Beaux Williams

Christian Living in Him Alone




Christian Living in Him Alone

What could you add to somehow complete salvation? Or, to ask it another way, what is missing from God’s work of salvation that we must contribute? Perhaps, this seems like a foolish question, at least initially, because there is nothing missing. God, the creator and sustainer of the universe has considered the work of salvation through Jesus Christ complete. On the cross, Jesus, knowing that all things were accomplished, declared with his dying breath, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30). For the repentant sinner, who has confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, there is salvation (Romans 10:9). We bring nothing to the cross  but still, Jesus graciously becomes the center of the believer’s life. We know this. And yet, isn’t it interesting how quickly human nature is enticed to grasp at new teachings that suggest otherwise? How tempting it is to think that we must somehow add something to salvation. How easily a person’s life can center on things that have the appearance of religion rather than the person of Jesus Christ. 

 This week we will continue our study of the book of Colossians. As you remember, the Apostle Paul likely penned this epistle from prison in the city of Ephesus. The letter is a response to a report that he had received from the faithful minister Epaphrus. It is likely that Paul had never met the believers as Colosse, yet just imagine his frustration as he was unable to personally address issues surfacing within the church. Of these issues, the most prominent seems to be the danger of false teaching.  Many commentators conclude that this teaching was a strange concoction of Christianity, pagan practices and distorted Jewish thought. Through what Paul labels “empty deceit” (2:8) these young Christians were being “deluded” (v 2:4) to stray from the clear message of the Gospel and consider Old Testament legalism, pagan mystery-cults, angelic worship, and the practice of denying physical indulgence to somehow achieve greater spiritual enlightenment. 

 In response to this, Paul gives the church three important exhortations:

  • Don’t let anyone judge you with regards to the law (vv 2:16-17)

  • Don’t let anyone disqualify you on the basis of asceticism (vv 2:18-19)

  • Don’t submit to legalism (vv 2:20-23)

 Today, we will examine each of these exhortations in turn. Yet, in order to do so we must consider Christ as the basis for our freedom. 

Advent Week 1: Longing For Christ




Advent Week 1: Longing For Christ

I would like to invite you to join me in recognition and celebration of the Advent Season. It may be you have faithfully observed Advent every year from your childhood. Perhaps this is the tradition you learned from your parents or the church you grew up in. Or it may be you are completely unaware of the meaning of the Advent Season. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, the season of Advent is a time in which we look with eager anticipation towards the revelation of our Savior Jesus Christ. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” “Advent looks back in celebration at the hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s coming, while at the same time looking forward in hopeful and eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for his people” (Outreach.com). In a time of busyness and distraction, it is an opportunity for us to reflect and remember God’s great redemptive work of sending his Son, Immanuel, God With Us.

Living as the Church: Holy Bodies

Living as the Church: Holy Bodies

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Beaux Williams

 

Over the last several weeks we have been working together through Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians. As you remember, Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia and had a sizeable population. It was a wealthy and influential center of trade and culture. It was also a haven for pagan worship, cults, and immorality. Smack dab in the middle of this darkness was a small church of Christian believers. This particular church was established by the Apostle Paul, Timothy and Sylvanus as they successfully preached to the Jews in the synagogues and the Gentiles in the city. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive to a world that turns a deaf ear. As such, Paul and company were forced to leave this fertile ground prematurely due to persecution from the Jews. Having to leave these new spiritual children was devastating to the missionaries. Chapter 3 states that when they could bear this separation no longer, they sent Timothy to see how they were doing. To Paul’s great relief, the light of this church was still shining brightly in the midst of the darkness. Paul pens the letter of 1 Thessalonians to encourage and exhort this body of believers. He also writes to challenge them to walk in such a way as to please God and to do so more and more (1 Thess 4:1). It is in this context that we approach our text for the day.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.   (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, ESV)

Imagine with me, if you will, a young man. Perhaps this young man was a Gentile convert in the church of Thessalonica who learned about Jesus Christ from the teachings of Paul. Growing up in a pagan culture, he has been surrounded by the corruption and immorality all around him. As such, he has been a willing participant in this immorality. But, now, for the first time in his life, he is attracted not just to the physical beauty of women but to the spiritual beauty as well. He meets a young woman in the congregation, also a follower of Jesus, who has grown up in the culture. He gets to know her and comes to love her. Yet, neither has learned how to approach relationships with the moral purity required of a disciple of Christ. As it turns out, there is still a bit of the world in them both. This immorality surfaces in their relationship bringing predictable consequences. They soon discover that as they follow Christ, things can’t stay the same. There is a connection between our sanctification and our sexuality. This is what Paul will address in these verses.

I bring up this example for a couple of reasons. First, this is probably not far removed from the testimonies of those in the congregation of the Thessalonian church. While they had come to faith in Jesus Christ, they would still need to understand what is means to walk in purity. Second, this story is very similar to my story, and, I suspect, the stories of others here today. Much like Thessalonica, we are surrounded by a culture that encourages and enables immorality. Media, movies, and internet hit us with a constant barrage of graphic sexual images and innuendo. We live in a generation that seeks to eliminate sexual boundaries, change the biblical understanding of marriage, and redefine gender. Our culture has pushed for sexual revolution and freedom from any restriction upon sex. Today, we are experiencing the consequences of this freedom. Yet, Paul’s message is not for our culture. This is a message to the Church of Jesus Christ. My friends, we need Paul’s message to the Thessalonians every bit as much today as the day it was written.

 

God’s Will for My Life - Sanctification

Many of us struggle to discern God’s will for our lives. Usually, this involves a difficult decision or choice. We wish that God would just speak to us with a voice from heaven.  “My will for you is to buy this car, not that one.” What we are seeking is God’s permissive will in our choices. As His children, God allows us to make these choices freely while we seek his guiding hand. While wrestling to make decisions based on God’s permissive will is a part of the Christian experience, there is another aspect of God’s will in which there is very little confusion and even less wiggle room. We call this God’s perfect will. Recognizing God’s perfect will is quite easy because He has clearly revealed it to us in His word. It is usually found in statements like this “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” (1 Thess 4:3, ESV).

What is God’s will for us? The answer is easy: our sanctification. If we aren’t careful, we can spend so much time pondering what God wants us to do that we miss what He has clearly told us to do. God’s will for us is our sanctification. Now, if sanctification is what God requires of us, then we need to have a very good understanding of what it means. For our purposes today, let’s define sanctification as “the ongoing process of the saved person becoming holy through the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.” Today, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, trusting in the work of salvation gifted to you through His death, burial, and resurrection, you are now in the process of sanctification. God has declared you sanctified by the blood of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful and amazing truth! But, sanctification is still a process. It’s a process which requires action on the part of God’s people. God did not go through the trouble of sending his Son to die for us so that we could stay the same, comfortable in our sin. Instead, God saved us so that we would be made holy. This is a process that should continue for the entirety of our lives until the day we stand before our Lord.

 

Sanctification And Sexual Purity

Paul lays out for the Thessalonians three particular areas in which they were to focus their sanctification.  First, they were to abstain from sexual immorality. Second, they were learn how to control their bodies in holiness and honor. Third, they were not to transgress and wrong their brothers and sisters sexually.  Let us examine each of these areas more closely.

In verse 3, Paul exhorts the reader to “abstain from sexual immorality.” The word that the ESV translates as “sexual immorality” is the Greek word porneia. From porneia we get the word pornography. Strong’s Concordance defines porneia as “harlotry (including adultery and incest); figuratively idolatry:  fornication” (1890). This idea of sexual immorality covers a lot of ground. It encompasses anything that is outside the bounds of what God has declared sexually permissible. Genesis 2 lays the groundwork for what is permissible by showing us God’s original intended design for sexuality.

“Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:18-25)

Notice in these verses the context in which sexuality was given to mankind. God created man and let him experience life alone with no helper. So, God created a helper suitable for him. God brought the woman, which He had created, to the man and the two became “one flesh” within the context of marriage. One man, married to one woman. Moses helps us here by telling us that this married couple was “naked” and not ashamed. Sex was a good thing! God invented it, it was his idea. Sex was a wedding gift to the married couple. There was nothing about sexuality for which they should feel ashamed. But like any gift, sex can be abused.  For instance, water is a good gift; however, water out of control brings destruction. Trouble happens when we take that beautiful wedding gift, meant to be shared and experienced by a husband and wife on their wedding night and we open it early, shamefully doing that for which the gift was never intended. That is sexual immorality. Brothers and sisters, we need to stand for God’s intended purpose of sexuality! Why should all sexual activity happen between a husband and wife? Because that is God’s original design according to Genesis 2. Why do we maintain that all sexual activity should be confined between a man and woman? Because that is God’s original design according to Gen 2.

We must also understand that God’s standard for sexual purity does not change in the New Testament. Hebrews 13:4 states, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” What is the standard for sexuality in this verse? Marriage. It is meant to be a place where sex can be experienced in all purity. When a believer dabbles in any sexual activity outside of the marriage bed, it defiles God’s purpose for sex and the marriage bed. When God calls believers to abstain from sexual immorality, it is a call to avoid any sexual activity not held within the bounds of marriage.

Sanctification, according to verse 4, requires that “each one of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. ” Paul makes clear that it is not good enough for those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord to continue to live like the unsaved. To be made holy, a believer must learn how to control his body. Jesus made it clear that this begins at the heart level. In Matthew 5:27 He states that to look on a woman with lust is to commit adultery with her in your heart (Matt. 5:27). He also said (Mark 7:21-23), “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”  Thus, to gain mastery of our bodies we must control our thought life. We cannot live in sexual purity if we continue to fill our minds with the sexual immorality of the world. This means that I must consider carefully what I allow to enter my mind. Brothers and sisters, what are we watching on TV? What movies do we allow to enter our households? What kinds of music are we listening to? What types of books do we read? As we are out in the community, on what or on whom do we let our eyes linger longer than we should? If I were to ask to see your cell phone, what would I find in your search history? What do we allow our minds to dwell on and fantasize about in the privacy of our rooms? Let us not be deceived into thinking that we can continue indulge in the sensuality and somehow grow to be morally pure. We must learn to control our bodies.

In verse 6, Paul emphasizes the importance of self-control by urging the Thessalonians to make sure that “no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you”. Sexual purity is not just an individual matter. According to Paul, sexual immorality not only affects us but it damages those around us. The passionate lust of the Gentile seeks to use others for their own pleasures rather than to seek their best. This plays out every day in high schools all over the country. Imagine a group of boys hanging out in the hallway when an attractive young lady passes by. As she does, this group quietly begins a discussion in which that “rate” the various aspects of her body. Is she a 10, a 9, a 6?  Has this activity helped this young woman, created in the image of God, to draw near to Him? OR, have these young men taken advantage of her body for their own pleasures? Let’s assume that this young lady has purposefully chosen to dress in a way as to draw the attention of these boys. Has she helped these young men, created in the image of God, to protect their purity? OR has she taken advantage of their weaknesses for her own pleasures? Consider the young couple that is in a sexually immoral relationship outside of marriage. They may claim to love each other. But, is this a loving act that seeks the best for the other person and helps that person remain in right relationship with God? OR is it a selfish and lustful act in which these individuals are using each other for their own sexual immorality? Imagine a husband who has not taken the call to control his body seriously. Secretly, he has allowed the seed of sexual immorality to grow in his life. He then pressures his wife to fulfill every fantasy and urge that he has stored away. Is this a loving, selfless, and giving act that will result in marital intimacy? OR is this man using his wife for his own selfish purposes? Brothers and sisters, let us take seriously Paul’s warning that God is the avenger of such things. Surely, David would never have given Bathsheba more than a fleeting glance if he would have known the consequences of his actions for her, his family, Uriah, Bathsheba, and the nation of Israel.

 

Sanctification And The Holy Spirit

Given the powerful nature of our sexual drive, how can we possibly begin to walk in purity? The good news is that unlike the Gentiles who do not know God, the Holy Spirit has been given to Christians. We have the very power of God which enables us to live in purity. Thus, we must learn to walk in the Spirit if we are to have victory over the flesh. I must consistently reorganize my affections, forsaking the temporary pleasures of the body in order to have the lasting joy that can only be had by a right relationship with God. In Galatians 5:16, Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” He goes on to enumerate some of those sinful desires, which include immorality, impurity, and sensuality. He adds that one fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. So a daily step-by-step walk of dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit is the key to resisting sexual temptation and developing sexual purity.”[1]

Walking in step with the Holy Spirit also requires that we take certain other actions. First, we must begin with confession. The truth is that some of us have been trying to profess Christianity while we simultaneously live a secret life of sexual immorality. My friend, if this describes you, it's time to confess your sins. With the confession of sin comes the promise of forgiveness. John tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 9). God is faithful! There is no sin that He is not aware of and completely willing to forgive. If we do not confess our sins to God then we cannot be cleansed. We will remain in sexual immorality.

Yet, there is another aspect of confession to consider. We must confess our sins to one another. James calls us in James 5:16 to “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” It is by the confession of sin to God that we receive forgiveness. It is by the confession of our sin to each other that we receive healing. This definitely requires a step of faith. Could it be that God is calling you to take a scary step of confession? Husbands, are there secret sins that you need to finally confess to your wife? Students, are there secret sins that you need to confess to your parents? Wives are there secret sins that you need to finally confess to your husband? Singles, are there struggles in your purity that you need to confess to one another?

When dealing with sexual immorality, as much as probably any sin issue requires us to seek accountability. Thankfully, God did not leave us to deal with this alone. Not only is He with us through the Holy Spirit, He also gave us the body of Christ. We were not meant to do this alone. Who do you trust, that you can be completely honest and transparent with, that will help you hold to the standard of sexual purity?

 

Conclusion

I would like to conclude with this: God’s will is your sanctification. As believers we are called not to grieve the Spirit, but to walk in step with the Spirit as we relate to others in sexual purity. We are called to glorify God with our bodies.

 

 

Strong, J. (1890). Strong's exhaustive concordance of the Bible. Abingdon Press.

[1] Cole, S.J. (Oct, 9, 2016). Sexual Purity (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Retrieved fromhttps://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-11-sexual-purity-1-thessalonians-43-8

Joshua: Seeking Counsel from the God of Grace

Passage: Joshua 9

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Beaux Williams

 

Key Goals: (Know) Learn the importance of seeking God’s counsel. (Feel) Be energized by the fullness of God’s grace. (Do) Prayerfully act upon the counsel of the Lord in all circumstances.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to open God’s word with you this morning. Today, we are going to continue walking with the Israelites as they march into the promised land and experience the faithfulness of God. Until this point, we have looked at how God, as a faithful warrior, has delivered the land of Canaan into the hands of his people. Ultimately, the story of the book of Joshua, like all of the Bible, is God’s story.

But, before we begin to journey further, I have a confession to make. As I read the book of Joshua, I am always a little shaken by the extreme measures God has called the people to take. Why would God instruct the nation of Israel to storm the land and slaughter its inhabitants? For the modern reader this, rightly, creates a lot of tension. To answer this question, we need to travel back in time some 500 years prior to the book of Joshua. It begins with a man named Abraham. In Genesis 15:13 & 16 God tells Abraham, “Your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years… Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”[i] This verse helps us to understand this question. You see, the time of captivity in Israel coincides with God’s plan for judgment upon the inhabitants of Canaan. For 400 years, while the descendants of Abraham cried out to God for mercy, God was demonstrating mercy and longsuffering towards the Canaanites. Yet, God would only tolerate their sin for so long. When the time for God’s grace had passed, he had raised up a people to act as the instruments of his judgment, much as he would do against the Israelites in the years to come. God, concerned that the practices of the inhabitants of the land would corrupt his people, orchestrates their destruction. God does not mess around when it comes to sin!

The book of Joshua begins with God’s instruction to his chosen leader, Joshua, to lead the people into the land. Joshua 1:6 states, Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit a land that I swore to their fathers to give them. It is with this promise that the people of God, following a rather strange battle plan, march against the city of Jericho. God, true to his word, delivers the city into their hands. Eventually, after dealing with the sin of the Israelites, God would also deliver the city of Ai.

Last week, we finished chapter 8 at Mt. Ebal, in which the entire law was read before the nation of the Hebrews. Surely, in the midst of rereading the law, Joshua would have read the words of Deut 7:1-2 When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. “You shall make no covenant with them.” How these words would later haunt the people.

Today, we are going to pick up in chapter 9. Sadly, we are going to see yet another failure on the part of the Israelites. My hope for today is that we will be encouraged by the example of God’s people to prayerfully pursue the counsel of the Lord. 

 

Scripture Reading

Joshua 9:1-2 As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.

Clearly, word had spread to the inhabitants of Canaan about what Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, had done to Egypt, the kings beyond the Jordan, Jericho, and Ai. The people were frightened… they were right to be, they were next in line. Thus the kings of the peoples came up with a plan. If Jericho, with its impenetrable walls, and Ai could not individually withstand attack, then the best strategy would be to combine forces into one large army. Surely, this would be the only way to survive. Yet, the people of Gibeon were not convinced that brute force would be the wisest response. They decide upon another course of action: cunning and deception. Now, we need to understand that Gibeon is a city-state about 6 miles NW of Jerusalem. Chapter 10 tells us that Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities and greater than Ai, and all of its men were warriors. The important thing for us to remember is that Gibeon lay just down the road a bit.

Wisdom: They did not have because they did not ask

Joshua 9:3-15 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us." But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, "Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?" They said to Joshua, "We are your servants." And Joshua said to them, "Who are you? And where do you come from?" They said to him, "From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the LORD your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, 'Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, "We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us."' Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey." So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.

Consider the brilliance of the Gibeonites’ plan to deceive the Israelites. They pretend to be from a far distant land seeking to make a covenant with the Hebrews. They have worn-out sacks, worn-out wineskins, worn-out clothes, and moldy old bread. They mention all the things God had done to the kings on the other side of the Jordan River. This is old news. Yet, they neglect to mention anything about Jericho or Ai as that news would be too recent. Do you see what they are doing here? It seems that the Gibeonites are aware of God’s command not to make a covenant with the people of the land. They also seem to be aware that God granted permission for the people to make covenants with nations in far off places. Notice how the Gibeonites appeal to the Israelites by calling themselves servants and lifting up the name of the LORD God.

It is at this point that Joshua and the elders of the people make a crucial mistake: they fail to seek the wisdom of God. Instead they rely upon their own understanding. Their problem was not lack of common sense. Clearly, there were moments in the explanation of the Gibeonites that raised red flags for the elders. Some things didn’t seem to add up. They even suspect that the Gibeonites might actually be from close by rather than from a distance. Joshua even steps in to evaluate the “evidence” that the representatives offered. Yet, Israel’s leaders failed to do a crucial thing: they failed to ask counsel from the Lord; they didn’t pray.

I would like to take a step outside the story for a moment to camp on this. I fear this shortcoming of the Israelites might be the very same trap that many believers fall into—we don’t pray; we don’t seek the counsel of the Lord. There are many reasons that a person might fail to seek guidance from the Lord. Perhaps they don’t feel that prayer is effective, there doesn’t seem to be enough time, they aren’t sure what to pray about, or they just forget. But, there is sometimes an even more sinister reason. Sometimes we don’t pray simply because we are arrogant. We think that we don’t really need God’s help. Joshua had evaluated the evidence, interviewed the messengers, and made a decision. On the surface, it looked great. What nation wouldn’t want to have a potentially powerful foreign ally? Yet, to arrogantly make a decision like this without seeking God’s counsel was clearly a mistake.

How about you? Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever made a big mistake? Was it because you did not seek the counsel of the Lord? Seeking the counsel of the Lord through prayer is clearly emphasized in the Bible. God wants us to come to him as we make decisions. This is particularly true as we too have an enemy, prowling about, looking to deceive us so that he may devour us. We must be a people on our knees seeking the heart of our God. There are a number of passages in God’s word that instruct us to this end. Here are just a few:

  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Continue steadfastly in prayer… (Colossians 4:2)
  • Pray without ceasing… (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  • If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

Integrity: Keeping an oath even when it hurts

Joshua 9:16-20 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. But all the leaders said to all the congregation, "We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.”

Thus, the leaders of Israel blew it. They made a covenant with a people with whom they were clearly not allowed to make a covenant. Because of this, all of the people murmured against the leaders. It’s easy to murmur against leadership when they make mistakes. There is no question that the leaders made a mistake. Yet the people begin to grumble and complain against them and put pressure upon the leadership because of their blunder. Can you imagine how the leaders probably felt having to explain to the people that they had blown it again? How easy it would have been to try to call a “mulligan.” It would have been easier to just disregard the oath that had been made. Besides, it was a mistake born out of deception. Yet, even though Israel had entered into a bad alliance, they remained true to their oath. In their minds, two wrongs did not make a right. It turns out that this was the correct course of action. Some 400 years later, King Saul would fail to keep this covenant. In his zeal for the sons of Israel, he sought to put the Gibeonites to death. Because of this, God brought a famine upon Israel until David sought to make it right with the Gibeonites. We serve a God who is faithful to his covenants and, as such, expects his people to keep their word.

We need to learn from this. God does not change; he keeps his covenants. “Thank God that He is a covenant keeper. Throughout Israel's history, His chosen people stiffened their necks and disobeyed the One who saved them from slavery in Egypt. How easy it would have been for God to wash His hands of this rebellious people. But God kept His covenant. He kept it by bringing adversity on His people when they sinned (such as the famine which came on Israel in David's time), but He also provided a Savior, who perfectly kept the Mosaic Covenant and fulfilled the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. He inaugurated the New Covenant, by which sinful men are saved through faith in Jesus Christ and His blood, which was shed to make an atonement for the sins of men.”[ii] God in turn expects us to keep our covenants. It is too often tempting to pull out of an obligation because we “made a mistake,” even though we gave our word. Men, how is your covenant relationship with your wife? Ladies, how are you treating the covenant you made with your husbands? Are you longing for a way out of the relationship because you made a mistake or because you entered into it foolishly? Let us remember that the Lord will hold us to our word.

Grace: Better is one day in his courts than a thousand elsewhere

Joshua 9:21-27 And the leaders said to them, "Let them live." So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them. Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, "Why did you deceive us, saying, 'We are very far from you,' when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God." They answered Joshua, "Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it." So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the LORD, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

So finally, we come to the “big reveal.” This is the moment in which Joshua finally confronts the Gibeonites for their deception. He begins his interrogation by asking a simple question, “Why did you deceive us?” The answer of the Gibeonites is telling. “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing.” The Gibeonites feared the Lord. Was this fear indicative of their salvation? Probably not. Yet it is this fear of the Lord that moved them to action. In many ways this mirrors the story of a prostitute in Jericho named Rahab. Like Rahab, the Gibeonites were moved to action because they came to the realization that Yahweh, the God of Joshua, was truly worthy of fear. Yet, ultimately through this encounter they were introduced to the God of grace. Both Rahab and the Gibeonites are accepted by Israel, even if it was under dubious circumstances. “Rahab and the Gibeonites did not deserve to receive this acceptance. Neither, however, did Israel deserve to receive the promised land (Deut. 9:4-6). Neither do we deserve to receive forgiveness and acceptance as part of God’s people. In all these cases, it is not due to us, but due to God, his mercy, his grace, and his love.”[iii]

My friend, have you come to terms with the God of Israel? If not, what are you waiting for? There are some who will hear the message of the Gospel and choose to walk away from it, assuming that it does not relate to them. If this is you, let me point you again to the example of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites’ response of fear before God was appropriate. Truly the writer of Hebrews was right when he said It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The truth is that the Gibeonites were not worthy of the grace of God, neither was Rahab. Likewise, the Israelites were not worthy to be called the people of God or to inherit the land. Neither do we deserve forgiveness and grace. Yet God’s unconditional love through the shed blood of Jesus Christ makes it possible for a prostitute, a deceiver, and Gentiles like us to come into relationship with him.

Perhaps you are one who has been convinced that you have blown it too much. That there is no hope for you because you have just pushed God too far. That somehow God could not love you. If those voices are in your head, can I just suggest to you that you have been listening to the Deceiver. He would like nothing more than to drive a wedge between you and the Lord. But again, look at the Gibeonites. We aren’t given a list of redeemable traits that convinced God to bring them into his people. And that is the beauty of it. God is not looking for us to somehow get it all together before we come to him. He calls us just as we are.

As for the Gibeonites, they were cursed by Joshua to serve the house of the Lord as woodcutters and drawers of water. Yet, as you look at their response, they seem to be completely fine with it. It was better to be a servant to the house of God than to be destroyed outside of it. In fact, hundreds of years later, when Israel returns to Jerusalem from captivity, the Gibeonites were among those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem with Nehemiah. I wonder if their hearts reflected the Psalmist when he said For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psa 84:10). Oh, how good it is to be in relationship with God, regardless of what our lot in his kingdom may be.

 

Wrap up

So, what can we learn from Joshua 9?

1.     God is the giver of wisdom. God desires his children to seek him out in prayer. It is often because of the negligence of believers to pray that we make dire mistakes. How about you? Do you place all of your trust in the Lord or do you still rely upon your own understanding?

2.     God is a keeper of covenants. The Bible tells us that God cannot lie. He has made covenants with his people and he is faithful to complete them. This is great news for us! It is because of the covenant with his people that we have access to the throne through Jesus Christ. As such, he requires his people to keep their covenants as well. How about you? As a representative of Christ, are you willing to keep your covenants, even to your hurt?

3.     God is a fountain of grace. Remember that God does not wait for us to get our act together before we can enter into his kingdom. The good news is that we don’t have to. Jesus has already paid for our sins through his atoning work on the cross. Just like Rahab, the Gibeonites, and the Israelites, we can be the recipients of God’s grace. Let us remember and celebrate God’s grace in our lives.

 

[i] All Scripture quotations are from ESV: Study Bible (2007): English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles.

[ii] Deffinbaugh, R.L., (June 1, 2004). Promise Breakers and Promise Keepers. [article]. Retrieved from https://bible.org/seriespage/19-promise-breakers-and-promise-keepers-2-samuel-21

[iii] Ford, W., (March 22, 2016). The Merciful God of the Conquest? [article]. Retrieved from https://www.belfastbiblecollege.com/the-merciful-god-of-the-conquest