By Terry MacCabe
Faithfulness was once a virtue demonstrated in most every aspect of life. A generation or two ago companies and employees generally felt a strong sense of commitment toward one another. If employees consistently put in an honest day’s work, they could expect the company to provide them with employment for life. There was even a time when husbands and wives who considered themselves unhappy in marriage would stay together because they had made a solemn vow before God and man to stay married for life. Times have changed.
Sadly, we are more likely today to be faithful to our preferred coffee shop or car brand than we are to the aspects of life which are truly important. There’s a Bible story we often teach our children that has some very important lessons about faithfulness that we generally miss.
The story centers around a powerful public figure in an ancient kingdom. Unlike so many political leaders in our day who are caught with their hands in the till, this man was pure in character and conduct. His name was Daniel, and his story communicates the cost and reward of being faithful in a faithless generation.
The Value of Faithfulness
Daniel had been brought to Persia as a young captive. Very early on in his captivity he was selected from among the “best of the best” in looks and intelligence. He was offered to eat from the king’s table, but the Bible tells us that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way” (Daniel 1:8).
After consuming only vegetables and water for 10 days, Daniel was found to be visibly healthier than the other young men. As a result they too were all switched over to Daniel’s veggie diet. We’re not told, but can imagine how popular this would have made Daniel among the other young men who had been enjoying ordering off the king’s menu. Just think of how ornery we can be when someone takes away our Cheetos and replaces them with carrot sticks!
Although Daniel might not have won any points with his compatriots, he did continue to gain favor with the king. Eventually he was promoted so far in the chain of command that his only superior was the king himself. Daniel was so capable and trustworthy that even though he was a foreigner, the king had complete confidence in his faithful service. In fact, the king had determined that he was going to set Daniel in charge of the whole kingdom (Daniel 6:2).
For the other leaders that was just too much. They decided they would find some grounds by which to cut Daniel down a peg in the king’s eyes, but as they looked into his life they couldn’t find anything valid to charge him with. There wasn’t anything he should have done that he didn’t do or anything he didn’t do that he should have done. “He was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4).
The Cost of Faithfulness
One of the lessons we so greatly need to teach in this day of health and wealth theology is that being faithful to God often comes at considerable cost. In John 15 Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (vv. 18, 19).
Daniel was a foreigner in the land and so are we! Foreigners whose faithfulness exposes the infidelity of the natural citizens are always unappreciated. Daniel’s compatriots in the king’s service were all capable, intelligent people, but they couldn’t get ahead because this outsider was outshining them in the king’s eyes. They couldn’t find anything wrong with what he was doing, so they decided to make what he was doing wrong! That was going to be the only way to dispose of him.
Daniel’s foes devised a plan to appeal to the king’s ego. They knew that Daniel prayed three times daily to the God of Heaven, so why not come up with a law that requires all people to pray only to the king for 30 days? It seems like a strange idea to us to make the king a god for a 30-day term, but it went over quite well with the king, so he enacted the law. The Persians had a rule that the king’s decrees could not be revoked; it was a rule that was intended to discourage frivolous laws being enacted. Not only was this silly law enacted, but disobeying it came with the penalty of being thrown into a pit of famished lions.
As was his custom, Daniel went up to the roof of his house and prayed to the heavenly King, not to the earthly king. The men who had convinced the king to make his decree were watching and went straight to report to him. The king wasn’t happy about it, but Daniel would have to suffer the consequence of breaking the law.
Make no mistake—there is a price to pay for being faithful to God. Daniel knew it, and you and I will know it too if we choose to be faithful to God.
The Reward of Faithfulness
Daniel spent the night in the lions’ den, but it didn’t play out exactly as his enemies expected. In spite of the fact that God’s power had already been demonstrated through dreams, saving Daniel’s three friends from the fiery furnace, and a mysterious hand writing on a wall, Daniel’s enemies still thought the story was going to end with Daniel being devoured by lions. Problem solved. But as we know, the story didn’t end that way; instead Daniel was protected from the lions by an angel sent by the Lord. In the morning when the king went to the lions’ den, Daniel wasn’t dead; he was doing just fine.
Daniel wasn’t the only faithful follower of the God of Heaven to face death. Paul reported that by the time he wrote the book of Hebrews, God’s people had been jeered, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, hacked to death by swords and saws, and forced into nomadic wandering for survival (Hebrews 11:32-38). All because of their faithfulness to God.
Daniel’s reward for being faithful wasn’t that he was spared from the lions’ jaws. It’s that whether he was spared or not, the next time he woke up, he was going to be in a king’s presence—either the king of the land or the King of Heaven. Like Daniel, our hope isn’t in this life but above: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).
The Folly of Opposition
Perhaps the most important aspect of this story is coincidently the part that we seldom, if ever, include when we recount the story to our Sunday school children. After the king saw that Daniel was the one who was actually faithful and the other leaders were actually acting in their own self-interest, the king threw the other leaders and their wives and children into the lions’ den. The Bible tells us their bodies were torn apart before they reached the floor (Daniel 6:24).
The most important lesson for us is this: if that was the fate that awaited those who were unfaithful to an earthly king, how much more terrible is the fate of those who are unfaithful to the heavenly King. Faithfulness is a character trait that we desperately need to cultivate in our lives and pass on to our children. Daniel’s story reminds us of how important faithfulness is and to whom that faithfulness is ultimately due.
Terry MacCabe is a freelance writer in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.
Growing in Faithfulness
Courage To Stand Up
Faithfulness: The Foundation of True Friendship
by Jacalyn Eyre
The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior
by Steven Garber
(Inter-Varsity Press, 2007)
Ezra-Nehemiah: God’s Faithfulness & Man’s Obedience
by Earl Wolf
(Beacon Hill Press, 1984)