At the end of Joshua’s life, Joshua charged his people to make an intentional choice to follow the Lord as God. God had been faithful in His choice of them; they needed to respond with their own choice of Him. We too, need to make the intentional choice to follow our Jesus by His grace.

Covenant Committal

Posted: October 22, 2020 in Joshua

Joshua 24, “Covenant Committal”

Some choices are easy; others take a bit more thought and commitment. Easy is the choice between milk and dark chocolate (dark!) or what clothes to wear from day to day. More weighty decisions include your choice of school or career, your choice of political candidates, etc. One of the most significant choices in a person’s life occurs with marriage (should he/she get married) – not from the perspective of difficulty (hopefully by that point, the choice is easy!), but from the perspective of commitment. When you decide to marry, you decide to commit yourself to a single person for the rest of your life…till death do you part.

Perhaps the only commitment more weighty than marriage is the one we make to the Lord God. Or, at least, it should be. Sadly, just like many people treat marriage as disposable, so do they do the same with the Lord. They might profess faith for a moment, usually having what could be labeled “crisis faith.” They have enough faith to rely on God during times of intense crisis, but not enough to continue on with the Lord when the crisis is resolved. God is treated as a “sometimes” commitment, rather than something full and lasting.

We need far more than temporary disposable crisis faith; we need full-on, total, unwavering, intentional faith. We need a commitment to God that is appropriate to His commitment to us in Jesus. Obviously, we will never match the commitment God makes to us in Christ (we are finite, fallible people, after all), but we do need an intentional purposeful commitment to the Lord God in faith. It is our only reasonable response to what He has done for us.

This was the kind of commitment that Joshua called the people of Israel to make to the Lord. As the book bearing his name comes to a close, we find Joshua charging the nation once more to affirm their kingdom-covenant with the Lord God. And on one hand, we might ask why. Why did the covenant need to be renewed at all? After all, this wasn’t the first time that Israel was called upon to do it. They had sworn at the base of Mt. Sinai that they would keep the covenant (Exo 24). After the laws and statutes were written in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and (again) in Deuteronomy, the nation was again charged to keep the covenant while they were temporarily settled in the plains of Moab (Dt 29). Once the nation crossed over in conquest, they affirmed the covenant yet again after their eventual victory over Ai as they stood on the mountains of Ebal and Gerizim reciting the blessings and curses (Josh 8). Then finally, here. Why make yet another commitment? Why go through it all over again?

Because people are fickle! Because Israel (like we ourselves) are, by nature, unfaithful. A commitment one day often means nothing the next. And as bad as our faithfulness is with the people whom we can see, it is often worse with the God whom we cannot see. And Israel had a track record with unfaithfulness, being in great danger of doing it all over again. By the time of Chapter 24, years had passed and new routines had begun. It was far too easy for them to forget their earlier commitments and to take God for granted. Thus, they needed to be intentional in their commitment to the Lord God and do it all over again.

Our need is no different. Although we have a different covenant relationship with God than Israel, our propensity to sin and be unfaithful is not. We are just as weak and just as wavering. Without ongoing, intentional commitment to choose to follow Jesus, we simply won’t. Every day we wake is another day for us to affirm our love of God and our desire to worship Him fully, to recommit ourselves to Jesus making the active choice to follow Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We see it in the covenant committal ceremony of Israel as Joshua takes the nation through the traditions of an Ancient Near East suzerain treaty between a king and his people. Overall, Joshua will (1) declare what God had done, and then (2) charge Israel as to what they should do. They were given the choice and opportunity to serve the Lord in faithfulness. They needed to make that choice in response to the wonderful work of God.

Joshua 24

  • Covenant affirmation: Prologue (1).

1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.

  1. There is much context that led to this point, much of which Joshua will himself recite in his address to the nation. Suffice to say for now, Israel had received their inheritances within the Promised Land and they settled into their new homes. Over time, Joshua called the people together again as a national assembly, seen in both Chapters 23 and 24. Scholars disagree as to whether this was one assembly or two, and the Biblical text could be argued either way. There is, however, a distinction between what Joshua said in each chapter (arguing for 2 assemblies!). In Chapter 23, Joshua reminded the people of God’s constant faithfulness to His promise, applying it to both blessing and judgment. What God says, He does…period. That theme is a perfect setup for his address in Chapter 24, with Joshua picking up where he left off. If God is that committed to His word (especially His word regarding Israel), then Israel needed to be committed to Him! This was the charge that Joshua was about to lay out for the nation.
  2. Interestingly, this particular meeting took place at “Shechem,” whereas the location for the Ch 23 address is unsaid. Shechem had a long history among the patriarchs, with Abram passing through it on his first view of the land (Gen 12:6), with Jacob settling in Shechem upon his return from Padan Aram (Gen 33:18), and with Shechem also being the location from where Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (Gen 37:14). More immediately for the people of Joshua’s day, Shechem was also the place where the nation earlier affirmed their covenant years earlier (Josh 8). The city is built in the valley between the mountains Ebal and Gerizim. Basically, Joshua gathered the nation to the place they earlier affirmed the covenant in order to reaffirm the covenant. It was a bit of a physical reminder of what they had already promised to God.
  3. FYI: That Israel “presented themselves before God” at Shechem is most likely a reference to the presence of the tabernacle and ark of the covenant. Typically, the tabernacle remained at Shiloh (which lasted until David finally conquered Jerusalem), but it could be moved when necessary. Apparently, that was the case here…and rightly so. Although God is not limited to a physical location, the presence of these physical items among Israel would remind the nation of the supreme importance of their commitment. For them, it was as if God was personally in their midst, and they were reaffirming their loyalty to God Himself.
    1. Today, we neither need to be in a special place, nor do we need special things around us. The sanctuary of this church building is no different than the living room of your home or the prayer closet in your bedroom. Today, we as the church are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and God is with us wherever we are. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, it is neither on this mountain or that mountain that we worship God; we worship God in spirit and truth – we worship Him anywhere and everywhere when we worship Him through Jesus Christ!
  • God’s blessings on the nation (2-13). What God had done.

2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.

  1. Notice first of all that Joshua spoke here as a prophet. These were not his words; these were the words of “the LORD God of Israel.” God Himself was speaking to His people, and they needed to listen appropriately.
  2. What was the first thing God said? Remember Abraham. Although Abraham is remembered as the father of faith, he did not start off in faith. On the contrary, for much of his life, Abram was a pagan. He (along with his father Terah and other kinfolk) worshipped and “served other gods,” the gods on the far side of “the River” Euphrates. What gods were these, precisely? The Bible doesn’t say, but many suggest that Terah and Abram worshipped the moon god along with many others in ancient Chaldea (later Babylon, modern Iraq). In fact, Terah’s name is potentially related to a word for “moon,” and the moon god was supposedly the most powerful among the Chaldean pantheon. Again, this is not absolutely certain, but it is a logical probability. The underlying point is the important thing: Abram/Abraham wasn’t always a believer. He started out just as lost as any of us.
    1. No one starts out this life saved. Even those raised in Christian homes have to themselves come to faith in Christ individually. No one goes to heaven through the faith of his/her parents or grandparents. At one point, we’re all pagans. For many of us, that lasted well into our teen or adult years. As a dear friend of mine used to say (usually when explaining how he could pick locks so well), “I wasn’t always a Christian.”
    2. That is how we start, but it need not be how we end! We begin our lives as sinful creatures, people who choose to serve ourselves rather than our creator God – we begin our lives as idol-worshippers, even if the idol we worship looks at us in the mirror. But then we meet Jesus! We have our eyes opened to the truth of the gospel, that we are sinners in desperate need of forgiveness and salvation from God and that God makes that forgiveness available through Jesus alone. Once we come to faith in Christ, everything changes! No longer are we the pagans of the past; now we are forgiven, justified, sanctified, indwelled by the Spirit, and made the children of God!

3 Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. 4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt.

  1. How did God intervene in Abraham’s life? First, Abraham was chosen and taken by God. Abram wasn’t doing anything at the time to warrant God’s attention and favor. Nothing in the Scripture indicates that Abram was anything but a typical pagan of the time. God took the first step and did something. God chose Abram and called him to be a pilgrim, and Abram obeyed. He followed the leading of God, going to a land that God personally showed to him. In this, Abram showed his faith as the right response to the blessing of God.
  2. Second, Abraham was multiplied by God. When Abram and Sarai first came to the land at God’s call, they were childless. They remained childless for years, and even after Sarai attempted to manipulate things on her own, she personally remained barren. God even changed her and Abram’s name to reflect His promise before that promise was ever fulfilled. But it was fulfilled, and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in her old age. This too, was God’s miraculous intervention.
  3. Third, Abraham’s family grew into a nation (actually, into several nations). Although there were other children fathered by Abraham who were themselves blessed, the one son born through Sarah himself fathered only two other sons, but those other sons were multiplied indeed…the fruits of which are still visible to this day. If this isn’t the miraculous intervention of God, nothing is!

5 Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. 6 ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 So they cried out to the LORD; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time.

  1. Notice the repeated use of the 1st This is seen from verse 3 onwards, more than 15 times in verses 3-13 (18x, by some counts). The point? GOD acted. The events in Israel’s history were not happenstance or chance; they were the purposeful interventions of Almighty God. God looked upon this people, of all the peoples on the earth, and decided to bless them. This was His sovereign and supreme grace, and they were His beneficiaries.
    1. How much more can we say this of us? God looked upon people like you and me and chose to save us. Jesus knew what kind of defiled filthy sinner I would be and still chose to die on the cross for my sins, extending to me His grace and forgiveness. This is nothing less than sovereign and supreme grace! God personally intervened on my behalf, just like He did for you. What an act of love and grace! 
  2. Specifically to the text, God redeemed His people. They had been slaves in Egypt (just as God knew they would be), yet they would not remain slaves in Egypt. God redeemed them by plaguing Egypt and bringing His people through the Red Sea. The many plagues in the land were just the buildup to Passover, and then the Red Sea was Passover’s confirmation. God’s people were truly freed by God, and God alone was to receive the glory.
  3. In the process of God judging Egypt, God’s people were witnesses. For Joshua (by the word of the Lord) to say “your eyes saw what I did in Egypt” was not to say that the men standing before Joshua that day in Shechem personally saw the Red Sea with their own eyes. Some of them had, surely. They would have been children at the time, but that was an event that would have been burned into their memories. Yet others were born in the wilderness or even after the conquest and now grown into adulthood. They did not need to be personally present to be witnesses of how God redeemed Israel from Egypt; God was speaking to the collective nation, and they had seen these things as a people.
    1. Even today, many in Israel speak of their history in the first-person. “We suffered in the holocaust… We had our temple destroyed…” They understand that they are part of a larger narrative, a larger identity. We could benefit from some of this same line of thinking within the church. We, as individual Christians, are not the first Christians to walk the earth. We follow a lineage stretching back 2000 of those who have full faith and trust in Christ. Overall, much of the institutional church has wandered from the faith, but there has been a multitude of remnant believers through the centuries. We are all part of the one body of Christ!
  4. Don’t miss the tiny mention of the wilderness years. 40 years of wandering is described in only 4 words in Hebrew. It was a throwaway mention, barely worth any attention. Why? Not only were they wasted years in the history of the Hebrews (spent because of their willful rebellion against God and lack of faith in His promises), but also because God did so much more on their behalf. Why speak of the years of punishment when God could remind His people of the years of blessing? The punishment was gone as water under the bridge, swept away by the mercies of God. The blessing is what the people now experienced, all as a gift of God’s grace.
    1. Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t rub our noses in our failures? As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us in Christ!

8 And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you.

  1. God continued to protect His people in the Transjordan. The first battles fought by Israel were not fought in the Promised Land, but on the far side of the river in the plains of Moab, in the land of the Amorites. There, God showed Israel His continuing power – that just as He fought Pharaoh and Egypt on their behalf, so would He fight all their enemies according to His promise.

9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand.

  1. God chose to bless His people. Although a pagan prophet arose to curse Israel, God refused to listen to him. God chose His people over the pagans, no matter what the pagans did. 

11 Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you—also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. 12 I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow.

  1. Once in the land, God gave victory over every army. Did the people of Israel fight? Yes, but the victory did not come from them; it came from God. God fought for Israel, exactly according to His promise and no army could stand against Israel as long as Israel obeyed the Lord and walked with Him.
  2. Interestingly, there is no mention of the defeat at Ai. Just like God glossed over the wilderness wanderings, so did He gloss over their biggest failure thus far in the land. God continued to show His people mercy and speak of them mercifully!

13 I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’

  1. God didn’t only give the nation military victory; He gave them a home.
  2. This was the fulfillment of God’s initial promise to Abraham.

God had done much! He started with a single man, turned him into a nation, preserved this nation through the centuries, then brought that nation into a permanent home. Israel had done nothing to deserve these blessings. On the contrary, they had done much to be cursed and destroyed by God! Yet, there they stood in their land listening to the marvelous works of God. It would not have been surprising for some who listened to Joshua to fall to their knees at this point and give thanks to God!

Nor for us. Consider what God has done for you. Who were you before Jesus intervened? What had you done – of what were you guilty? How many ways had you sinned against the God who created you and allowed your heart to beat? And then, Jesus intervened! He called you and saved you and made you a child of God. And then what? You (like me) had ups and downs. Sometimes you walked with God; other times you didn’t. So many times we deserved God’s punishment and judgment. We deserved destruction. Yet what did we receive? Continued forgiveness, cleansing, and blessing! As we confess our sins to God through Jesus, He continues to cleanse us and fill us with the Holy Spirit. He continues to call us His own. His blessings are never ending!

  • National charge to serve God (14-27). What God’s people should do.

14 “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!

  1. Charge #1: Fear God. We have a problem with the word “fear,” but it is entirely appropriate. There are different ways to fear. There is the unreasonable fear (such as a fear of clowns) – there is the unnecessary fear (such as the fear of falling) – but there is also a reasonable and healthy fear, such as the kind of fear that stops us from tip-toeing along cliffs or playing with rattlesnakes. A healthy fear keeps us very aware of our limitations and our weaknesses, helping keep us alive. We need to “fear the LORD” in a healthy way! To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10), as it keeps us aware of our own sinful weaknesses and keeps us dependent on the Lord, His mercies and His grace. A proper fear of the Lord will guard us from sin. As one commentary notes: “It was Joshua who said, “Fear the LORD.” Some prefer to translate, “Revere the LORD,” feeling that fear ought not be part of a believer’s relationship to God. Fear, however, may either be destructive or saving. If we fear God, we will not need to fear his judgment,” (Madvig, EBC).
    1. Do you fear the Lord? If so, what kind of fear do you have – reasonable or unreasonable? If not, why? A lack of fear for God is foolish and leads to destruction!
  2. Charge #2: Serve God. There were other gods which other peoples served; Israel was to serve the one God, the true God. Israel was to serve the God of heaven and earth, the only God who can save. How were they to serve Him? “In sincerity and in truth.” Their reverent and consistent service of God was not to be reduced to mere ritual. It wasn’t to be lip-service or just showing up on certain days. They were to serve God just as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well how to worship God: in spirit and in truth, in sincerity.
    1. Insincere service is useless. Sure, work might get done but the results of that work won’t last. The fruit of insincere service is nothing but wood, hay, and straw that will be burned away at the judgment seat of Christ. What we need is sincere service, done out of love for our Lord Jesus!
  3. Step #1 in serving God in sincerity and fear: getting rid of idols. It seems almost incredible that in this short time that they had spent in the Promised Land, Israel already had idols among them. Yet that was the case. It never takes long for unfaithful hearts to wander and for hearts that do not fear the Lord to start giving worship to other things.
    1. It happened with Israel, and it can happen with us. We start off one day well, believing ourselves to be fully committed to the Lord. As the week goes on, our commitment wanes. Prayer becomes short, Bible study perfunctory. Soon, we start giving our love and attention to things other than Jesus. We leave Him who is good to worship lesser idols (be it sports, entertainment, our own egos, etc.). Beware! May God open our eyes to the idols in our own lives and help us put those things away.

15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

  1. Here it is: the moment upon which everything turns for Israel. The time had come to make a choice. They had been reminded of what God had done for them and they had been challenged on what their response ought to be do God. Now it was time to choose. Joshua could talk to them until he was blue in the face but he couldn’t make them act. He couldn’t move their internal needle. They had to do this for themselves. They had to make the choice whether they would fear God, serving Him sincerely; or if they would leave Him behind.
  2. Keep in mind that “no choice” is a choice. Israel could not opt out of the question. Why? Because everyone serves something. There is no person on earth that does not worship something. Not even the staunchest atheist is without worship; it is simply a different object of worship. Some choose to worship themselves – others choose to worship Darwinian evolution – others politics, or money, or sex, or other more obvious false gods. Who/what a person worships varies wildly; that a person worships does not. Israel was given the choice of what to worship, and their choice was somewhat limited due to their worldview: it would either be the gods of their ancestors or the gods of their neighbors (being that those were the only gods they knew) – or it would be the one true God. They could not choose both. In other religions, they could worship as many gods as they liked; but the worship of the Living God is exclusive. If it seemed wrong or evil in their eyes to worship God alone, then they were free to make their choice. They would also be free to receive the consequences of their choice and be removed from God’s blessing. But they did have a choice…they just needed to make it. 
  3. Joshua made his choice: he chose YHWH. He and the household he led would serve the LORD. Not even Joshua was exempt from the need to choose whom to serve…but for Joshua, the choice was easy. YHWH God is the real God – He is the God that had blessed Israel in myriad ways – He was the God with whom Joshua spoke, and the one whose glory he viewed from afar on Mt Sinai – He was the God who personally led His people through the wilderness and fought on their behalf, etc. For Joshua, the choice was easy because it was obvious. Joshua had personal experience with YHWH God, so he would serve YHWH God.
    1. We need to make a choice! We are faced with the same decision as Joshua and Israel, and we have even more information than Joshua and Israel. We’ve seen the hand of God not only among Israel, but also through Jesus, the early church, and the millennia that followed. And if you’ve truly put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord then you too have personal experience with the Living God. Our choice to serve and worship and fear Him on a daily basis ought to be easy!
    2. But it still needs to be made. Why? Like Israel, our hearts wander…

16 So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. 18 And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.”

  1. Response #1. Israel started out with good intentions. “Far be it from us” that they would abandon the Lord at this time. The people recognized God’s hand and blessing. They acknowledged God’s preserving work among them. They, like Joshua, understood the things God had done and (at this point) they didn’t take it for granted. They knew how God worked in their history as well as their present, and they wanted this relationship with God to continue. Like Joshua, they claimed the Lord as their own: “He is our
  2. That’s a good and necessary starting place! There was no doubt that Israel would fail. But why start off with the intention of failing? Israel (at this time) wanted to follow the Lord and that was a good thing. They would need to constantly rely upon the Lord’s word and grace to do it (from which they would wander), but at least they desired the right decision.

19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.”

  1. Joshua challenges the people. He knew God’s holiness and understood Israel’s unfaithfulness. It wasn’t that he was trying to talk down to the people; Joshua simply understood the reality. Had Israel served God faithfully in the past? They (like the rest of us) had good seasons, but they (like us) struggled with consistency. Israel wasn’t perfect, but the God they wanted to serve is. He is holy, when we are not. He is faithful, when we are not. Joshua knew this about Israel. It wasn’t that Israel was any more unholy than anyone else; it’s that everyone is unholy and none are good (no, not one). But that was the reason for Joshua’s challenge. Yes, Israel was charged to serve the Lord, and no, Israel did not have the capacity to serve the Lord. For them to serve God, they would have to be 100% dependent on God’s grace (something they did not yet understand).
    1. Can we serve Jesus? Not in ourselves, no. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God? Yes! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, but it is 100% Him and 0% us. The only way we can consistently serve God is when we constantly depend on Jesus and His grace.
  2. Is God unforgiving? Reading Joshua’s words in verse 20, we might get that idea. God is incredibly forgiving and merciful. This is seen in both the Old and New Testaments. Just the fact that Joshua could address Israel at all was a testimony to God’s mercy and forgiveness. They could have been destroyed by God at Mt. Sinai after making the golden calf or in the wilderness outside of Kadesh Barnea after refusing to enter the Promised Land. God had already forgiven Israel much! The overall context for Joshua is different. He isn’t referring to the occasional and inevitable sins of the people; he speaks specifically of forsaking the Lord to serve foreign gods. What God does not tolerate is apostasy. Those who have tasted God’s goodness yet turn away from Him in final rejection will find no forgiveness. They have removed themselves from any opportunity for forgiveness, for they will have rejected Jesus trampling His sacrifice underfoot. 

21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD!” 22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!”

  1. The people responded to Joshua’s challenge, even promising their commitment through sworn testimony. Were they overconfident? Perhaps…but again, at least they were committed to get started. In that alone, they were ahead of many people today!
    1. The only way to start a relationship with Jesus is to start. At some point, you have to say “yes.” It’s a choice you need to make, and you’re the only one who can make it. Will you need God’s help? Most assuredly! You can’t even say “yes” to Jesus without His help, much less walk with Jesus without Him. You’ll need Him every step of the way.

23 “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!”

  1. Joshua finally confirms the people’s commitment to the Lord, with them giving one additional affirmation. This is the third official promise they gave to serve the Lord in covenant relationship.
  2. But note that the confirmation requires more than words alone; the people needed to act. (1) Put away the idols, (2) incline their heart to the Lord. To put it in a word: repentance. Repentance is a turning away and a turning to. For Israel, they were to turn away from idols and turn to the Lord.
    1. How is it that anyone can serve the Lord today? It is only through repentance and faith! This is why we preach repentance so often. We cannot truly fear and serve God without it. We do not have a sincere belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior until we have turned away from the things of the world (forsaking them in repentance) and turned to follow Him alone.

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. 26 Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.”

  1. Joshua wrote it all down, either including it as an appendix to the original books written by Moses or through a separate book entitled “The Book of the Law of God,” which we do not have today. Either way, the law had not changed from Moses to Joshua, so what was written by Joshua was a continuation of the earlier covenant.
  2. There, Joshua set up a stone as a monument as a visible witness of their promise. Again, considering that decades earlier, Israel had affirmed the blessings and curses of the covenant from the sides of Mt Ebal and Mt Gerizim, this would have been the second memorial stone in the same general area. The first had a copy of the law (perhaps only the 10 Commandments – perhaps all the book of Deuteronomy ~ Josh 8:32); the second is not mentioned as having any writing at all. Instead, it was an unusually large stone sitting under a rather famous oak (or terebinth) tree in Shechem. Generations in the future would wonder what the large stone was for, being obviously placed there in a conspicuous place. It was to call attention to the sworn testimony of Israel to follow the Lord God in faith.
  3. Don’t miss the last line from verse 27, Joshua’s warning: “lest you deny your God.” Sadly, they would indeed deny God…soon, and often. Yet the memorial stone was a blessing even in this. How so? Whenever the people failed, they could come back to this memorial stone and remember their earlier commitment. It would serve as a reminder to them to repent and to return to their first love.
    1. Again, we will fail in our walks with Jesus, no doubt. But we need not remain in failure. We can always humble ourselves in repentance, confess to Him our sins, and be as cleansed and restored as the day we first met Him!

28 So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance.

What kind of response should God’s people have to God’s blessing and actions toward them through history? They ought to choose to fear and serve Him. They needed to intentionally choose to worship God alone.

We need to make that same intentional choice. No one follows Jesus sincerely without intentionality. Sure, we might fall into ruts and rituals. We might even “gut” ourselves through acts of service. But until we intentionally and consistently make the choice to walk with Jesus no matter what, then there will always be something lurking to the side taking our attention from Him. There will always be a distraction. There will always be a devil looking to steal, kill, and to destroy, seeking whom he may devour. This is why we always need a renewed intentional commitment to our Jesus, reaffirming our daily dependence upon Him.

  • Generational transition (29-33)

29 Now it came to pass after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him within the border of his inheritance at Timnath Serah, which is in the mountains of Ephraim, on the north side of Mount Gaash.

  1. 110 years of age was a good old age! Many years (though not as many as some), but blessed and full of obedience to the Lord. Better to have 110 well-lived years than 147 wicked ones as Jacob considered them to be (Gen 47:9, 28).
  2. Joshua was given the same title and description as Moses: “the servant of the LORD.” He could have been known as the great general of the army, or the warrior on Israel’s behalf, or even the prophet of God to the people. Joshua received a much higher title when he was called a simple servant of YHWH.

31 Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel.

  1. The initial days post-Joshua were good. Israel began in faithfulness. They wouldn’t end that way! There is perhaps a bit of foreshadowing of the book of Judges, considering how quickly Israel fell away. But at least they had a good start.

32 The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph.

  1. This was Joseph’s own request from Genesis 50:20. At the time, the children of Israel promised to bury his bones not in Egypt, in his homeland alongside his ancestors. Finally, this promise was fulfilled. (Whether Israel waited to do this until after the death of Joshua is unknown. This particular record isn’t necessarily chronological; it’s simply an appendix to the overall account.)

33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died. They buried him in a hill belonging to Phinehas his son, which was given to him in the mountains of Ephraim.

  1. One final note regarding Eleazar the high priest. Just as Joshua, the successor to Moses, died – so did Eleazar, the successor to Aaron, died. Apart from the future mention of Caleb in the book of Judges, this is symbolic of the last of the initial generation of the Exodus. 

Time was passing for Israel. Sadly, what lay ahead of them wasn’t good!

Conclusion:

At the end of Joshua’s life, he called his nation to renew their commitment to the God who had led them thus far. God had honored His commitment to them, and that required a response from the people. God’s people are to be faithful to our faithful God.

Our charge is no different than that of Israel: Choose whom you will serve!

Will we need help? Without doubt. Like Israel, we will surely fail in our commitment to God. This is why we are so dependent on Jesus! It is only because Jesus is perfectly faithful to His covenant that we remain the people of God. It is only because Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit that we are equipped and empowered to walk as the people of God. It is only because of Jesus…period.

The subject of church discipline is difficult but necessary. The church must act regarding sin, for both the restoration of the sinner and the sake of the gospel.

Tough Love

Posted: October 18, 2020 in 1 Corinthians

1 Corinthians 5:1-5, “Tough Love”

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Most of us have heard that from our parents at some point, and in the words of Garth Brooks, “somehow I couldn’t help but have my doubt.” I hated receiving discipline as a child, something that did not change when I became a parent. It does hurt to exercise discipline on our kids. Be it spanking or grounding, no loving parent enjoys administering punishment. But when punishment is required, it is the most loving thing to do.

This isn’t any less true when it comes to a local church congregation. As pastors and elders, we always want to love the people of our churches…but sometimes that love has to be tough love. Sometimes discipline needs to be exercised on sinning individuals – not to embarrass them or harass them, but to love them enough to bring them back into the will of God.

Over the years, I have both been on the giving and receiving end of church discipline. Although it has never been easy, I can affirm (when done rightly) it has been good. Why? Because when church discipline is done according to the word of God, it affirms the love of God as our Heavenly Father.

This kind of discipline was sadly required for the Corinthians. The church at Corinth was not doing well. Though they were planted by the apostle Paul and later taught by the apologist and evangelist Apollos, they soon sunk into prideful sectarianism, setting up divisions among themselves. This kind of carnal, fleshly behavior was rampant among the church, which was why Paul reminded them of both (1) the fact that all Christians serve the same Master, and (2) all Christians will one day face the same Judge. That second point is especially important. Christians will be judged by our Lord Jesus for the things we have done in this life – not for salvation, but for reward.

This judgment was in mind for Paul during Chapter 4 as he considered the wrong judgment that the Corinthian Christians were imposing on him. Things in the church had flipped. The immature Christians in the church were judging their elder father-figure who had labored over their planting. They had become arrogant, living according to the standard of this world, while the apostles and others served Christ in humility. Paul’s appeal to this errant church was for them to imitate his own discipleship as he followed Jesus. Whether they did or did not would make the difference how Paul returned to them: in gentleness or judgment.

In fact, there was no escaping at least some amount of judgment or discipline, as the Corinthians refused to exercise discipline among themselves. As Chapter 5 shows, this congregation had allowed rampant sin to exist within their ranks, refusing to recognize it for what it was and to deal with it properly. When sin arises within a church (and it inevitably will), there is a need to act, and there is a proper way to act, all to the glory of God and the benefit of everyone involved.

Admittedly, the issue of church discipline is not an easy subject, nor is it a topic that those who are outside the church want to hear. After all, who enjoys unexpectedly walking into a tense family meeting? It is uncomfortable for everyone involved…especially the stranger. If that is you, let me encourage you from the outset to continue to listen, rather than tuning out. You might be on the outside now, but you need to hear how our loving Heavenly Father reaches out to His children in holy discipline. That is an evidence of His love, without which you have no guarantee of being His child. If that is the case, perhaps this can serve as a wake-up call for you – one in which you become part of God’s family through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

If you are part of the family of God (being a born-again Christian), the subject might be uncomfortable, but it is important. Just as our Heavenly Father is pure and holy, and just as our Savior Jesus is pure and holy, so are His people called to be pure and holy (something that is emphasized in the second half of the chapter). But we are not left to guess in our ignorance what to do when we stray from God’s holiness. He loves us enough to tell us – to instruct us through His word as to what to do when sinful problems arise. He tells us to act. First, we are told of the need to act; second, we are told of the way to act. 

Sin is inevitable in the life of the church because as born-again Christians, we are still human. We cannot afford to ignore sin; we must act rightly, according to Jesus as our Judge and King.

1 Corinthians 5:1–5

  • The need to act (1-2).

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!

  1. For everything that Paul already knew was wrong in the church (i.e. the massive amount of division), there was yet something worse: extreme sexual sin. Sadly, church scandals are nothing new. Just like news about fallen pastors and TV evangelists spreads today, news about the sexual scandal in the Corinthian church spread during the days of Paul. How bad was it? It was something that not even the pagans around them would do: incest. Keep in mind that the name of Corinth had been somewhat turned into an insulting verb or adjective of the day. To be called a “Corinthian” was to be called a prostitute or a sexual pervert. The city itself had the infamous temple of Aphrodite, boasting over 1000 cultic prostitutes. Sex permeated the culture of Corinth (not unlike ours today!), making it a radical change for anyone to come out of that culture and follow a life of holiness and purity with a life dedicated to God. For a man to be devoted to his one single wife without visiting temple prostitutes was itself radical, and that was supposed to be the testimony of the Corinthian Christians as they gave glory to God. They could tell their bewildered neighbors of the change that Jesus had brought into their lives, using even the Biblical covenant of marriage as a witness to Christ.
  2. Yet that couldn’t happen among the Corinthian church. Although the Corinthian culture was bad, the Corinthian church was even worse. The church allowed something that not even their pagan neighbors allowed: an incestuous relationship between a man and his stepmother: “a man has his father’s wife.” Some have wondered if this was an actual marriage, and there is no indication that it is, as there was specific terminology Paul could have used to describe marriage. Nor did Paul describe a man committing incest with his physical mother, but rather “his father’s wife,” meaning a stepmother. But make no mistake that this is anything other than sinful incest. The Bible specifically forbids this sort of behavior (Lev 18:8, Dt 22:30, 27:20), lumping it with a whole group of other incestuous examples. Even when there is no blood-relation between the man and woman, the fact that the woman was once joined to the man’s father in matrimony means that she was made “one flesh” with the man’s father, as that is the original outcome and intent of marriage (Gen 2:24). If she was joined to the man’s father, she could not bed the son without a violation of God’s order.
    1. The immorality of this shouldn’t even require an explanation. It was obvious to the Corinthian Gentiles; it should have been obvious to the Corinthian church. When the unbelievers of a culture hold themselves to a higher moral standard than Christians, there is a fundamental problem!
    2. Sadly, this problem exists far too often! Corporate CEO’s provide a better accounting of their expenses than some church pastors. Businesses and politicians often are careful to avoid the appearance of conflicts-of-interest, whereas some ministry leaders don’t think twice about promoting their own pocketbooks. As Christians, we are representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our behavior and ethics ought to mirror His own. We should have a higher standard than that of the world; not the other way around!
  3. The word Paul uses to describe this sin is interesting: “sexual immorality” = porneia (πορνεία), where we get our word “pornography.” Porneia is a general term, sometimes translated “fornication,” which refers to all kinds of sexual sin. It can take place with our bodies or it can take place only in our minds. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out the danger that a lustful eye can cause someone to commit adultery in his/her heart (Mt 5:28). We do ourselves a disservice when we imagine that sexual immorality is limited only to acts like adultery or incest; it includes a whole host of things that most people have probably done at some point in time.
    1. The good news is that Jesus forgives sins…even sins like sexual immorality! There is no sin too heinous for the cross of Christ to cover. When we repent of our sins, confessing them to Jesus through faith in His name, we are promised His cleansing and forgiveness!

2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

  1. For as bad as the sin was among them, the church was actually proud of it! Paul wrote that they were “puffed up,” using the same word for arrogance that he used in Chapter 4, describing how they inflated their egos when comparing themselves with Paul. This time, they were puffing themselves up over the fact that they were so “tolerant” that they would allow this sin in their midst. It was as if they used the grace of Jesus for an occasion to sin – as if they were saying, “Look how much we believe in the forgiveness we have from Jesus: we can even forgive this actively incestuous man among us.” Could this man be forgiven by Jesus? Of course, just as any sinner can be forgiven by Jesus. Was this man forgiven by Jesus? Not while he was actively sinning! The grace of Jesus is not something that can be trampled underfoot – it is not something that can be abused, giving us license to sin as much as we’d like. Paul addressed this issue with the Romans: Romans 6:1–4, “(1) What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (2) Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (3) Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? (4) Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Praise God that when we put our faith and trust in Jesus, surrendering our lives to Him, that He forgives us fully and freely! Does that then give us license to continue sinning? As if the more we sin, the more we are forgiven, and then we see the abundance of grace? As Paul says: certainly not! May it never be! If we truly have our faith in Christ, then we have been identified with Christ, something symbolized through baptism. That means we’ve been identified both with Jesus’ death as well as His resurrection. We’ve died with Jesus to sin, just like Jesus died for our sin as our punishment; we’ve been raised with Jesus to new life, just like Jesus physically rose from the dead on the third day. Thus, we dare not live like we did before; we live in newness of life! If we continue living in the things of death, it is as if we’ve never been identified with Jesus at all.
    1. In fact, that was exactly what this incestuous man was doing. Although he seemingly professed faith (in that he was named among the Corinthian church, unlike his stepmother), he was acting as if he had no faith at all. He could say all day long that he believed in Jesus, but as long as he went home to bed his stepmother, his actions testified far more to paganism than to Christianity. His actions spoke louder than his words.
    2. The same thing can happen with us. Our particular sin might be different. Perhaps it is a sexual immorality of another sort (even though it is still porneia) – perhaps it is a different category altogether such as greed or rage or deception or arrogance. Whatever the case, we can profess all Sunday long how much we love Jesus, but if our lives never demonstrate that love, then we have a sobering disconnect. On the night Jesus was betrayed, He told His disciples: John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” That the person who loves Jesus will be loved by His Father is a wonderful comfort and truth! But it is the first part of that verse that might give us pause. Do we love Jesus enough to keep His commandments? Do our actions testify of our love for Christ or does it appear the opposite? If our actions look far more like the world than Jesus, it speaks volumes about our faith (or lack thereof).
      1. That isn’t to say that unless you live a perfect life that you have no assurance of eternal salvation. None of us are perfect; all of us require the forgiveness of Jesus every single day. The issue is what more defines your life: do you strive for obedience and for Jesus to be glorified as you get to know Him more – or do you ignore Jesus, only giving Him lip-service? If it is the latter, then today is the day you need to get serious with Jesus, turning to Him in faith and repentance.
    3. The church at Corinth was arrogant regarding this sin. What should they have been? Grieved! Paul writes that had “not rather mourned,” recognizing this deed for what it was. Instead of bragging of how “tolerant” they were, they ought to have grieved over both the sin of the man and the sin of the church in ignoring it to this point. They ought to have been cut to the heart, mourning (1) how the man had walked away from his professed Lord and Savior, potentially being a false convert, and (2) how the church had damaged its own testimony of Jesus within the broader culture. Who among the pagan Corinthians would see their need for salvation from sin, when the Christian Corinthians acted as if sin wasn’t a big deal? Who would believe that Jesus is alive with power, if the power of the risen Jesus wasn’t evident in the lives of those who claimed to follow Him? That alone ought to have caused the church to mourn!
      1. Sin is a shameful thing! We ought to mourn over its presence in our lives and in the lives of those we love in Christ. If we truly love one another in the Lord Jesus, we will help one another in areas where the other might be blind. Just as you might shake a driver who has fallen asleep at the wheel, so we might lovingly shake someone up who has dozed off in his/her walk with the Lord. To witness someone succumb to sin and its consequences is awful, and something we ought to try to avoid at all costs.
    4. In this case, what ought to have been the purpose and intent of the church’s mourning? Removal of the sinner. The mourning that should have been among the church was not for them to mope about and simply feel bad about the situation; it was meant to provoke the church to remove the offender. This was the shaking/waking that the church should have done. They needed to take action. More than just grieving over the sin that existed, the church needed to act in response to it. They needed to act in church discipline (the process of which will be described in the next verses).

The problem with the church at Corinth wasn’t only the sin among them; it was that the sin among them was ignored. They refused to see the sin as it was, instead choosing to boast in it, whitewashing it as something totally different. It couldn’t be done. As has been sometimes said: you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You can put lipstick on sin, but it is still going to be sin. You can dress it up, call it something nice, and even boast how enlightened you are as a Christian to allow it in your life and in the church (as opposed to all of those mean, narrow-minded fundamentalists and evangelicals!). At the end of the day, it doesn’t change what it is. God’s standard has not changed, so sin is not changed. Sin is still sin, and it needs to be recognized.

Before we can deal with sin, we must first see the sin. But once we see it, we must act. It is not easy, nor it is something to which we look forward…but it is something that must be done. Consider a person who has a cancerous tumor. The diagnosis of it might be the worst day of the person’s life. By no means is it welcome news. But if it is operable, then at least it can be dealt with. At least at that point, you now know about the cancer and can do what it takes to get it out of your body. And you must do it! The longer you ignore it, the more damage it brings – the harder it later becomes to remove.

In the life of a Christian and in the life of the church, sin is a cancer. It must be recognized and it must be removed. The longer we wait, the more difficult it becomes and the more damage it causes.

  • The way to act (3-5).

3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.

  1. Step #1: Judge rightly. Paul demonstrated this by asserting his own apostolic judgment. Although he wasn’t in the city of Corinth at the time (he was currently in Ephesus), he already acted in judgment as though he was there. His instructions and doctrine was clear, and he expected the local congregation to act accordingly.
  2. The fact that Paul did judge causes some people to feel a bit uncomfortable. Back in Chapter 4:5, he commanded the Corinthians not to judge anything before the time. Was he being hypocritical? The context makes it perfectly clear. The Corinthians judging themselves to be wiser and more spiritually mature than Paul (as they did in Chapter 4) was wrong; their need to be able to discern and properly dealt with sin in their own congregation was not (per Chapter 5). The fact was that Paul should not have needed to deal out his own apostolic judgment in Corinth because the Corinthians should have already judged this for themselves! It was only because they neglected their own responsibilities that Paul acted in this way.
  3. But this makes people uncomfortable because we are often hesitant to judge. We need to understand that not all judgment is the same thing. Not all judgment is bad. One of the most misunderstood by often-quoted sayings of Jesus is found in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:1–5, “(1) “Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (3) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? (5) Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” What often happens is that people read this and think, “No one should judge anything or anyone! The minute you label something as sinful is the minute you’ve judged them. Now you have sinned, according to Jesus.” With all due respect, that is 100% wrong. It is a total misunderstanding of Jesus at best, and a twisting of His words at worst. What Jesus condemns is hypocritical One of the overarching themes throughout the Sermon on the Mount is the hypocrisy that was often practiced through legalistic religion versus the humility and truth that was found among those who humbled themselves in faith unto God. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells people not to judge, but also says that when you judge, you’ll be judged according to the same standard. Proper and humble judgment isn’t sin; hypocritical judgment is. We have to first see the plank in our own eye, but what do we do after? That is when we help our brother remove the speck from his own. Our brother does have a speck that needs attention; we just need to pay attention to our own issues first. We need to judge rightly and that includes judging the sin that is in our own lives first, before pointing the finger at anyone else.
  4. Apply this to Paul. Was he judging rightly? By no means did Paul ever ignore or downplay his own sinful history. Even at the end of his life, he still considered himself the chief of all sinners (1 Tim 1:15). Did Paul understand the sin in the church correctly? Yes, knowing it to be truly a sin against God and damaging to the church’s testimony of Jesus. What was hypocritical was for the church to ignore the sin. Judging it was not hypocritical; it was necessary. Thus, Paul could even judge it from afar. He did not have to be present to understand this thing to be sin. He did not require first-hand experience with the situation to know that it was clearly sinful and that it required discipline.
    1. Sometimes we get an idea that unless we see something with our own eyes, we have no right to speak about it, much less proclaim any judgment about it. And no doubt, there is a danger of casting a wrong judgment if we do not have correct information. (This is one of the problems with reacting instantly to news headlines. Quite often there is much more to the story than what is initially presented and the facts and faults might be exactly the opposite of our initial impressions. We need to be careful and to do our own research!) That said, the case with Paul and the Corinthian church was not in doubt. The report of this incestuous couple among the Corinthian church was true and because it was, there was no question that it was sinful. No amount of nuance or explanation would make the situation better. Both the incestuous relationship and the arrogance of the church regarding it was wrong. Both were in sin and Paul was willing to do what was necessary and call it out for what it was.
      1. The problem with too many Christians is that they are not willing. Whether it is a sin in their own life or sin allowed to persist in a local church, we are willing to live with the cancer rather than call it what it is and deal with it appropriately. Is it difficult to judge something as sin? Yes. But it is even more difficult to deal with the consequences of apathy toward it.

4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,

  1. Step #2: Act under authority. In verse 4, Paul describes the authority with which to discipline. Break it down:
  2. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is Paul’s authority to command the church in this way. This was not Paul being mean, nor him imposing his own will upon this local congregation. This was in the name of “our Lord Jesus Christ”: in the name and authority of their common God, the name of their Savior, and the name of their King (Seen in all three pronouns. “Christ” is not included in all translations, but it is included in both the majority of manuscripts as well as the oldest manuscript available.). In the name of all that is good and holy – in the name of the only reason any of them could gather and that any of them were saved. It was in Jesus’ name that they were to do this thing.
    1. This was the only reason Paul any authority as an apostle. The word “apostle” simply means “sent one.” He was sent out as an emissary of Jesus, personally by Jesus. When Paul ministered, he did so in the name and authority of Jesus, just as any ambassador to a nation acts in the name and authority of the president or prime minister or king who sent him/her.
    2. But this isn’t only apostolic authority; this is all of our authority within the church. We are all disciples of Jesus, sent out by the commission of Jesus. When we act, we are to act in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His word and abiding by His character. When we do so, we will act under and with His authority.
      1. FYI: This is why we pray “in Jesus’ name.” We aren’t declaring our own will to be done; we are submitting ourselves to God the Father through the name and person of His Son. We are going to God in prayer through Jesus’ own work and authority. It ought to be a conscious act of submission, rather than just a sign-off.
    3. When you are gathered together.” The discipline to be administered was to be an act of the church. This was not a vendetta done by one person, nor was it to be done under the cover of darkness and secrecy. It was to be the combined act of the gathered body of believers as led by their local eldership. One of the reasons for plural eldership is that it prevents one man (or woman) from rising up as a self-proclaimed king over a congregation, allowing for checks to come from a representative group of those “gathered together.” In the case of Corinth, every person within the congregation was aware of the sin, having participated in it through their arrogant puffery. It was only appropriate for the entire congregation of Corinth to be present for the discipline of such sin, that all might return to a righteous fear of God.
    4. Along with my spirit.” Paul did not abandon the church for this difficult task. He was with them in spirit, if not in person. Some scholars suggest that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, with Paul reminding the church that the same Spirit that was in him was in all of them. Back in Chapter 2, he had already written how all believers have the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things of God (2:11-12), and that through the Spirit, all believers have the mind of Christ (2:16). This is a possible interpretation, but it would be unusual, considering the use of the possessive pronoun “my,” rather than a more specific reference to “the” Spirit (as Paul consistently uses elsewhere). It seems more likely that Paul is reiterating the fact that he had already judged this as sin (per verse 3), so he is assuring the church that they were not going off as rogue in the act of discipline. To move forward in discipline was for them to be obedient, under the apostle’s own instruction.
      1. We can affirm the same thing for us when we act according to the Scriptures. Paul hasn’t been with the church for nearly 2000 years, but when we submit ourselves to the Scriptures penned by him through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, we can say even today that we do these things “along with his spirit.”
    5. With the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, the idea changes just a bit. Interestingly, the word for “power” is not the normal word for kingly authority, but that of ability. In fact, Jesus is quoted by Luke using the same word regarding the power of the Holy Spirit that would come upon the church (dunamis, Acts 1:8). In the context of Acts, the disciples were fully knowledgeable of the risen Lord Jesus, but did not yet have the power and ability to speak of Him to others. That power was given by the Holy Spirit. He would enable the church to be Jesus’ witnesses. In the context of Corinth, the church required a similar enabling. The Lord Jesus not only gave to the local congregation the authority to act in discipline; He also enabled them to do it.
      1. Why do we need God’s enabling power to help us discipline? Because it’s hard. Church discipline is difficult! There is no aspect of ministry I enjoy less. Whenever I (with our elders) have had to practice church discipline, I lose sleep, endure stress, experience anxiety, etc. Like anyone else, we have very human reactions to very difficult situations. Thus, we need divine power to get us past our human selves. We need divine power to help us do what needs to be done.
      2. I worry about church leaders who seem to enjoy discipline, who seem to look forward to it. It isn’t unlike abusive parents who get a sick joy out of beating their children. That sort of thing is not godly discipline; it is an evil perversion of it. Understand that not even God enjoys discipline and judgment. He will do it because He is holy and righteous, never shirking back from what is necessary for His own glory. But neither does He like it. God told Ezekiel that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but would rather the wicked man turn from his evil ways and live (Eze 33:11). Will He do it? Without question. But He would rather it not be necessary. Far better for us to willingly humble ourselves under the hand of God, than for Him to humble us through His sovereign power!

5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

  1. Step #3: Discipline lovingly. In verse 5, Paul succinctly gives the process by which to discipline. In a word: excommunication. The unrepentant sinful man was to be removed from the fellowship (the “communion”) of believers, turned over to the world he so craved. The word used for “deliver” was often used in a “judicial sense” (Rogers), seen in the gospels when Jesus was delivered over to the Romans for trial and execution by the Jewish Sanhedrin. This wasn’t merely kicking someone out of church; this was a purposeful act of church justice performed under the authority of Christ and unity of the church body (under the leadership of the elders). One part of the church wasn’t going off on their own, exercising discipline of their own accord; it was done as the church submitted itself to one another and ultimately to the Lord Jesus, all as a part of what we might call “church due process.”
  2. To whom/what was the person to be delivered? “To Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” Although the words are fairly clear, scholars debate the interpretation somewhat. Is the sinful man literally delivered over to the devil as a totally unregenerate person for physical destruction – or is there some level of symbolism involved? That Satan is truly meant by Paul is clear simply from the fact that Satan is elsewhere described as the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31) and the “god of this age,” (2 Cor 4:4). When the sinful man was turned out of the church into the world and culture around him, he was being turned over to the satanic powers that ruled that culture…thus, ultimately to Satan himself. This was the natural consequence of the man’s actions. If he was unrepentant, refusing to humble himself to the church (and ultimately to Christ), then he was making his choice to serve the ungodly ruler of this present age and was to be turned over to it. What would happen as a result? “The destruction of the flesh.” It could be that the man’s physical flesh would be consumed with the results of sexually transmitted disease. It could be that the man would be unable to provide for himself, not having a home either among the church or among the Gentiles. It could be something more internal, as his fleshly nature became burdened with guilt over his unrepentant actions. The word Paul used for destruction was often used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) in the prophets referring to “eschatological destruction,” (TDNT), the idea of ultimate judgment. Regardless of the specific interpretation, this much is clear: the man would face punishment.
    1. We can praise God for the freewill He has given us. But our freewill comes with consequences. Like Sir Isaac Newton observed in physics (his Third Law of Motion), every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Likewise, our choice to actively sin brings with it certain reactions. You can choose to fly down the highway at 100mph, but when you do, you also choose to accept the consequence of being potentially pulled over and having your license taken away. You can choose to spend a night getting drunk, but when you do, you also bring with it a hangover in the morning and potential regrets from actions the night before. There are consequences that accompany our sins, some that last a lifetime. One single night of adultery can destroy decades of marriage. One night of drunk driving can destroy a life (or several!). One temporary act of sin can potentially bring years of consequences.
    2. If that can all happen through one act, imagine what can happen through act after act after act! Imagine what can take place through a series of unrepentant sin. Is it any wonder that God calls upon the church to step in, when a professed Christian starts heading down this road? Discipline isn’t punishment for punishment’s sake; it is an act of loving intervention. It is consequences in the present that hopefully spares the person from worse consequences in the future. It is a wake-up call to those who are temporarily asleep at the wheel.
  3. As bad as those consequences of fleshly destruction might be, notice that they have a very specific purpose (specifically indicated by the Greek): “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” What is Paul saying? Kill off the flesh, if it means that the spirit can be rescued. The destruction of the flesh is worth it, if it means that the person’s spirit might be saved. Jesus said something very similar in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:29–30, “(29) If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (30) And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Jesus wasn’t promoting literal mutilation. He was promoting extreme spiritual measures and caution with eternity in mind. Better for minor destruction to happen in this life, if it ensured salvation for eternal life. Better to physically throw one’s laptop and cellphone into the garbage, if it means your eyes and mind are guarded for Jesus’ glory. Better to leave a job that’s causing you to sin, if it ensures that you remain a witness for Christ. In the case of the Corinthians: better that this man experience the consequences for his actions and for him to be left alone, if it meant that he would one day come back to his senses and repent towards the Lord Jesus. This was the whole point of the discipline exercised by the church: to bring this man to a point of repentance and restoration. Paul’s desire for this man wasn’t for his ultimate destruction, but for his ultimate salvation. If the man was a false convert, it would awaken him to his need to be saved, for his disguise had fallen flat. If he was a believer lost in carnal sin, it would wake him up to his prodigal living, causing him to realize that he was eating with the pigs. Either way, it would bring him to a point of rescue and salvation. He was temporarily delivered over to Satan, that he might be ultimately delivered by
    1. This is always the purpose of proper church discipline. It is always about repentance and restoration. No one is punished for the sole purpose of punishing someone forever; discipline is exercised with the hopeful goal of individual repentance and corporate restoration. We see this principle throughout the New Testament:
      1. Matthew 18:15–17, “(15) “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. (16) But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ (17) And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Is the person cast out? Yes, but only after every opportunity is even for the person to repent and be restored. Even then, what did Jesus do with heathens and tax collectors? He gave them the gospel, that they might be saved.
      2. Galatians 6:1–2, “(1) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (2) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Here, Paul does not mention casting out the brother, but the context is clearly different. This is a person who is repentant. But a repentant Christian caught in sin is still dealing with sin. He/she requires help to come out of it and be restored.
  • Other passages could be listed but the point is clear. Yes, an unrepentant sinner is to be cast out. As long as no evidence of repentance exists, the person is treated as an unbeliever. But that same sinner who becomes repentant (seen through fruits of repentance) is to be restored, received as a brother/sister in Christ. Why? Because this is the testimony and work of grace!
  1. How long would it take? No one knew. There was only one day that it would be truly clear: “the day of the Lord Jesus.” With some cases, we might not know the results until we get to heaven. It won’t be until we stand before the Bema Seat of Christ that we see the refined faith of the repentant believer. We might go to our graves wondering if Joe/Sally ever dealt with his/her sin. But we will know when we see Jesus. In that day, all those who truly trust Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior will stand before His glorious presence, and He will deal with our earthly lives. He will burn away the chaff of all our sinful junk and wipe away every tear from our eyes. In that day, everyone will see us for what we are: saved by the loving grace of our Lord Jesus!

Conclusion:

Sometimes a church has to exercise tough love. Sin must be recognized and dealt with. There is an important need to act and a proper way to act. When done rightly, even the practice of church discipline is something that glorifies God. It is an earthly example of His own holiness and justice. When done wrongly, it not only harms the individual but also the witness of the church.

Some of you have experienced improper church discipline. Maybe someone kicked you out of church without going through due process – maybe they kicked you out, not for sin or divisiveness, but simply because they didn’t like you. Know this: the God to whom we are individually accountable also holds churches and leaders accountable. In fact, those who teach the word are held to a stricter judgment (Jas 3:1). You can trust that the Lord Jesus will act on behalf of His name in His way.

Some of you have experienced proper church discipline. This isn’t something to begrudge; it is something for which to be thankful! God’s chastening is an indication that you are His son or daughter – it is a sign that He loves you as your Heavenly Father. Don’t reject this discipline; submit to it! Where He calls you to repent, do it. Move on the actions He tells you to take. Do what it takes to make the situation right and be restored to your Father and to your church family.

Some of you might need to experience discipline, only your sin hasn’t yet been revealed. Stop playing with fire! Humble yourself now before the mighty hand of God before He humbles you publicly. Like David who believed he sinned in private with Bathsheba, yet had his sin known to God and laid before the nation, so too does God know our sins and they might yet be revealed. Today is the day of repentance. Today is the day you can confess your sins and be cleansed (1 Jn 1:9).

Towards the end of Joshua’s life, he implored Israel to remain true to God. Why? Because God had always been true to His promises to Israel in the past, making it certain that God would always remain true to His promises in the future. Whether God’s promises regard things we like or things we don’t, God is *always* true to His word.

Stay True

Posted: October 15, 2020 in Joshua

Joshua 23, “Stay True”

Merriam-Webster gives several definitions for the word “true.” The first refer to the more obvious ideas such as “being in accordance with the actual state of affairs,” and “properly so called,” etc. Another definition refers to that which is “steadfast, loyal.” When we speak of “true love,” we not only speak of real love, but also of steadfast love. To be true to something or someone is to be loyal to that thing or person.

God Himself is true. He is not only the truth (Jn 14:6), but He is true to Himself and to His word. God is supremely loyal to Himself, valuing His own word to the point of even exalting it above His own name (Ps 138:2). What God says, He does. As Balaam was compelled to say: Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Men lie; God does not. God is true to every promise He ever makes.

Praise be to God for His true faithfulness! Without it, Jesus would never have come according to God’s promise – we would never have had a sufficient sacrifice given for our sin – we would never have any hope or access to God’s forgiveness. Without the true faithfulness of God to His word, we would have no indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, no transformation of our lives…we would have absolutely nothing in God. God is true and His faithfulness is our salvation.

Why does this matter? It matters because God is true to His word regarding both blessing and judgment. We enjoy God’s promises when it comes to the “good” things (when we really mean “good to us,”); we’re perhaps less eager to experience God’s promises when it comes to the “bad” things (at least the things we feel are bad). But both are true. God is without fail when it comes to His promises: both those we like and those we don’t.

Israel was reminded of this by the elderly Joshua, as Israel would experience these things firsthand. And they needed to be reminded of God’s true faithfulness to His word, for Israel themselves would not be faithful in the future. (Which is no different for us, for we are fallible, faithless creatures – unable to remain true to God without the saving and transforming grace of Jesus Christ.)

This all came to the forefront towards the end of Joshua’s long career. After the national conquest was complete, seen in the campaigns led by Joshua in the south as well as the massive battle fought by him in the north, the distribution of the land took place. Joshua distributed the land to the 2½ tribes of the east (Transjordan), the 9½ tribes of the west (Cisjordan), along with the various Levitical cities including the cities of refuge. With the land assigned, along with the command for Israel to complete the conquest within their various assigned lands, the 2½ tribes of the Transjordan were allowed to go home. Things looked good, until word came back to the western tribes that the Transjordan tribes built a show-altar along the banks of the Jordan river which almost touched off a civil war in Israel. It turned out to be a misunderstanding, with the eastern tribes erecting only a monument to their inclusion in the national covenant with God – a memorial for future generations to see. It was an altar of witness, nothing more.

At this point, time passed, and eventually Joshua prepared to say good-bye to his nation. He would soon give a final challenge to the people to recommit themselves to their covenant with God, but before he does that, he challenges his people to be true to God. God had been true to His promises to them in the past and He would remain true to His promises to them in the future. Which promises Israel experienced depended on how they responded to God in the present.

God will always be true to His word! Will we be true to Him? It is only by the grace of Jesus.

Joshua 23

  • God has been true to His word (1-5). Remember!

1 Now it came to pass, a long time after the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. 2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, …

  1. How much time passed? Some scholars suggest this took place approximately 25 years after the crossing of the Jordan river. As will be seen in Chapter 24:20, Joshua was 110 years old at his death. If Joshua was like Caleb, being 80 years old at the initial crossing, then he would have been around 105 at the time of this address in Chapter 23. Truly, he was “well advanced in age,” not being as old as Moses at his death (120 y.o.), but certainly a senior citizen.
    1. One thing we do know about when Joshua gave this address was “after the LORD had given rest to Israel.” As a reminder: God gave “rest to Israel,” but this rest was temporary. As verse 1 points out, this was rest “from their enemies round about,” and there would be enemies in the future. This is not the permanent, lasting rest promised by God in the gospel. That is only fulfilled in Jesus!
  2. Question: How many people of Israel gathered? The text says that Joshua called “all Israel,” but some suggest that this group was represented by the various elders, heads, judges, and officers. These scholars suggest that it was impractical, if not improbable for the entire populace to gather at this time. Remember that by this point, the army had dispersed. The 601,000+ Israelite men had gone to their homes in their various regions, and even that large number had grown over time, requiring room for far more than 601,000+ men. That said, was it impossible for “all Israel” to gather? Recall that God commanded national assemblies at three of the major annual feasts: Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot, which just concluded on October 9). If the entire nation could gather at those times, surely they could gather at this time. – Whatever the actual attendance, there is no doubt that the nation was represented before Joshua and his words were passed to every Hebrew throughout the width and breadth of the land.
  3. As to where they gathered, the text does not say. Shiloh was a possible location, being the resting place of the Tabernacle, but there is no mention of the Tabernacle in this address. Later, Chapter 24 shows Joshua meeting the nation at Shechem, making it another possibility. Still too is the possibility that the nation met Joshua in his own home of Timath Serah in Ephraim (19:50). The important thing isn’t so much where they met, but what was said when they met.

… and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age. 3 You have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the LORD your God is He who has fought for you. 4 See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward.

  1. After stating the obvious regarding his age (which emphasized that Joshua considered these might be the last words he said to the nation), Joshua pointed out what the Israelites had seen with their own eyes. Basically: “You yourselves are witnesses to God’s work.” Although surely new Hebrews had been born in the years following the conquest, the battles fought in the conquest were not so far in the past that the people couldn’t remember. Most of those alive had been firsthand witnesses to what happened, and at least one thing was clear: God had worked. The victories were the Lord’s doing – they were the result of how the Lord had “fought” for them. YHWH God had been living and active in their midst, and Israel knew.
  2. Not only that, but Israel had seen the results of God’s work. Likewise, Joshua basically said to them: “You are also witnesses to God’s blessing. You’ve been assigned your lands and received the blessing of God.” Joshua was the one who “divided” the land to the tribes and they had indeed received their “inheritance,” ranging from the Jordan river (and beyond) to the Mediterranean Sea.
  3. The point? Israel knew. They knew the work of God. They could remember how God had worked in their own lives and they could look around and see the evidence of His work. This generation of Hebrews did not have to rely on the stories passed down from their forefathers; they were personal witnesses and recipients of His work.
    1. The same could be said of every born-again Christian. Christianity is not a religion of stories, myths, and legends; it is a religion personally and individually experienced. Yes, we have a vast history as the church going back 2000 years to Christ Jesus (and further, back through Moses, Abraham, and Adam), but we are not solely reliant on that past history for our interactions with God. We interact with God today, for ourselves. No one can even be a Christian without being personally and individually born-again of the Holy Spirit when we put our faith in Christ. We must personally interact with the living God if we are to become His people. There is no such thing as a second-hand or third-hand Christian; if we do not know Jesus through first-hand experience, we do not know Him at all!
      1. Thankfully, this is a relationship anyone in the world is invited to have. Anyone can be introduced to Jesus as Savior & Lord!
    2. Because we know Jesus individually, we can look at His work within our individual lives. And we should! We should remember the work of God for us. We remember how He saved us, out of what He saved us, how He has transformed us, provided for us, etc. We can and we should remember the work of the living God in our lives. The more we remember His work in the past, the more we will depend on our relationship with God in the present.

5 And the LORD your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the LORD your God promised you.

  1. Why should Israel remember the work of God among them? What was so important about emphasizing that they were personal witnesses to God’s power and blessing? Because that set the stage for what was yet to come. Just as God has fought for Israel in the past, so would He fight for Israel in the future. He would “expel” these nations from before the tribal armies of Israel and they would go on to “possess their land.” Remember that although the conquest was complete on a national level; there was more to do on a regional/tribal level. The major kings and armies had all been defeated, but there were a multitude of regional towns that still awaited God’s judgment upon them. Although Joshua and the nation as a whole rested from fighting their enemies around them, there were still many skirmishes to take place regionally. Joshua’s point is that the tribes could expect exactly the same support from God in these regional battles as He had given for the national ones. As much as God had fought for them in the past, He would continue to do in the present and future.
  2. Why? Because He “promised” He would. This was God’s word to Israel and He would see it done! God does not go back on His promises. He doesn’t swear an oath with His fingers crossed behind His back – He doesn’t look for loopholes to get out of fulfilling His obligations. Again, what God says, He does.

In every aspect of Israel’s inheritance of the Promised Land, God was true to His word. God was faithful to each of His promises, which ought to have given Israel confidence for the events of the future. They could continue to rely on God, because God had always proven Himself faithful.

Is it any different with us? Think back to how God has been true to His promises to you. When you put your faith in Christ, God promised to forgive you of your sin…He did. He promised to give you a new spiritual birth…He did. He promised to transform you from the inside-out…He did. He promised to impute to you Jesus’ righteousness…He did. He promised to give you the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, making you the temple of God…He did. There is not a single thing promised to the Christian through faith in Christ that God has not already delivered. You are a child of God because He promised to make you His child through Jesus. God has a track-record of true faithfulness!

That ought to give us hope for the future – it ought to give us confidence in the other promises of God we’ve yet to see fulfilled. It ought to change our reactions to God right now

  • Israel should be true to God’s word (6-13). Cleave!

6 Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left,

  1. What was the right response of Israel to the fulfilled promises of God? Obedience – consistent, faithful obedience. The nation had been given “the Book of the Law” from Moses (i.e. Deuteronomy, if not a general reference to the entire Pentateuch), and they were to follow it to the letter, neither turning to the right or to the left. Just like veering too far to one side or the other of a narrow footbridge leads to certain death, so was Israel to maintain the “straight and narrow” following the law of the Lord.
  2. What would Israel need for such a task? Courage! Joshua knew this firsthand. After all, this was the charge that he himself received from the Lord at the beginning of his career of leadership. Joshua 1:7, “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.” The way in which God had charged Joshua was how Joshua charged Israel. Be courageous, that you may be obedient.
    1. Faithful obedience requires courage! Why? Several reasons. (1) Because our world and culture pressures us in the other direction. Everything about our culture (as well as that of ancient Israel) promoted pleasing oneself, rather than pleasing God. It takes courage to go against the current. (2) Because our enemy attacks those who follow God. Satan can afford to somewhat ignore those who don’t have faith in Jesus, because those men and women have already condemned themselves through their own sin to hell. But for those who have been saved by Christ? Those are the ones that Satan desires to destroy. We need courage for our inevitable spiritual battles. (3) Because our greatest enemy is so often ourselves. How is it that we are tempted to sin? When we are drawn away by our own desires and enticed by them. We see the things that we want, and we go for it. It takes courage to say no to ourselves. It takes courage to maintain true humility, surrendering our wills to that of our Lord Jesus. It takes courage to ask for the help and enabling of the Holy Spirit to walk in even the most basic commands of the Lord God.
    2. Question: Will we always be obedient? Sadly (and obviously), no. No matter how long we’ve walked with Jesus, we still battle our fleshly natures and we will sometimes (many times) fall to them. We do veer to the right and left of God’s will for our lives. But we need never veer from Jesus! As we fail, we still look to our Savior, crying out to Him and His help. We still trust His promises – we still rely on His grace and His power. (And where we lack courage and faith, we ask Him for it!)

7 and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, 8 but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.

  1. Joshua tells the people not to have anything do with false gods. They would be surrounded by idols, but they should not worship them. They shouldn’t even give those things lip service, not acknowledging them in the slightest. Is this hyperbole & overstatement? Not really…Joshua was just making the point. The moment someone gives an inch to idolatry, the idol ends up taking a mile. To start down the road of false religion is a road that inevitably leads to destruction.
  2. The solution? “Hold fast.” Specifically, hold fast to YHWH God! Don’t give into those false gods; hold fast to the God you’ve always known, the God who saved you, the God who has fought for you, the God who has worked for you. Hold fast to the God who freed you from Egypt and who gave you a home today. Hold fast! The Hebrew word could be translated “cleave,” which leads one commentary to say: “The Hebrew word translated ‘hold fast’ is used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the intimate and binding relationship between husband and wife,” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary). How ought Israel hold fast to God? As much as one spouse holds to the other, after God has made them one.
    1. Keep in mind that this is exactly the relationship we have with Jesus. He is our Bridegroom and the church is His bride. How do we hold fast to Jesus today? We cleave to Him. Just as a man leaves his father and mother to be joined with his wife, so do we leave the things of the world behind to be joined to Jesus, forever cleaving to Him. We understand that we have a new identity in Him, leaving our old identity behind (much like a wife might change her last name to that of her husband’s). We understand that we have new desires and new priorities, just like spouses stop serving themselves and start serving the other. Everything changes as we cleave to Jesus, understanding that we are with Him forever. And unlike earthly marriage, not even death will part us from Him!

9 For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. 10 One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you.

  1. Joshua tells the people: “God is your strength! God has always fought for you, according to His promise.” Israel fought nations mightier than them and experience victory. How so? Because God was mightier than the mightiest of their enemies! God could empower one man of Israel to put a myriad of other to flight. He had already demonstrated this in recent history and the promise and opportunity remained in the future. Sadly, few Israelites would take Him up on this. Jonathan being a prime exception as he took a step of faith and he and his armor bearer chased off a garrison of Philistines, killing 20 by themselves (1 Sam 14). The things God had done in the past, He would continue to do in the present. All they needed to do was to cleave to the Lord, holding fast to His promises in faith!

11 Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God.

  1. First, Joshua told the people to be courageous in their obedience. Second, he told them to hold fast to God. Finally, he exhorts them to be “careful” to “love” God. Of course, all three imperatives go together. Jesus told His disciples that the person who keeps His commandments is the person who loves Him (Jn 14:21). The person who cleaves to the Lord wholeheartedly is the person who loves the Lord with all his/her heart, soul, and strength. The command to love God is not unusual; it is foundational to the Hebrew creed (and the Greatest Commandment to the Christian). What is striking is the need to “take careful heed.” No one can expect to love the Lord naturally. This isn’t something that comes without thought or attention. Many might say that they love Jesus casually…but when it comes to loving the Lord God wholeheartedly through Christ, this is something that only comes through active We cannot afford to go on “autopilot” – we cannot allow ourselves to go lax.
    1. It’s easy to do so! We give our lives to Jesus asking Him to forgive us our sins, and we are so thankful, overflowing in our love for Him. And the emotion of that decision and change lasts for a time…but it fades. Soon, we find ourselves going through the motions of worship, singing songs because everyone else is without paying attention to the lyrics. Our prayer times become rote and brief. Our testimonies become silent because we don’t find ourselves with much to say. What has happened? Our love went cold because we weren’t taking “careful heed” to love Jesus. We weren’t paying attention to our love for God so nothing happened with our love for God. Like a fire, it died down to embers over time.
    2. What to do? Stoke the flame! Get back to basics. Spend intentional time in the word and prayer, meditating over the things you’ve read rather than just allowing your eyes to gloss over them. Sing purposefully in worship, look for ways to serve, look for opportunities to be used by God. Spend enough time with Jesus that His works come rolling off your tongue. The more we take careful heed to love the Lord, the more we will love the Lord!

12 Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations—these that remain among you—and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, 13 know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.

  1. Joshua will expand on this in the final section. For now, he concentrates on the idea of God being the strength of Israel. If Israel abandoned God, they would abandon their only strength. If they abandoned God, God would not fight for them.
  2. The result? Terrible, ongoing consequences. Everything detailed in the book of Judges is summarized here in brief. The Gentile pagans would remain as snares and thorns to the people – constant reminders that they had been disobedient to God and a testimony to their continued disobedience to God.

What was Joshua getting at? The ongoing future response of Israel to God. It came down to this: God has been true to them; would they be true to Him? Would they cleave to Him in courageous obedience and love?

Will we? Will we take heed to our love for God, forsaking false idols and religions, walking in faithful obedience? It is a choice we must make, and one we must make daily.

  • God will be true to His word (14-16). Know!

14 “Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed.

  1. Final appeal (almost) from Joshua. He knew his time was short and appealed to them in the most urgent terms. With the time he had left, he wanted Israel to look at themselves and their history, considering what it meant as they moved forward. They could look into their own “hearts and…souls” and know that God had been faithful. As Joshua mentioned earlier, they knew this for themselves. God had always been true to His word, with not a single “word” of His failing.
  2. Specifically, Joshua told Israel to look at “all the good things” that the Lord had promised that the Israelites received. They truly had the land flowing with milk and honey. They were living in houses they didn’t build, reaping of vineyards they didn’t plant. They saw with their own eyes how God fought on their behalf, going as far as lengthening a day for battle and flinging hailstones from the sky. Israel had received blessing upon blessing because God promised He would bless them. And out of these words of blessing, not one word of God had failed.
    1. This track record has not changed with the amount of God’s words on record. The longer the Bible has become, the more promises we have of God’s, and the more opportunities we have to see how God’s word has come true. We see the things that God had prophesied of Israel – we see the things that God prophesied of the empires of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome – we see the things that God prophesied regarding the Messiah, of the church, of the end-times and more. We have seen great swaths of Scripture be fulfilled to the letter. Even today we can say that “not one word of them has failed.” We have not yet seen all things come to fruition (much prophecy remains for the future), but out of everything that should have been fulfilled, it has been fulfilled and been fulfilled accurately.

15 Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all the good things have come upon you which the LORD your God promised you, so the LORD will bring upon you all harmful things, until He has destroyed you from this good land which the LORD your God has given you.

  1. Notice the parallel comparison. Just “as all the good things” had come upon Israel in the past; “so…all the harmful things” would come in the future. One was just as certain as the other. What would that include? Destruction! “Harmful things” from the hand of the Lord upon His own people as He reigned down His judgment upon them. 
  2. Question: Was this unexpected? Was this something “out of the blue,” as a shock of new information for Israel? Not at all. They had been told this same thing over half a generation ago. This was part and parcel with their national covenant. Consider some of the things promised to Israel upon their disobedience of the covenant, as seen in Deuteronomy 28.
    1. They would be stricken with plague and consumption (Dt 28:21-22).
    2. They would experience national drought (Dt 28:23-24).
    3. They would be defeated by their enemies unto death (Dt 28:25-26).
    4. They would be struck with the plagues of Egypt (Dt 28:27-29).
    5. Their families and livestock would be decimated as they were conquered by their enemies (Dt 28:20-22)
    6. And the list goes on for 46 more verses! There was no lack of “harmful things” that would come upon Israel for their disobedience.
  3. The point? These too, are things that God promised. These weren’t vague, symbolic bogey-man ghost-warnings; these were specific promises of judgment from the God who keeps His word. This ought to have been a sobering fact!

16 When you have transgressed the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you.”

  1. Notice the “” Some translations render this as “if” (ESV, NIV); by far the better, more accurate translation is “when.” (Bet of temporal-point, Williams §241.) There was no question that Israel would fail. This is no minor point of nit-picky translation; this is a matter of prophecy. God, to Moses, had already declared how Israel would fail in their covenant in explicit terms. Deuteronomy 31:16, “And the LORD said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.” There was no doubt in the mind of God that Israel would be disobedient, going to serve other gods, bowing down to them. This, too, was God’s word. If that prophecy of God regarding Israel failed, then all the prophecy of the Bible would be in doubt.
  2. When Israel failed, what would happen? Judgment – punishment. “The anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you shall perish quickly from the good land which He has given you” – if the anger of YHWH God does not qualify as “punishment,” nothing does. When Israel finally gave into their base temptations to engage in idolatry, abandoning the Lord. The result? God would punish those who abandoned Him. If/when they “transgressed the covenant of the LORD,” then they would experience the full consequences of their transgression. All of the curses listed in Deuteronomy 27-28 would be poured out on the nation, exactly according to God’s promise.
    1. This is a harsh truth…something that is unpopular today. People don’t want to hear about the wrath of God or how God would justly judge people for their sin against Him. More to the point, Christians don’t want to hear how God judges His own people, as it implies that God might judge us. Guess what? He does. Even as born-again believers, God does not ignore sin among His own people. The classic example among the New Testament church is that of Ananias and Sapphira, who dropped dead after lying to the apostles (and thus, lying to the Holy Spirit – Acts 5). The Corinthians seemingly experienced something similar in their own congregation, when they saw people die due to their lack of respect and understanding of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:30). God does exercise discipline and punishment among His own people…even among Christians. It may not be a popular teaching, but it is a Biblical one.
    2. Why does God do it? Just because God’s people do not remain true to God, it does not mean that God does not remain true to His word. Just because God’s people are unfaithful does not mean that God is unfaithful. We just need to remember that God is first and foremost faithful to His own word and character. The things He said He will do, He does. God’s word declares that He is the just Judge (Ps 7:11) – God’s word declares that He by no means clears the guilty (Exo 34:7). This does not mean that God is not merciful and gracious (He is!), nor does it mean that our sins are not fully and freely forgiven in Jesus (they are!), but we fool ourselves if we believe that God blinds His eyes to our willful, ongoing sin. Should we sin in abundant rebellion against God, God will act. He will not break His covenant given to us through Jesus; He will act as a loving Father towards His children, chastening those whom He loves (Heb 12:6).

Just like Joshua addressed the past and the present, he also addressed the future. If/when Israel failed in their covenant, they could be assured that God would act in His anger and judgment. Why? Because this too, was part of the covenant. Because God promised His judgment, God would bring it.

That is a tough lesson for Israel. Is it for us? After all, we do not share the same covenant with God as Israel. We are in a new covenant through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus – we are in a covenant of grace. Are there still promises of God regarding our consequences and His discipline toward us? Yes. Again, God chastens those whom He loves, His discipline of us being a sign of His Fatherly love towards us (Heb 12:6-7). 

We need to keep in mind that although we do not have the same covenant as Israel, we do worship the same God. And God does not change. He is just as holy today as He ever was. He is just as righteous in His character and judgment with the church as He was with Israel. So yes, sometimes He allows us to experience the full consequences of our sins, with some of the results of those things lasting the rest of our lives. Sometimes He allows Christians to go to jail when we break the law – sometimes He allows us to get diseases when we engage in sinful behaviors. Other times, God specifically brings hard things into our lives to help us conform to the image of Christ. Although Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not given to him because of sin, it was certainly used by God to help refine Paul and help even the apostle understand his continued dependence of Jesus’ grace. Peter was publicly chastised by Paul, no doubt a hard blow to his pride, but a needed thing for the health of the church and the health of Peter’s own maturity. Paul judged sin in the Corinthian church, demanding that an unrepentant man be delivered over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit might be saved in the day of Christ Jesus (1 Cor 5:5). Are these not the actions of a just God? He is just because He is true, and He will always be true…with things we like and with things we don’t.

Conclusion:

God is always true to His word because God is always true to Himself. God, being perfectly righteous and holy, will never act in a way that is contrary to His own character. God cannot act in evil because God is inherently good. God cannot be unjust because God is inherently just, being the very definition of justice. And God cannot lie, because God is Himself truth. The things He has spoken are true. They have proven true in the past and will remain true in the eternal future. The things that God promises (for good or ill) are guaranteed. Why? Because they are the sworn word of God and His testimony never fails.

That’s God. What about us? We, like Israel, are called to be true and faithful to our true God. We are called to cleave to Him in courageous obedience and love. We are called to be wholeheartedly committed to God, surrendering our entire lives to Him. When we fail, we can be certain of God’s response. Not according to the promises God made to Israel, but according to the promises He made to us. Like a loving Father, our God will discipline us when necessary. Some consequences look different than others in our lives, but each one is something sovereignly allowed and/or designated to be there by our God and King.

That leaves us with a massive problem, because like Israel, our failure is not a question of “if,” but “when.” We will fail. What then, is our hope? Christ! Jesus alone provides our hope of our present and ongoing relationship with God. Not only are we forgiven of our sins of the past through Jesus’ work on the cross and His resurrection, but He also provides for the sins of our present and the sins of our future. He provides for 100% of our sins against God, filling the gap that our failure leaves behind.

Not only that, Jesus gives us strength and power for this present time that we might not fail. Will we fail? Yes. Must we always fail? No. (Praise God, no!) Because we have been saved through Jesus, made the children of God, we have been promised the power of God the Holy Spirit. He enables us to live for the glory of God – to give us the courage to walk in obedience and to allow us to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. He gives us everything we need to walk as the Christians God has called us to be – to walk as true disciples of our Lord Jesus.

So yes, we need to remember the fulfillment of God’s promises in the past and to be mindful (and perhaps wary) of God’s promises in the future regarding our obedience/disobedience. As we do, this ought to cause us to cling even tighter to our Lord Jesus in faith, trusting that He will enable us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul took the church to the woodshed for a bit of discipline. They had been arrogant but it was time to straighten up. They needed to stop boasting and start initiating discipleship.

Going to the Woodshed

Posted: October 11, 2020 in 1 Chronicles

1 Corinthians 4:6-21, “Going to the Woodshed”

I did not grow up on a farm, but I knew the meaning of being taken to the woodshed. My mother did not hesitate to discipline my brother and me when we were young, but even she had the occasion to tell us: “Just wait till your father gets home!” Whatever it was that caused the situation, we knew that what awaited us wasn’t good!

It was for our good, of course, although no child believes that at the time. I hated spankings – both receiving them as a child and giving them as a father. But I also understand their value. Some lessons are only learned under the hand (or wooden spoon) of discipline. As has often been said: we can learn things the easy way or the hard way. Sometimes our choices force the “hard way,” and there is no way around it.

If that is true regarding parental discipline, certainly it is true regarding apostolic or church discipline. God loves us as our Heavenly Father, but sometimes we put Him in a position to exercise a bit of tough love. It might take place through His allowance of our facing harsh consequences, or maybe through the exercise of disciplinary actions from church leadership.

Such was the case with the Corinthians and the apostle Paul. As children so often do to their parents, the church had pressed Paul’s buttons, pushing him to a point of sternness and severity. From the book of Acts and the rest of Paul’s letters, it is clear that Paul was a patient man as well as a passionate one. He was willing to endure extreme persecution both for the Jesus he loved and the local churches he planted. But he was also willing to stand his ground with his fellow Christians. He did not hesitate to call out sin when needed, even if it meant calling out people in his own church plants to do it.

That brings us to the letter of 1 Corinthians. Since Chapter 1, Paul has contrasted the wisdom of the world (which is foolishness) to the wisdom of God (which is seen by the world as foolish though it is the power of God). Apparently, the Corinthian Christians had become less-than-impressed with Paul’s focus on the simple gospel and they sought for themselves a reputation from the world – or at least, status above one another in the church. This set the congregation on a path to division, something illogical among people who were supposed to serve a common Master, the Lord Jesus.

We do have a Master and we will one day give account to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema). On that day, born-again Christians will be judged (not for salvation but for eternal reward) for everything we have done since we became believers. On that day (as Paul mentioned in 4:5) everything in our lives will be revealed by/to Jesus, including the “hidden things of darkness” and “the counsels of the heart.” With that judgment in mind, all Christians need to be faithful servants and stewards of Christ, just as Paul had done in his own role as an apostle.

So how would Paul be judged as a servant and steward of Christ? How would the Christians in Corinth themselves be judged? Based on their attitude toward the apostle, it didn’t look good. Instead of walking in abiding humility in Christ, the Corinthians had become arrogant, which had dangerous effects on other major issues within the congregation (as later chapters will show). But what to do about that arrogance now? Paul had to address it head-on, and that is what he does as he starts to take the Corinthians to the proverbial woodshed. He gets stern with them in this letter, hoping to avoid a more severe confrontation face-to-face. They needed to stop their arrogant boasting today and start acting as the Christians that Paul had taught them to be.

As a kid, I was often told to “straighten up”: stop misbehaving and start acting right. We might need to do the same thing as adults! Stop acting in arrogance and start acting like believers.

Let us not make Jesus take us to the woodshed! Instead, may we walk humbly after Him as our example.

1 Corinthians 4:6–21

  • Arrogance of the church (6-13). Stop boasting!

6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.

  1. What exactly Paul means by “these things” is somewhat debated. The basic idea is that since the Corinthians used his name and Apollos’ under which to divide (along with Peter’s), Paul used himself and Apollos as the examples of the fellow-laborers of God, the ones who planted the seed and watered the seed, while waiting God to bring the growth. But what Paul wrote about himself and Apollos, he could have written about any faithful servant of the Lord Jesus. Anyone who served the Lord was dependent upon the Lord, and it was the Lord who received all of the glory. No one had any right to claim credit for the work of God – not Paul, nor Apollos, and certainly not the Corinthians!
  2. This was Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to abstain from arrogance. The word he used for “puffed up” is rooted in a word translated “bellows,” which makes the verb give the idea of being inflated, like a modern balloon or air-mattress. That was what they were doing among themselves: blowing up their own heads and inflating their own egos. “Look at us! Look what a great job we’ve done as a church!” Such self-congratulations had no place within the church, nor did it have any precedent in the Scriptures. As Paul told the Corinthians “not to think beyond what is written,” he was telling the church to look to the Bible and stay in its example. Which of the prophets pointed to himself as the example of everything a person could do right? Which of the prophets puffed up his own name over that of the Lord’s? Moses was the foremost of the prophets, writing the first five books of the Bible, yet not even Moses claimed that for himself. On the contrary, Moses was one of the most humble men in history (Num 12:3). If Moses didn’t puff up himself in arrogance, how could the Corinthians?
  3. Paul is telling the Corinthians: stay humble as you continually learn from fellow-servants of Jesus. This church may have thought themselves advanced in terms of the spiritual gifts and may have seen all kinds of miracles take place among them, but they still had much to learn! If they continued in their arrogance, they’d never grow as they needed to in their faith – they’d hurt themselves in the long run.
    1. Humility is not optional for the Christian! The Christian that believes he/she has learned all that he/she needs to learn is a Christian that hasn’t learned much at all! Does that mean that the doctrines of Christianity are difficult to understand? It is an amazing thing that a 7 year old child can understand and recite the truths of the gospel, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, offering to save anyone who comes to faith in Him. The child will say it in his/her own way, but the child can know it, understand it, and share it. Yet that same gospel can be studied for a lifetime, and those who do will never plumb the full depths! But the fact that it is that deep is a fact worthy of our humble respect. We continually learn, continually grow in our knowledge of Jesus, continually study under faithful Bible-believing teachers. No matter how many degrees we have (or don’t have) – no matter how many decades we’ve followed Christ – no matter to what end we’ve served Jesus – there is always more of Him to know. (And we have an eternity to find out!) So stay humble. Don’t grow arrogant in your walk with Jesus…it has no place there.
    2. BTW – Humility is not only necessary for the Christian to grow with Christ; it is necessary for the sinner to be forgiven by Christ. There is not a single person who can be forgiven if he/she remains arrogantly proud in his/her sin. The Bible tells us that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6). If you’ve come to the knowledge of your sin and understand your need for God’s forgiveness, you must humble yourself before risen Lord Jesus and ask for His grace through the work He has provided through the cross and resurrection.

7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

  1. Three rhetorical questions, gradually driving home the point of their spiritual immaturity (even though they thought the opposite). Paul was saying, “What distinguishes you from everyone else? How are you judged to be any different from us or other Christians? What you do have that wasn’t originally given to you? You didn’t come up with any of this yourself. Why boast as if you were the original Christians?” Can you imagine the arrogance of it all? Not even Paul was among the original Christians. He wasn’t among Jesus’ 12 disciples, nor among the secret followers of Jesus on the Jewish Sanhedrin council (like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea). By the time the Biblical record shows us Saul of Tarsus, he was a Jewish Pharisee who persecuted Christians; he certainly did not count himself among them. If Paul received the doctrines of the faith from others and later planted the church at Corinth, the Corinthian Christians were yet one more spiritual generation away. To suggest otherwise was pure, unfiltered arrogant boasting.
  2. Paul’s point was clear: all the people were the same. They had all been poor, wretched sinners saved by the grace of Jesus and they were all still in need of biblical teaching. What they received in the past they still required in the present. The problem was that their pride got in the way.

8 You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!

  1. These Corinthians acted as if they had everything, and Paul points it out through “compliments” dripping with ironic sarcasm. To be “full” was to be satiated, as if they had eaten enough. To be “rich” was to speak of their opulence. To “have reigned as kings” was for them to have lived as if they were kings, in all their luxury and carelessness. Old Paul and the rest of the apostles were awaiting the future millennial kingdom of Jesus, while the Corinthians were “living it up” in the moment. If they were already kings, they might as well have invited Paul to come reign with them!
    1. If Paul thought it bad among the Corinthians, imagine what he would say about the word-faith prosperity churches today! Imagine what he would say about the Roman Catholic church, which is estimated to own 177+ million acres of land around the world.[1] “Rich” is almost too little a word to describe it! Surely these are churches that act as if they are truly rich, reigning kings.
    2. Lest we point too many fingers, we need to consider that the typical American Evangelical church congregation is many multitudes of times wealthier than the typical tiny church in India or Nepal or Vietnam, etc. These economic differences are not going to be erased, nor should we feel any legalistic burden to do so. But it ought to help us check our attitudes and cause us to examine our budgets. Are we acting like kings here in this place, or do we remember our own position as brothers and sisters in the invisible church of Jesus Christ?

9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.

  1. Paul and the other apostles were treated far different than kings; they were treated as criminals “condemned to death.” The picture painted by Paul is that of the Roman games. Gladiators battled in places other than the infamous coliseum, including Corinth, and his readers would have been familiar with the idea of condemned criminals being forced out on the stadium grounds, forced to die as entertainment for the masses. Even the word “spectacle” gives the idea, as it comes from the same word that we get the word “theater” (θέατρον). They were put on show for all the world (angelic and human) to see.
  2. The point? The Corinthians thought themselves to be first. Paul understood that God made the apostles (and other Christians) last. This was God’s own divine plan and purpose, to display the apostles as “last” to all the world, that the world might see the strength of God shining through His “weak” apostles. This was the way of Jesus, following in His own footsteps. Consider how Jesus came to earth: in all humility! The one Person in all the universe most worthy of receiving a glorious reception and a display of infinite power came as a humble Child born out of official wedlock to a teenaged mother, in the home of a poor carpenter. What’s more, after Jesus lived out His ministry performing all kinds of miracles and being believed by many to be the Christ, He was rejected by His own nation and sent to die the death of a criminal on a cross. What greater spectacle of the condemnation of death is there, than the cross of Jesus? There, Jesus bore all our condemnation, Himself becoming a curse for us that we might escape the curse of God. If Jesus did that, then surely His apostles would do the same, to the glory of God.
    1. Take it one step further: if Jesus did it and the apostles did it, what makes us think we will do any differently? The way of Christian discipleship is that of humility – sometimes including hardship, sometimes including suffering, sometimes including death. Is this not what Jesus told us? Matthew 16:24–25, “(24) Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (25) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” We must follow in the suffering footsteps of Jesus, being made last, if we are to ever experience His glory and exaltation. We must experience the fellowship of His suffering, being confirmed to His death, if by any means we may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:10).
    2. No doubt, this isn’t a popular message among the church today. It wasn’t very popular with the Corinthians, and things haven’t changed. We don’t want to hear about things like suffering or tribulation or persecution. In fact, there are some who would tell us, “Don’t say things like that! You’ll turn off people from potentially coming to faith in Jesus. Tell them how God will make their lives better; you’re telling them how God might make it worse.” No…we’re just being realistic and Biblical. God does have wonderful plans for those who believe in Jesus, but they are eternal plans, plans of forgiveness and for us to spend a glorious eternity in His presence. As for the rest of our lives in this world, these days might be very difficult. In fact, it might even be God’s will for them to be difficult. But even that is good. How so? Because it is in those days of our weakness that the power of God is displayed as strong!

10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!

  1. Paul gets back to his sarcasm. Whereas before, he wrote of the seemingly surpassing “blessing” of the Corinthians (vs 8), now he points out the seeming “weakness” of the apostles. They were “fools,” from the same word we get “morons,” being stupid or moronic. They were “weak,” literally meaning that they were totally without strength, lacking in basic health and physical ability. They were “dishonored,” or completely without respect, as if “honor” was negated in their lives. Contrast that with the Corinthians (at least in their own minds). The Corinthians were “wise…strong…distinguished.” They were the intelligent ones, the mighty victors, those deserving of honor and glory (“distinguished” taken from the same word as “glory,” doxa).
  2. Quite the contrast! The Corinthians believed themselves to have it all, and they gloried in their luxury and supposed surpassing knowledge of Christ. They were so much better than the apostles, right? No…but that was certainly their attitude.

11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.

  1. This was the real story. The apostles were rejected by the world; not embraced as “wise.” They experienced all of the hardship of being on the road during the Roman empire. When Paul travelled with his various companions (men like Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Timothy, and others), they weren’t staying in Holiday Inns or La Quintas along the way. They weren’t even staying in roach-motels…many times they didn’t have a roof over their heads at all! They never knew if they’d eat one meal a day, much less three. They hoped to find work in the various towns they visited, never twisting the arms of their new disciples to financially support them. And many times, they weren’t welcomed at all. Sometimes they would be chased out of town – sometimes they would be jailed – perhaps Paul would even be assaulted and stoned nearly to death on the outskirts of town. By no means was this a glamorous ministry; on the contrary, they were often treated as the “offscouring,” or the scum left on a pot after the meat has been boiled in it.
  2. How different this is from those who teach that Christians can have our best lives right now! If that had been the gospel preached by the apostle Paul, people would have laughed him out of town. They would have quoted the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself!” There was no question that Paul had a severely difficult ministry, perhaps more difficult that many (if not most) of the apostles. But all of them had persecutions and problems. History indicates that all of the original apostles were martyred (with the exception of John, and they tried their best with him!), some in horrendous ways. James was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down, John was placed in boiling oil.
  3. Question: If the apostolic ministry was so hard, why would anyone do it? If it was as bad as Paul described, who would possibly sign up for it? There can only be one answer: Jesus. If Jesus were anything other than what the Bible shows Him to be (God in the flesh, crucified for our sins and risen from the dead), there would be zero reason for anyone to suffer like Paul did to spread the gospel. Why suffer for weeks on-end with hunger and thirst and homelessness, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary? More than that, why endanger yourself through persecution and death, if there were any possibility of Jesus not being true? It wouldn’t be worth it. But if it is true? Than Jesus is worth all of that and more! If Jesus is the Son of God/God the Son, if He did give Himself as a substitute sacrifice on the cross in our place for the punishment of our sin, if He did truly rise from the dead on the third day in victory – then He is worth any What suffering in this life compares with the glory that awaits us in the next, if the gospel is true? It is

The Corinthians had been boasting against Paul…and they needed to stop! All of their arrogance was not only illogical and foolish, it was harming their own spiritual growth. If they continued down this road, they would end up believing a false gospel and fall away from the truth.

Objection: “That may have been the Corinthians, but that isn’t me. I may not be the best Christian out there, but I haven’t thought myself better than the apostle Paul or claimed that my Christianity was better than anyone else.” First of all, be careful. You (and I) might be far more arrogant than you think! How many Christians have we seen doing something in accordance with their convictions from the Scriptures, that we’ve looked at and thought, “Poor fool. He’ll grow up in time and settle down.” Be careful…that is a sign of dangerous arrogance!

Secondly, even if you do not personally struggle with outward arrogance, it is a rare situation when we do not struggle with an inward pride. Why is it that any Christian engages in willing sin? It all comes down to pride. After all, it isn’t like anyone starts his/her day as a born-again believer looking to see how grievously we can sin against Jesus. Our daily desire is to live for His glory…but we sometimes fall far short. But we find things getting out of hand. We started the day thinking we were big enough and strong enough in ourselves to resist the temptations that would come our way, but instead of admitting our weakness and dependency on Jesus, we thought we could handle things…and we were wrong.

The point? Most sin in the lives of Christians are either rooted in pride or have some connection to pride. If we’re to walk in holiness at all, we need to be willing to admit our weakness. We need to stop boasting in ourselves and realize that we have absolutely nothing without Jesus.

  • Warning to the church (14-21). Start imitating!

14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

  1. Was Paul a bit biting in his sarcasm? But it got the point across. He wasn’t doing it to be mean, or “to shame” the Corinthians to doing what he wanted. Guilt is never the best motivator. It might move someone for a bit, but it isn’t enough to sustain. What is better than shame? Love. And Paul loved them! As a father to his children, Paul loved this church immensely. He had a unique role among them as their church planter. Sure, Apollos had shown up later to help disciple the Christians and apparently Peter had visited them at some point, but although many people and pastors would come and go, the church was only planted once. It only had one “birth,” and Paul was there at the beginning to see it happen. Because of that, Paul had a unique love for this church, desiring the best for them in ways that only a parent could desire for his/her children. Just like our children might have many teachers and influences in their lives, so would the church have “ten thousand instructors” (or “tutors”). But likewise, our children only have two parents, and the church at Corinth only had one church planter, one father-figure among them.
  2. Question: In no uncertain terms, Paul describes himself as a spiritual father to the Corinthians. How can this be reconciled with Jesus’ statement in Matthew 23:9 to call no one on earth our father, for this is only one who is our Father in heaven? There are a couple of answers. (1) In the same passage, Jesus also said to call no one rabbi or teacher, yet we have teachers on earth just like we have earthly physical fathers. Jesus’ overall point was for us to recognize God’s supremacy and not to heap up spiritual titles for ourselves. It is one thing to be a dad; it is another to proclaim ourselves as someone else’s spiritual father and expect to be addressed as such. (2) Paul never once indicated that he wanted or expected to be called “Father Paul.” Although this was his legitimate role, it was not his asserted title. The only title we ever see Paul actively claiming is that of “apostle,” and even then, he never expected to be called “Apostle Paul.” He was always just “Paul,” or “Saul of Tarsus.” He could serve as a father and teacher and bond-slave of Jesus without requiring all the ritualistic trappings and formal titles so often associated with it.
  3. Don’t miss the overall point. Paul loved this church as only a father could. He saw the danger among these “beloved children,” and it shook him. That was why he got stern with them – that was why he warned them. Paul didn’t get harsh with the Corinthians because he hated them; he got stern with them because he loved them. He wanted the best for them.
    1. Sometimes we need a bit of cold water thrown in our faces by those who love us. It might come from a pastor – it might come from a godly peer – it might even come from a parent or even a child. Is it shocking? Perhaps…but when done at the right time in the right way, thank God for it. It’s needed. It might be just the thing to wake us out of a sinful stupor and get us walking rightly again.

16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

  1. The word Paul uses for “imitate” is the one we get our word “mimic,” (μιμητής). Technically, it’s a noun (not a verb), so the verse might be translated, “Therefore I implore you, become an imitator/mimicker of me.” He’s saying, “Do what I do. Speak what I speak, act how I act, believe what I believe.” Some might object, thinking this was rather arrogant. No, it’s loving. How do children learn? By imitating their parents. There is a reason why kids share the facial expressions of their moms and dads. It isn’t only because of their shared genetics; it’s because of their shared time. They’ve seen each other smile the way they do, or look over their glasses the way they do…and they end up doing the same thing. Paul was like a father to this congregation, and they had gotten seriously off-track. What did they need to do? They needed to get back to basics and follow the example of their parent. Like a 5 year old boy using a toy tool set to mimic his dad in the garage, so was this congregation of believers to mimic and imitate the faith and practice of Paul.
  2. Of course, that only pushes back the question. If it was only natural for the child congregation to imitate the parent church planter, what made the church planter a good model? After all, we might imitate bad Why imitate Paul? Because Paul imitated Jesus. This is stated explicitly later in the letter: 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Paul wasn’t a good role model because he was such a nice guy or super-successful. He certainly wasn’t super-rich or considered wise and impressive in the eyes of the world. He wasn’t any of the things we might normally consider good qualifications for role models. Typically our culture looks at business CEO’s or celebrities or politicians as examples to follow, and Paul was none of these things. What he was, was godly. What he was, was a good example of someone who followed Jesus. Ultimately, it wasn’t Paul that the Corinthians were to follow; it was Jesus. Paul wasn’t setting himself up as the ultimate holy standard. Paul was simply a guy who followed Jesus. So guess what? If the church followed Paul, they’d be following Jesus too.
    1. Beloved, this is exactly what we need within the church! We don’t need men and women following men and women, except if those other men and women are following Jesus. It isn’t about any one person (or group) raising his flag, saying, “Do what I do because I know what I’m doing!” On the contrary, if that person is honest, he/she would probably say, “I don’t know what I’m doing any better than you. I’m just as fallible as you are. But I follow Someone who is in So if you go with me, you’ll be going with Him, too.” And it only builds from there, because the more of us that go after Jesus, the easier it will be for the rest of us to follow!
    2. BTW – The same principle applies in evangelism. What is it that we’re doing when we share our faith? We’re introducing people to the person of Jesus. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we’re telling people, “Come meet a Man who told me everything I ever did.” Like Andrew bringing his brother Peter to meet Jesus, so are we bringing people to Him. It isn’t about getting people to grant intellectual assent to a set of truths – it isn’t about getting them to recite back to you a statement of faith. Those doctrinal truths are important, but at the core of it all is them meeting the person of Jesus Christ. We’re asking them to follow us as we follow Jesus – we’re taking them to meet Jesus for themselves.

17 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.

  1. Timothy was their example in how to imitate Paul. Just like the Corinthians were “beloved children” to Paul, so was Timothy a “beloved and faithful son in the Lord” to Paul. Timothy had a truly special relationship to Paul, serving in the role of one of Paul’s disciples and trusted emissaries. Timothy had come to faith in Jesus during one of Paul’s earlier mission trips and had travelled with Paul on many occasions throughout the Roman empire. If anyone knew Paul’s doctrines and habits and prayer life, it was Timothy. For the Corinthians, Timothy could teach Paul’s ways as he himself imitated Paul.
  2. What is Paul writing about here? How is it that we grow in our faith in Christ? Through prayer and Bible study. How do we learn to do those things? When other godly men and women come along side us and teach us. We learn it in the course of our worship services, as we pray publicly and as we receive the systematic teaching of the Scripture. But we also experience it in small groups, in one-on-one meetings – we get it as we come alongside younger brothers and sisters in the Lord and teach them in the things of God, modeling these things for them.
    1. Keep in mind, this is at the core of our mission as the New Testament church. Jesus did not tell the apostles to go out into the world and make a bunch of converts, giving them a Bible tract and getting them to pray a prayer, and then leaving them alone. No – Jesus told them (and us) to make disciples. Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We aren’t to get people to just pray a prayer; we’re to get people to follow Jesus! We are disciples raising up other disciples in the Lord. It starts with conversion, but it includes baptism and teaching. That requires teachers. It requires men and women who love Jesus to show other people how to love Jesus. Maybe it’ll take place at your job – maybe it takes place in a home fellowship or small group – maybe it takes place in the children’s ministry. There are no lack of opportunities to raise up disciples of Jesus; there is only a lack of disciplers.

18 Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. 20 For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.

  1. Paul himself would be soon arriving in Corinth (should the Lord allow), and when/if he did, Paul would do what was necessary at the time. If the church was still deep in arrogant sin, then Paul would act in powerful discipline. Those who were “puffed up” would experience the “power” of God.
  2. Was this a threat? To put it simply, yes! Sometimes our parents needed to threaten us with the “power” of spanking or grounding to get us to act right. Paul threatened to do the same thing with the church at Corinth. Keep in mind, there is no doubt that he could act with dramatic, supernatural power. Don’t forget that this was a time in the church when people like Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead after lying to the apostles and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5) or when Paul pronounced blindness on a sorcerer who was opposing the gospel (Acts 13). If Paul wanted to exercise true power, he could do it!

21 What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?

  1. The choice was theirs. Did they want the easy way or the hard way? Paul could bring the “rod” of discipline or he could act with “” If they responded to the example of Timothy, then Paul could be joyful and gentle with this repentant church. If they ignored Timothy like they had ignored Paul, then Paul would act in such a way among them that they couldn’t ignore it!
  2. When it comes to sin within His church, God will not tolerate it. One way or the other, God will act and He will bring discipline. And this is a good thing! The Bible tells us that the Lord chastens those whom He loves, that His chastening is a sign that we are His sons and daughters (Heb 12:6-7). Will His chastening be harsh? So don’t make it necessary! When the Holy Spirit and/or the Scripture convict you of sin, respond. Take that moment to confess your sin to God, agreeing with Him that it is sin, repent of those things because of the shed blood of Jesus, and thank Him for the forgiveness He guarantees in His resurrection (1 Jn 1:9). And then walk differently. Discipline yourself so that you will not be disciplined by God. That is when we are walking as His disciples.

Instead of continuing in their arrogance, Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him. How does anyone learn anything? Usually through the process of imitation. Piano students watch the technique of their teachers. Basketball players repetitively run through the fundamentals taught them by their coaches. Math students watch their teacher work through the problem first, then attempt it themselves. It isn’t any different with our Christian faith. How are we to learn? By imitating those who came before.

Who are you imitating? Those whom you set up as models will be those you follow. We used to say it constantly in terms of computer programming: “garbage in, garbage out.” If we put in shoddy programming code, we need to expect shoddy results. It’s no different with our personal and Christian lives. Who we set in front of us will be who we imitate, for good or bad. If we listen to nothing but political debate, our lives will show a priority of politics. If we watch nothing but sex and violence on TV, it ought to be no surprise when the same shows up in our actions. But if we consume the things of God – if we prioritize reading our Bibles, praying, listening to teaching, and generally following others as they follow Jesus – that is when we will see the things of Jesus reveal themselves in our lives. If what comes out of your life isn’t what you want to see, then change what you’re putting in your life.

Conclusion:

Much of what Paul had to say in the close of Chapter 4 was a bit harsh, but it was necessary. Paul needed to take the Corinthian Christians to the woodshed because although they were acting like Corinthians, they weren’t acting like Christians. They were boasting against the very people from whom they needed to learn, when they should have been imitating these men as they walked with Jesus. They needed to stop boasting and start imitating.

It doesn’t change with us. We need to stop boasting in ourselves, taking comfort in our own supposed “strength” and considering ourselves in a better position than other Christians through history or around the world. … We need to start imitating, mimicking those whose walk with Jesus is strong and mature. We need to learn from those who have gone before us, and most importantly, following in the footsteps of the apostles as they followed in the footsteps of Jesus. …

What does it look like? It looks like churches that don’t adopt the ways of the world around us, that don’t boast in our “cool” factor, our political influence, or how “woke” we are. Churches that shine the spotlight on themselves are churches that boast in themselves. Likewise, with individual Christians. If all we talk about is “me, me, me,” then it’s difficult to find an opportunity to tell anyone about Jesus.

But consider what would happen if church congregations and individual Christians started walking in the footsteps of Paul, Peter, John, and others as they followed Jesus. Consider what would happen if we took the commands of Christ seriously, desiring to truly obey them in practice rather than only theory. What would happen if you forgave like you’ve been forgiven? Or if you actually did turn the other cheek when insulted? Your Facebook and Twitter updates might read very differently! Your attitude might be massively changed.

And that’s the way it should be. Christians are supposed to be different from the rest of the world; not comparing ourselves to them by their standard. So let us be different! Let us follow after our Lord Jesus, walking by His teachings and following His example!

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-biggest-landowners-2011-3#3-pope-benedict-13

In Joshua 22, we read of the Transjordan tribes’ home and altar of witness. As we continually serve Christ, we are to occupy for Him and abide in Him.

Never Stop Serving God

Posted: October 8, 2020 in Joshua

Joshua 22, “Never Stop Serving God”

Some roles are temporary; others are not. When you go to your workplace, you engage in your job for 8-10 hours (or more), but you go home to rest and relax, no longer concerned with being an engineer or plumber or administrator, etc. When you’re a parent, you are a parent 24/7. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, when your child is sick or has an accident, everything else gets dropped for the sake of your kid. (And rightfully so!)

In what category does your relationship with Jesus fall? Sadly, for many people in many churches, it is temporary – something that is only engaged for a few minutes a day (at best) and perhaps a longer hour+ on Sundays. That’s the wrong category. Our relationship with Jesus (if it is real) is not temporary; it’s 24/7. We are always the children of God, always His disciples, always indwelled with the Spirit. The Bible tells us to be always praying, implying that we are always worshipping. Our role as born-again Christians is not just “another” role among many; it is part of our core-identity. It is who we are. It isn’t something we retire for the night; it’s something in which we remain, always.

This was true also for ancient Israel, and illustrated marvelously in the lives of the Transjordanian tribes, i.e., the 2½ tribes of Israel whose lands were on the eastern side of the Jordan river. At this point in their history (which sadly wouldn’t last), they understood that they belonged to God and they were to never stop worshipping and serving Him. And there was a danger that they might. After all, their lands were not neighboring the other lands of the other tribes. Before Joshua ever led the nation across the Jordan into the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh asked Moses for permission to settle their families on the east side of the river, seeing that the land was ideal for their livestock. At first, Moses raised much concern, fearing that these tribes were about to engage in the same sin that kept the previous generation wandering in the desert wilderness for 40 years, but when the tribes pledged to fight on behalf of their brethren in the land, Moses granted permission for their families to remain on the eastern side.

The time had now come for the promise to be made good. The conquest of the land was largely complete, with the kings conquered and the lands distributed to the various tribes of Israel. Joshua had led the nation to massive victories in the Lord, and God finally gave rest to His people – a temporary reprieve from fighting as they could enjoy the fruits of the land living in houses they did not build and partaking of vineyards they did not plant. Older warriors like Caleb and Joshua were finally able to settle down, enjoying everything for which they had trusted God as God had truly blessed the people according to His ancient promises.

With that peace came the prospect of the Transjordanian tribes returning home. Did this mean that their role as servants of God ceased? Had they retired from their relationship with God? No! The fighting had stopped but their service of God continued. They were to never stop serving the Lord, and these tribes demonstrated their commitment to this in a very visible (and dangerous!) way.

When do we stop serving Jesus? Never. Although we wait for Christ to take us home, we serve Him until the moment He does so. We occupy this present world for His glory and we abide in Jesus and His promises until the end.

Joshua 22

  • The Transjordan tribes go home (1-9). Occupy for Christ!

1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them: “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. 3 You have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God. 4 And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brethren, as He promised them; now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.

  1. This was pretty high praise from Joshua! The 2½ tribes had indeed been obedient to the original command they received from Moses. Leaving their families and flocks in the Transjordan land (presumably unprotected, save by the grace of God), they fought faithfully alongside their brothers in the western lands. Everything that was asked of them, they did, be it from Moses or Joshua.
  2. More importantly, the Transjordan tribes had obeyed God. Obeying Moses & Joshua was obeying God: “[you] have kept the charge of the commandment of the LORD your God.” The tribes understood well that the word of God through the prophet was the word of God Himself. Anything that Moses or Joshua spoke under the inspiration of God came from God.
    1. This is why we give such authority to the Bible! Some people pay special attention to only certain words and commands in the Scripture, looking only for the “red letters” of Jesus or anything that is a direct quote from the Lord. What they fail to understand is that every word in the Bible is a word from the Lord God. Granted, sometimes the Bible quotes ungodly people, but even those words are meant to be there by the will of God and must be interpreted and applied rightly according to God’s intent for them. We do not pick and choose which Scriptures are authoritative; all Scripture is authoritative.
  3. With the obedience of the Transjordan tribes, now it was time for them to go home. Now it was time for them to rest. Just like God had “given rest” to the other tribes, so God was giving rest to them. – Again, it is important to remember that this was a temporary rest…a rest from war. This was not the permanent rest of salvation promised in Jesus (and experienced only in Jesus). Even so, it was a glorious gift of God to the Transjordan tribes and they could finally go enjoy the lands graciously given them by the Lord.

5 But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

  1. Joshua’s commission to them: keep worshipping – keep serving – keep heeding the Lord. Yes, the tribes were to rest in the land and enjoy the land and the spoils of war. Yes, their immediate obligation of obedience to the Lord in the act of war and conquest was complete, but their ongoing obligation of obedience to the Lord as their God and King never They were to always walk in His ways, to hear/keep all the commandments in the covenant law, to “serve [God] with all [their] heart and with all [their] soul.” This wasn’t to be legalistic ritual and burdensome obligation; this was to be sincere service as they continued their covenant relationship with God.
  2. In fact, that relationship is seen in the initial part of this commission, which is also the summary of the law itself: “to love the LORD your God.” Remember that this is what Jesus called the first and great commandment of the law – it is the foundation and summary of all that God commanded Moses. To love God is to do more than slavishly obey Him. Robots obey their programmers, but there is no love there. Soldiers obey their commanding officers, but there need not be love between them. No doubt God is owed our obedience simply by virtue of the fact that He is God. But God desires more than mere obedience; He wants our love.
    1. Keep in mind that this isn’t something that God desires and commands of us alone; it is something He first demonstrates. God loved us so much that He gave us His only begotten Son – God demonstrates His own love toward us that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. The only reason we can love God at all is because He loved us first (1 Jn 4:19).
    2. When was the last time you considered the fact that God loves you? You, of all people – God loves you so much that He sent Jesus to die for you. When I consider that God loves me, I lose the words. Me?! I know what a wretched sinner I am – I know how I’ve failed God in innumerable ways. Guess what, God knows my failures even better than I do, and He still loves me. Just like He loves you. The proof? Amazing!
  3. As much as we are to love God without it being slavish obedience, we cannot divorce obedience from our expression of love for God. Notice how it comes across in verse 5: immediately after commanding the tribes to “do the commandment and the law,” Joshua describes this as loving the Lord, and then defines that even further through keeping God’s commandments, holding fast to Him, and serving Him with all their heart and soul. Plainly, to Joshua (and the rest of the Bible) loving God = obeying God. These things go hand-in-hand. And lest we think this is only an Old Testament concept, Jesus affirms exactly the same. John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Does this mean that our love for Christ rises and falls based on our ability (inability) to keep God’s commands? What it does mean is that we cannot claim that we love Jesus and then proceed to ignore everything He says. No husband says that he loves his wife and then pretends like she doesn’t exist when he walks into the room. That isn’t love; that’s more akin to hate (or at least, delusion). It isn’t any different with Jesus. If we love Him, we listen to Him. If we love Him as our God, then we obey Him as our King. These things are inseparable. Will we struggle and sometimes fail? Sure (and praise God there is forgiveness for that!), but we will strive to obey Him because of our love for Him.

6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents. 7 Now to half the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half of it Joshua gave a possession among their brethren on this side of the Jordan, westward. And indeed, when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them,

  1. Quick reminder of the tribal division of Manasseh. It was an unusual situation in Israel, not necessarily the best-case scenario, but one that was necessary due the size of the tribe. Even so, East Manasseh was “blessed” along with the other two Transjordan tribes.

8 and spoke to them, saying, “Return with much riches to your tents, with very much livestock, with silver, with gold, with bronze, with iron, and with very much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.” 9 So the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the word of the LORD by the hand of Moses.

  1. They all went back to their lands with riches. After spending several years on the road, gathering spoil from city after city, surely the wealth of the tribes had grown immensely. They were to take back what they had gathered and share it with those who remained behind. This wasn’t uncommon, nor was it an ancient version of socialism. Rather, it was the accepted practice of sharing the spoil with the people who were unable to go to battle. After all, there would be many people who were unfit for war but still able to tend the livestock back home. There were some who could not go fight, but they could care for the families that remained. They weren’t to be punished for their lack of opportunity. They too, were part of the people of God and they were to share in the blessing and inheritance of God.

What do we see? The Transjordan tribes not only went home, but they were to occupy their new home. As they rested from war, they were to remain active for the Lord in their new land, always loving and serving God. They took home the blessings and appropriated those blessings, using them for the glory of God in the place He put them.

The application should be obvious. We are in this world for now, though not yet in our eternal home. We belong to the Lord Jesus, thought we are not yet physically with our Lord Jesus. What do we do in the meantime? Occupy the land! We stay busy in this place for Jesus, using the opportunities He gives us for His kingdom and His glory. 

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is recorded telling the Parable of the Minas (similar to the Parable of the Talents) where the master tells his servants, “Do business till I come,” (Lk 19:13), or per the KJV, “Occupy till I come.” The idea was for his servants to be about his master’s business for as long as the master was gone, knowing that they would later be held accountable for what they did in his absence. Likewise for us. We are to occupy till Jesus comes – we are to do business for Jesus. We don’t stop obeying Him – we keep His commands – we share His gospel – we stay busy doing the things of the Lord by the power of the Lord for as long as the Lord has us in this place. We may have our issues with this world (particularly in this climate!), but we are to be about the Lord’s business in this world, keeping His commands and spreading the news of His kingdom.

  • The Transjordan altar (10-34). Abide in Christ!

10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan—a great, impressive altar.

  1. So the Transjordan tribes go home, taking the spoil of war with them in the blessing of God, and after being solemnly commissioned to keep the commandments of the Lord and love God consistently, one of the first things they do is…build a giant altar. Remember that the nation of Israel already had an altar, and it was located at the Tabernacle (then situated in Shiloh in the land of Ephraim). This was a new altar – one not made by the common consent of the 12 tribes, nor by the command of either Joshua or Phinehas, and it was huge. To say that the altar was “great [and] impressive” is not to say that it was wonderful to behold like a work of art; it is a reference to its size. This was an altar meant to be seen. And it was…

11 Now the children of Israel heard someone say, “Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan—on the children of Israel’s side.” 12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered together at Shiloh to go to war against them.

  1. The rest of Israel heard about this massive altar and prepared for war. They didn’t rejoice over an appearance of faith on the part of the 2½ tribes because at first glance, this wasn’t an appearance of faith. This looked far more like rebellion and idolatry, thus the national gathering and sad preparation for war.
  2. Was this idolatry? Although this isn’t made clear until later in the chapter, there is a bit of a hint of it already in (1) the size of the altar, and (2) location of the altar. First of all, the size was immense, perhaps indicating that it would be impractical for use in sacrificial worship. But even if that were not the case, there was the issue of location. Interestingly, the Transjordanian Hebrews built the altar on the western side, “on the children of Israel’s side,” opposite their own lands. If its size was impractical, surely its location was even worse. How would the Transjordan tribes use it for sacrifice if they couldn’t easily get to it? All of this hinted at the purpose of this altar not being for worship, but for witness.

13 Then the children of Israel sent Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, 14 and with him ten rulers, one ruler each from the chief house of every tribe of Israel; and each one was the head of the house of his father among the divisions of Israel.

  1. Phinehas was sent to investigate, which makes sense as he was the high priest at the time. Even so, we might ask “Where was Joshua?” It is interesting that Joshua himself makes no appearance throughout this episode, even though he was the acknowledged prophet and leader of the nation. However, when we think about the roles of Joshua and Phinehas, this makes sense. Joshua was the military leader of the nation, having the responsibility to fight against the Canaanites and pagans in the land, clearing the way for the Hebrews to have a home. Phinehas was the spiritual leader of the nation, contending for the purity, the worship, and the spiritual obedience for the Hebrew people themselves. It would not be expected for Joshua to raise his own hand against the Hebrews in judgment; it was expected for the high priest of Israel to bring God’s discipline upon any Hebrew people in sin.
  2. Notice how many tribal rulers went with Phinehas: 10 (vs. 14). Considering that there were 2½ of the 12 tribes on the Transjordan side, that meant that the tribal leader of West Manasseh must have been included in the investigating party. For a tribe to potentially witness and war against its own tribe underscores the seriousness of what was happening.

15 Then they came to the children of Reuben, to the children of Gad, and to half the tribe of Manasseh, to the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them, saying, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD: ‘What treachery is this that you have committed against the God of Israel, to turn away this day from following the LORD, in that you have built for yourselves an altar, that you might rebel this day against the LORD?

  1. The accusation of “treachery” was an accusation of the tribes committing an unfaithful Keep in mind this was in direct contrast with the commission they received from Joshua in verses 1-6. Then, they were commanded to love and obey God, with their love for God being seen in their obedience. Now, every appearance was that the moment they arrived home, they were disobedient. They seemingly broke the command in unfaithfulness and treachery. 
  2. If the accusation was true, this indeed would have been an act of rebellion. For the tribes to be unfaithful to God in this was not merely for them to have “slipped” in sin; it was for them to “rebel this day against the LORD,” committing treason and mutiny against their divine King and Commander.
    1. We tend to lose sight that this is exactly what sin is. Although there are times we miss the mark simply out of a mistake (maybe we woke up on the wrong side of the bed and lost our temper or we had a terrible thought pass through our mind that we spent too much dwelling upon), there are other times we engage in sheer rebellion. There are times that we sin when we know we are sinning. We are conscious of the fact, and in the heat of the moment, don’t care. We cannot whitewash those things…it is rebellion. It isn’t “boys being boys” or “people being people;” it is treasonous rebellion against our King and God. It is a slap in the face of our Father, a cold shoulder to our Savior, and a shutting of our ears to the conviction of God the Spirit. It is rebellion, it is wicked, and it is wrong.
    2. Thankfully, this too is something that can be forgiven. Just as Peter knew what he was doing when he thrice denied his Friend and Savior Jesus, only weeping about it after the fact – if he could be forgiven by the Lord, so can we. We can be so thankful for the fact that Jesus’ forgiveness is freely available to the believer in Christ, whenever we confess in repentance and cling to His promises of grace!

17 Is the iniquity of Peor not enough for us, from which we are not cleansed till this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD, 18 but that you must turn away this day from following the LORD? And it shall be, if you rebel today against the LORD, that tomorrow He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel.

  1. The reference to “the iniquity of Peor” was a reference to the aftermath of the pagan prophet Balaam in Numbers 25. Recall that King Balak had hired Balaam in an attempt to have the nation of Israel cursed, which Balaam was unable to do. Although he was a mercenary prophet with no love for God, he was still restrained by God to speak nothing but His word. Although Balaam could not verbally curse Israel with judgment, he knew how he could get Israel to bring God’s judgment upon themselves. That was when he counseled Balak to send women from Moab into the men of Israel, for them to commit fornication…which they did. Thus, the judgment of God fell on Israel with 24,000 people falling in a plague. This was well-remembered by the people of Israel, which is why they implored the Transjordan tribes not to take up with idolatry and/or false worship. The sin with the women at Peor seemingly involved all kinds of idolatrous practices and the nation of Israel was judged severely. The 2½ tribes dare not do the same thing!
  2. What would have made all of this sink it to a whole new level of sobriety was the presence of the high priest Phinehas. After all, Phinehas was the very person that led God’s judgment against the people who sinned at Peor. During the fornication, there was a particular man who was committing lewd sexual acts with a pagan woman right in front of the door of the tabernacle in an act of gross sin. Phinehas ran them both through with a single strike of his javelin, and it was for that act that God granted his particular lineage the right of priesthood. If Phinehas was the instrument of God’s judgment upon God’s own people before, then surely he would do the same thing again!
  3. Question: Why did the 10 tribes of Israel go to confront the Transjordan tribes at all? Because they had a responsibility to confront sin in their midst. If they didn’t do it, the Lord God would hold the “whole congregation” accountable! Why? Because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. If Israel ignored a bit of idolatry today, they would endure a bit more tomorrow, and more the next day, until the whole nation was consumed with it. It would have been one thing for the Transjordan tribes to sin against God being out of sight of the nation – God would not hold the rest responsible for that of which they were ignorant. But if they knew of sin and did nothing, it wasn’t much different from them committing the sin themselves.
    1. This is why the practice of church discipline exists. When a local church starts winking at sin in one area, ignoring it, then that sin has a tendency to grow. Like cancer, it metastasizes until it takes over the entire congregation, ruining its witness and testimony of Jesus. At that point, what good is the church? Once salt has lost its saltiness, what good is it? When a church can no longer testify of the saving grace of Jesus, of the transforming power of Christ, then that church has lost its reason for being. Thus, sin must be addressed. The sinner must be dealt with lovingly, in humility, offering much grace according to the Scripture – but he/she cannot be ignored. Discipline is to be exercised, with the prayer that it leads to repentance and restoration.

19 Nevertheless, if the land of your possession is unclean, then cross over to the land of the possession of the LORD, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us; but do not rebel against the LORD, nor rebel against us, by building yourselves an altar besides the altar of the LORD our God.

  1. Here was a demonstration of the brotherly love of Israel! They presented this marvelously generous offer, showing a way for the reason of this potential sin to be resolved. Given the best assumptions (of which they were only guessing), they thought that perhaps the local altar was built because the eastern lands were just that unclean. If that was the case, then surely the Transjordan tribes would be welcomed back among the rest of the nation. The other 9½ tribes would willingly make room among their own possessions for them. Surely, this was honoring to the Lord as they acted in generous love, looking to preserve the peace and unity of their people.
    1. I can think back to when a pastor reached out to me when I was in sin, offering me a way out. Regretfully, I was not spiritually mature enough to recognize the love in his offer and his desire to help me honor the Lord. But praise God for someone who was willing to act according to Galatians 6: Galatians 6:1–2, “(1) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (2) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Will we always have a generous offer to extend to our brothers and sisters who may be caught in a trespass? Maybe, maybe not. But we still ought to be compassionate and try to help those in need. If we can help turn a sinner from the error of his/her way, we can possible save that person from committing a multitude of other sins! (Jas 5:20)

20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’ ”

  1. The offer of generosity was bookended by two examples of Israel’s past failures. The first was the iniquity of Peor in Numbers 25; the second was the sin of Achan at Ai in Joshua 7. If the first event reached back a bit into history, the second was fresh in their memories. It was at Ai that Israel experienced its one and only defeat in the process of conquest. Achan had sinned against God at Jericho, stealing some of the spoil for himself (which was all devoted to the Lord), and people died as a result.
  2. The implication for the Transjordan tribes was clear: sin always affects others, and the sin of the eastern tribes might will take down the western tribes. They couldn’t afford the risk! 

21 Then the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh answered and said to the heads of the divisions of Israel: 22 “The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, He knows, and let Israel itself know—if it is in rebellion, or if in treachery against the LORD, do not save us this day.

  1. Starting with the most solemn of oaths, the Transjordan tribes invoke the name of the Lord as they begin to proclaim their innocence. The NKJV does not translate the names of the Lord the best, as it implies one name with a descriptive title. The Hebrew actually includes three distinct names of the Lord, as the NASB illustrates: “The mighty One, God, the LORD,” or El Elohim YHWH – God, Gods (plural of majesty), YHWH. There is an aspect of the Transjordan tribes calling upon the fullness of God as a Witness for them, on their behalf – perhaps even a hint to the Triune nature of the Godhead. – The point? The Transjordan tribes were telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, invoking God in all of His majestic glory to rain down judgment upon them if they lied.
    1. Do we need to swear oaths in this fashion? Our words ought to be simple, letting our “yes” be yes, and our “no,” no (Mt 5:37). Even so, we should be ever aware of Who we represent and serve. When we speak, we speak as children of the Most High God, eternally revealed in Three Persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as He is truth, we should speak truth. We dare not misrepresent our Father by speaking falsehoods in His name. 

23 If we have built ourselves an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer on it burnt offerings or grain offerings, or if to offer peace offerings on it, let the LORD Himself require an account.

  1. First, they agreed that if they had built the altar for sacrifice, it would have been rebellion. And if it was rebellion and idolatry, they would deserve death by the hand of God Himself. Why? Because sin requires punishment, for sin imparts guilt. For them to sin rebelliously against the Lord would be for them to invoke God’s wrath and justly receive it. The Transjordan tribes understood this fact, which is why they didn’t intend to sin.

24 But in fact we have done it for fear, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your descendants may speak to our descendants, saying, “What have you to do with the LORD God of Israel? 25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between you and us, you children of Reuben and children of Gad. You have no part in the LORD.” So your descendants would make our descendants cease fearing the LORD.’ 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now prepare to build ourselves an altar, not for burnt offering nor for sacrifice, 27 but that it may be a witness between you and us and our generations after us, that we may perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your descendants may not say to our descendants in time to come, “You have no part in the LORD.” ’

  1. The Transjordan tribes had a clear reason for this altar: “” Specifically, they feared being ostracized from the community of worship in the future. They thought that their separation from the other tribes physically would lead a separation from them spiritually. They feared that future generations would see the Jordan as God’s own barrier between them and forbid the eastern tribes from crossing the river to worship.
  2. Was it a legitimate potential problem? But sadly, this was a problem of their own making. Remember that these tribes specifically asked for land on the eastern side of the Jordan river. They stopped short of entering into the full land of promise, settling for the pastureland on the other side. If they had followed the stated desire of the Lord for them to enter Canaan, there would never exist even the possibility of being left out of the rest.
  3. Additionally, the Transjordan tribes potentially caused a monumental misunderstanding and war over this issue in their action to “resolve” the problem. Note that within the chapter they are never once recorded as asking the Lord what to do about their fear and potential problem. There is no indication that God told them to build this thing; this was something they took upon themselves. The wisdom of men was truly foolishness and almost started a civil war!
    1. What ought to be our first response to any problem we face? Prayer and Scripture. Before we ever seek the counsel of men, we ought to seek the counsel of God. We should look to Christ and His own commands as to what we ought to do. Will this include seeking godly counsel? Sure…but if it is truly godly counsel then it will be based on God’s word. Anything that seems good only in the ears of men is counsel to beware!

28 Therefore we said that it will be, when they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say, ‘Here is the replica of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, though not for burnt offerings nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between you and us.’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn from following the LORD this day, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for grain offerings, or for sacrifices, besides the altar of the LORD our God which is before His tabernacle.”

  1. The altar was a symbolic witness/testimony to the Transjordan tribes’ inheritance in the covenant relationship with God. It was a witness to their right to worship YHWH God, along with the rest of the nation. Thus, the reason for the appearance of an “altar.” It was meant to look like the altar of sacrifice, without being an altar of sacrifice.
  2. Again, this may have been well-intended, but ill-advised. Not only had they brought their nation to the brink of civil war, but neither were the Transjordan tribes able to maintain their fervor to worship God alone. By the time of the divided kingdom, the Transjordan tribes went with northern Israel, presumably partaking in the same idolatrous sacrifices as the rest of the tribes with the later golden calves built in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12:29).
    1. It’s been often said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and it is just as true inside the church as well as outside.
  3. What was the bottom-line intention of the tribes? They wanted to continue to worship God! They may not have been quite sure what to do about it, but they knew this much: more than anything, they feared the possibility of being unable to worship God and remain in His covenant. They wanted to remain in their relationship with God and they wanted everyone else to know that they wanted to remain in their relationship with God. In a word, they wanted to abide.
    1. We need to abide in Christ! There are many people who seemingly begin a relationship with Christ who do not remain with Christ. How many people have raised their hands in a church service or gone forward at a crusade, only to never darken the door of the church in future years? Far too many! Not that it should be a surprise, as Jesus told us this would be the case through the Parable of the Soils (or the Parable of the Sower – Mt 13:1-23). In the parable, three out of four types of soil failed to produce any fruit…including those who seemingly had some kind of initial response. What makes the difference? The soil in which the seed was able to take root. Who among the church are those who take root? Those who abide in Christ. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus made it clear to His disciples: John 15:4–5, “(4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Those who start in Jesus need to stay in Jesus; without Him we have nothing and no hope!

30 Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh, “This day we perceive that the LORD is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the LORD. Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.”

  1. Peace was kept because of the well-intentioned desire to worship God. Notice who was delivered from what: “Now you have delivered the children of Israel out of the hand of the LORD.” It wasn’t only East Manasseh, Reuben, and Gad delivered from the hand of Israel in judgment; it was the entire nation of Israel delivered out of the hand of the Lord God. If the Transjordan tribes had done this in rebellion and the nation let it go, then all the people would have suffered. Again, a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

32 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the rulers, returned from the children of Reuben and the children of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the children of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 So the thing pleased the children of Israel, and the children of Israel blessed God; they spoke no more of going against them in battle, to destroy the land where the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt.

  1. There was peace for the time being. Sadly, it wouldn’t last, as the book of Judges will go to show. 

34 The children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar, Witness, “For it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”

  1. Technically, the NKJV assumes the shorter name of the altar as “Witness,” as seen through the italics. Other translations point out the much-longer name of the altar as “It is a witness between us that the LORD is God,” (HCSB). Unwieldy, perhaps, but descriptive!

The altar was almost a major disaster, something thankfully averted due to the intent and symbolism of it. The Transjordan tribes built the altar of witness as a sign to future generations that they too worshipped the Lord God of Israel. They wanted a testimony to their right to abide in their covenant relationship with God.

We need to abide in Christ! What hope have we without Him? None.

Conclusion:

For all that could have potentially gone wrong, the Transjordanian tribes did a few things right. First, before they even got to the events of Chapter 22, they had obeyed the command of the Lord, proving themselves to be faithful. Now they had the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of God in their new home and continue in their relationship with Him. That was both their command and their desire. They were commanded to continue heeding the Lord in obedience and their desire was to continue following the Lord in worship. They were to occupy and abide.

So are we. Occupy and abide!

  • Occupy for Christ: We don’t know how long we will be here, but we are to remain active in this place as long as God has us here. Live as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom today, even as we await the arrival of His kingdom in the future.
  • Abide in Christ: We stay grounded in Christ, worshipping Christ, maintaining our eyes and focus on Him. We understand we have no hope apart from Jesus, so we keep Him central to everything we do.