We love to be unique. We express our individuality in what we wear and how we look. We pride ourselves on knowing that obscure band from Brooklyn. We’re excited to tell others about the hole-in-the-wall restaurant we discovered last weekend.
As Christians, we’re called to be unique—but not like that.
It’s something different to be unique in a way that leads to being laughed at, to eating lunch alone, or to being thrown into a fiery furnace. That’s what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
At the end of the seventh century B.C., Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon conquered Jerusalem. He took the three young men to Babylon as exiles and commanded them to fall before his idol statue (Dan. 3:6).
It may not seem like it at first, but as Christians we are in a similar situation today. We too are exiles, living in a land not our own. As much as I love New York City, where I live, my true home is the heavenly city God has prepared for us (Heb. 11:16). And while we may not be commanded to fall before a statue or be threatened with death, we’re confronted with all sorts of idols. What is an idol? Tim Keller defines it this way:
It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything that you seek to give you what only God can give. . . . An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”
By that definition, we daily encounter idols that demand we fall before them.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were unique in a highly visible way. When everyone else fell before the statue, they stood. And people noticed. Some told the king that they defied his command, and it made him furious. He commanded they be brought before him and said, “If you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Dan. 3:15).
But as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood before the statue, so they stood up to the king:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Dan. 3:16–18)
That’s the kind of unique we’re called to be. It’s less like the friend whose Instagram page highlights travel to unknown places and one-of-a-kind experiences, and more like the immigrant family whose food or traditions make them feel like outsiders. As exiles, we’re called to recognize the idols of our culture and refuse to bow down to them—even when it leads to rejection, even if it leads to death.
Unique in Every Way
We’re called to be unique in the way we work. The drive for success in our culture is strong; recognition and power can easily become idols. Often that leads to always working and never resting. As exiles, we’re called to work hard, but for God’s glory, not our own. And we’re called to pause every Sunday to rest and worship, even if that means we’re greeted by a full inbox Monday morning or we’re passed over for that promotion.
We’re called to be unique in the way we spend our time. Without even realizing it, we can spend hours a week scrolling through posts or crafting our online persona. Our phones can become an idol, too, and the root is usually a desire to be accepted by others.
Faithful exiles use technology to enrich our lives instead of allowing it to rule over us. There are times when we need to put it all away to meditate on God or spend time with others, even if that means we miss out on something else.
One of the most noticeable ways we’re called to be unique is in our romantic relationships. Where hookups and cohabitation are the norm, we’re to strive for commitment and strange virtues like chastity. In New York City, the pressure is compounded by high rent. Yet even though living together can save thousands of dollars, there are couples at my church who’ve forsaken the idols of sex and comfort and moved into separate apartments, despite the emotional and financial cost.
Unique Even to Death
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give us an inspiring example of our calling to be unique. Even under the threat of death, they remained faithful. But so often we bow to idols under far less pressure than they experienced. We fail to be unique.
And it’s not just the big moments.
In all the little decisions of our day, we can choose God-substitutes over God himself. And for that, we do deserve fiery torment. Instead of needing salvation from the wrath of idols, we need rescue from the wrath of God.
There’s only one way to be saved from that fire. It’s by faith in the one who stood where we fall and died that we might live.
In the end, God delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fire, and the king actually promoted them. In a similar way, if we trust in God, he will save us from the fire we deserve, grow our faith so we can fulfill our calling to be unique, and one day exalt us with Christ in that heavenly city that is our true home.