The Cost of Character

  • The Cost of Character
  • Daniel 6
  • Brian Brownlow
  • February 8, 2021
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The Cost of Character

Good morning LakeRidge. I am excited to be with you this morning as we continue our series examining the book of Daniel. The title of the series is Pursuing Integrity. The Old Testament book of Daniel is a case study in integrity. The book is full of examples of what it means to live a life of integrity. Integrity includes being honest and steadfast even in the face of adversity. It might be more accurate to say especially in the face of adversity. It is easy to act with integrity when you are not under pressure. Often, acting with integrity puts us in conflict with our own best interest. Sometimes putting our integrity aside – looking the other way – can position us for a better personal outcome.

We have all heard the saying that sports builds character. On this Super Bowl Sunday you might be surprised to know that one of the most successful college football coaches of all time once said, “football doesn’t build character, it exposes it.” Certainly, being involved in team sports can give us opportunities to learn leadership, teamwork, and a sense of fair play. At its best, sports can do all those things. On the other hand, examining the lives of many of the most successful sports figures brings us back to reality. Being involved in team sports does not necessarily result in a life of integrity.

This morning, we are going to look at The Cost of Integrity. What is it worth to live a life of integrity? I do not think I need to make the point this morning living a life of integrity is difficult. I am going to go with the belief that you already know that. I want to guide us through a pivotal moment in Daniel’s life where he came face-to-face, literally, with the high cost of living a life of integrity.

That moment is in chapter 6, but before we go there, I want to quickly recap how we got here. Actually, how Daniel got here. “Here” is in the royal court of Babylon. In the first message of the series, Lyndol explained that Daniel and several other Hebrew men had been brought to Babylon as prisoners of war. It is important to the story we are going to hear today to flesh out a few more details about their capture.

The armies of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, sacking its capital, Jerusalem. They destroyed the temple of God that was located there and all the walls that surrounded the city. Now, typically when a city or region was conquered, the victorious army would come in and either imprison or kill all the leaders. Certainly, you are going to get rid of any members of the royal family. You are also going to root out anybody else who might have the authority or the organizational skills to rally the people and rebel against you. You want to make sure that what you have conquered stays conquered – right?

 

Of course, Nebuchadnezzar was no different. As we mentioned, he burned the city and knocked down all the walls that provided protection, but he did not stop there. Nebuchadnezzar had Zedekiah, the king of Judah, bound with bronze shackles and then forced him to watch as they murdered each of his sons one after the other. Then, you would think Nebuchadnezzar would have had enough mercy to kill Zedekiah. No, he took his cruelty to another level. He let Zedekiah live so that he would have to endure the grief and the pain of watching his sons being slaughtered. As if that was not enough, the king of Babylon had Zedekiah’s eyes gouged out to ensure that the murder of his sons was the last thing he saw before being thrown into prison.

This Nebuchadnezzar was some kind of mean. He was also extremely shrewd. He made sure that the possibility of rebellion was limited by killing anyone who might be a threat to him. But he also did something unusual. He decided to keep some of the “best and the brightest” of the young men of Judah. These young men were brought to Babylon and treated very well. They were given teachers who taught them the language, the religion, and the culture of Babylon. I think he took the young men because he felt like they were still impressionable. He could mold them – you might even say brainwash them. As we mentioned last week, at this time, Babylon was one of the most magnificent cultures in the world. These young men from Judah had to be impressed with what they saw when they arrived. Coupled with good treatment and an opportunity to live and prosper you can imagine many of them conformed and assimilated into their new environment.

Before we dive into chapter 6, there is one other important thing about the Babylonian conquest of Judah. The Bible clearly tells us God turned Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar.

God had made a covenant with the Hebrew people – the descendants of Abraham. He promised them that if they had no other gods before him, he would be their God and they would be his people. Yahweh, as they called him in Hebrew, was always faithful. He had blessed his people and given them the land he promised to Abraham. He helped them defeat their enemies and made them prosper. But the people had been less than faithful. Repeatedly, God warned them through the prophets that he would not be mocked. And while he is slow to anger, merciful and forgave his people over and over again, because of their unfaithfulness and the compromise they had made with pagan nations and the idols they worshiped, God had turned them over to their enemies in Babylon. The people of Judah were experiencing this horrible defeat and the loss of everything they held dear because they were unfaithful. Hold that thought as we examine a piece of the life one of the young men who was carried off to Babylon.

We are picking up the story in chapter 6 and Nebuchadnezzar is no longer alive. The current ruler is a man named Darius.

It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, 2 with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss. 3 Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. 5 Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”  Daniel 6:15 NIV

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So, Daniel has been appointed as an administrator over approximately 40 satraps. The satrap was like a governor or an overseer. While the land and all its earnings belonged to the king, the satraps benefited personally from whatever was produced in their region. For the most part if they kept the king happy by funneling most of the production to the crown, they could keep a pretty good chunk for themselves. You can see how this arrangement was ripe for corruption. That is why King Darius placed three trusted administrators over all the 120 satraps (v2 so the king might not suffer loss).

Look again at verse 3, “now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” [Back to live shot] If you have been here for the other sermons in this series, you know Daniel and three of his fellow Hebrews were recognized from the very start for their exceptional qualities. These four young men had stood out among all of those who were being trained at the royal court. King Nebuchadnezzar had even remarked that in every matter of wisdom and understanding these four were found to be ten times better than anyone else in the kingdom. Now, it is evident to another king – Darius – that Daniel is clearly a cut above everyone else.

When God’s favor rests upon a person, the gifts and graces that He has endowed them with will be evident to those around them. From a worldly perspective, our talents are easily observed. We will often receive praise and recognition for our abilities. Everyone loves a winner. It is natural to celebrate achievement. The world’s perspective comes into clear focus when examining outcomes and results. Among all the king’s officials and administrators Daniel stood out the most. So much so that the king intended to place Daniel in charge of the entire kingdom with no one above him but the king himself.

Of course, word got out that the king planned to promote Daniel. The word always gets out doesn’t it? Nothing ever stays quiet in government! Naturally, this led to jealousy among the other administrators and satraps. News like that always does. We are rarely excited for the success of someone else especially if it is something, we thought we deserved. Well, this just was not going to do. Having a foreigner elevated to such a position of honor was unthinkable. Something had to be done. So, jealousy turned to a plot to bring Daniel down. It always does.

The satraps gathered together and tried to devise some way to accuse Daniel. What could they use to make him look bad? He had become the king’s favorite – his pet, so to speak. They needed some charge to bring against Daniel that would make him look bad. Something to make the king reconsider giving him this amazing position of honor. But try as they may, they were not able to come up with anything. Daniel was as squeaky clean as they come. What could they do to change Darius’s opinion of Daniel? And then they realized what their play should be. They could not find a weakness in Daniel but maybe the king had a weakness they could exploit. That’s it! Like most kings, Darius had an extremely high opinion of himself. They decided to go to King Darius and present him with a plan that was sure to please him.

They gathered a delegation and sought an audience with the king. Once in front of him they laid out their trap – a trap not intended for Daniel but for Darius – and the king walked right into it. You see they used the perfect bait. They appealed to his God sized ego.

Oh, King Darius, you are so magnificent. There is no one like you in all the earth. You are amazing, stupendous, without peer or equal. We should create a day, no…a week, where you and you alone are celebrated. Come to think of it, we should make it an entire month. Yes, that’s it! Great king you should decree that for 30 days no one may bow down or pray to any other God but you! Furthermore, such a decree must be enforced. No one can be allowed to disobey this order. How should we enforce it? Hmmm…yes, include in the order that anyone who prays to any other God or man except you should be thrown into a den of lions. As you can imagine, this pleased the king greatly and he did exactly as the officials suggested.

While Daniel was clearly head and shoulders above all the other officials, let’s not sell them short. They had a few brain cells working among them especially when it came to being devious. They used the king’s weakness against him, but they also knew Daniel had one glaring weakness. He was fiercely loyal and faithful to Yahweh. Now, in a crowd of Christians, it seems odd to describe loyalty and faithfulness to God as a weakness. We would all consider that a strength and a virtue – right? Of course we would, but the world does not.

The world can recognize talent and skill. They are easily observed. Everyone could see how gifted Daniel was. Even those who resented him for it could not deny what was right there in front of them. What the world does not recognize is Godly integrity and character. What pleases God is foolishness to the world. This is a good time to remind us that the very reason Judah fell to the Babylonian army was because they were unfaithful to God and he had removed his hand of protection.

I love sports and I do not want to pick on athletes, but I have to go back to that example for us today. I do not know about you but this afternoon I plan to watch the Super Bowl. It will be full of who athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their profession. Their talent and skill will be evident to anyone who watches them play the game. And there will be players on that field who know the love of God and reflect that in their life. I want to acknowledge that. My point is not trash professional athletes. However, I do not think any of us could deny that, by and large, our culture will value athletes (and people of all walks of life) who exhibit high levels of skill and execution regardless of whether their life exhibits a type of integrity that would be pleasing to God. Staying with a football example, the longtime owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis had a slogan, “Just Win Baby”! He whole heartedly and unashamedly embraced the idea that winning at all costs was a virtue in his organization. I am not judging the man; he celebrated that perspective and made no bones about it.

That perspective is not isolated to the NFL, professional sports in general, or a man named Al Davis. It is the perspective of what the Bible often calls “the world” referring to anything that is not of God. The Satraps who are accusing Daniel represent what the Bible considers “the world.”

I am not going to spend much time this morning on the headline story of chapter 6 from the book of Daniel. I am going to trust that most of you know the rest of the story. Daniel does indeed ignore the king’s decree. As a man of integrity and character from God’s perspective, he continues to pray 3 times a day in direct opposition to the King. As much as the king admires and respects Daniel, he bows to the pressure of his own ego one more time. He knows that throwing Daniel in the lion’s den is wrong. And yet, he does not have the courage, the integrity, or the character to revoke his own decree. You notice I did not say the power. He had the power to revoke the decree but that would have made him look bad. That would have made him look weak in the eyes of “the world.” For King Darius, that was too high a price to pay for integrity.

Daniel, on the other hand, knew full well the price he would have to pay for his integrity. He understood the cost of character. In this case, the price was his life. Daniel knew that his God could save him from the lion’s den. He also knew that we do not always understand God’s purposes and actions. For those of you who were here two weeks ago when Lyndol preached about Daniel’s three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were in a similar predicament and facing being thrown into a fiery furnace said with conviction, “we know that our God can save us, but even if he does not, we will not serve other gods or worship idols made by man.” In the same way, Daniel knew that the price of integrity would be to hang out with a bunch of hungry lions.

I said a few moments ago that I was not going to spend a lot of time on the headline story of Daniel 6. The story of Daniel in the lion’s den is not just the headline story of chapter 6 but of the whole book. Daniel is a rich book full of messages from God about what will happen at the end of time as well as practical information about how to live in the here and now. And yet, this book is often reduced to one story of God miraculously saving a man. Now it is a powerful miracle, do not get me wrong. I am not diminishing this story. I am simply saying that I am afraid we have often missed so much of what God is saying because this is such a cool story.

Again, I said I was not going to spend much time on the headline story, but you know what? I did not leave anything out. You can go back and read it for yourself. I pretty much told you the whole story. Daniel in the lion’s den is a relatively small part of the book. I think that is because the point of this story is not how smart Daniel was. It is not about how much more he impressed the king by his wisdom and ability. It is not about – hold onto your hat now – it is not about God saving Daniel from the mouths of hungry lions. That is not the headline for the book of Daniel. It is about the integrity, the character, of a man who knew his God so intimately that he would risk everything, pay any price, to please and worship his God no matter what the world thought.

I have heard people say that adversity brings out the best in us. I have found that adversity often brings out the worst in us. Earlier I quoted a football coach who said, “football doesn’t build character, it exposes it”? I would adapt that to say adversity doesn’t build character, it exposes it.

The character in Daniel’s life was not created when he was thrown into the lion’s den. His integrity was not formed when he was faced with this difficult decision. His character and the ability to act with integrity were formed in those quiet times of prayer every day three times a day. Daniel knew who God was because he was an intimate friend. Daniel faced death rather than compromise his faith because he knew how much God loved him and cared for him. His integrity was unshaken because he knew the object of his faith was, yes, an all-powerful, miracle working God, but more importantly, he was a God who loved him.

Could you stand in the face of that kind adversity? If you do not know the God who can form in you the kind of character that would allow you to stand no matter what, there are people in the chapel after the service that would like to introduce you. If you do not know where the chapel is, ask one of the ushers. Let this be the day you meet the God who gave Daniel the courage to stand even when facing death.