But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Mark 8:34-35 (Jesus speaking)
34And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
2In those days I Daniel was mourning three full weeks. 3I ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine in my mouth, neither did I anoint myself at all, till three whole weeks were fulfilled.
1Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger and Lucius of Cyrene, brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work for whereunto I have called them. 3And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
2 Timothy 4:7-8 (In Paul’s letter to Timothy)
7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
In this lesson there are several examples of the need for self-discipline on the part of the believer. Still today, individuals are needed who are exercised in prayer, fasting and supplication, the study of God’s Word and other disciplines in order to be equipped for the great task at hand.
God does not force anyone to do these things, but being equipped does require discipline.
Whether a person has a rich heritage in the Lord, is gifted with many talents, or has been given a wide range of opportunities in life, the call to self-discipline is still the same.
Every day we face situations where we decide to follow the teachings of Scripture or not. On several occasions Jesus stated emphatically that self-denial is necessary to be His disciple.
The word “self” is who we are and represents all that we are as a person. For many people, self is Number One, and those people live primarily to please themselves, but self-denial is required to be a disciple of Jesus Christ which means putting Christ first, others second and self, last.
Daniel’s life illustrates how a decision made early in life guided the rest of his life. When the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar first conquered Jerusalem, he took the treasures from God’s temple back to Babylon.
He also took some of the best young people back with him. In the first captivity he took the youngest and brightest of the Judeans. The age of Daniel at this time has been estimated to be between 14 and 18 years.
Nebuchadnezzar planned to lavish on these young men the best food and education in his land. He would then place them in governmental positions so they could serve in his kingdom as rulers.
Daniel, being a devout Jew, did not want to eat that which had been consecrated to false gods and contaminated with blood. The meat and wine were intertwined with idolatry, so he determined to become his best by living God’s way.
Instead of eating the king’s rich food, Daniel decided to limit his diet. The king’s official was afraid of losing his own life if the Hebrews’ health deteriorated because they did not eat what the king had requested.
Daniel suggested that the king’s official let them try for ten days. He knew that God would honor his decision to remain pure and when the days of testing were over, God had proved Himself faithful. Daniel and his friends were in better physical condition in ten days than all of the other young men who had eaten the King’s meat. They were allowed to stay on their diet.
Daniel’s commitment is defined in the phrase, “purposed in his heart.” This indicated that his self-discipline came from within him.
1 Corinthians 9:25-27
25And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
The apostle Paul likened the Christian life to a foot race, such as might have occurred among the Greeks and Romans. In these races only one, the fastest runner, could win. In the Christian race all who run may win by finishing the course. When we realize the importance of self-sacrifice to our spiritual well-being, and the importance of the kingdom of God, we will be willing to make those decisions that will bring spiritual growth to our lives. Just as the athletes run to win the prize, believers need to live in such a way that they will obtain the ultimate prize: eternal life.
Paul reminded his readers that these athletes do this only for a corruptible crown; this crown is temporary and has no bearing on eternal life. Paul also revealed the strenuous self-discipline it took for him to run the Christian race. The spiritual contest we are in is not make-belief. Because the believer’s life has spiritual consequences, he must keep his body under subjection.
Paul did not dare become involved in activities that had no place in his life as a child of God. If he did not discipline himself, he would become a castaway. His “eternal” life was at stake.
A lack of desire for daily devotions may be an indication of a lack of spiritual sensitivity. When believers do not want to spend time with the Lord, there is generally a reason. Paul did not allow anything to keep him from serving God wholeheartedly, and neither should we.
Nehemiah 1:4-6 (Nehemiah’s having heard about the misery of Jerusalem)
4And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, 5And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: 6Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.
Nehemiah was a devout Jew and he had risen in Babylon to the high position of cup bearer to the King. More than 90 years after the captivity had officially ended, Nehemiah received word from one of the brethren in Jerusalem that the city was still in ruins, and the Jews there were living in humiliating conditions. This broke Nehemiah’s heart. He responded to the need presented to him by falling back upon key elements that he had already developed in his life by listening to others, remaining still before the Lord, weeping before the Lord in behalf of others, mourning and bearing the burdens of his fellow citizens, fasting sacrificially and praying unto God.
Nehemiah’s own life in Persia was comfortable and prosperous, but he had the concern and self-discipline to engage in serious prayer on behalf of his fellow Jews in Jerusalem for whom life was anything but comfortable and prosperous.
As a result of his prayers to God, and an appeal to the King, Nehemiah became the governor of Judah and led the Jews in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
Matthew 6:16-18 (Jesus speaking)
16Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
The motive behind any type of self-discipline needs to be pure. Jesus indicated that, in His day, they outwardly showed piety, but it was only to receive the praise of men. This was also true of fasting. Jesus indicated that the fact of our self-discipline was a private matter. In teaching His disciples, He used fasting as an example of self-discipline.
We are not to let anyone know when we are fasting, by our words or our actions. Instead of advertising how spiritual we are, we are to appear as if nothing out of the ordinary is taking place in our lives.
The reward of self-discipline is not what others think about us. Our reward comes because of what God sees in us. In the time of Jesus some of the Jews made a public spectacle of their fasting to impress others with their piety. Since their motive was to gain the praise of people for their religious devotion, Jesus indicated that they would have no reward from God for such fasting. Jesus said fasting should be undertaken as a private, secret act of religious devotion, to be seen of God, not by others.
The person who is fasting should bathe, groom and dress himself as on any other day and appear in public as though he is not fasting. Jesus said this kind of fasting will be honored by God and rewarded openly by Him.
We should never undertake fasting to impress others, and never with the thought in mind that our self-deprivation and hunger can make God do anything. The purpose in fasting is to enable us to devote ourselves to God without distraction, regarding our need of God’s help, that help being more important than food.
The purpose in fasting is not to make God do anything. It is, rather, to help us conform to His will so He can accomplish in and through us what He desires.
It takes strong men and women to live a Christ-centered life; nevertheless, the Bible tells us that we can do it. Nothing less than perfection in Christ should ever satisfy us. Self-discipline is vital, but it is possible only because of God’s amazing grace.
We are saved by grace through faith, but we are responsible for our Christian growth and stability. Christians are doers of the Word. We are responsible for our thoughts, our time, and our actions.
Practical Christianity requires discipline. Christ calls laborers into His harvest, not spectators.