Selected highlights from this sermon.
Have you ever wondered what to do when the culture dictates certain behavior? If you are a Christian, this often results in a troubled conscience. What should you do?
Whenever possible, we should be in the culture, just like Daniel and his friends in Babylon. They worked for the king who had destroyed their homeland. But sometimes, we must resolve to take a stand and draw a line in the sand. When this happens, we should be prepared to face the consequences from a hostile world.
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Today’s topic is Conflicts of Conscience. We’ve all experienced it, I am sure, and there are several sources where these conflicts come from. First of all, they may come from the State. They may come from laws that are enacted. For example, here’s a question: Should an organization that’s run on Christian principles have to buy into a national health care program, whereby if they do that, that some of the money that they will be spending will go to abortion, whether or not it is through drugs or the procedure, when the conviction of those who believe the Bible is that life begins at conception. Is that a violation of religious conscience?
Or I think, for example, of Elaine Photography over there in New Mexico. And she and her studio refused to take pictures of a same-sex wedding, and as many of you know, they ran afoul of the law and all of those things that happened – the fines that were levied, etc., and the laws that have been enacted. It’s a conflict of conscience that sometimes comes to us because of society and because of society’s laws.
And then at times there are conflicts of conscience because of where we find ourselves in the work force. I wish I had time to talk to many of you who are in the professional world. I’m sure that you have conflicts of conscience on a regular basis. Sometimes you may be asked to participate in something that you know right well is dishonest. How do you handle a conflict of conscience?
And then we can speak personally, can’t we? Just in the last couple of weeks I received an e-mail and a letter from two separate mothers. One was asking whether or not she should go to the wedding of her son who is marrying a woman who is part of a cult. And this woman’s father has a great emphasis and authority in this cult. The second was a same-sex wedding where the family was going through agony. She said, “My daughter is marrying her same-sex partner, and part of my family thinks that we should go because if not, we lose our relationship with the couple, but I don’t feel as if I should.”
A conflict of conscience! Well, that’s our topic today, and you know when you think of society at large, and by the way I hope that in this message I don’t scare up more rabbits than I am able to shoot, because these things can get very complicated. But I believe we are going to be helped on our journey.
There are three different ways that we can respond to the culture when it becomes pagan. One way is, of course, to oppose the culture continually, to stand against everything that we see happening, and oftentimes to do so with anger. And we can become angry evangelicals, angry because our freedoms are being taken away, angry because of this, angry because of that, and so we are opposed to culture.
There’s another way that we can respond, and that is to assimilate, to simply go with the stream and not have an argument about it, and say that we all have to live. And so the culture is pushing us in one direction, and then love would dictate that we go along with the culture, because after all, we are to love everybody, and to oppose anything seems to be bad business.
There is a third view. The third view is to take into account culture, to go along with culture not in anger but as far as you possibly can, and then draw the line and say, “This far but no further,” and so you draw a line, but you go into the culture. You take as much of the culture with you as you can because you want to minister to the culture, but at the same time you do have convictions and you know where that line is drawn.
The passage of Scripture I have before me, and I hope it’s before you as well, is Daniel 1. Now let’s get the context, and I hope that you were here for the message last time because last time we pointed out that God had led the exiles into Babylon, so now they no longer had security. They no longer had oneness of outlook and culture and religion. Suddenly they were without a temple and they were in the middle of a pagan culture, and God said to them, “Be sure to build houses, plant vineyards, bless the city and then you’ll be blessed in turn. Seek the shalom of the city. Be involved in the culture.”
And now in Daniel 1 (because Daniel was one of the exiles) we finally see for ourselves what it looks like for those who follow God in a pagan culture. I’m going to pick it up actually in verse 3, and the reason is because verses 1 and 2 give the background I just gave you, how there were these exiles in Babylon 600 miles from Jerusalem. It says, “Then the king commanded Ashpenaz (that was his chief of staff) to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding and learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and (the command was) to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah.” We’ll read just so far to the end of verse 6.
Notice that the king of Babylon wasn’t a nice king. Remember we’re talking about the man whose soldiers took babies and threw them against the rocks actually. He’s not a very nice man. He was cruel, but he sees that the Jews have among them youths that are very brilliant and wise, and he wants to use them in his court, so he has a program of forced assimilation.
Before we look at how Daniel stood against the culture, let’s look at all of the ways in which he participated in the culture. In fact, those ways might actually surprise us, the aspects in which he went along with the culture. First all, in education! I just read it a moment ago. They were to be educated for three years in the literature of Babylon. They’d have to learn the Babylonian language – Acadian. What an experience that would be, and so they would be inundated with all kinds of pagan ideas regarding sexuality, regarding the meaning of life, and all of the wisdom and the mythology of Babylon. They would have to be educated, almost brainwashed with this kind of education for three years.
They accepted that because they believed that they could endure that kind of an education without losing their faith, and I believe that the reason that they thought they could do that, and did do it without losing their faith, is because of the resolve that they had to maintain their faith. This is a parenthesis (and teenagers and college students, you listen at this point), but I am convinced that the reason that so many teenagers lose their faith in university or college is not because of the intellectual arguments. It’s because of the moral issues, the moral pressure, the peer pressure, the falling into sexuality and having guilt and not knowing how to deal with it.
This past week I was in a number of places actually. It’s a good thing that I am young because I can still get around, but one place I was in was New Brunswick, Canada, of all things, for a day at a church for a pastor’s conference, and Rebecca spoke to the women. And so at lunch there was a young woman who works with Inter-Varsity, so I asked her whether or not she agreed with my assessment, and she said, “Unquestionably.” Young people lose their resolve. The moral pressure is so strong that pretty soon if they fall morally, they find all kinds of intellectual reasons why they are abandoning Christianity. That’s not to say that the intellectual aspect isn’t important, but they go together. These four youths, God bless them, said, “We can be in the educational institution of Babylon and maintain our faith.”
Secondly, it’s not just that, but they accepted careers in the government. They were going to stand before the king, this wicked king who had done so much damage to their culture, whose armies destroyed Jerusalem on his command, and they were now going to stand before him and give him wisdom and help him be successful. And they were willing to accept that – that they would stand before the king in his presence and help him rule.
Third, and this is again remarkable, they accepted the name change. Now you’ll notice that the Bible says in verse 7, “He gave them names: Daniel (And the name Daniel, by the way, means that God is my judge) he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.” So they have pagan names. I won’t take the time to tell you the meaning of each but every one of these names that the Jewish boys had signified in some way God – God’s favor. Now they are receiving Babylonian names and they said, “We can endure that too because we are to bless the culture and seek the shalom of our city.”
Well, there were some aspects though of the culture that they would not accept. You’ll notice it says in verse 8, “But Daniel resolved.” Wow! What a fantastic statement! The Old King James that I memorized years ago, I think, is that Daniel purposed in his heart.
This morning I was praying with one of our interns. He came up to the study to pray with me and he said, “Are you going to emphasize verse 8?” He said, “That verse has kept me here in the city of Chicago living in this culture.” Young people, take your Bibles, and I don’t know if you can do this on cell phones and tablets and all the other things that people bring to church nowadays and call a Bible, but underline that phrase. The Bible says that they purposed. Daniel purposed. He resolved.
What was his resolve? Well, the place where he drew the line interestingly had to do with the food. He would not eat the king’s food. Now honestly we don’t know exactly why he had such an issue with the king’s food. Almost certainly it was not kosher. It probably was offered unto idols. Perhaps it signified the good life and the kind of life that he didn’t want to be identified with. For whatever reason Daniel said, “I draw the line here.” And so he spoke to the chief of staff and said, “I don’t want to eat this food. And I don’t want to drink the king’s wine.” And he said, “I’m going to give you an alternate possibility. The intention of the king is that we might be healthy. Feed us vegetables for ten days and if we are not as healthy as all those who are eating the king’s food, then you’ll have a point.” And so the rest of the story is that the chief of staff agreed with the test. And he said, “All right, I’ll test you. I’ll give you vegetables and then we’ll see who is the best at the end of ten days.” And at the end of ten days the four Jewish boys’ faces glowed, and they were much healthier than those who ate the king’s food. So Daniel said, “That’s where I draw the line.”
By the way, that isn’t the only place that Daniel drew the line. In chapter 6 the king issues an edict. And I wish I had time to speak on this. I’ll only refer to it because you know the story. Some people came to him and said, “How are we going to corner Daniel?” And the people said to the king, “Why don’t you issue an edict that says that whoever does not bow down when the music plays has to be thrown in the lion’s den.” This is now a different king, by the way, and Daniel is an advisor to him as well. The king’s name is Darius, and Darius goes along with it, not understanding the implications. Daniel prays with his window open to Jerusalem. Three times a day he kneels and prays, and he won’t bow down to the image.
Now be sure to listen to the next message in this series because I’m going to talk about another image that they were to bow down to and the implications of “stateism.” Specifically my topic next time is going to be when the state becomes God. Well, in this case the state became God. Daniel would not bow down and he was thrown in the lion’s den. Now we all know that an angel came and closed the mouths of the lions. We all know that story and it’s a true story. But critically did Daniel know that that was going to happen when he was thrown into the lion’s den? Absolutely not! He expected to be torn to bits, and I don’t think that that would be an ideal way to die – to be torn to bits by a hungry, angry lion.
But Daniel says, “I draw the line there. I will not worship the pagan god, and I will not stop my devotions” and he wasn’t doing that on company time. This was in his home. The window was open and they said, “You have to bow down.” He said, “I refuse to; I continue to pray,” because he resolved in his heart that there are certain things in a pagan society that you cannot do, and there Daniel stood.
Now the question is, what does all this mean to us, and how do we resolve our own conflicts of conscience? Well, I’m going to give you a few principles that I hope will help you stimulate your pure mind and make you think and give you some context that I hope will help all of us as we try to struggle with this issue of conscience.
Your Bibles are open. Your iPad is to Daniel 1. Your telephone should be turned off. Notice the little phrase in the Scriptures – “God gave.” Verse 2 says, “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand.” The Lord brought them there to Babylon. It was a judgment to be sure, but God brought them there.
You’ll notice it says now in verse 9, “And the Lord gave Daniel favor,” and then in verse 17, “And as for these four youths God gave them learning and wisdom and they had understanding of all visions and dreams.” Notice God’s sovereignty internationally. He’s the God of the nations. Notice God’s sovereignty personally. God showed favor to Daniel and helped him in his predicament. Notice God’s sovereignty situationally. When they stood before the king and they needed the wisdom that they had sought and asked God for, when that happened, lo and behold, God gave them what they needed at the moment that they needed it. God’s sovereignty!
My dear Christian friend today, you are where you are because of God’s sovereignty. He led you to that job. He is there with you in your predicament. He knows the longitude and the latitude of your boat as you sail along the oceans of life. He knows the strength of every board. He knows the trajectory of the wind and its speed. God is with you. And what we must do is to somehow not divorce God from our predicament, which is a serious predicament in America. We should not divorce God from that but we should we see that God has led us where we are possibly because of our own judgment. But the point is He is with us there. God is not absent from His people, and it’s at times like this that we have to remind ourselves of the promises of Scripture.
“I shall never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13, I think it is verse 5, actually has five negatives in the verse in Greek. If I could just roughly translate it, “I will no not leave you. I will no never forsake you.” Five times God says never, never, never, never, never.” He is with us no matter the trial that we are going through. God is there with us. Rejoice in His sovereignty. We are where we are by a divine will, even if we are here because of our disobedience. That’s exactly what the text teaches here.
God was with them though they were there because of their disobedience.
Second, we must rely on the wisdom of God. Now think for a moment about these four boys, and we’re going to be talking about three of them in the next message. Daniel was exempt from that experience. There may be reasons for that because of his prominence. That’s the next message when I speak about the State becoming God, but please know that God gave them the wisdom to know how to navigate this issue of conscience. For one thing, what they did was they suggested to the chief of staff that there was an alternative. Why might they not be able to test the fact that vegetables work better than eating the king’s food? I’m not so sure whether or not this is a great argument for a vegetarian diet, though some people have taken it that way. And so what Daniel did was he got the attention of this chief of staff, and after getting his attention, explained to him that he couldn’t eat the food, but he came up with an alternative. And the chief of staff bought it.
Sometimes when we are confronted with a conflict of conscience, what we have to do is to ask ourselves if there is an alternative. Can we discuss with the person to whom we owe this allegiance or who has brought this conflict upon us the rationale of our own convictions, and to do so with respect for his convictions (or maybe lack of them) and for respect for our own convictions?
Stuart Briscoe, whom many of you know because he was a great pastor, and he and his wife, Jill, do missionary work all over the world (I really do admire them.), said that when he was back in England, he was working in a bank. And the chief officer of the bank wanted him to do something that was really thievery. He basically wanted him to steal from the customers. And Stuart, of course, would have nothing to do with that, but he said this to his superior. “If you want me to steal for you, what makes you think that I would not steal from you if I had the opportunity?” And that bank official began to think, “You know, maybe eroding the character of those who work with me is not the best idea because it has ramifications. It has implications.”
When it comes to some things, even such as whether or not you should attend this wedding or that wedding, there may not be an immediate answer. And by the way, there may be differences of opinion among Christians. You know the Apostle Paul in the book of Corinthians basically devoted a chapter to the fact that some people have a conscience whereby they can eat meat offered to idols, and others can’t. And what he’s saying is, “Give the people some space because some people have a different way of viewing things than others.” But listen carefully. We have to say to this generation that love and conscience are not in conflict. You see sometimes we have people say, “Well, you know if you were really loving, you would do A, B, C and D. Where’s your love?” Well, love is great, but it should never be opposed to my conscience. No matter what my personal conviction should be, love should always abound, understanding insight. The ability to be able to think clearly on this issue is so critical, and there may be a difference of opinion. But just because you are under pressure does not mean that you should ever violate your conscience because the Bible says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” So for you it may be sin to do one thing. It may not be sin for the other because he thinks that he can do it in faith. And I’m talking about issues now that may not be absolute. The absolutes we must obey, but exactly how we shall love, where we go, who we connect with, God may give us some space and some freedom just knowing that whatever is not of faith is sin.
And them, of course, the bottom line (and I say that to all of these good looking young people who are here today on the platform, not to mention all of the others who are out there. I don’t want to leave anybody out.) is that there comes a time when you draw a line in the sand, and then you simply take your lumps. Whatever happens happens.
“You want me to bow down to worship? I refuse to do it. I’ve drawn the line in the sand. Martin Luther said, “Here I stand. I can do no other. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” And you take your lumps. And Luther thought that he would be put to death because of the decree of Charles V who said, “Anyone who finds him can kill him.” But there are times when you simply take your stand, whether or not you get thrown in a den of lions.
Rebecca and I have been to Germany in both what is known as the west and the east, and now it is unified, but there was a time when the east was under Communism. We were there talking to a pastor actually in the church where Luther preached his last sermon, as a matter of fact. And it so happened that I had his last sermon with me there, and they actually allowed me to go onto the pulpit and preach a summary of it. But here’s what he told us. He said that when Communism came the Communists said, “If you go to church, your kids can’t go to university. You won’t get the best job. You’ll have to just be a laborer.” And so what did people do? They basically buckled. They said, “If that’s the price of living and giving my kids a good education, we’ll surrender and we’ll go along with the State.”
But there were some people who drew a line in the sand and said, “We will not stop associating ourselves as Christians. We will not give up our faith. We will not go with the Communist line.” And many of them were marginalized. Perhaps some of them were put to death, and so forth, but let me ask you something. A thousand years from now – in fact a lot less than a thousand years from now – who made the best decision? It’s not those whose children were promoted and given a good education, though I understand that as a father and a grandfather. The best decision was made by those who stood and said, “We refuse to surrender our rights to the State, and we will live for Christ and take the consequences.” They were the wisest (applause) in Germany. So what we must do is to seek God for wisdom, draw a line in the sand, and say, “Here we stand,” even at great personal cost.
Young people in universities and colleges, you must draw that line in the sand and you must resolve like Daniel and say, “I refuse to be defiled.” It’s what Daniel said, and he lived up to it.
Finally, it’s important for us to understand the purposes of God in all of this. What was God’s purpose in taking the Israelites to Babylon? Well, he had two purposes actually, one for them and one for the Babylonians. The purpose for them – the Israelites – was that God says, “I’m not here to destroy you.” Do you remember Jeremiah 29:11 if you were here last time? God says, “I am not here to destroy you. I am here to bless you and to give you a future and a hope. I’m here not to destroy you, but I am here to refine you because of your idolatry and turning away from me, but my intention toward you who survived here is good. I want to humble you, not destroy you, but humble you.”
Did you know that that is God’s agenda for the Church today? We look around and everything that has been nailed down is being torn up. Every day on the news, some new domino falls. The question is, what do we do? What is God saying? God is saying, “I am humbling you. I am bringing you down to give you a future and a hope.” That’s His goal for the Church. As for the culture at large, it’s our responsibility to witness to them.
Tim Keller said some very interesting things about the exile that we’re speaking about here. What does this mean for Christians, the fact that we are losing so many battles? He says, “Christians should be humbled before the new pagan pluralistic situation. Just as with the exiles, the situation is due in large part to our own failings. The Church did not lose its position of privilege simply because of evil enemies of the faith. We lost our position as part of God’s judgment on our pride, our hypocrisy, our love of power, our prejudice, our bigotry and failure to hold onto the truth.” And so he says, “This is the way in which God gets people’s attention.”
And then he says (and what a rebuke this is but we need to hear it), “We must be far harder on ourselves in gracious, humble repentance, than we are on the unbelieving culture around us. That was a major lesson for the exiles and for us. Our first response should be repentance. We should be very understanding toward people (Catch this now.) who have failed to believe in Christ because of the weakness of the Church’s testimony. A lot of what is happening in our culture today may be more our fault than we are willing to admit.”
I want to talk and end in just a moment by reminding you that Jesus was crucified in weakness. There weren’t a whole lot of people on His side when He died on the cross, and yet Jesus was crucified in weakness. Imagine that seed falling into the ground and the marvelous fruit that it brought forth. In the very same way we are today as a Church culturally weak. A few people pay attention to us. Oftentimes we are despised, sometimes for good reason, sometimes not. The question is, are we willing to be weak for the sake of the Gospel?
And if you are here today and you are not quite sure how Jesus Christ, in His weakness, brought about the great victory of His redemption, remember that when He died on the cross His death was a sacrifice for sinners. And some of you who are listening to this have to hear that because you came with a troubled conscience, and your conscience is troubled because of your sin. Jesus has a good cure for sin. In substituting Himself in our place, He died that we might have eternal life, and all that we have to do is to receive that eternal life by faith, and when we do, we become His children. And suddenly we realize that we are children of Our Father in heaven.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that in a confused culture, You would help us to live wisely. May we not defile ourselves! And give us wisdom as we make decisions regarding conflicts of conscience, both to be lenient when we should be, and yet, at the same time, to draw a line in the sand, and delightfully and joyfully pay the consequences. We love You, and may there be people today who believe on Christ that they might be children of the Most High. We pray this in His name, Amen.
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