What does it look like to be in, but not of, the world? From Abraham to Jesus, we see biblical figures wrestle with living according to God’s word in a dominant culture that does not follow His principles. Jesus, of course, lived it perfectly and prayed His followers would figure it out (see his High Priestly Prayer in John 17), but my personal favorite example is Daniel. He clearly confronts the tension of living in a broken and unjust world and refuses to compromise in the face of it.

Babylon’s Dominance

When Daniel was a young man, Babylon conquered Jerusalem and took Daniel and other young men captive. Though the book of Daniel doesn’t discuss it in detail, Lamentations and Jeremiah tell us that in addition to bringing captives back to Babylon, the victors pillaged all the wealth and resources they could get their hands on before enslaving many of the Israelites and forcing them into exile. The few Israelites that the Babylonians allowed to remain in the land were destitute. However, despite all that Babylon had done to his people, Daniel didn’t look to sabotage the nation from the inside like one might expect. He didn’t even purposefully produce subpar work for his new master in order to minimize his contribution to an unjust system that clearly didn’t hold the same values as His God. Rather, he excelled to the degree that Nebuchadnezzar ‘found none equal to’ Daniel (other than his three noble, competent companions renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Daniel faithfully served Nebuchadnezzar and the kingdom of Babylon while also refusing to compromise on the life of obedience and holiness that God had called him to.

Daniel’s Devotion

His devotion to God was not just an internal, heart position. He made some clear behavioral choices that revealed his position clearly.  One such stand might seem minor to us, but actually proved to be quite major: the food that he ate. God had called the people of Israel to be holy and set apart. God’s instructions on how to do so included not eating anything that had been sacrificed to other gods. The problem was that Daniel’s food had been sacrificed to the gods of Babylon, meaning that eating and drinking them would be disobeying God.

Now, Daniel could have told himself that as a captive he had no real alternative, and that living in obedience in the other areas of his life should be sufficient, but he didn’t. Faced with what seemed like an impossible situation, Daniel wasn’t willing to compromise. He recognized that God had called the people of Israel to be set apart, and that being “in, but not of, the world” can’t be done in half-measures. There is no room for compromising on obedience to God in the call to holiness.

Instead, Daniel went to the chief official and requested to eat only vegetables and drink only water. He was a slave with no influence or authority, and almost certainly risked punishment for making such a request. Even after the chief official rejected his request, Daniel didn’t give up but instead went to the guard with his request, risking the wrath of the chief official. The guard eventually conceded, allowing Daniel to live in obedience to God without risking punishment from the authorities for doing so.

What is our “Babylon”?

Even though Daniel couldn’t choose his “world,” he could choose how to live in that world. Like Daniel, we find ourselves part of sinful and broken world systems and must be open to living differently, without compromise, within those systems.  One system we need to examine is the culture of businesses and corporations and our participation with them when we invest.  

Many companies today actively work against the kingdom of God, exploiting and enhancing the world’s brokenness for their own profit. An example of this is the oil company Shell, which encouraged Nigeria’s military to commit human rights violations against those protesting their presence and pollution in the 1990s. When we invest in such a company, we support and share in that profit. The long list of passages in which God condemns the unjust gain of wealth, including Jeremiah 22:13, Proverbs 22:16, Amos 2:6, and James 5:1-6, bring conviction to us who may benefit from such practices.

Like Daniel, are we willing to go to great lengths and even take frightening risks to live in obedience to God and avoid compromise? To me, investing in companies actively working against kingdom of God principles is like eating food sacrificed to idols. We shouldn’t do it.

Stopping such investments may result in lower financial returns. Are we willing to take such risks in exchange for stewarding God’s resources in alignment with His values? In the quest for holiness, it is important for us as stewards to examine not only the level of returns that we have on our investments, but also where those profits are coming from. Like Daniel, we should be willing to take risks to bring our entire lives into accordance with God’s word.

Resist Compromise

This is not a simple issue. Not every company that actively works against kingdom of God principles broadcasts the ways that they do so. Investment screening tools often lack nuance, and there is a need for additional faith-based investment options to be developed. We could tell ourselves that there is no real alternative, or that it is too difficult, and give up. However, not having the capabilities of doing something perfectly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try. We must instead recognize God’s call for us to be holy and set apart and resist the temptation of compromising on God’s word.

Though the guidance that He gives us today differs from the specific instructions He gave to the Israelites, God has also called for us, as his Church, to be set apart. To be in the world, but not of it. And this call to holiness means that we must live a life of obedience and submission to His word in every aspect of our lives, including our investments.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash