Living with a Conflict of Interest
Also called ‘How to break the law as a Christian’ or ‘Christian Civil Disobedience’
Back when I did AFL footy tipping regularly, I always tipped the Hawks. No matter what happened or who we were playing against, I tipped the Hawks. That would have been fine in the last few years but in the early 2000’s it was catastrophic. On my best weeks I’d get 7 out of 8 because we’d lose every week!
I wanted to win the tipping comp, but I wanted the Hawks to win more, so I was more committed to the Hawks than I was to the tipping. How do you tip successfully when you have a conflict of interest?
Throughout this year we’ve been talking about our allegiance to God, and what it means to be so committed to Jesus that we could be guilty of betraying everyone and everything else. In the book of Daniel over the last few weeks we’ve been talking about how Daniel was God’s Ally.
Being God’s Ally presents itself with the problem of having a conflict of interest. Daniel’s conflict of interest was what was best for the Empire, and what was best for God. So how did he handle this? How did Daniel live with a conflict of interest?
How do we live with a conflict of interest?
Here we are in this world who, for the most part, doesn’t know God, doesn’t recognise God in his place, lives by their own standards. How do we, as God’s allies, live with this conflict of interest? How do we handle things, especially when there is a confrontation, a decision to make, when the law says one thing and God says another?
It’s important to say today, and throughout the series, that we understand the book of Daniel and our own lives through Jesus. It’s worth saying because sometimes we forget. As we look at how Daniel lived his life we can learn about how to live our lives. But the decisions we make, the way we conduct ourselves, how closely allied we are to God, doesn’t matter if we haven’t accepted Jesus as God, and have him at the pinnacle and centre of our lives. We aren’t forgiven by Jesus because we do the right thing, we’re forgiven because he offered and we accepted. We aren’t saved by being awesome, we’re saved because he offered and we accepted.
From that point change, growth, maturity and becoming God’s Ally more and more is a result of God’s work in our lives. He invites us into this life change because of our acceptance of Jesus, and he provides the inspiration, the strength, the grace and the transformation in our lives.
Let’s have a look at Daniel 6 and see a story about how Daniel handled his conflict of interest.
The first thing I want to point out is Daniel’s place in the kingdom. Daniel wasn’t a random guy, as far as the king was concerned. (6:3) “Because of Daniel’s ability, the king made plans to place him over the entire empire.”
This made Daniel’s colleagues at work jealous, so they began looking for a fault with Daniel. They couldn’t find anything. (6:4) “He was faithful, always responsible, and completely trustworthy.”
(6:5) So they concluded, “Our only chance of finding grounds for accusing Daniel will be in connection with the rules of his religion.”
What a great statement about Daniel’s character. Wouldn’t that be a great thing to have said about you. The men jealous of Daniel knew they had nothing on him, except trying to exploit his faith.
This is what the early followers of Jesus strived for as well. That we as Christians would so well that people would have no grounds for accusing us of anything except our allegiance to Jesus. That was the accusation in Acts 17:7; These men have been stirring up trouble. They are guilty of treason against Caesar, because they have allegiance to another king, named Jesus. The people who didn’t like the early Christians didn’t have anything to pin them on, so they had to make a big deal about their devotion to Jesus. The Christians were respected and valued. Not everyone liked them. There were a lot of laughs and jeers, and a lot of killing. But there was no denying their value to society… They lived well. Which is not often how Christians are thought about today.
1 Peter 2:15-16
It is God’s will that your honourable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil.
No matter what you do. No matter what job you have, or which school you go to, or what you do on Saturday mornings, how can you do it well? How can you be faithful, responsible and trustworthy? You don’t have to be the best of the best in talent, strength or ability, but God can transform you to be the best of the best in character, forgiveness, love and trust.
You may have the temptation or the opportunity to live badly. To snipe, to gossip, to hang on to a hurt, to not work hard, to “borrow permanently” something that isn’t yours, to not keep your word. But the invitation from God is to live well, like Daniel did! Daniel wasn’t a superhuman, and you’re not a subhuman.
God’s Allies handle their conflict of interest by living well. This honours God, it honours the world he created and it honours the people he created. God’s Allies Live Well.
At the time of Daniel 6, Daniel was 80+ years old. He was now near the end of his life, and under a new king named Darius The visions and prophecies at the end of the book actually came earlier in his life. This is near the end as far as life goes for Daniel.
Daniel’s life is a great testament to the importance of all ages. At the beginning of his life, probably as a teenager we see Daniel being God’s Ally. And now at the end of his life, in his early 80s, we see Daniel doing the same thing. We need people of all ages: old, wise, discerning seniors through to young, boisterous, exploring kids. We need all of you, and we need each other.
As you live well, keep living well your whole life. Be godly, wise, faithful and forgiving in your middle aged years, in your second youth years, in the second half of your life, in your old age, after retirement. You may be tired, you may get irritated more easily, your knees might hurt, but God’s not finished with you yet.
God’s Allies handle their conflict of interest by living long. This flies in the face of anyone who tells you you’re past it. God’s Allies Live Well AND Live Long.
The bad guys in this story trick the king into signing a law that for the next 30 days no one could pray to anyone or anything EXCEPT King Darius. They tell him that everyone wants this law, so the King agrees and makes it a law.
In Daniel’s life he has lived well, he has lived long, but now his allegiance to God becomes a real conflict of interest. Where God has said something – “pray only to me”. The law has said to pray to King Darius.
So what’s a guy to do? Should Daniel defy the king and defy the law? Should he pray to God? Or should he fast from praying for the next 30 days to be safe? Will he be allied with God? Or will he be allied with the law? What or Who is Daniel’s ultimate allegiance to?
But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.
Daniel barely bats an eyelid. He prays to God just as he’s always done. The law doesn’t stop his faith. When there is a conflict of interest, God comes first.
The same thing happened in Acts 5, Peter and the apostles were commanded by the ruling authorities not to preach or speak about Jesus any more. But they said, “We must obey God, rather than any human authority.” So they kept right on preaching and telling people about Jesus.
We would rarely face this in Australia, that we could be forced with a direct conflict of interest where the laws of our land directly contrast with the laws of God. Our politicians aren’t all Christians, and their decisions aren’t all God honouring decisions. But still we aren’t in any situations where we as individuals or a church are asked by the law to disobey God. But if the law said that we were not to worship or pray to God, we would have to break the law. If, like in some countries around the world, it was illegal to encourage someone to change their spiritual beliefs, to turn from another belief to faith in Jesus, we would have to break the law because God has asked us to speak up about him.
To live with a conflict of interest we must live faithfully. Live like God is first, and so we put him first in every decision and every situation. Even if that means breaking a law that directly conflicts with what God has said. God’s Allies Live Well, Live Long and Live Faithfully.
Because the windows in Daniel’s house are open the men see him praying and report it to the king. And Daniel is forced to face the legal music.
Even though our political leaders, or anyone in authority over us, aren’t necessarily godly people, God still asks us to obey them.
1 Peter 2:13-14 NLT
For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honour those who do right.
You’ve got to appreciate too the situation in which Peter wrote these words. They didn’t even get a say or a vote or a petition in who their leaders were or what decisions they made. The king at that time, Emperor Nero, hated Christians and was involved in all sorts of ungodly decisions, attitudes and behaviours. But he was still the king. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote to submit to all human authority. Kings. Prime ministers. Principals. Police officers. The ATO. And to respect them.
1 Peter 2:17 NLT
Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.
To live with a conflict of interest we have to live respectfully. Respectful when we are obeying the law, and respectful even if we decide before God that we can’t obey the law. In the Bible and today, if you are ever in a situation of civil disobedience, choosing to obey God rather than a human law, the example and instruction from the Bible is to do it respectfully and accept the legal and natural consequences. Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den for his decision to be faithful to God. The apostles were imprisoned, crucified, beheaded etc for their faithfulness to preach the gospel. Whether God physically rescues you from the consequences or not, you have to be prepared to pay them.
Ridicule and rejection are the kinds of things we might have to endure if we live with a conflict of interest. And God asks us to live respectfully throughout all of that. God’s Allies Live Well, Live Long, Live Faithfully and Live Respectfully.
What about Civil Disobedience?
The Bible is clear on the issue of allegiance: where there was a direct conflict of interest, God’s allies broke the law. Daniel. Peter. But there’s also the question about breaking the law indirectly. While in Australia we don’t have any laws yet that are directly conflicting with God’s law, like the matter of prayer and worship. We do have laws which aren’t God honouring and which allow for things that aren’t part of God’s Kingdom. That’s normal in a secular society. Is there a place for civil disobedience? For breaking a law to make a point about another law? The Bible doesn’t give us any examples of indirect civil disobedience. Some Christians choose to do it and others don’t. So let me quote from a helpful article by Michael Jensen, an Anglican Minister from Sydney.
1. First, the cause has to be profoundly serious. The Christian will always want to recognise and support governmental authority. The Christian is no anarchist, and so it is only with extreme reluctance that a Christian person should break the law of the land.
2. Second, the legal and political channels of appeal must be prioritised. Respect for our government means that we ought to seek a solution to any situation from within the system we have been given – which normally allows for discussion and review.
3. Third, the planned action should be non-violent, should minimise, where possible, the bother to the police, and should involve accepting, not avoiding, the legal consequences.
The bombing of abortion clinics in the USA clearly fails this test. The model of the martyrs of the Church – and of Daniel, Peter and Jesus – is that they did not evade the legal consequences of their disobedience, but rather accepted them willingly.
- From When Should A Christian Engage in Civil Disobedience? Michael Jensen. http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/christian-engage-civil-disobedience
Michael Jensen wrote this in support of the Christians from Love Makes A Way, who followed all of these steps in responding to Australia’s treatment of refugees. The way they lived well, long, faithfully and respectfully led the police and the media to actually listen to their words and actions, rather than dismissing them.
God’s Allies make more Allies for God
God is more concerned about changing hearts than about changing laws.
The amazing thing in Daniel’s story is that because of all of these things coming together – living well, living long, living faithfully and living respectfully – the King was deeply troubled when he realised he’d been tricked. He tried to think of a way to save Daniel. He spent the rest of the day looking for a way to get Daniel out of this predicament. But he couldn’t find one.
So at last the king gave orders for Daniel to be arrested and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to him, “May your God, whom you serve so faithfully, rescue you.”
The den was sealed, so no one could rescue Daniel. And the king fasted. Maybe out of prayer, we don’t know. At least out of grief and hope. He doesn’t wish Daniel luck, but he wishes him God’s salvation.
Very early the next morning, the king got up and hurried out to the lions’ den. When he got there, he called out in anguish, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was your God, whom you serve so faithfully, able to rescue you from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “Long live the king! My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.”
The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God.
In the same way, the king doesn’t ask if Daniel has had luck, he asks if God has saved him.
- Daniel lived well. He worked hard, he learned, and most of all God shaped incredible character in him.
- Daniel lived long. He kept that attitude throughout his whole life. When the king changed. When his job changed. When good things happened and when bad things happened.
- Daniel lived faithfully. He put God first all the time, even when it meant being made fun of, or being rejected or even if it meant directly breaking the law.
- Daniel lived respectfully. He respected the king and everyone in authority. He always spoke well of them and he always spoke well to them. He accepted the natural consequences for his actions, no matter what.
Daniel said to Darius the king: ’And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.’ He had disobeyed the king’s order, but he had not wronged him in his place as king. He had broken the law, but he had still respected the man who was king.
King Darius turned Daniel’s punishment onto the men who had tricked him. And they were eaten immediately. (which further proves the miracle, it wasn’t that the lions weren’t hungry!) Then Darius sent out a decree, like King Nebuchadnezzar had done before him, his testimony of God’s faithfulness.
Daniel 6:26-28 NLT
“I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel. For he is the living God, and he will endure forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his rule will never end. He rescues and saves his people; he performs miraculous signs and wonders in the heavens and on earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.” So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
God’s Allies make more Allies for God. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. But when you are God’s Ally, he will use your life to lead other people to become his allies too.