In the recent Christian film Courageous, a resolution was adopted by the central male characters to boldly embrace their spiritual and familial roles. The resolution was a decree containing twelve statements witnessing to the biblical responsibilities of male leadership in the home and society calling men to heroically redirect and commit themselves to following. The document was adopted from Joshua’s declaration (Joshua 24:15) made prior to his death (Joshua 24:27) to the tribes of Israel and their leaders. On this occasion, he calls the men of Israel to resolve to choose and embrace their God given responsibilities to their own families in serving the Lord. However, when the nation’s leaders consent to his resolution to serve no other, you may be surprised at Joshua’s response.
You Cannot Serve The Lord!
Imagine yourself being called to assemble with the rest of Israel for a leadership meeting. You might be a bit surprised that Joshua would question your commitment to God when he said… “And if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve.” I will assume that most of you reading this article would have lifted your voice in unison with Joshua in affirming …”therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God”. That was easy, right? But then Joshua’s reply in verse 19 might take you by surprise when he said, “you cannot serve the Lord.” Let me get this straight. He called you to service in verse 14, to choose whom you will serve in verse 15, you respond with determination to serve the Lord in verse 18 and he then said you cannot serve the Lord in verse 19? So why can’t I serve Him you might ask? Joshua’s response is designed to clarify, in part, the kind of service God demands, “…Ye cannot serve the LORD: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.”
You Cannot Serve the Lord…without Christ
The jealousy of God is not like the sinful jealousy of man which is resentment that arises in the human heart over the success or advantage of a rival. God has no rivals! Rather God’s jealousy is His holy passion to maintain and guard the honor of His holy name. Just how passionate is God about His honor and glory? “For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). How then can Joshua be so confident in his declaration to serve God? His confidence came from resting in the provision of God; the Captain of the host of the Lord which he met before the battle of Jericho (Joshua 5:13 – 15) and worshipped when he was instructed to remove the sandals from his feet for the ground where he stood was holy ground. The holiness of God demands a holy sacrifice for sin which is found in the provision of the One who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens…Jesus the Son of God. Look at the cross my friend! Jesus Christ absorbed the wrath of God for sinners to declare God’s righteousness for the forgiveness of sins (Romans 3:25 – 26). You cannot serve God without the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no service to God apart from the grace of God that is in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:28 – 29). It is impossible to please God in leading your family apart from faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 11:6). You cannot do anything pleasing to God without Christ for without Him you can do nothing (John 15:5). Joshua’s response is designed to help them see that a resolution cannot be turned into a regulation to be obeyed in one’s own strength. However, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13). “I WILL” must be through the “I AM” of Christ and trusting in the strength that He supplies (I Peter 4:11)! Have you trusted in His sacrifice? Are you trusting in His sacrifice?
You Cannot Serve the Lord…Without Faith
Joshua clearly emphasizes the necessity of faith by using the personal pronoun “I” to represent God no less than seventeen times in verses 3 – 13 as follows, “I took,” “I gave,” “I sent,” “I brought,” “I delivered,” “I have done,” etc. Now it stands to reason that if God takes, you get captured and lead. If He gives, you receive. If He sends, you are supplied. If He brings, you are carried. If He delivers, you are rescued. If He works, you receive the revenue of blessings. If He is the all sufficient provider then you are being filled. Joshua is encouraging them to serve by resting in the person of redemption, “I AM the Lord,” rather than the things of deliverance (i.e., Egypt, prosperity, land, houses, enemies, etc.)
Notice Israel’s response, “For the LORD our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage…therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God” (Joshua 24:17). You can detect in these words the potential to serve God because of His gifts and provision alone rather than by faith in God alone. If your service is based solely on the goods of Canaan, then you could be serving God to consume His gifts upon your lusts in order to have a love affair with the world. James calls this kind of service adultery (James 4:1 – 4). Also, if those goods depart and fly away, you most likely will depart and fly away from your commitment to God taking your family along with you. But when the just live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4) and serve by faith, they can rejoice by faith and continue to serve Him even when the blossoms, fruit, fields, herds, flocks and olive oil of Canaan fail (Habakkuk 3:17 – 18).
Joshua knows the greatest danger the families of Israel face is a shift from the fullness of God to the fullness of what God has given them in Canaan. Sadly, Israel will fulfill this prophecy before the author can finish his chapter in verse 29, “And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done.” The implication of this text is that Israel stopped serving the Lord and began serving other gods after Joshua and those that knew God’s works died. Why didn’t the next generation serve Him? Was it because their father’s personal commitment to serve the Lord and know Him died and therefore servant leadership in the family died also? Was it because the fathers no longer valued the word of the Lord nor taught their children about the works of the Lord? Tragically for Israel, the wonder of God and His works was replaced with the wonder of the world of idols. As the influence of spiritual leadership declined so did the family decline. Is this not one of the threats our families face in a culture of entertainment, leisure and prosperity? Was this not Moses warning to Israel’s fathers concerning the fullness of Canaan before he passed the baton to Joshua (Deuteronomy 6:10 -13, 8:10 – 14, 11:15 – 16)?
You Cannot Serve the Lord…Without His Word
One of the most oft quoted text to encourage fathers in their task to teach and train their children in the home is Deuteronomy 6:7 as follows “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. However, the most importance prerequisite for doing so is often overlooked in verses 5 – 6, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.” The first act of personal devotion and commitment is to treasure the word of God by placing it in your hearts. The teaching that follows is from heart-to-heart. In other words, God’s word is first loved, valued and treasured. Before Moses will command fathers to teach their children, he will command them to love the Lord with all the heart by placing His word in their hearts. This relationship between treasuring God’s word and teaching children is also revealed in Deuteronomy 11:18 – 19, “…lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul…and ye shall teach them your children speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house…” Again in Deuteronomy 32:46, “…Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do…” Moses commanded parents to love and treasure God’s word by placing it, laying it and setting it in their own hearts and then teaching it to their children. While you teach your children to love God, do you love Him? While you teach your children to treasure God’s word, do you treasure it? As you teach your children to hope in God’s word, are you hoping in it? As you teach your children to serve God, do you serve Him?
This is why Joshua’s resolution is a commitment to serve God that is first personal (me) before it is ever provisional (household). Separating himself from his house, “But as for me,” Joshua highlights the necessity and priority of personal devotion to God before household devotions with family. In the context of the Christian home, Paul told the church at Colossi to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…” If the husband is the head of the wife and spiritual leader of the home, surely this exhortation concerning the word must begin with the husband/father.
You Cannot Serve the Lord…Without a Commitment
Joshua concluded his charge with a covenant or compact with the leaders to serve the Lord and recorded it in the book of the law (Joshua 24:25 – 27). The purpose of the compact was to give witness to their words and hold them accountable in the future with regard to their commitment. Allow me to challenge the men in this New Year to make a commitment to place God’s word in your heart with daily reading. Establish a time of day and ask the Lord to help you keep the commitment to stick with it. As you hide God’s word in your heart, hold the same word before the minds of your household in the daily context of life as the attitudes and actions of your children (and our response to them) express themselves. Moses instructed Israel to diligently teach (impress upon the mind) their children by talking about God’s word while sitting, walking, and when you lie down. Look for opportunities for daily application. If you struggle with consistency in this area like so many of us do, take it a step further. Share your compact with your wife or someone in your church as an accountability partner. Invite them to ask you each month how you are doing with your commitment to read God’s word and to teach your children. Seek out counsel and fellowship with other men in your church and discuss how God has used His word in your life. Fulfill the mandate to exhort one another daily!
Finally, remember that your household can’t serve the Lord apart from the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we hold the gospel of the grace of God before their eyes and not just a burdensome list of commands to be obeyed in their own strength. They need a new birth from above to serve God acceptably. They need faith in Jesus Christ to please God. While salvation is of the Lord, we are charged with the responsibility to teach them and call them to repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). Let us say with renewed zeal and commitment in 2012, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.