A Hill To Die On: Part 2 – Daniel 3:8-30

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up’” (Daniel 3: 16-18, ESV).

In Part 1 of this meditation I stated that we often take misguided stands for God because we are really just trying to compel or coerce people to believe or behave the way we think we think they should based on ill-conceived notions of what that Bible says.

In other words when we take a stand on principle, it should demonstrate our trust in God and His standards and not in our own personal convictions.

In Daniel 3 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego exemplify how to determine “a hill to die on.”  These three friends of Daniel were officials in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They refused to obey the King’s command to worship a golden image the King had made even under threat of being burned to death in a furnace.

For them, taking a stand for God was a matter of maintaining the fidelity of their faith (abiding by God’s standards). Their behavior demonstrated their belief! When required to behave contrary to their belief, they were willing to take a stand for their faith.

Yet, their stand didn’t attempt to defend God’s character or God’s sovereignty. Not did they attempt to put God to the test. They believed God was in control. Whatever the outcome of being thrown into the fiery furnace, it didn’t impact their trust in God. If they were rescued by God or if they perished in the furnace, it didn’t change the stand they were taking.

The Apostle John declares that behavior and belief must work together. John says that if we claim to know God, then we will keep His commandments (1 John 2:3-5).  If Christians claim to be saved and have the Holy Spirit abiding in them, then they will also behave like Jesus behaved: “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6, ESV).

If a Christian is required to behave in a way that’s contrary with his or her biblical beliefs, then that’s the time to take a stand. That’s a hill to die on!

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)

A Hill To Die On: Part 1 – Ecclesiastes 8:2-5

“Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way” (Ecclesiastes 8:2-5, ESV).

Sometimes a biblical text reveals some insight into God’s nature. Sometimes a text provides a spiritual admonition. And, sometimes a biblical text just offers some practical advice, which seems to be the case with these verses.

The way we would state the sentiment expressed in these verses in modern vernacular would be “picking your battle” or “choosing which hill to die on.” That is, use wisdom and not passion to determine what cause is worth fighting for.

But, the causes we choose to defend are often meaningless causes–or as the Preacher says in this verse from Ecclesiastes, “an evil cause.”

Here’s how we become confused about which cause to defend. Most Christians believe they must abide by certain standards of behavior or belief. But, sometimes they’re not clear exactly what those standards are because the Bible doesn’t provide biblical standards in the form of an easy-to-use checklist.

The counsel of these verses is to keep the king’s command and do not take a stand in an evil cause. These verses advise that if you obey the king’s command you will know when and how to take a stand. In other words, if you are an obedient servant of the king, you won’t take a stand in every cause, you will take a stand for the right cause–a cause that reinforces the king’s commands.

Too quick and too often we draw lines in the sand to defend a cause that is based on ill-conceived notions of what we think the Bible says.

Though we claim a cause is just, we are really trying to convince or coerce people to believe or behave the way we think they should rather than having confidence that God (our King) will work things out (God’s Sovereignty).

We over-react or under-react because we’re not clear as to what the King’s commands are; namely, we haven’t sufficiently studied our King’s commands, the Bible. So, we haven’t internalized the commands adequately and thus we don’t externalize them appropriately!

Then, the stand we take creates unnecessary conflict or unintended controversy because it is ill-conceived. It’s an evil cause.

Sometimes when we take a stand we act like we’re trying to clean up God’s messes. If everyone would just behave or believe like I do, then all would be well.

But God is supremely capable of taking care of His creation.

So, our apologetics should consist primarily of trying to persuade people to trust and obey God, not our standards.

If we will be obedient to God–that is, be led by His Spirit, then God’s Spirit will guide and direct us to know how and when to take a stand for God’s Cause.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14, ESV)

Ineffective Christians – 2 Peter 1:3-11

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8, ESV).

The Apostle Peter indicates in these verses that Christians can be ineffective! I’m sure you’ve heard of an ineffective employee or an ineffective manager, but an ineffective Christian?

“Ineffective” simply means not producing results, not productive–or as Peter defines it for Christians, not fruitful.

An ineffective employee doesn’t produce results. An ineffective Christian doesn’t bear fruit.

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Can Christians Commit the Unpardonable Sin? – Mark 3:20-30

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29, ESV).

Jesus states this theological conundrum in response to the scribes who were accusing Him of being possessed by an evil spirit. He replied that a kingdom can’t be divided against itself: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (vs. 23). Then, Jesus seems to warn the scribes they may be the ones committing blasphemy!

Luke’s account complicates the conundrum. In Luke 12:10 Jesus says, “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

Today, we use these verses as the basis for the so-called doctrine of the unpardonable sin.

We generally consider blasphemy as contemptuous behavior towards God often exhibited by cursing or reviling God. But, there is an underlying theological supposition to blasphemy–that is, to attribute to oneself the rights or qualities of God.

The scribes’ indictment of blasphemy against Jesus in Mark 3 was based on that theological component. So, when Jesus answered them back, he used the scribes own faulty reasoning against them–their accusation of Jesus’ supposed blasphemy was in itself blasphemous!

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Good Trouble – 2 Samuel 19:1-8

“‘Now get up! Go out and encourage your soldiers, for I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will remain with you tonight. This will be worse for you than all the trouble that has come to you from your youth until now!’ So the king got up and sat in the gate, and all the people were told: ‘Look, the king is sitting in the gate.’ Then they all came into the king’s presence” (2 Samuel 19:7-8, HCSB).

Sometimes we let our own personal problems and feelings overshadow what God is doing all around us. Such is the case with King David upon hearing of the death of his son and heir apparent, Absalom.

David’s army of Judah had just defeated an army of the other tribes of Israel in a civil war that Absalom led against David. David’s army prevailed and Absalom was killed in the fighting. When David heard the news of the victory and of Absalom’s death, he immediately went into mourning for his son: “So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day, ‘The king is grieving for his son.’” (vs. 2).

David let his own grief overcome not just his kingly responsibilities but even his gratitude to God for saving the nation.

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It’s Personal – Mark 8:27-38

“’Who do people say that I am?’…. ‘But who do you say that I am?’” (Mark 8:27-29, ESV).

Near the end of His ministry Jesus asked His disciples what people were saying about Him? Who did they think He was?

His disciples answered that some thought He was John the Baptist or one of the ancient prophets back from the dead.

Then Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter immediately responded that He was the Messiah. Apparently, that was the right answer because Jesus commanded His disciples to tell no one.

To Jesus it didn’t matter what people in general thought about Him. What mattered to Him was what His disciples in particular thought about Him.

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Prime Directive – 1 Samuel 14:12-37

“‘Follow me,’ Jonathan told his armor-bearer, ‘for the Lord has handed them over to Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer behind him. Jonathan cut them down, and his armor-bearer followed and finished them off. In that first assault Jonathan and his armor-bearer struck down about 20 men in a half-acre field… Saul said, ‘Let’s go down after the Philistines tonight and plunder them until morning. Don’t let even one remain!’ …. But the priest said, ‘We must consult God here.’ So Saul inquired of God, ‘Should I go after the Philistines? Will You hand them over to Israel?’ But God did not answer him that day” (1 Samuel 14:12-14; 36-37, HCSB).

At the beginning of 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan, King Saul’s son, and his attendant attacked a Philistine garrison. Meanwhile, Saul remained encamped on the other side of the pass with about 600 Israelite troops. In that assault Jonathan and his attendant killed about twenty Philistine soldiers.

Then panic erupted in the Philistine camp. Saul and his troops noticed the commotion among the Philistine troops.

Saul started to inquire of the Lord about what was happening in the Philistine camp by conferring with the priests who carried the ark of God. Deciding he might lose the opportunity to rout the Philistines, Saul gathered his troops and attacked and “struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash all the way to Aijalon” (vs. 31), a distance of about 15 miles.

Saul decided to renew the battle the next day and he again inquired of God whether he should go after the Philistines or not. “But God did not answer him that day” (vs 37). From Saul’s distorted theological perspective he was convinced that sin was present in the camp that was preventing the divine assistance.

It turns out the supposed sin was Jonathan’s disobedience to a direct order by King Saul that Jonathan had, in fact, not even heard Saul issue because he was single-handedly attacking the Philistine garrison.

Saul determined that Jonathan must be executed for disobeying his orders, but the Israelite troops interceded in Jonathan’s behalf and Saul relented from executing his son (vs. 44-45).

So why does God seem to favor Jonathan’s impulsive decision to attack the Philistines and not favor Saul’s contemplative actions when he stops to inquire of the Lord before attacking the Philistines?

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