Thriving in a Fast-Food Culture

 

Week of January 1, 2012

 

Bible Verses:Proverbs 23:19-21; Daniel 1:8, 11-16; Romans 13:11-14.

 

Lesson Focus:We are called to align ourselves with Christ, and we can do so as we avoid those things that harm us physically and practice a healthy lifestyle for His honor.

 

Align with Christ: Romans 13:11-14.

 

[11]Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. [12]The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. [13]Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. [14]But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. [ESV]

 

[11-12]Paul brings to a close his general exhortations to the Roman Christians by focusing on the same point with which he began: a call for a totally new way of living in light of the eschatological situation. In 12:1-2, Paul urges Christians to give themselves as living sacrifices, adopting a lifestyle in keeping with the new era to which they belong. In 13:11-14, he exhorts Christians to clothe themselves with Christ Himself [14] and with that behavior [12] fitting for those who live already in the light of the great day of final salvation that is soon to dawn. Romans 12 encourages Christians to look at the present in light of the past: by virtue of Christís death and resurrection, the old age has been transcended by a new one. The Christian is to live out the values of that new age, appropriating the power available in the gospel to renew the mind and transform conduct. Romans 13 shifts the perspective, encouraging Christians to look at the present in light of the future. For, while transferred by Godís grace into the new realm of righteousness and life, Christians still await full and final salvation, the redemption of the body. The transformation that the gospel both demands and empowers flows from the work of Christ already accomplished. But it also looks ahead to the completion of the process on that day when we will be fully conformed to the image of Godís Son [8:29]. Christians are not only to ďbecome what we areĒ; we are also to ďbecome what we one day will be.Ē Verses 11-14 fall naturally into two parts: the indicative section, in which Paul reminds us of the nature of the time [11-12a]; and the imperative section, in which he summons us to action in light of the time [12b-14]. All that Paul has set forth as the will of God for our sacrificial service in the new age of redemption [12:1-13:10] is to be done because we understand the time in which we live: you know the time. Paul then adds three statements in which he explains just what he means by the time. His first and third assertions share the metaphor of night giving way to day. In a society governed by the sun rather than by the convenience of artificial lighting, people rose at dawn. Only slackards would keep to their beds after the first glow of daylight. Early rising was especially necessary in the Near East, where the bulk of work needed to be done before the heat of midday. Paul wants no slackards among his readers. Christians are to be alert and eager to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. But Paul does not use the darkness/light, night/day imagery simply as an illustration drawn from daily life. For in using these contrasts, Paul is drawing on a broad tradition in which these contrasts were used as metaphors for moral and eschatological conditions. Basic to Paulís application is the Old Testament/Jewish ďthe day of the Lord,Ē adapted by the early Christians to denote the time of Christís return in glory and the believerís final redemption. The day of verse 12 is certainly a reference to this ďday of the Lord.Ē The night, then, probably also hints at, by contrast, ďthe present evil age.Ē To wake from sleep, then, means to avoid conformity with the present evil age because salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Here Paul uses salvation to describe the believerís final deliverance from sin and death; the completion of Godís work on behalf of the church at the time of Christís return. Paul certainly betrays a strong sense of expectation about the return of Christ but nowhere does he predict a near return. More importantly, he does not ground his exhortations on the conviction that the Parousia would take place very soon but on the conviction that the Parousia was always imminent. Christís return is the next event in Godís plan. Paul knew it could take place at any time and sought to prepare Christians for that blessed hope. The first pair of imperatives that Paul builds on the imminence of Christís return uses the imagery of changing clothes: ďputting offĒ one set in order to ďput onĒ another. This language was widely used with metaphorical associations in the ancient world, and the New Testament writers adopt it as a vivid way of picturing the change of values that accompanies, and is required by, conversion to Christ. Equally common as an image of morality is the contrast between darkness and light that Paul uses to characterize what Christians are to put off and put on. Particularly significant here is that in the Old Testament, Judaism, and the New Testament, the contrast is extended into eschatology, with darkness characterizing the present evil age and light the new age of salvation. The darkness of night, as the time when those bent on evil and mischief are particularly active, becomes an image for the evil realm, that old age which continues to exert its influence and to which Christians are not to be conformed [12:2]. The works of darkness that Paul urges us to renounce are therefore those activities that are typical of that evil realm. In their place, we are to put on the armor of light, which is appropriate for those who have been delivered from the dominion of darkness and been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light [Col. 1:12-13]. We need such armor both to defend and to extend the light.

 

[13-14]Paul now derives a second pair of contrasted commands from his teaching about the nearness of the Lordís return. This contrast employs the very popular imagery of ďwalkingĒ as a way of speaking about oneís daily conduct. Our manner of life, Paul urges, is to act properly, a lifestyle appropriate to those who live in the full light of the day. Christians eagerly wait for the coming of the day (in its final phase) even as they experience, by faith, the power and blessings of that day in its present phase. In contrast to the proper conduct that we are to exhibit, Paul lists three pairs of vices that we are to avoid. It seems evident that Paul has chosen the first two pairs especially to match the metaphor of darkness/night that he has been using; for excessive drinking and sexual misbehavior are especially sins of the night. Quarreling and jealousy do not so naturally fit here; and Paul may have chosen them with a view ahead to his rebuke of the Roman Christians for their divisiveness and mutual criticism [see 14:1-15:13]. Paulís final pair of contrasted imperatives are not so obviously related as those in verses 12 and 13. The positive command picks up the verb put on from verse 12b. Now, however, what we are to put on is not a suit of armor but Christ Himself. The exact meaning of what Paul intends is not easy to pinpoint. But perhaps we should view the imperative in light of his understanding of Christ as a corporate figure. As a result of our baptism/conversion we have been incorporated into Christ, sharing His death, burial, and His resurrection [Rom. 6:3-6]. Our old self, our corporate identity with Adam, has been severed [Rom. 6:6]; and in its place, we have become attached to the new self [Col. 3:10-11], Jesus Christ Himself, whom we have put on [Gal. 3:27]. But our relationship to Christ, the new man, while established at conversion, needs constantly to be reappropriated and lived out, as Ephesians 4:24, with its call to put on the new self makes clear. Against this background, Paulís exhortation to put on the Lord Jesus Christ means that we are consciously to embrace Christ in such a way that His character is manifested in all we do and say. This exhortation appears to match the exhortation at the beginning of this section, be transformed by the renewal of your mind [Rom. 12:2], suggesting that it is into the image of Christ that we are being transformed [see Rom. 8:29]. As the negative counterpart to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul warns us, make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires. Flesh might have a neutral meaning here, Paulís point being that we should not pay special attention to the demands of our human nature so as to let them dominate us. But the term more likely lies more toward the negative end of its spectrum of meaning: flesh as that principle and power of life in this world which tends to pull us away from the spiritual realm. As he does in Galatians [see Gal. 5:13-26], Paul implies concern that his proclamation of freedom from the law [Rom. 13:8-10] might lead to a licentious lifestyle. Thus he urges his readers, in place of the law, to embrace Christ; who, through the Spirit, provides completely for victory over the flesh.

 

Avoid the Harmful: Proverbs 23:19-21.

 

[19]Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. [20]Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, [21]for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.[ESV]

 

[19-21]Verse 19 serves to prepare the way for the commands of verse 20, which, in turn, gives way to the justification of those commands in verse 21. Hear, my son underscores the dramatic nature of the call and the urgency of its plea. The repeated exhortations in the Book of Proverbs to listen remind us of our Lordís earnest and affectionate call to use our ears [Matt. 11:15; 13:9]. They show the great importance of listening as the first step to becoming wise. For wisdom, no less than faith, comes from what is heard [Rom. 10:17]. But this call especially warns against a besetting temptation. Godís creatures abuse His gifts. Gluttony, drunkenness and sloth are no trifles. The way must be the way of wisdom, understanding, righteousness and of good men. The introduction of wine returns us to the theme of Proverbs 20:1, and prepares us for the more extended discourse of verses 29-35. Such carousing and drinking parties are roundly condemned in Scripture. Note that, here, the warning is not even specifically about avoiding drunkenness, but against even being with drunkards, for bad company ruins good morals [1 Cor. 15:33]. Despite our best intentions, we tend to be influenced more than we influence in such situations. Notably, such drunkards are coupled with gluttonous eaters of meat. Both reveal a lack of self-control and inner discipline. Both are descriptive of the rebellious son, who is brought before the community for their judgment. While in our society alcohol abuse has more of a stigma than overeating, such was not the case in Biblical times. The Scriptures roundly denounce gluttony. The verb form of the word translated gluttonous describes someone who is reckless and extravagant. In this case, it is an extravagance in catering to his own appetites which points to the essentially selfish nature of both alcohol abuse and overeating. Here, then, is the motive clause. The end of such overindulgence is poverty and being clothed with rags. Industry gives way to indulgence and, soon, indolence and indigence follow. The urge to slumber is too overwhelming and, soon, business ventures suffer. If the pattern persist, poverty is inevitable.

 

Adopt the Beneficial: Daniel 1:8, 11-16.

 

[8]But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. [11]Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, [12]"Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. [13]Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see." [14]So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. [15]At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. [16]So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. [ESV]

 

The most important verse in the first chapter of Daniel is verse 8: Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself. Remember that Daniel was a young man at this time, 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. This may seem like a small thing but it is in the small matters that great victories are won. This is where decisions to live a holy life are made. Daniel here shows both his steadfast devotion to principle and his courteous common sense. To have partaken of the kingís food and wine would, in Danielís thinking, have involved self-defilement. The reason for this was that the kingís food was forbidden by the law; not so much because the food was not prepared according to the Levitical ordinance or consisted of the flesh of animals which to the Israelites were unclean. Because this does not explain why they also refused to drink the wine. But the reason for their rejection was that the Babylonians at their feasts offered up in sacrifice to their gods a part of the food and the drink and thus consecrated their meals by a religious rite. Therefore the one who participated in such a meal also participated in the worship of idols. To accomplish his purpose, Daniel displays no fanaticism or rudeness, but candidly states his purpose to the chief official and asks for his help. Daniel never yields in devotion to principle, but he does not permit devotion to principle to serve as a cloak for rudeness or fanaticism. Upon the request of Daniel, God inspired the officer with favor toward Daniel. The chief official recognized that Danielís request was made upon the basis of principle and he listened to the request. This response by the chief official was the result of divine grace. But the chief official is hesitant to allow Danielís request because he fears the kingís anger if the appearance of Daniel and his friends are more haggard then the other youths. But Daniel continues his appeal, this time to the overseer whom the chief official has placed over them. Daniel proposes a short, ten day test. If Daniel had made this offer merely upon his own initiative, he would have been guilty of presumption. Therefore it seems that Daniel had received a special revelation from the Spirit of God and that, in speaking, he was acting in accord with that revelation. From verse 12, it appears that Daniel desired to abstain from food which in any sense might be regarded as dedicated to idols. But also that he wished for himself a simple diet that showed his desire to be free from all the luxuries of the kingís court. Then, after the ten day test, Daniel asks the overseer to act as he sees fit based upon what he sees happening to Daniel and his friends. The overseer granted this request for the ten day testing period. When the period of ten days had expired their appearance was seen to be better and healthier than all of the other youths who ate from the kingís table. Thus we see evidence of Godís grace at work in the lives of Daniel and his friends.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What things does Paul tell us to focus on in Romans 13:11-14 while we wait for Christís return? Why do you think he mentions these things? What does he mean by put on the Lord Jesus Christ? Explain how you can apply each of the following phrases to your current life situation: wake from sleep [11]; cast off the works of darkness, put on the armor of light [12]; walk properly as in the daytime [13]; and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires [14].

 

2.†††††††† Why didnít Daniel and his friends want to eat from the kingís table? What principle were they unwilling to compromise? How can we apply that type of commitment to principle in the way we live today in our secular culture? Note how Daniel used wisdom and respect in dealing with the steward instead of being rude or combative.

 

3.†††††††† In these verses in Daniel, how do you see Godís sovereign hand at work? How is he guiding and directing events to bring about His purposes in history? How do you see His sovereign hand at work in your life?

 

References:

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.

Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

The Prophecy of Daniel , Edward J. Young, Eerdmans.