This is the second of a three part series exploring the issue of biblically engaging with culture. Last week we considered the man who stood alone and this week we are thinking about the ‘Inside Man’. Check back next week for the final instalment.
In 2006 there was a very intelligent film released called ‘Inside Man’. The plot of the movie revolves around a bank robbery by a gang of four. They enter a top New York bank, wielding guns, in the middle of the day when it is full of staff and customers. Naturally, there is a police response and a standoff ensues.
However, while the police are on the outside, something very clever is taking place on the inside. The gang of four have made all of the now hostages dress exactly the same as them (overalls and a gas mask). Now, to the police at least, the gang and the hostages are pretty much indistinguishable.
It does not stop there though. Not only are they all dressed the same, but now the gang take it in turns to sit amongst the hostages acting like them. This means that the gang members are beginning to become indistinguishable to the hostages as well. After the plan has been executed the members of the gang simply walk out of the bank’s front doors with all the hostages. Even though the police interview every single person, neither they nor the hostages are able to identify any gang members.
It was an ingenious plan (and there is more to it if you would like to watch the film). The criminals dressed and acted like the hostages and so were able to walk free. They used their ability to associate with their surrounding environment to great effect.
There is someone else who was able to accomplish something similar – Daniel. Daniel was something of an inside man.
Daniel chapter 1 sets the scene, the nation of Israel have been taken into to exile by the Babylonian Empire. Amongst these exiles is a young man named Daniel – a young man taken from his home, marched upwards of 700 miles and detained in a foreign city. In fact he was kept in the king’s court.
However, Daniel took the opportunity to associate with his surrounding culture:
• He learned the literature and language of Babylon (1:4)
• He undertook a Babylonian education (1:5)
• He took a Babylonian name (1:7)
• He worked for the king after his education (1:19-20; 2:16)
• He accepted rewards from the king (2:48-49; 5:29)
• He paid homage to the kings (6:21)
It could be possible to argue that Daniel didn’t have much choice in this, unless he was willing to be a martyr. However, I don’t think it would be an overly convincing argument.
Daniel repeatedly visits the king to offer his services (1:19; 2:16; 4:8). And he didn’t just serve one king, but remained to serve at least four different kings (Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus). Again, he doesn’t serve them reluctantly; rather he speaks very highly of them (2:36; 4:22; 6:21). Indeed, Daniel not only served the king, but led the Babylonian Empire (5:29; 6:2).
Daniel, it seems, embraced this new culture and context he found himself in. He excelled, and quickly reached the top due to his God-given ability. He even kept his religious habits to himself, going home to pray (6:10). But this wasn’t just to have an easy life, or to avoid danger and difficultly (after all he did end up in a lion’s den at one point). Rather, his purpose in associating with the culture he found himself in was for God’s glory.
Here are two responses to Daniel’s life:
• King Nebuchadnezzar said this about the Most High God, ‘How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation’ (4:3 ESV).
• King Darius said ‘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’ (6:26-27 ESV).
Had Daniel refused to learn the language, go through the education system, work for the king and take the positions of responsibility and power in Babylon offered to him it could be questioned whether these Gentile kings would ever have confessed Yahweh as the living God with an enduring kingdom. Daniel was the inside man who engaged culture for the glory of God.
While Daniel was certainly an inside man, perhaps there was no greater inside man than Jesus Christ. Here was God on earth, and yet he engaged with the culture for the glory of God. Allow me just one example of Jesus engaging with culture. In Luke 2:40, speaking of Jesus, we read ‘the child grew’ (ESV). This is God, he has taken on flesh, been born of a woman, was a baby, toddler and now a child and he grew like every other child. Further, in 2:51 we see that Jesus (the God of the universe) was submissive to his mother and presumed father. This ordinariness continued, in Mark 6 when he returns to his hometown of Nazareth the people scorned, ‘Is not this the carpenter’? (v. 3).
Yet, all of this led to God’s glory as Jesus died on the cross, the breath escaping his lungs and the blood flowing from his veins. God had become flesh, associated to the surroundings, engaged with the culture, had become the likeness of sinful flesh to condemn sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3).
As we note the ingenuity of the gang members from the ‘Inside Man’, although ultimately for bad, we cannot help but be impressed. But, let us also note the wisdom of Daniel in associating with his surroundings by engaging culture, ultimately for good. Still, our most perfect example of this is most certainly God taking on flesh to walk this world.
Consequently, we must ask ourselves as we look around the places we live, work and play – ‘are there ways in which I can associate with my environment by engaging culture?’ ‘Are there ways to become an inside man or woman to influence others for good?’ ‘Are there ways in which I can walk, talk and be like the people around me for the glory of God?’
Check back next Monday and we will draw principles from both the man who stood alone (Noah) and the inside man (Daniel) in an attempt to understand how we can biblically engage culture.