Working in the Lion’s Den: Faithful Service in a Pagan Culture

Mike Milton Daniel, Sermons

Gertrude Himmelfarb (aka Bea Kristol) is the wife of the late Irving Kristol and the
mother of political pundit Bill Kristol. In her book, One Nation, Two Cultures, she wrote that
America is facing at least six challenges:

“… the collapse of principles and habits, the loss of respect for authority’s and institutions,
the breakdown of the family, the decline of civility, the vulgarization of high culture, and
the degradation of popular culture.”i

We might add a seventh challenge in this new world: the challenge of antagonism
towards Christians in the workplace. So we could pose Francis Schaeffer’s famous question,
with a slight adjustment: “How Should We, then, Work?”ii

Greg was a young deacon in our church, a new husband, and the son of a prominent
Christian leader in the community. He held his face in his hands — a Van Gogh-like study-indespair slumping forward in the old leather guest chair of my office — his sleepless eyes bloodshot, his white pinpoint Oxford shirt undone at the collar, and the knot of his Brooks Brothers Carolina blue college rep neck-tie loosened and the uneven ends hanging awkwardly.
“I hate my job, pastor. I hate it. Four, no six years, of undergrad, then law school, bar exam;
and now this. I can’t believe it. But it’s undeniable. I hate this whole mess.”

Hailing from a well-to-do family, Greg had been an academic wonder-boy . . . well,
sort of. It had taken six years for his BA due to the two years in Patagonia to “find himself.” He
had gone to undergrad at Chapel Hill, law school at Pepperdine, passed his bar on the first
attempt, then landed a coveted job in a firm that most young lawyers can only dream of. Yet,
after 36 months of settling claims with disability insurance companies he was ready to call it

“Pastor, it is not that I hate practicing law, it is that I hate the environment I have to work in.
I thought of the law as a noble profession — and it is — but, the people I work with are
some of the most ungodly folks I have ever had to be around. So, I hate going to work. It is
like going into the lion’s den of iniquity: filthy language, filthy jokes, taking God’s name in
vain — you name it, it’s there. And it is devouring me. I can’t work there anymore. I’m
tired of it. I can’t work in this kind of place anymore.”

I put my arm around the pathetic young figure before me. “Son, I understand that the
work environment is tough, but have you spent time studying through God’s Word, in prayer,
about the important subject of work and faith?”

Look. I get it. Spending your life at work is one thing, but spending it working in a
place that is antithetical to your faith is another. And I suspect many of you can relate to that
young lawyer. You work in an office, a factory, a doctor’s office, a school, or maybe a nonprofit
or government office (yes, maybe even a religious employer — dare I say it, and this would be a
crime, but maybe even a church), and it is getting increasingly difficult for you.

But for some of you, “the lion’s den” where you work is an antagonistic boss who
reinforces commands, especially to you as a Christian, with that most heinous profanity that
mixes the foulest gutter-talk with the sacred name of Jesus. Others flaunt their now legally
protected lifestyles that defy Biblical teaching, purposely taunting your faith, which is now on
the losing side of culture. Yet others of you have to serve in an organization where your
2 Christian ethics are considered old-fashioned. You are growing increasingly uncomfortable with
unmitigated greed labeled as unchallenged capitalism. “But something is wrong with the
numbers at the end of the month — every month.”

I have been there, too. Before I went into the ministry, I worked for two Fortune 500
organizations. I remember having to stand for my faith during managers’ meetings. The meetings
invariably ended at strip clubs. My loyalty to Christ, as well as to my wife (and my own concern
for the demeaning of women) demanded that I could never go with the crowd. And I never did.
I was laughed at. I was not part of the in-crowd. It cost me. I also served in the U.S.
military for over 32 years. Social engineering in the Army is well-documented and well-known.
Being a Chaplain in the military is more of a test than ever. Wherever you look in our culture
you see the same thing: being a Christian in the workplace is just plain hard.

So, what do we do? What do I tell people like the young attorney who came to see
me? What do I say to you? What do you do when you find yourself working in a lion’s den?

God has given us a very clear response to our lives as workers in difficult and even
ungodly environments. Dr. Allen Myers summed up a significant portion of the first half of the
Book of Daniel, which deals with the work life of a godly young Hebrew man in a pagan

The story of Daniel in the lions’ den at 6:1–28 recounts the plot by Daniel’s fellow
ministers and satraps whereby Darius decrees that for thirty days no one could petition any
god or man other than the king. Ever loyal to his faith, Daniel disobeys and is cast into the
lions’ den as punishment. To Darius’ delight, Daniel emerges unharmed, and the king issues
an edict favoring the God of the Jews iii

The first part of the book of Daniel chronicles his service to the pagan emperor and the
second part tells about his dreams. That first part, which is our focus, tells about a godly young
man who was forced to live out his faith in the most trying place imaginable for him: the
Babylonian (and afterwards Mede-Persian) court of the enemy who persecuted and took God’s
people prisoner.

How did Daniel stay true to his faith and, yet, true to his employer? While the passage
doesn’t assume to speak to each and every situation with particulars — and, granted, there are
times in a free society (unlike Daniel’s) to leave an employer because of poor fit, or, indeed,
because of ethical concerns — the passage does show us how to both live in a godless culture
and to work in a worldly workplace. For, God has given us divine insight into the very concern
we have as people of Christian faith working (and living) in a pluralistic and often antagonistic
environment. In Daniel 6:1-28, the Lord shows us His will for faithful Gospel workers in a
godless worldly workplace.

What are the Lord’s words of guidance for living and working in a godless culture and
a worldly workplace? The text shows us, at least, three words of guidance. The first is this:
Your Faith has Value

“It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom;
and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should
give account, so that the king might suffer no loss” (1-2).

The faithfulness of Daniel was of great value to the Median ruler. We must remember
that Daniel was one of the exiles of Israel, removed from his homeland, taken as a slave, and
forced to work for the Babylonian empire. Yet, Daniel did his work as unto God and not unto
men. Daniel had demonstrated that he could work for his captors by working for God and that, in
the process, it would bring honor.

17[And] As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning15 and
wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions [every vision] and dreams.
18Now, [And] at the end of the days that the king had said he should [to] bring them in, then
the prince of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19And the king
communed [spake] with them: and among them all was found none like Daniel, Hananiah,
Mishael, and Azariah: therefore 20[and] stood they before the king. And in all matters [every
matter] of wisdom and understanding, that the king inquired of them, [then] he found them
ten times better than all the magicians24 and astrologers that were in all his realm.
21And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus.iv

Daniel’s faith created value and caused the king to place his trust in Daniel, even
above other Babylonians. Rather than creating an antagonistic face-off with reporters and
religious liberty lawyers, Daniel quietly did his job.

Many of us will find ourselves working in places, like Daniel in Babylon and the
Median-Persian empires; places that are alien and quite possibly even hostile to us. We may feel
as though we are exiles from the people and places we know as home. Perhaps, it is their
worldview that makes us feel this way. Perhaps, it is the language of our fellow employees that
causes us to feel like exiles. It may even be a supervisor whose ethical framework is so different
from our own.

Yet when we apply God’s Word to our work and we conduct our work as unto the Lord
and not unto men, others will soon realize that there is great value in God’s way, even when they
do not acknowledge God. We’ve all heard that “all truth is God’s truth.” Well, that applies in our
work, as well. Applying the truths of Scripture to the workplace will bring about good things,
better customer relations, longer-lasting products, clearer messages, and better widgets.

So one of the things we have to learn in this postmodern, post-Christian world that we
live in is the Augustinian truth that we, as believers, are suspended between “The City of Man”
and “The City of God.” The Christian public intellectual, Michael Cromartie, has written,
“Christians in today’s society are no longer the moral majority but clearly we’re now a
moral minority. So one of the important questions we must ask ourselves is this: what must
we as Christians do in order to live faithfully as a minority in a culture in which we were
once considered the majority?”v

We can answer the question, in part, by looking at Daniel, by trusting in Jesus Christ,
and by doing our very best at whatever we put our hand to do:
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or
knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” vi

In this way, we worship God with our work. Our employers and our fellow workers
recognize that our faith in Jesus Christ has consequences in everyday living. Our Christian faith
has a tangible value in this world. The Christian faith is often best expressed in the quiet, behindthe-scene deeds of service rendered unto God and others, even when the others are Babylonian captors or Roman jailors — or, yes, post-modern, post-Christian government officials or Fortune
500 companies.

There is another word of guidance from this part of Daniel.

Cooperate without Compromise

Both the books of Daniel and Esther are examples of Biblical literature that taught
covenant faithfulness to God while the Jews were in diaspora. In both Daniel and Esther, we see
the hero and heroine under siege by courtiers who used entrapment against God’s people to grab
for position and power.vii

In Daniel, we witness the high officials, satraps, the counselors, and the governors
conspiring to use the young Hebrew’s faith as a weapon to destroy him. They pressure the King
into signing a document that would bring execution to anyone who would pray to any deity
except Darius. Daniel learned about the document (verse 10), went to his house, opened the
windows facing Jerusalem, and got down on his knees three times a day. He began to pray and
give thanks before God, “as he had done previously.”viii

What is quite clear in the text is that Daniel did his job and he did it well. He did not
expect the pagans to join him in worship of his God, nor did he expect he would get “a pass”
from work for worshiping God. I used to recall Steve Brownix saying, “We can always expect the
pagans to act like pagans.”x Daniel could have said that, too. So it must be understood that
Daniel was a very supportive employee. Daniel was, in every way possible, cooperative. Yet
Daniel cooperated without compromise. This phrase, “cooperation without compromise,” is a
familiar one for those in military chaplaincy:

“Cooperation without compromise, as it is usually expressed in military chaplaincy
settings, has a set of values that includes ‘Respect for others, support of others … follow the
existing laws, [yet, there is] no need to compromise one’s own religious values and practices.”xi

Daniel sought to serve his pagan employer by always, first, serving God. When push
came to shove, though, he could never violate his faith. Yet up and to that very point of forced
betrayal of God, Daniel had committed to serve Darius with total integrity. The man of God did
so because he was, in truth, serving his Lord, not Darius. Thus, when the wicked decree came he
would continue to serve God. That is “cooperation without compromise.” And that is the model
we have for following God and living out our Christian faith in days like these.

The final word of guidance is how our faith in the workplace turns the world upside

Your Work is Your Witness

The courtiers of the Median kingdom, like those of the Babylonian kingdom before
them, conspired to turn the king against Daniel, only to see — not only Daniel miraculously
saved — but, also, equally amazing, the king turn to Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar did this and
issued an edict that read like a confession of faith:

“Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven [the heavens], all
whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to

So the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den, where “a stone was brought and laid on the
mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet …” ends with Daniel delivered by
the Lord from the terror of the beasts, the conspirators, and their families thrown in to the lions,
where no intervening mercy was shown by God through the great creatures. Darius, like
Nebuchadnezzar before him, issued a statement of faith about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and

“I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the
God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be
destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs
and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.”
So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian”
(Daniel 6:26-28).

If you had been living in exile in those days and you received this narrative of the life
and times of Daniel, you would have been encouraged to carry on, do your work, be true to God,
and allow His sovereign will to rule over all. This remains the message to God’s people today.
You are I have the opportunity that no other generation of American Christians has had: to live
out our faith as an act of revolutionary Christian love, bearing witness to the life, death,
resurrection, and living Lord Jesus Christ as He reigns in our lives.

As the diamond always sparkles with greater brilliance against the black velvet
background, or the stars twinkle brighter in the ink-black nocturnal firmament, so, too, the life of
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ shines more radiantly when pronounced before a decadent
culture that has lost its way.

This is a time for courage. This is a time for the Esthers and Daniels among us to arise
and work as if God were on our side, for He is.

Yet, there is this one critical caveat to add in conclusion: the stone placed at the mouth
of the lion’s den that could not keep God out is a prophetic prefiguring of the great stone that was
rolled into place with a Roman signet at the tomb of the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth. That
stone was removed by a power from heaven itself — the same power that had stopped the
mouths of lions would, then, pry open the cavernous mouth of death.

Jesus Christ arose from the dead by that power. By that power, He lives. By that
power, He ascended. By that power, He reigns from on high as the sovereign God. By that
power, He is coming again. And by that power, we live who have trusted in Him by faith. By that
power, we can live in our houses, plant vineyards, marry and give in marriage, work, do our best,
give our all, and work as unto God, even in the most diabolical of situations. For that power, the
power of God inside of us, is the power of the Cross, where the things that would hurt us are
transformed into the things that save us.

For in Jesus Christ, the age in which we live, is a great time to be alive. And when our
efforts are offered in faith to God and in the power of the Gospel, it is always — always — a
great time to go to work.

Milton is the founder and President of Faith for Living, Inc., and serves as the James Ragsdale
Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is president of the D.
James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership. He resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.
i Gertrude Himmelfarb, One Nation, Two Cultures (New York: Knopf, 1999), 20.
ii Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old
Tappan, NJ: F.H. Revell, 1976).
iii Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 259.
iv John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Otto Zöckler, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Daniel (Bellingham,
WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 56.
v Michael Cromartie, What Now? Faithful Living in Challenging Times, 1st ed., vol. 1, series 2016 (Springfield, VA:
C.S. Lewis Institute, 2016), 9.
vi The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ec 9:10.
vii W. Lee Humphreys, “A Life-Style for Diaspora: A Study of the Tales of Esther and Daniel,” Journal of Biblical
Literature 92, no. 2 (June 01, 1973): 216, accessed May 01, 2016,
viii “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper
chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his
God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10).
ix Steve Brown was Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary while the author was
president and chancellor of the institution.
“Personal Recollection.” Interview by author. 2007.
xi Michael A. Milton, Cooperation without Compromise: Faithful Gospel Witness in a Pluralistic Setting, 1st edition.
(Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 10.
xii John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Otto Zöckler, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Daniel (Bellingham,
WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 108.