Whom Do You Serve?

(Joshua 24:1-18)

Joshua, the author of our scripture reading, offers us a challenge this morning just as he offered all the tribes of Israel many years ago. Hear Joshua's words again as found in verse 15 of our scripture reading: "If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Joshua the successor to Moses asked "all the tribes of Israel" to gather a Shechem. He gathered them all together because he had something important to tell them. So all the elders, chiefs, judges and officers gathered at Shechem presented themselves before God and Joshua.

Joshua then begins his speech if you will, with, "This is what God, the God of Israel says." This statement is important because it means that what Joshua is about to say isn't coming from Joshua, but from God. Essentially through Joshua God is reminding the people of Israel all that God has done for them. God reminds the Israelites that their ancestors had worshipped other gods, before he called Abraham to follow and obey. He reminded them of the land of Canaan he gave them and how he multiplied Abraham's descendents as he had promised.

And God reminded them of how he sent Moses and Aaron to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt to the edge of the Red Sea, and then provided protection as they moved to safety on the other side of the sea.

Joshua continues to remind the Israelite leaders of all that God has done for them and then gets to the heart of the matter in verse 14. Therefore "fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods of your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord."

Joshua is telling the leadership look because of what God has done for us we are being asked to give our full allegiance to God and it's time we either fish or cut bait. No more fooling around, no more walking the fence about where we place our trust and hope.

Also notice the choice given isn't to serve the Lord God or no God at all; it's serve the Lord God or the gods of their ancestors. This in effect is why the gathering was called. It was now time to renew their covenant with God.

You see most of the people who initially made the covenant with God were now dead. Son's, daughters and grandchildren had now assumed the responsibilities of leadership and the covenant, so it was time to renew and recommit to the covenant made long ago.

In our service of commissioning of both our VBS staff and our Work Camp team just a few minutes ago we reaffirmed our faith in Jesus Christ and our commitment to serve in his name. When we experience commissioning services, sacrament of baptism, and the service receiving new members we too reaffirm our faith.

This is why these acts of worship and others like them take place in a public worship setting, so we as well as those directly affected by the acts of worship, are given the opportunity to recommit to our covenant to serve God.

So, God through Joshua puts forth the challenge, and it was time for a decision to be made. And Joshua led the way by saying "choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

And people responded to the challenge.

They recognized it was the Lord, and not the gods of their ancestors or the Amorite gods, who had delivered them from persecution and who had protected them for many years. So they responded, "Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other Gods!" "We will also serve the Lord."

Now I would imagine most people might think that Joshua would be pleased by the decision the Israelites made. But listen to Joshua's words in verse 19 which was not part of our scripture reading this morning. "You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins."

You see Joshua knew how easy it was to get caught up in the high emotions of the moment. He knew that a commitment made on emotions and nothing more is not likely to survive the tests that come to all of us.

How many of us have gotten all pumped up and newly committed to a new diet, a new way of living, a new activity, something that at the moment put us on an emotional high, only to see our commitment dwindle as our emotions returned to normal.

This was Joshua's concern, so he had to make sure the people really meant what they were saying. So he warned them that if they began to follow God, and then turned away from God, God would consume them even though he had treated them well in the past.

We need to be reminded of Jesus words in Luke 9:62, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." This means once our hand is on the plow, we must till a straight row. In other words, once we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior and begin to follow him, we can't veer off the path; we can't turn back to our old ways.

This point is certainly something we need to be reminded of today as well. Most of us find it pretty easy to make promises to God when are emotions are running wild, "God if you will just, fill in the blank, I will do such and such."

But many of these promises will certainly be dismissed and cast aside along our life's journey unless our promises come from a sincere and committed heart. Joshua had to make sure his people understood the seriousness of the promise they were making to God.

Now in the end the Israelites assured Joshua they were serious about their promise and they were committed to following through with the promise they made, and they took an oath that they would be true to their pledge. So Joshua made a covenant with them that day.

Now when Joshua said to the people, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve," he packed three very important ideas into these nine words.

First Joshua said "choose." Our life demands that a decision be made. Regrettably some of us just kind of go with the flow through life allowing others to make decisions for us. We simply go with the flow as we move into or out of a vocation or job, flow into or out of relationships, or flow into or out of the church. But Joshua points out the importance and the responsibility for making our own decisions.

Second Joshua said "choose this day." Now there are times when it is very appropriate to delay a decision allowing time for reflection and so forth. I know I have experienced the mistake of making a decision too quickly.

Nevertheless there comes a time when a decision must be made or it's too late. Opportunities can pass us by, or we get stymied by analyzing a situation for too long, or we get stuck in the rut of cutting bait because we're not sure if it's the best time to fish yet.

Joshua was convinced that his people were at that point. They had promised long ago to follow God, and only God, yet many of them were still worshipping idols.

We see this today don't we?

There are many folks that have committed their lives to following God only to continue to worship the idols of this world: cars, houses, jobs, movie stars, sports figures, and so forth.

Well as far as Joshua was concerned it was time. It was time for the Israelites to make a firm commitment one way or the other. "How long will you waver between two opinions?" Elijah asked the people of his day. "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." (1 Kings 18:21). And this is exactly what Joshua was saying, choose whom you will follow, choose whom you will serve, the idols or the Lord God.

Third, Joshua said, "Choose this day whom you will serve." Now no decision we make in this lifetime is more important than this one. Most people today are not tempted to worship idols, yet we are tempted to make gods out of the things of this world. Meaning we allow "things" and "other people's opinions" to control us, our decisions, and the path we ultimately decide to follow. But it's time we set aside all these distractions and make our own decision.

Jesus offers this guidance from the Gospel of Matthew (6:24), "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other."

Yet isn't it true we try very hard to serve two masters. Sure we want to serve the church and Jesus but we also want to serve ourselves. We want it both ways; we want it all and we want to do it all.

But Joshua reminds us, even as Jesus Christ himself did, that we must "choose this day whom we will serve." Will it be the false gods and temptations of this world, or the Lord God?

  • Who is the giver of life and blessing,
  • Who is the redeemer who sacrificed his Son so that our sins might be forgiven,
  • Who is the sustainer who through the Holy Spirit walks with us and guides us,
  • And who is our Savior who through the resurrection of Jesus offers us eternal life!

So choose this day whom you will serve; "As for me and my household we will serve the Lord." Amen.

The following resources were used in part, or for inspiration in preparing this sermon: Ham, Howard M. and Brady B. Whitehead. Favorite Bible Passages, Volume 1. Nashville:Abingdon Press, 1989

Read other messages by Pastor Wade