Today we begin a new series of messages entitled Living in Babylon. We’ll be drawing some lessons from the life of Daniel who lived in Old Testament times. Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, were taken captive in Jerusalem in about 606 B.C. when Jehoiakim was king of Judah. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah and had taken Hebrew aristocrats with leadership gifts and abilities as captives. Daniel and his friends were chosen to be trained, tutored and prepared for service as an adviser in his foreign court. Babylon is a long way from Jerusalem. It was a city of about 500,000 people. There were forty-three temples to its various gods, one of them being Marduk. The Procession Streets were lined with life-size yellow and white lions, bulls and dragons. The city had huge walls with watchtowers. The Babylonian Academy trained young men in astrology, divination, magical arts and soothsaying. The Chaldean language was a sacred tongue which required years to master and was used in intricate, mysterious religious rituals performed by the priests. The students were pressured to conform to new beliefs and philosophies - squeezed into the Babylonian mould. Daniel was somewhere between 17-20 years of age when he was taken to Babylon. He was thrown into a foreign culture and lifestyle with all of its challenges. The Babylonians made every effort to break his faith and convictions.

Daniel became a person of great influence. He became a statesman, rising to second-in-command under Nebuchadnezzar (see 2:27-28, 46-49 where he interpreted the king’s dream). This was a position of influence and authority. He then repeated his performance through two other kings and their administrations (under Belshazzar, see 5:11-12, 29 and under Darius, see 6:1-5, 25-28). As an aged man he was thrown to the lions only to be protected by God. After he survived the crumbling of his own nation of Israel and relocation to a foreign land, Daniel proved himself a valuable asset to these kings. He served in Babylon for 60-65 years. He maintained his faith in God and stood strong for all of that time, as a prophetic voice in the midst of a very pagan culture.

The Marketplace 

Daniel is OUT IN Babylon, not in the Temple at Jerusalem. Yet, right where he was positioned, God had a purpose and a plan for him. Yes, he was known as a prophet but his primary role was as a government official working for the king of Babylon. We too live most of our lives out in the WORLD and WORK is part of our calling and purpose.

When Jesus told his disciples to go into the world with the good news, he was not just speaking geographically. He was talking about a society-wide influence. There are seven primary pillars in society – the family, religion, business, the arts, media, education and government. We need to see Christian influence in each one of these areas. Most Christians spend the majority of their week out in the marketplace somewhere – work, school, university, or the local neighbourhood.

God created work as a means for us to bring him glory (Matt.5:13-16), to serve people (Matt.20:28. Gal.5:13), to provide an opportunity for meaningful contribution (2 Thess.3:6-13), and a means to generate wealth (Deut.8:18). From God’s perspective, work is sacred not secular. Everything we do has a spiritual dimension to it and it should be done as unto the Lord (Col.3:23-24).

Excel at Your Work 

We are told that Daniel and his friends were ten times better than the other advisors to the king of Babylon (Dan.1:17-21; 6:3). This excellence was a combination of God given gifting (talent or ability) along with disciplined learning and development. As Daniel applied himself to his job and duties assigned to him, he developed in wisdom, insight and understanding (see 1:4, 17, 20; 2:14). He became a highly competent and proficient leader. This excellence led to his promotion to a position of great influence within Babylon.

We also should seek to be the very best we can be – not in some competitive or egotistical manner – but in order to fully develop the potential God has placed in us in order to better serve in our role in society. Whatever our work may be, we should do our very best for God and do everything for His glory.

How to Develop Excellence 

  1. Value Excellence. 
    Do your very best for God. Do everything to the glory of God (Col.3:23-24; Prov.22:29; 1 Cor.14:12; 2 Cor.8:7). Be someone who is quick, ready, and actively improving themselves in their work. This often leads to greater influence. Think of Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel. Efficiency is getting the job done right; effectiveness is getting the right job done, while excellence is getting the right job done right.
  2. Don't Settle for Average.
    To excel means to exceed what is normal or expected. Be distinguished by being the best you can be. Don't cheat on effort. Don’t take inappropriate shortcuts. Don’t have a “get-by” attitude of what's acceptable. Don’t be satisfied with being mediocre. Go the second mile (Matt.5:41). Give maximum effort for minimum expectation rather than minimum effort for maximum expectation. Think of Rebekah who offered to give water to the servant and the camels too (Gen.24:15-31). Always give more than you receive. Always give 110%. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.
  3. Pay Attention to Detail. 
    Take the time and make the effort o do it right the first time. Do you have time to do it over? A small leak can sink a great ship. Give your best even to seemingly small jobs. If you do little jobs well the big ones tend to take care of themselves. People forget how fast you did a job but they do remember how well you did it.
  4. Keep Improving. 
    Excellence is a journey of continual improvement rather than a state we suddenly arrive at. The Christian life is to be one of progress, but this is not automatic just through years of service. It is the result of giving ourselves to personal growth and development. This is what Paul urged Timothy to focus on in his leadership (1 Tim.4:12-16). Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better. If you keep growing, everything you do will also. There will always be a place for you. This is not about trying to get ahead of others but about seeking to improve yourself. There are so many ways to keep growing today. Success is the maximum use of the abilities that you have. God's gift to us is our potential. Our gift to Him is what we do with it. May we hear Him say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matt. 25:21-23). Excel in - your work, your attitude, your encouragement and support of others, your willingness to serve, your contribution to your employer. 

Like Daniel, we live and work in an increasingly pagan culture like Babylon of old. God has a purpose and a plan for us right where we are. He wants to use us as a positive influence for him in every sphere of society. Part of that includes understanding his purpose for our work and us seeking to do the very best we can, to excel, in order to serve people and bring glory to God.

Sample Discussion Questions 

  1. What kind of experience do you think it was for Daniel and his friends to be taken captive from Jerusalem to Babylon? What do you think they were thinking and feeling? 
  2. Jesus said that His followers were to go into all the “world” which is the Greek word “kosmos”, which means the social order which exists. What areas of society are lacking a Christian influence right now? 
  3. Why is work often thought of as ‘secular’? Discuss God’s purpose for work. 
  4. Why is excellence important? 
  5. What does “going the second mile” look like in your work or life context? 
  6. Read the story of Rebekah in Genesis 24. She obviously didn’t know what was going to happen to her (she hadn’t read the rest of the chapter). What was it about her that distinguished her? How can we develop these qualities in our lives? 
  7. Finish by praying that God would enable us to be like Daniel in our “Babylon”.
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