thriving-in-babylon-edited

Scripture Text: Daniel 2:46-3:1

The Empty Praise of Man (MP3)

The Empty Praise of Man (Sermon Text)

Introduction

What does it feel like to receive a compliment? Most people, I believe, love to get them. How do you respond to receiving a compliment? If you follow the southern tradition, you will most likely say, “Thank you!” Compliments feel good. Being honored, particularly for some great work that you did, feels good. But, is it always healthy to receive such praise? Or maybe a better question, is there a right way and a wrong way to give and to respond to human praise? Yes, there is! Some people can become puffed up and think more of themselves than they should, which is prideful. Daniel had such an opportunity to respond to high praise. Through God’s sovereign grace, Daniel was able to do something no human being could do. He miraculously told Nebuchadnezzar about his dream and what it meant. There was no call to action for Nebuchadnezzar. The dream was essentially God giving information to Nebuchadnezzar (and to Daniel!) about the future. It was to let Nebuchadnezzar know that there is a God in heaven who moves history, who holds the future in His hand, and who rules an everlasting kingdom.

Be Aware of Human Praise

How would you respond to experiencing a supernatural, miraculous event? Gena and I just watched a movie about the resurrection of Jesus in which a Roman soldier was investigating the event and trying to discover the truth. There was a scene where one of the Roman soldiers who had guarded Jesus’ tomb tried to explain what had happened. He was visibly shaken and perplexed by what he had seen. He was fearful. He was in awe. You might have reacted the same way if you were that soldier. Daniel had revealed Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and he gave the interpretation. To Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel had just done what his own wise men said was impossible. Daniel did what only their “gods” could do. Therefore, Nebuchadnezzar responded to Daniel with praise.

Daniel 2:46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face and paid homage to Daniel, and commanded that an offering and incense be offered up to him. 

The king was overwhelmed by what had just happened. He had just witnessed a miracle. Daniel had told the king the dream, proof that the interpretation was from God. Nebuchadnezzar’s own astrologers had just declared to him that such knowledge could only come from the “gods” themselves. Daniel therefore was a man in touch with the God of heaven. The passage tells us that Nebuchadnezzar fell down before Daniel and gave him honor. That by itself may not seem so bad; however, this action commonly meant worshipping a god, such as when Nebuchadnezzar built his large, golden statue and ordered everyone to worship it. The king ordered that an offering and incense be given for Daniel, perhaps because Daniel was God’s representative. To be fair, Nebuchadnezzar may have realized that Daniel was not divine, since he immediately gave honor to Daniel’s God. However, he did not stop with praising Daniel and declaring an offering to him. Nebuchadnezzar also promoted Daniel and his three friends.

Daniel 2:48-49 48 Then the king gave Daniel high honors and many great gifts, and made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Daniel made a request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon. But Daniel remained at the king’s court.

Nebuchadnezzar rewarded Daniel by giving him a high position, namely, to govern all of Babylon, like Joseph governed Egypt under Pharaoh. The king also appointed Daniel as the chief counselor to the king with authority over the other wise men. These were high honors, indeed. If Daniel were prideful or wanted power, this would have been a problem. How did Daniel react to the king’s praise? Did Daniel stop to remind the king that it is the God in heaven who reveals mysteries? We do not know how Daniel reacted to Nebuchadnezzar’s praise of him, but we have a pretty good idea what might have happened. If we look back to Daniel’s praise of God and his testimony to Nebuchadnezzar about God earlier in the chapter, we see that Daniel was reluctant to receive any recognition for what God had done. He praised God for His wisdom and understanding. He acknowledged God’s sovereignty in moving kings and nations. He told Nebuchadnezzar that only the true God in heaven could reveal mysteries. Regardless of the king’s intent, Daniel would have never accepted worship of himself.

Praising and worshipping another human being was not unique to Daniel. Both Peter and Paul experienced somewhat the same thing. When Peter went to visit the Roman centurion, Cornelius, Cornelius wanted to worship him. Peter had to remind Cornelius that he, too, was just another human being. Look at the following.

Acts 10:25–26 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

People may look up to you and may want to revere you more than they should. It is important for us to resist such praise. Like Peter, when Paul told a man who was crippled from birth to stand up on his feet, and the man did just that, the crowd who witnessed the miracle thought the “gods” had come down to them. They then began to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods, to which they responded as follows.

Acts 14:14–15 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”

Paul and Barnabas called the crowd’s praise of them vain or empty. That means useless. They were worshipping the wrong person. When Paul and Barnabas refused to receive the crowds worship, they then stoned Paul. We are tempted to praise those who we think do great things. Whether it is a preacher who is well liked, a politician who delivers on his or her promises, or a person who takes care of you in a difficult time, we are drawn to praise others too much for what God is doing through them. We have to be careful how we respond to others’ good works and how we respond to others praising our good works. There are at least two reasons why we should resist human praise.

Human praise is temporary. Like Paul found out, even the people who think so much of you, who may literally worship you, will turn on you. The ones who praise you today will revile you tomorrow. Those who support you today, will speak evil of you tomorrow. Even Daniel and his three friends knew this truth. Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and the fiery furnace was coming. Our greatest spiritual victories may happen on the heel of our greatest spiritual struggles. Therefore, do not trust in the empty praise of man.

Human praise is not warranted. Simply put, people were not created to be praised, but to give praise to our Creator. It is not wrong to acknowledge good things that other people do, but we need to remember the One who alone deserves our praise — God. He created you. He loves you. He saves you. All of the good things we do or have been done to us are through the sovereign grace of God. We need to turn from the “vain things” of this world to the one true, living God.

Pride is often laying at the foot of our greatest “triumphs”. How should we handle our spiritual victories? How should we respond to the “good times”? Give glory to God! Turn from the vain things of this life and turn to the one, living God. We have to turn from the empty praise of man to praising the One true God in heaven who alone is worthy of our praise. Therefore, do not praise other people for God’s work. Do not yield to the temptation to accept praise for God’s work. Rather, receive human compliments with humility, thankfulness, and then point that praise to our heavenly Father.

Be Aware of False Confessions

Not only does this passage warn us about receiving human praise, it also warns us about accepting false confessions. People say a lot things that they do not mean.

As we have learned again this year, politicians promise all sorts of things that they may never do, and sometimes never intend to do. Many people profess to believe in God, many even claim to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. Many of these confessions are sincere, while many are not. Nebuchadnezzar was profoundly impressed by what Daniel did. Daniel was able to do what no other human could do, but it was not really Daniel’s doing. It was God working through Daniel and revealing to Daniel divine mysteries. For that, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged Daniel’s God; however, we should not think that he was converted to the Jewish faith. Look at the following verse.

Daniel 2:47 The king answered and said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery.”

Nebuchadnezzar only acknowledged Daniel’s god as the “God of gods,” not as the only God. Those who worship many things can simply add another thing to their worship list. People do that today. They worship a plethora of things, such as wealth, power, and fame. People worship their traditions or the “good ole’ days”. Christians even worship church, or their idea of church, rather than the Savior who died for the Church. Interestingly, Nebuchadnezzar did acknowledge that Daniel’s God was Lord of kings, perhaps accepting that Daniel’s God was indeed in control of nations and kings. Nebuchadnezzar’s confession did not mean that he believed God was the only god, though. Nebuchadnezzar did not come to an exclusive faith in the one true God, because he continued to worship other gods. Look at the very next chapter.

Daniel 3:1 King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.

Even though God had blessed Daniel and had revealed Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and even though Nebuchadnezzar realized that the information God gave him was true, he still built an image of gold later and commanded others to worship it. He scorned the one true God who had just informed him of the future of the earthly kingdoms, that they would all be dust in the wind. Therefore, a confession of the mouth without the bowing of the knees is empty. God is not looking for decisions, but rather, disciples. Many people are like Nebuchadnezzar today. They know of the true God—many even believe in His miraculous powers—but they never have come to know God in a personal, committed way. They know God in some impersonal, distant way that never grows into a genuine relationship. God wants a relationship! Some people know of the one true God, but are not willing to let go of their other “gods”. They say they serve the one, true God but only as long as they can keep their other idols. What, other than God, do you worship? What is your golden statue that you bow down to worship?

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are several truths this passage reminds us. We have to be careful when receiving praise from others. Oftentimes, that praise is misplaced and it can be tempting to become prideful when received. We also have to be careful not to give undue praise to others. It is not wrong to acknowledge the good that another person does, but we have to make sure we focus on the right Person who deserves our praise. God is the One who enables us to do things through the gifts and talents He sovereignly gives to each of us. We need to acknowledge God in all our “good works” and avoid the empty praise of man. As the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” acknowledges:

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;

Therefore, praise God, who alone deserves it! In fact, that is the reason we were created — to give glory to God. It is easy to focus on ourselves and to miss the purpose for which God created us. We fulfill our purpose by accepting God’s Son, Jesus, and following Him. If you do not know that you have received the grace of God, that you have confessed your sin to God and have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then do it today. Jesus does not want you to just know about Him, He wants you to know Him, personally and intimately. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!


This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.

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