The most important verse in the first chapter of Daniel is verse 8, which says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”
What is your reaction to that? Remember that Daniel was a young man at this time. We know from the later development of the story that he lived for a very long time beyond this – through the rule of four emperors. He was probably in his nineties when he died. So at this point he was probably between fifteen and seventeen. It was at this young age that he was taken away from his own country and culture, plunged into the strange but exciting life of the great world capital, and lured to loyalty by the best of all possible educations and by provision of the very food served to Nebuchadnezzar. Yet Daniel refused to partake of this food. Do you find it a very little thing?
Well, it was a small thing. Yet that is just the point. For it is in the small matters that great victories are won. This is where decisions to live a holy life are made – not in the big things (though they come if the little things are neglected), but in the details of life. If Daniel had said, “I want to live for God in big ways, but I am not going to make a fool of myself in this trivial matter of eating and drinking the king’s food,” he never would have amounted to anything. But because he started out for God in small things, God used him greatly.
It is in one’s youth that the most significant and life-forming decisions are made. Are you a young person? Then you should pay particularly close attention to this point. Most young people want their lives to count, and most Christian young people want their lives to count for God. Young people dream big. You should dream big. Youth are often impatient and undisciplined, and tempted to let the little things slide. You know what Jesus said: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much; whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Being wholly given over to God now is the essential and best possible preparation for future service.
Daniel is a story of men who lived for God by choosing the path of personal discipleship and holiness. This is no contradiction, because it is only such persons who actually embody the spiritual standards of “the city of God.” It is only these who make any lasting difference in the world.
A great evangelical bishop of England, John Charles Ryle, wrote a classic study of holiness in which he urged holiness for everyone who call themselves Christians. After some opening passages in which he describes holiness – Ryle went on to show why holiness, the kind of holiness exercised by Daniel, is so necessary. He listed eight reasons why we must be holy:
1. “Because the voice of God in Scripture plainly commands it.”
2. “Because this is the one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world.”
3. “Because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
4. “Because this is the only proof that we love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”
5. “Because this is the only sound evidence that we are true children of God.”
6. “Because this is the most likely way to do good to others.”
7. “Because our present comfort depends much upon it.”
8. “Because without holiness on earth we shall never be prepared to enjoy heaven.” The author of Hebrews wrote, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Revelation speaks of heaven, saying, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
Can I Be Holy? You might say, “If I did the right thing in my job, I’d lose it.” Or, “None of my friends would speak to me.” Or, “I’d never get ahead.” Or, “I just can’t be holy; I’ve tried it and I fail.”
If you are thinking this way, look back to Daniel, who was not only resolved not to defile himself with the king’s food and wine but was also willing to put the matter to the test and prove God able in his circumstances. Daniel said to the guard who had been appointed over him, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (Daniel 1:12-13).
The guard agreed to this test, and at the end of the ten days the young men looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. It was not only in their appearance that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah excelled. They also excelled in knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. The text concludes by noting that at the end of the three years of training, when the king brought his young protégés in for testing, Nebuchadnezzar “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (v.20).
Do not say, “If I live for God, I’ll lose out.” You may lose out on some of the things the world offers, which are not good for you anyway, but you will experience a richness of God’s bounty. The Bible says, “Seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mathew 6:33).