Excellence in Exile, Part 2: Cooperation without Compromise (Daniel 1:3-21)
Believers are resident aliens in this world. Three times in 1 Peter, the followers of Christ are called “strangers” or “aliens.” The Apostle Paul concurs, reminding the Philippians that their "citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). In other words, the believer’s primary residence is not planet Earth. Someday we’re going home to a world of heavenly perfection.
As great as that truth is, it creates a challenge for the people of God. How do we interact with the world while we’re here? What is our relationship to unbelievers supposed to be until we finally go home? This issue has always been a struggle for the covenant community.
When Daniel and his three friends were aliens in Babylon, they faced a similar challenge. They discovered quickly that the art of being a believer in this world is to love God and love your neighbor—in that order. King Nebuchadnezzar tried to shape their thinking, their identity, and their convictions. But the four teens from Israel resisted a secular brainwashing at Babylon University. They refused to allow themselves to be intoxicated by the glamour that comes from eating at the king’s table while trying to guard their own hearts against personal compromise. They survived in a culture that was hostile to their faith by drawing some lines in the sand and refusing to cross them.
But there’s a way to draw those lines and a way not to draw them. Daniel didn’t lead a march, a sit-in, or a protest rally. He didn’t engage in hate speech. He didn’t walk around Babylon with a placard saying, “Thou shalt not eat non-kosher food,” or “Prepare to meet thy God.” Instead, he practiced cooperation without compromise. Daniel was sympathetic to the king’s official and didn’t want him to lose his head because of his faith. So, Daniel wound up cutting a deal—and it was a deal that God honored.
One can’t help noticing that Daniel had a genuine respect for the unbelievers around him. He wasn’t a religious snob with a holier-than-thou chip on his shoulder. There was an ease with which he moved in secular circles. He wasn’t edgy around people who didn’t share his faith. He wasn’t uncomfortable around people who worshiped idols. He didn’t treat them like they had spiritual cooties. Rather, he was kind and deferential to them. He also accommodated them—but only in so far as his own faith would allow him to do so. God was always his first loyalty.
Jesus, of course, was the ultimate resident alien. He didn’t arise from within the human race; he came from outside it. That’s what Christmas is all about. In his life and ministry, Jesus was totally loyal to his heavenly Father. He never compromised, and he never sinned. Yet he moved freely and easily among the people who were far from God, leading them to see more clearly his truth and love for everyone.In his death on the cross, Jesus became alien-ated by bearing in his own body the sins of the world in himself. He did that so that everyone could become undefiled by faith, and believers could someday go back home with him.