intelligent people. It was, after all, the Babylonians who gave us the planet Jupiter, and they did it without a telescope. They were great students of the stars, but not for the right reasons. They searched the skies, not for scientific discovery, but to support their superstitions. The Babylonians were astrologers, not astronomers. They used the stars and planets to come up with a system of foretelling the future. That system we known as the Zodiac—they invented it. They believed their gods spoke through the stars and planets. So Daniel was being trained to interpret the stars and tell the future Babylonian style. Along with all the pagan stuff, he learned some interesting and helpful things. It was the Babylonians who gave us sixty minutes in an hour. Their calculations made our system of keeping time possible. They gave us 360 degrees in a circle—that’s Babylonian. The degrees of a circle are 6 times 60. They thought the number 60 was somehow very magical. Daniel had to learn all that superstition and endure his faith being belittled.
The Bible says, “When the three-year training was completed, the chief official brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with each of them, and none impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they were appointed to his regular staff as advisers! In all matters requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, the king found the advice of these young men to be ten times better than that of all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom!” (Daniel 1:18-20) Think about this: they enter the program as 15-year-old prisoners of war, they graduate when they are 18 year olds and get a job advising the most powerful ruler of the known world. That’s what you call graduating with honors! Forget magna cum laude. This is over the top! How did they become such scholars in a pagan system and still keep their faith? That’s a good question—a very relevant question considering the times we are living in.
In 1962 and 1963 the Supreme Court handed down two rulings: to remove the Bible and prayer from our public schools and institutions. It was a radical shift from the past. In the early days of our nation, the Bible was the primary textbook in schools. Literacy was such a priority so that people could read the Bible and be better people, better citizens, both in this world and in the next. The Bible and the McGuffy Reader were used in every school across America. That’s what made our country great! Every one of our Ivy League schools was started by pastors to train pastors. The only exception is Cornell. I went to Miami University in Ohio and it was originally a seminary before it was a college. Almost all of our institutions of higher education were started by Christians to train pastors, to train educators who could train our nation in a Biblical life and world view. That’s what made our nation so strong and so great.
The problem is, they didn’t just take the Bible and prayer out of our schools, they replaced it with another religion called “secular humanism.” You might think secular humanism isn’t a religion, but it most certainly is. It’s a religion without a god, but it is nevertheless a religion. Public education in America has been high jacked and transformed by secular humanists like John Dewey who called secular humanism “our common faith,” and Julian Huxley who called it "Religion without Revelation." For decades it went unchallenged. Then Christians began to push back against secular humanism in the schools using the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment, which is, by the way, the same tactic Atheists had used to challenge prayer and Bible reading in our schools in the first place. If Christianity was banned from public education because of the establishment clause, then so must secular humanism. This forced the Secular Humanists completely reverse their strategy, and define their religion, not as a religion but as "scientific."
As a person of faith in the public educational system in America today, either as a student or as an educator, you will face persecution for your faith. You will be belittled for your beliefs. You will be pressured to abandon your Christian faith.
I was a senior in high school when I first had a teacher belittle me for my faith. Every morning before homeroom, about ten of my friends would come to my locker and I would read a verse out of the Bible to them. I called it “Words for Today.” I figured that if our homeroom teachers were no longer allowed to read a verse out of the Bible to inspire us, I was going to do it for them. A student-teacher saw me reading from my Bible to my friends and he came over and belittled us for our faith. I was ready for him. I had thought it through. I asked him, “So what’s the alternative? That we’re all just grown up germs from a primordial slime pit? No thank you! I’ll stick to my Bible.” He never bothered me again.
How do you excel, like Daniel, in a pagan environment and not lose your faith? How do you thrive and not just survive the secular culture all around you and keep your faith? Here’s what Daniel teaches us:
FIRST, DECIDE IN ADVANCE TO STAND FOR GOD. The time to choose to be loyal to God is before the challenge comes. I was ready for that teacher who belittled me for my faith. I had made up my mind in advance to stand with God. The Bible says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2nd Timothy 2:13) Don’t be surprised when you are belittled for your faith. Don’t be surprised when your faith is challenged. If you’re not experiencing persecution for your faith, it probably means nobody knows you’re a Christian. If you stand up for the truth God has revealed in his Word, you will experience belittling and persecution. Those of you who have children or grandchildren in the public schools need to warn them. If you have kids or grandkids going off to a secular college, you need to warn them. You need to help them decide in advance to stand for God. That’s what Daniel did in order to succeed. It says, “Daniel made up his mind not to defile himself….” (Daniel 1:8a) Teach them that being a great student starts with God. The Bible says, “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.” (Proverbs” 1:7) Remember: at the end of your life, when you stand before God, he’s not going to ask you or your children what grade you got in Social Studies. He’s going to ask, “What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ? Did you get to know Him? Did you excel in being a student of the Lord?” The Bible says, “Reverence for the Lord is an education in itself.” (Proverbs 15:33)
SECOND, if you want to pass the test of being belittled for your beliefs, then NEVER STOP LEARNING. All leaders are learners. You can’t be a good leader if you stop learning. The moment you stop learning you stop leading and fall behind. Growing companies require growing executives. Growing businesses require growing businessmen or women. Growing churches require growing pastors and growing parishioners. When you stop learning you stop growing. The Bible says, “Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.” (Proverbs 18:15) It says, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that isn’t ashamed.” (2nd Timothy 2:15) The Bible says, “Those who get wisdom do themselves a favor, and those who love learning will succeed.” (Proverbs 19:8) We are to strive for wisdom all our lives.
It’s important to know that knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. Knowledge is information gained from education or experience. Knowledge can lead to wisdom, but it’s not the same thing as wisdom. To have wisdom you have to see life from God’s viewpoint. It enables you to respond to people and situations from God’s viewpoint.
THIRD, if you want to pass the test of being belittled for your beliefs, you’ll need to STEEP YOURSELF IN GOD’S WORD. You’ve got to soak in God’s word and let it penetrate every part of your thinking. When you steep a tea bag you let it soak in hot water until the tea works its way out of the bag and into your cup. That takes time to steep the full flavor out of a tea bag and it takes time to steep the full meaning out of a passage of the Bible. You’ve got to spend time in God’s Word, letting it work its way into you. You need to read God’s Word every day and memorize it, meditate on it. The Bible says, “Study God’s Word continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that’s written in it. If you do you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)
I was having dinner in a restaurant in Pittsburgh one evening and while waiting for my food I struck up a conversation with a man also waiting for his food. I asked him what he did and he said he was the chief architect for the new sky scraper going in across the street. I was impressed and said, “Wow. How did you get that job?” Without hesitating he said, “By being honest and doing the right thing.” That’s a wise man. That’s what being steeped in God’s Word will do for you, and it will help you to be successful in whatever you do. It will give you wisdom to discern the truth from the lie. You must learn the truth in order to discern the lie. The Psalmist wrote, “Your commandments give me great understanding. It’s no wonder I can see and hate every false way of life.” (Psalm 119:104) The Bible says, “A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash.” (Proverbs 15:14) You have to be careful what you steep yourself in. If you want to be unshakable in a secular environment, steep yourself in God’s Word.
FOURTH, CHOOSE BELIEVERS TO BE YOUR BEST FRIENDS. If you want to succeed in life and pass the test of being belittled for your faith, then you’ll need your best friends to be believers, people who have the same beliefs as you, the same values as you, people who can encourage you to keep the faith. That’s what Daniel did. He had his three best friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He could trust them to be strong and help him to keep the faith. The apostle Paul warns us, “Don’t be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (1st Corinthians 15:33) The Bible says, “Stay away from fools, or you won’t learn a thing.” (Proverbs 14:7) There are some people you need to stay away from. They will pull you into a way of life that will keep you from being successful. King Solomon warns “Fools show their stupidity by the way they live; it’s easy to see they have no sense.” (Ecclesiastes 10:3) There is a way to happiness and success in life, but it is not through foolishness. The Psalmist writes, “The happiest people—the ones God blesses—don’t WALK with those who suggest doing wrong, don’t STAND with those who like to sin, and don’t SIT with cynics who deny God.” (Psalm 1:1-2) Your best friends need to be committed to following Jesus Christ and living as he would have you live.
FIFTH, STAY CONNECTED TO THE FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS. The Bible says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….” (Hebrews 10:25a) If you want to thrive and not just survive being belittled for your faith, then you need to stay connected to your church family for support and encouragement. It will help you to live the life God calls you to no matter what. The Bible says, “It is God’s will that you live such a good life that it silences those who foolishly condemn the Gospel without knowing what it can do for them.” (1st Peter 2:15) Stay connected to the body of believers so you can live a life that will invite others to consider Christ and what he has done for them.
SIXTH, REMEMBER: GOD WILL REWARD THOSE WHO SUFFER FOR THEIR FAITH. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Daniel passed the test of being persecuted for his faith and God blessed him with greater power and influence. God will do the same for us.