During my days of pastoring at the First Baptist Church in Dallas I had many wonderful visits with a very unique man who was in the midst of a life-threatening illness, which eventually ended in his death. He loved his Lord and he lifted me up each time I was with him. His name was Jack Evans and he was a former mayor of the City of Dallas. Jack coined a saying that hangs on wall plaques in the offices of many business leaders of our city. His often-used quote says, “You have what you tolerate.”
When we think about that statement, “you have what you tolerate,” we see that it is true in every area of our lives. Parents who tolerate their children talking back to them will eventually reap what they sow. I was fortunate to have had a mom and dad who did not tolerate disrespect and my wife and I did not tolerate it from our children either. Yes, you have what you tolerate. This statement is true if you’re teaching in a classroom of students. I had professors who did not tolerate work that was less than our best. “You have what you tolerate” is true if you’re coaching an athletic team. Coaches who tolerate sloppy practices have sloppy plays when it is game time. It is also true in church work. Those churches that tolerate mediocrity and are simply reactive instead of proactive lack productivity in the long haul. Yes, Jack Evans had it right – “You have what you tolerate!”
We are living in a world culture where the church has tolerated things for so long that these words have come home to roost. We have today what we tolerated yesterday. Tolerance seems to be the law of our land, and today it has a different meaning than it did a few years ago. Tolerance used to mean that in America we recognized and respected others’ beliefs without sharing them. Today tolerance means that everyone’s values, everyone’s belief systems, everyone’s lifestyles, are acceptable. Tolerance today says that all truth claims are equal. The one thing that many people fear today is simply being called intolerant. We have been so formed into the mold of our culture that we in the church now have what we tolerate.
Josh McDowell has spent a lifetime taking the Gospel to college campuses. Recently, Josh mentioned that he has always known heckling but a few years ago it took on a different form. Yesterday college students exclaimed, “Prove it; I don’t believe that, prove the claims of Christ.” Today, however, they exclaim, “What right have you to say that? You’re intolerant, you’re a bigot!”
Tolerance is the only absolute of today’s culture. From every avenue we are being taught to be tolerant of alternative lifestyles. We often hear men and women quote our Lord today by saying, “Neither do I condemn you.” (
We live in a world that teaches our kids tolerance at almost every hand. It is telling them in a myriad of ways that everyone’s values, everyone’s belief systems, everyone’s lifestyles, and everyone’s truth claims are equal. In fact, we’re instilling in the minds of our young adults that there are no moral absolutes, no absolute truth. We’re seeing this growing more and more even in the church. Some churches sponsor prayer meetings with Christians and Jews and Muslims and other religions all praying to the “same God.” All faiths are equal in the eyes of many. We may call it harmony but it is spelled “T-O-L-E-R-A-N-C-E.” How tolerant do you think our Jewish friends are when they feel efforts of evangelism are directed at them and are a means to destroy their own belief system? They’re not very tolerant. How tolerant do you think our Muslim friends would be in a culture that spoke about Mohammed like the American culture is speaking about the Lord Jesus today? Recently the government sponsored an art show in New York City with a crucifix in a bottle of urine. Yes, we have today what we tolerated yesterday. And we will have tomorrow what we tolerate today.
We are living in an anti-Christian culture that continues to tolerate social ills that are contrary to the Word of God. We’ve been doing this for years. Why? Jack Evans said it best, “You have what you tolerate!”
From time to time there have been those who have stood up in the face of tolerance of their day. There’s no more thrilling narrative in all of literature than the story of the deliverance of the three Hebrew young men from the burning fiery furnace. Is there anyone reading these words who finds themselves in a tight spot? Does anyone feel that there simply is no way out of your circumstances or situation? Then this chapter is for you. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s victory is a comfort and a challenge to us today in the midst of a tolerant world. It is the story of faith triumphing over fear. It is the story of courage triumphing over cowardice. It is the story of conviction triumphing over compromise. It is the story of three young men who did not bow to the god of tolerance. Perhaps some of you, like them, have done what is right. You took your own stand. And still you found yourself in your own fiery furnace. The third chapter of Daniel has to do with what happens to us when we are obedient to the Word of God, when we do what is right, and still end up in a fiery furnace of life.
In this chapter we learn many things. God never promises to keep us out of the fiery furnace. He did not keep Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out. However, He got in with them. And, He will get in with you. And you, like them, can come out stronger. Our God is the same God who loosed their bonds and walked with them in the midst of the flames.
In a world screaming for tolerance our lives will be tested. The decisions you make this week will be governed by one of two things, either inner principle or outer pressure. That is, either by the Word of God or by the world’s system. If you allow God’s word to dictate your inner principle then you will react to life’s fiery furnaces with faith and the result will be deliverance. If you allow the world to dictate your outer pressures then you will react with fear and the result will be bondage. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived by inner principle. They got it from the Word of God. Others lived by outer pressure and they had what they tolerated.
As we seek to learn how to stand in a culture that’s increasingly pagan and anti-God, Daniel has been saying don’t give in, don’t give up, don’t give out. Now, his three friends have something to say to us.
I. Learning to live with pressure (
Our faith will be tested. King Nebuchadnezzar let his dream in
In our current culture our own faith is being tested on every front. This has always been true for people who have followed after Christ. For John, the test of faith came on the rocky island of Patmos. For Paul, it was what he referred to as a thorn in the flesh. A fiery furnace for some of us might be some difficult circumstance or situation. It might be the loss of a job, a child on drugs, or any number of other challenges that might come our way in our contemporary culture. Our faith will be tested. There’s a sense in which we live out there on the plain of Dura ourselves every week. Our world is calling for tolerance all around us. It is calling us to join the others in bowing down to other gods. In the face of a culture that is advocating tolerance we must learn to live with outside pressures. They are not going to go away.
It is interesting to note who was there. The Bible refers to the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces . . . (
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have rationalized and reasoned like a lot of men and women do today. They could have said, “Nebuchadnezzar has treated us pretty well all these years. He has appointed us to positions of honor. He has empowered us with a good education and a good job. If we don’t bow down we’ll look pretty unappreciative. After all, we’re here in Babylon now and when in Babylon we should do as the Babylonians do. Anyway, the end justifies the means. It’s all situational anyway.” But if you read the text you will notice that there’s not a hint of this type of attitude anywhere in their minds. These three young men never entertained one of those thoughts. They had already decided which way they were going to turn before they reached this intersection in life.
There was a tremendous amount of pressure on these young Hebrews to conform. “Go ahead,” others told them, “get out there on the plain with them. There are thousands of others out there.” And then it happened. The band began to play and everyone bowed down. Everyone out there on the plain of Dura bowed down . . . except three young men. They stood out like three sore thumbs that day on the plain of Dura. When the music starts and we feel our own peer pressure, we will do one of two things. If we’re controlled by the Word we will respond with conviction. If we’re controlled by the world we will respond with compromise. On the plain of Dura this week we will find ourselves in one of these two groups. Look at all those people out there on the plain of Dura. They did not know how to live with pressure. Peer pressure said to bow down so they all compromised. But three young men stood up! How could they? Their lives were governed by inner principle and not outer pressure. They had learned how to live with pressure. Too many of us are not engaging our culture today because we have not learned this lesson. We have bought in to the peer pressure of the pluralism of our day and we have what we tolerate.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have said, “I’m bowing down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside.” Had some of us in the church today been out there on the plain of Dura that day we might have been prone to say, “We can’t fight the system. We might as well go along. After all, God knows how we really feel. We do not want to offend Nebuchadnezzar because we would like to win him to our faith. We will be of no use to God if we’re dead in a fiery furnace so let’s go ahead and bow down just this one time for now.” This happens on the plain of Dura every day with men and women who are called by the name of Christ. Compromise has taken the place of conviction in the vocabularies of many followers of Christ. In fact, the very word “conviction” seems to be a lost word in the Christian vocabulary.
Some of us will never engage our culture as long as we continue to bow to peer pressure. This may be the greatest test of faith today. Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image was nothing more than an attempt to substitute man-worship for God-worship. It is easy to go along with the crowd. It is difficult to be in the minority. We have a lot of opinions in the church today, but do not seem to have as many convictions. Opinion is based on what we think. Conviction is based upon what God says!
Idols are not confined to the plain of Dura. We bow down before all kinds of idols in our contemporary culture. Some of us make idols of possessions or people or our own popularity, or any number of projects. Pleasure is the god of many. A lot of us know what the Scripture says but we still bow down when peer pressure comes our way. Why? Could it be because what others think is more important to us than what God says? Let me repeat that in a more personal way. Is what others think more important to you than what God says? Why should we think that in our day Christians can live free from these outer pressures to bow down? The real tragedy is that many are so spiritually desensitized they’re not even aware of the pressures any more. Many simply just bow down on their own plain of Dura without any thought about it whatsoever.
Perhaps the hymn writer asked the question best. “Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed thro’ bloody seas? Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord! I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.” The truth is we need each other. There’s a real dynamic at play here. If your name is Shadrach you need a Meshach and Abednego to stand with you. These three friends found strength not only in their God but also with each other. As we attempt to address and engage our contemporary culture there’s a dynamic involved in standing with one another.
When the Lord Jesus Christ is ruling our life we respond out on the plain of Dura with conviction. In the face of a world that’s advocating tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. Our faith will be tested. Out there tomorrow on our own plain where tolerance is the byword and everyone is bowing down, we, too, will hear the music begin to play. Remember, you have what you tolerate! In the face of a culture advocating tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. What God says is so much more important than what we might think or others might say.
II. Learning to live with principle (
Much of our pluralistic American culture points to those of us who are evangelical Christians as being the single greatest intolerant force in America. In a myriad of subtle ways this continues to be branded into the American psyche. However, in reality it is our culture and its world system that is intolerant to Christians who believe that the Word of God is infallible, trustworthy, and true. This is nothing new. It has always been this way. Tolerance is the theme in America today. Americans are taught to tolerate everyone except those of us who believe in absolute truth. These advocates of tolerance have a favorite verse. It is
If learning to live with pressure has to do with peer pressure, then learning to live with principle has to do with fear pressure. After hearing that these three Hebrew young men would not bow to his golden image, Nebuchadnezzar in a rage of fury called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into his presence. He cannot believe what he has heard. The audacity of these three young men not bowing before his image! So that there might be no misunderstanding he gives them another opportunity. They can bow or they can burn. This is no longer peer pressure. Now fear pressure comes into play.
When fear pressure comes our way we will do one of two things. If we’re controlled by the Word we will respond with courage. However, if we are controlled by the world and its friendship then we will respond with cowardice. Listen to the response of these three faithful men; . . .our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up. (
Fear pressure is where we find the real pressure to conform. There is the fear of losing our job if we do not bow. There’s the fear of being different. Some times we’re so convinced that everyone else is bowing. There is so much pressure to go along with our contemporary culture. How many young men and women have lost their virginity because of fear pressure? They were simply afraid to be different, afraid they may not be popular. They were convinced that everyone was bowing down. In the face of outer pressure these three young men were governed by inner principle and they stood tall! This is character. Character is functioning with inner principle and not yielding to outer pressure. They let Nebuchadnezzar know that right was right and wrong was wrong and some things are nonnegotiable. It is a tragic thing that many who would never think of bowing to peer pressure on the plain of Dura bend to fear pressure when getting before the king.
Nebuchadnezzar looked them in the eye and asked, is it true? (
These verses bring us face to face with the issue of civil disobedience. What is a Christian to do when the king makes a decree with which we do not agree? What about the issue of civil disobedience? Can we learn anything from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego at this point? After all, did not our Lord himself say that we were to be subject to the authorities that are over us? And, here are these three men refusing to do what the government told them to do. When is it okay to disobey the civil authority? Where do we draw the line?
In the face of the world that’s advocating tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with inner principle. There will be those this week that will try to get us to bow on the plain of Dura and we must learn to live within our principle. We must draw the line with the Word of God. Like Daniel, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we must let the word so dwell in us that we live with conviction and not with compromise. In the face of a world that advocates tolerance at all cost we must learn to live not only with pressure but also with principle.
III. Learning to live with perspective (
Tolerance was as much the byword in ancient Babylon as it is in modern America. Everyone had bowed down to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image except the three Hebrew young men. When faced with Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge to provide an answer for their behavior they replied, “if that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods nor will we worship the golden image which you have set up.” (
Listen to their response. “Our God.” Do you sense the camaraderie here? They were going through this together. They were standing together not only out there on the plain of Dura but also before the king and eventually in the fiery furnace. The truth is, we need each other as we seek victory and raise our children in a pagan culture. We, too, need to learn to live with perspective. He is “our God.”
They went on to say, “Whom we serve.” Some of us may be able to say “our God” but can we complete the phrase with “whom we serve?” We sometimes wonder why we succumb so easily to peer pressure or fear pressure. It is our God whom we serve that is able to deliver us. As a pastor for many years I watched men and women who professed Christ but did not do much in serving Him. When the crisis hour came they so often faced it with cowardice because they bowed down on the plain of Dura. On the other hand, I’ve watched those who serve the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully come to the crisis of the testing of their faith and they did so with courage, because in service to Him their lives were geared by the Word of God. Learning to live with perspective is not simply something we say but something we do.
These young men also remind us that our God whom we serve is able to deliver us. This is not superficial speculation but solid conviction based on the Word of God. Here were three young men who knew the Word of God and staked their lives on it by faith and believed that their God was able. This is really the issue isn’t it? God is able. It is when we settle this in our mind and learn to live with this type of perspective that we really have no problem out there on our own plain of Dura.
Whatever our need, He is able. Do we need grace? “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you.” (
The real secret to their perspective is found in
Some people have the idea that if they are delivered from a fiery furnace of life that everyone should join in the celebration, “but if not” we should quietly hide so as not to damage God’s reputation nor show any of our own lack of faith. What kind of God is this? This is the very reason some television healers screen their people before they let them on the stage. A recent cable news program interviewed a mother of a paraplegic boy who came to just such a “miracle service” hours early. She and her son were taken to another room and never even got into the auditorium. Such incidents are not only tragedies, but are travesties to the Gospel.
We’re reminded that the same God that gave to Job also was the same God that took from Job. The same God who delivered Simon Peter from prison allowed James to be martyred by the sword in the same chapter in Acts. The same God that allowed John the Baptist’s head to be chopped off is the same God that delivered others in other circumstances and situations. The perspective, “but if not,” is closely akin to what Job said, “even though he slay me yet I will trust him.” (
When these three young men say, “but if not,” they are demonstrating a level of mature faith. Look at them. Unlike some today who demand of God and tell Him what he has to do, they were not instructing God. They were abandoning themselves to Him much like our Lord did in Gethsemane Garden. I’ve always wondered where some people get off dictating to God what He has or has not to do, demanding Him to do this or demanding Him to do that. Our God is sovereign which simply means He always does what he pleases and is always pleased with what He does. These folks who do not live with the “but if not” perspective of life and continue to demand and claim things from God are seldom found in the hospitals holding the hand of some sweet lady with cancer who is full of faith herself. Our Lord Jesus took his healing ministry into the marketplace. He went to people where they were at such places as the Pool of Bethesda. He did not go to Jerusalem, rent the amphitheater, and announce a big meeting for those who could physically get there and then go through a screening process to see who would be allowed on stage. Yes, he is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace . . .but if not . . .we still will not bow down.
Whether God delivers us from the furnace or not does not change our conviction that “He is able.” If one claims to have lost their faith because of a situation where God did not come through like they thought He should, then it is proof that their faith was only in performance. We all know of people who have quit the race because they said our God whom we serve is able, but they never learned to complete the sentence . . .but if not . . .
It is interesting to me that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not even ask God to deliver them. They simply threw themselves upon Him and His sovereign will for their lives and come what may they were going to praise His wonderful name. There are a lot of people today who want to stand tall in the day of faith’s victory but few who really know how to stand tall in the day of faith’s tests and trials. Everyone wants to walk across the stage and receive their diploma but not everyone wants to pay the price of hard study and term papers and multiple tests.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow to peer pressure and they would not bend to fear pressure. Their battle was won right here at this very place. It wasn’t won in the fiery furnace, it was won when they came to live not only with pressure and principle but also with perspective. We should never wait until we get into a fiery furnace to try and decide what to do. These three young men did not burn because they did not bow nor bend. Some of us burn in the fiery furnace because, before we ever get there, we bow to peer pressure or bend to fear pressure. Why? Because we make too many of our decisions based on outer pressure instead of inner principle. And thus, we find our lives filled with compromise and cowardice instead of conviction and courage as we face our contemporary culture.
In the face of a world that advocates tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. We must learn to live with principle. And, above all, we need to learn to live with perspective. Our God whom we serve is able . . . but if not!
IV. Learning to live with protection (
Now we find our three young friends bound . . . and cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. (
Note that one of the byproducts of the three Hebrew young men being in the fiery furnace was that it turned out for their own good. All they had in the fiery furnace was the promise of God. They were standing on
Why should we think that we are immune to the trials of life? The Lord Jesus said our Father in heaven sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (
None of us are immune to the fiery furnace experiences of life. They often find their way to us for a variety of reasons. Some trials are for punishment. David found this out. He was told the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me . . . (
Look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. What happens when we do not bow nor bend? We do not burn! When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace he exclaimed, “Look! . . . I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (
Yes, the fiery furnace experiences of life could work out for our own good. The Bible says that their bonds were loosed. (
Not only did they find freedom there in the fiery furnace but they also found fellowship. Nebuchadnezzar says there were four men walking around the furnace and the fourth was like the son of God. The Lord himself left His throne of glory and came down to walk through the fire with these three Hebrew young men who had taken a stand for Him. And, He will do the same for you. Don’t quit in the time of testing. If you’ll look around you’ll find that you’re not alone. God never promised to keep us out of the fiery furnace but He did say He would get in with us and when we come out on the other side it would be for our own good. Time and time again I’ve seen the Lord become so real to so many who’ve had fiery furnace experiences of life who have emerged with their bonds loosed never to be the same again.
These three young men believed in the promises of God. Their trust was in Him and they were a testimony to the king. The result was that Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent His angel and delivered his servants who trusted in Him.” (
Why does God allow the fiery furnace experiences of life? What is the purpose of this permissive will? Perhaps it is to fit us for higher service. Perhaps it is to separate the true believers from the pretenders. It’s a lot easier to say, “I will not bow” until we’re looking into the fiery furnace. God is watching. “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” (
The good news is that the fiery furnace experiences of life are not only for our own good but they ultimately serve for God’s glory. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who sent His angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him . . .there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (
King Nebuchadnezzar said, “There is no other god who can deliver like this.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. This is what the Gospel can do. The king who commanded the worshippers to bow down and worship his own image now bows himself before the King of all kings. He promoted these three young men. Yes, When a man’s ways please the Lord . . . He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. (
Jack Evans, former mayor of Dallas, had it right years ago. “You have what you tolerate!” We’re living now in a world where tolerance has become the law of the land. We’re told on every front that we should be tolerant in the sense that there is no absolute truth. “All religions are equal” is the constant cry. In the face of a world that advocates tolerance at all cost we must learn to live with pressure. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did and so can we. We must learn to live with principle. These three young men had it and so can we. We must learn to live with perspective. They lived with the “but if not” attitude. So can we. We must learn to live with protection. The fiery furnace is for our good and His glory.
What do we learn out there on the plain of Dura and in the fiery furnace? We learn that God is in control. We learn that His finger is on the thermostat. And guess what? He still would have been in control had He allowed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to perish in the flames. There are thousands of martyrs that have met that fate throughout church history. Yes, our God is able to deliver us . . . but if not . . . we still will not bow down.
We all go out there on the plain of Dura every week. Most of the people with whom we come in contact will be advocating tolerance. Most of them will go ahead and bow down – it’s just a lot easier. Just like a bunch of rubber stamps with no character and no integrity, many people who are called by the name of Christ will do the same. Perhaps it will be because of peer pressure or perhaps because of fear pressure.
What will it be for you? Will your life be governed by inner principle . . . or outer pressure? You will have what you tolerate. There are two voices calling out to us today. One is the voice of tolerance and the other is the voice of truth. At a recent funeral I heard someone say, “All of us are going to the same place – some of us are simply taking different roads with different styles and different ways.” That is the voice of tolerance. The voice of truth reveals the words of Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (
O.S. Hawkins is president and chief executive officer of the SBC Annuity Board. He is a Contributing Editor to Preaching.