After four years of living on a college campus it was hard to say good-bye to friends and roommates. As I departed the campus I knew that I would probably not see many of those people ever again.
I can only imagine that it is much more difficult to say good bye after you serve in the military with someone during a war. You share things that few other people will understand. You saw things that others can’t imagine. And when it comes time to go home, even though you are eager to get back to family, there is a measure of sadness because you know the bond with your comrade is unique.
This morning as we look at Joshua 22 we read the account of the departure of some of the soldiers of Israel back to their own homes. 2 ½ tribes (of 12) had been given land on the east side of the Jordan River on the condition that they fight side by side with their brothers for the land on the west side of the Jordan. Now, seven years or so later, these men are able to go back home to their families. They had worked together, sacrificed together and gained victory together. It must have been a bittersweet parting.
This is a rich passage with a number of possible applications. We will focus on the two ingredients necessary for a growing relationship with Christ that we see in the text.
WE NEED SPIRITUAL PASSION
One of the things we see in this passage is the need for spiritual passion. Spiritual passion is characterized by several things.
Obedience Joshua met with the tribes from the east and said,
“You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. (22:2)
The true test of spiritual passion is not what you say, but what you do. James echoed this same idea when he said, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17 NIV). James agreed that we are made right with God only through putting our trust and confidence in the gracious work of Jesus on our behalf. However, James understood that it is a lot easier to profess faith than it is to actually possess it. The person who has truly surrendered to Christ is one who is seeking to obey Him in the way they live their lives. Joshua summarized the lifestyle of the faithful in verse 5,
be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”
If we are going to truly walk with God we have to do more than read the Bible, we need to listen to it and do what it tells us. We need to do more than ask for guidance, we need to follow that guidance as it is given. We need to go beyond attending services of worship and start truly serving the Lord in our everyday lives. True spiritual passion has a practical result.
Endurance is the second characteristic of spiritual passion. Joshua continued,
For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you.
These guys did not obey/serve for just a few weeks. They served and followed for better than seven years! They were committed.
Our society has a problem with endurance. We have short attention spans. We are used to regular commercials, to headline news stories, to rapid changes in focus. It is hard for us to focus on anything. We want sound bites rather than reasoned arguments. We read articles rather than books. We tend to be sprinters rather than marathoners. This is why you see some people become real enthused in the work of the Lord for a few months and then they fade away. They have lost interest. They have moved on to something else.
Following the Lord is not a fad; it is a lifelong commitment and passion. Just as a true marriage is about more than the honeymoon, so the life of the Christian disciple is about more than going to church or periodic spurts of devotion. Spiritual vitality comes from consistency and endurance. We are called not simply to start the race, but to finish it.
Pursuit of Holiness The third characteristic of spiritual passion is the pursuit of holiness. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament we are told that our goal is to be holy as God is holy. In other words, we are to seek to live pure and undefiled lives for God. Our goal is not simply to be like (or maybe even a little better) than the norm – our goal is to pursue God’s standards and character. We should want to live like Jesus: with a desire and willingness to submit to and do God’s will in everything.
When the 2 ½ tribes of Israel returned to their land they were given part of the spoils of war as a payment/reward (which they had earned). However, as they headed to their homes they did something which almost caused a Civil War! They built a large duplicate altar patterned on the altar which was housed at the tabernacle. It appeared that these people were setting up their own place of worship!
The law was pretty specific. Leviticus 17:8,9 says, ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice 9and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the Lord—that man must be cut off from his people.” In Deuteronomy 12:5 God said, “you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go;”
God had directed Israel to worship in a certain way and in a certain place and if they did not obey Him it was seen as an act of rebellion and idolatry. So, when the altar was discovered the people on the Western side of the river were horrified. They prepared for war! They believed their brothers had turned their backs on the things of God!
Now think about this. These men had fought together for seven years. They were tired, worn out, and grateful for the opportunity they had to work together. Now, just days later they are taking up weapons to fight each other! It would be like servicemen in our country coming home from World War II only to take up arms against another State in the Union. It seems terrible . . . but actually, it’s not.
The passage is quite refreshing. These men were passionate for the character and truth of God. We see this kind of passion in Muslim terrorists. We see passion in some of the Mormon missionaries. But where is that kind of passion for the truth of God today? Think about it, when was the last time,
- You lovingly confronted a friend who was drifting from God?
- You stood up and said, “What you are asking me to do is wrong and I won’t do it?”
- You used the Word of God to confront the error of a doctrine of Scripture?
- You told someone what it means to be a follower of Christ?
- You changed the direction of your own life because of the Word of God?
- Truly sacrificed anything for the cause of Christ?
When Martin Luther stood before a meeting of religious authorities in WormsGermany at the time of the Reformation, he was told to recant of the things he had written about the abuses of the church and that we are made right with God by grace alone through faith alone, through Christ alone, through the authority of Scripture alone. This was serious situation. Luther, knowing that he could be killed, said,
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.
Luther was more passionate for the truth than he was for his own life! When the Apostles stood before the King they were told to stop preaching the gospel or face the consequences. Their response? “We must obey God rather than men”. They understood that if you are truly going to follow Christ, you are no at liberty to compromise the character of God or the content of the gospel. Oh that God would make us passionate for His truth!
WE NEED WISDOM
The second (and necessary) ingredient of a mature or dynamic faith is wisdom. Most of us have encountered a person who was zealous but lacked wisdom. These people are like a truck running over a pedestrian. In their zeal they actually do more harm than good.
Life is all about balance. Don’t we learn this in marriage? You can get in trouble for being too attentive (you’re smothering me) and you can get in trouble for not being attentive enough (you never pay attention to me). You can talk too little, and you can talk too much. You don’t want to be seen as not contributing to the household but you also don’t want to be seen as a workaholic. You want to be frugal but not controlling. It’s a question of balance. The same is true in our discipleship. We need a balance between passion and wisdom.
The people of the western tribes of Israel were ready to go to battle but before they marched to the east, they went to talk to their brothers. Once again, they were doing what God told them to do. In Deuteronomy 13:12-14 we read,
12If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town.
Before going to war with their brothers, the Israelites sent a delegation from the eastern tribes to talk to the 2 ½ tribes on the East. Note what happened.
They talked To the people rather than About them. This delegation went to the tribes and asked them what they were thinking by building this altar. Rather than assume they understood what was going on, they went to the people directly.
There have been times when someone has come to me and said, “Did you know that so-and-so was doing such and such?” and I went to that person and said, “Here’s what I’ve heard, is it true?” In every case I can remember, people have appreciated the fact that I talked TO them rather than about them.
They were direct in their approach. The leaders explained why the construction of this altar was an offense against God. They reminded their brothers of a time recorded in Numbers 25 when the people engaged in false worship and suffered a terrible plague. They reminded them of the sin of Achan who took spoils from battle which the Lord specifically forbade. They reminded them that such sins always result in collateral damage; others are inevitably hurt by the fallout.
They offered a solution In verse 19 we read,
If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God.
The ten tribes were not coming to the east to just “blast away”, they were seeking a solution. They wanted reconciliation even though they were willing to go to war. Their offer is simple: “if you can’t serve the Lord on the east side of the Jordan, we will give up part of our land for you on the west.”
People would be much more responsive to us if they could see that we really cared about them. Too often we come across like we are sitting on a high horse pronouncing judgment on another. True concern is sometimes sacrificial.
They Reached a Point of Understanding The tribes on the east were horrified to hear the conclusion people were drawing from their erection of the altar. They told their brothers that they had no intention of using this altar as a place of worship. It was meant to be a monument; a reminder that though a river separated the tribes, they were one in their worship of the Lord. The tribes on the east were concerned that they would be forgotten and wanted people to remember that they were followers of the same God.
While it is true that the construction of an altar was probably a bad idea, however, what they were trying to do was good. Once understanding was gained, the crisis was averted.
We have to work at understanding. We have to put aside assumptions. We must listen carefully to what is actually being said.
It is important for us to see that we need a combination of both of these traits. We are to be bold in our pursuit of the truth; but we must do this with wisdom and love. Let’s draw some applications
1. Following Christ is a lifestyle and not a hobby. If we are going to truly follow Christ it is time for us to be serious. If God is God we should pursue Him with all of our heart. We must throw off all those things which distract us and run straight for the prize that He has set before us.
On August 11, 1978, Double Eagle II, a large helium balloon, and her crew of three eased into an almost windless sky above the potato fields of Maine. Their destination was Paris, France. The aerodynamics of ballooning are somewhat complex, but one thing is certain. In order for the balloon to stay aloft as the journey progressed, ballast (that which is used to add weight) had to be expelled. As they approached continental Europe six days later, one of the crew wrote, “We have been expending ballast wisely, but as we neared land, not cheaply . . . over went such gear as tape recorders, radios, film magazines, sleeping bag, lawn chairs, most of our water, food, and the cooler it was in.”
Following Christ is the wisest choice a man can make, but it does not come cheap. Just as for these balloonists many important things had to be abandoned because they weighed them down, so for the believer.
P.S. The balloonists’ mission was accomplished.
True discipleship demands hard choices. It calls for sacrifice. It calls for us to keep our eyes on the goal and to eliminate anything that keeps us from that goal. It will not be easy and Satan will fight us every step of the way. However, it is worth the struggle.
2. The truth must be defended or it will be lost. Being a defender of the truth is more important now than ever. We live in this day when truth has been marginalized. Our society is confused and has disregarded objective and unchanging standards. When objective standards of truth are watered down, morality is watered down, faith is weakened, and perversion starts to become the norm. As a society, we are beginning to reap the horrible consequences of this loss of values.
What we believe matters! What we believe determines where we put our hope. Where we put our hope determines our eternal destiny. What we believe impacts what we do. What we do impacts the society in which we live. Not caring about truth is far worse than not caring about the environment, or not caring about our health. Truth is the foundation on which everything else is built. If we build on the sand what we build will be destroyed.
We must begin by holding fast to God’s truth in our own lives. That means we must
- End the immoral relationship
- Confess the Lie
- Seek to reconcile the strained relationship
- Let go of that old hurt
- Stop robbing God and honor Him with your finances
- Stop blaming others for your own sin; turn to the Lord for forgiveness.
- Rumors can be deadly. Every day rumors are presented as facts from the media,
from our friends, and even from the conclusions of our own senses. We must learn that a rumor should never be believed until the facts are checked and the principle people are talked to. The Bible is clear . . . if we hear something about another we are talk TO them rather than ABOUT them.
If you look back at your life I think you will see that the relationships that have meant the most to you are the relationships with people who share your passion. These are people who can tell you difficult things without you taking offense. They hold you accountable and you’re grateful. They “watch your back” and never jump to conclusions.
This is what God wants the church to be. He wants us to be balanced between passion and wisdom. He wants us to be committed, to care, to stand up for what is right and to do it all with a gracious spirit. He wants us to be the kind of people to whom you hate to say good-bye.