An often quoted verse comes from Joshua 24:15 – “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” There are a lot of interesting features in this chapter when it comes to covenant and theology but one that we talk less about is challenging the enthusiasm of potential God-followers. Joshua knows they are going to have temptation in the promised land…they have already shown their inability to be faithful to God even within the first generation residing in the land. So Joshua challenges them to serve the Lord above the false gods present in the land. (For the text of Joshua 24 click here.)
Notice the response of God’s people in 24:16-18. They say they are ready to serve the Lord. They recognize God’s wondrous acts to provide them freedom from Egypt and conquest of the promised land. They say “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” As a minister, anytime someone tells me they are ready to serve God I say something like, “That’s great…best decision you will ever make…” but notice Joshua’s response in 24:19, “You are not able to serve the Lord…” and he gives them half a dozen reasons why. Why would he discourage their optimism? Can you imagine if someone told you they wanted to become a Christian and you said, “No you don’t…you can’t do that!” Then, if they were really serious, they would say “Yes I am! You can’t stop me from following God!” or maybe they say, “You know what…you’re right. Following God is too tough for me.” Somehow we fear people turning away and I have never heard someone challenge someone at the moment of decision like Joshua does here in Joshua 24. How do the people respond to Joshua’s harsh rebuke? They are persistent in their desire to follow God – “No! We WILL serve the Lord!”
How bold is Joshua to test them like that? How often do we paint a safe and lovely picture of the Christian walk and people get in the middle of it and realize Christianity is not the same reality as they were sold on by the person they studied with? I am a firm believer of being up front and honest about the difficulties of the Christian life as non-Christians study the Bible. I also make sure that when someone is baptized they realize the race has just begun and that if there ever was a time they are going to need support it is after they are baptized and not before. I wish I had Joshua’s boldness. I wish I didn’t worry about saying something that might turn someone off of the Gospel and God. How easy a Gospel message are we turning people on to and how honest is our approach? Do we talk about love and peace that God gives without mentioning taking up crosses and denying self? Do we talk about forgiveness of sins without talking about forgiving our enemies? I don’t know about you but this is a constant challenge for me and I am glad God has been patient with me and often uses me in spite of myself!