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Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church

English Worship, January 8, 2023

Message: At All Costs, At All Times, In All Things (Pt. 2) | Scripture: Joshua 24:14-33 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy

At All Costs, At All Times, In All Things (Pt. 2) | Jan 8 2023

Songs: Ancient of Days | The Everlasting Love of God | I Need Thee Every Hour.

Discussion Questions

Come prepared to share and answer the following questions:

  1. Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? If you had some questions about it to ask one another (or Pastor Stephen) what would those questions be and try to answer them together.
    1. Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
    2. Call Pastor Stephen if you get stuck!
  2. Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
    1. Perhaps in how you may be quick to forget the extraordinary grace and faithfulness of God in difficult life situations or stressful times?
    2. Perhaps in how you seek to make your outer-self look acceptable to other Christians while your inner-self/your heart remains far from God (or vice versa–you have a great desire for God inwardly and in your disciplines but have very little desire to carry out the “one anothers” of Scripture in ways that feel burdensome to you)?
    3. Perhaps in the evaluation of the things that your heart is truly motivated by (e.g. love of the world, lust of the eyes, desire for power and attention, etc.)?
    4. Perhaps in promises that you’ve made to others (and/or to yourself) that you’re failing to keep?
    5. Perhaps in the general testimony of your words and attitude when you’re around others (e.g. language you use, the way that you speak, your graciousness to others, etc.)
    6. Perhaps in your lack of desire to fear and serve the Lord in sincerity (wholeness) and in faithfulness (truth)?
    7. Perhaps in your thinking that the pursuit of holiness is something you can put off or do half-heartedly now because there will be time for it later?
  3. What does it mean to pursue holiness? Can it be done half-heartedly? Why/why not?
  4. Spurgeon says the following about this text (Josh 24:14-15, specifically):
    • Many professors do not understand what [it means to fear and serve the Lord in sincerity and in faithfulness]. They view religion as a kind of off-hand farm, they have another estate, which is their home and main care, and the kingdom of God is an off-hand farm, to be mainly managed by the minister as a bailiff. Their religion gets their spare time and odd thoughts; Jesus comes in for the cold meat that is left over, and the world has the hot joints. Religion is by no means the great channel along which the strength of their life runs, but it is a sort of backwater: they let the waste water run there, when they have more than enough to turn the mill-wheel of business. They are seen at prayer meetings when there are no accounts to settle, and no new books to read [or to us, T.V. shows/movies/general entertainment]; and they do something for the church of God when they have nothing on hand, no friend coming to spend the evening with them, and no amusement available. They treat the Lord Jesus Christ very cavalierly. [BUT] Joshua, here, speaks with immovable resolve: his soul is anchored and defies all storms, “As for me and my house we will, despite crowds and customs, temptations and trials, idols or devils, to the end of the chapter serve Jehovah.” Such ought the decision of every one of u s to be, and I earnestly wish that so it were.
      • Does this quote resonate with us as individuals? as a small group? as a church? How does it/does it not?
  5. What is implicit throughout the book of Joshua is the doctrine of election/predestination, but what becomes the problem for Israel is that they lean upon the idea of their being called by God as his people as a means of their confidence and boast rather than as their motivation for greater holiness and glorifying God with their lives. Why should the doctrine of election as we’ve seen it in the book of Joshua motivate our desire for a greater/eternity-lasting holiness?
  6. How has the study of the book of Joshua over the last year impacted/not impacted your life? Give details!
  7. Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
  8. Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.

Full Manuscript

Introduction

If I were to ask you what faithfulness looks like, what would you describe?  I’m not asking for a definition, but in your head, if there was an image or a person or an example that you could think of, what would it be?  Perhaps, what comes to mind—or perhaps what comes to my mind—is of a pastor who has seasoned every storm life’s thrown at him only to continue pastoring over his flock year-after-year, decade-after-decade.  Perhaps, you think of a husband and wife that have been married for 30, 40, 50, 60 years without any indication or desire to leave one another. 

Now, if I were to ask you what extraordinary faithfulness looks like, who or what would you describe?  Perhaps, what comes to mind is the thought of a pastor who presses on decade-after-decade even after congregants sling insults at him, revile him, maybe even persecute him violently.  Perhaps, you think of the husband or wife who can say they’ve been steadfastly married and patient towards their spouse even after learning that he or she had an extramarital affair, living through the impossible task of forgiving him or her at great cost to themselves. 

Even still, perhaps, you’d consider the God who in our text and in our lives remains covenantally committed to us, even in our rejection of and rebellion against him in nearly every conceivable way.  It’s in this characterization—in this thought experiment of what God’s extraordinary faithfulness looks like and means to us that we ought to ask the reciprocal question of how we respond in our own ordinary, faithfulness. 

This is what I want to do for us this morning—to frame the extraordinary grace and faithfulness of God against our own inclination to be everything but faithful if and when we feel it does not suit us.   If we’re going to unpack our verses properly—if we’re going to frame the remainder of Joshua properly—it must be framed within the context of God who stands both in contrast and in gracious preservation of Israel and us—lowly and unworthy creatures. 

It’s in God’s extraordinary faithfulness—that Joshua calls his hearers to ordinary faithfulness—that he commands his people to choose whom they will serve in light of all he is and all he’s done.  Likewise, this is the call and command given to us this morning—that we choose whom we will serve.  There can be no half-measure in our decision.  God will have all of us or none of us.  We must choose how to live our ordinary lives in light of his extraordinary work, and in this, we have to block out the noise that tempts us to make such a choice unwisely. 

And these temptations shall serve as our outline this morning—that we are to choose against our natural inclination to listen to the world, to make promises we cannot keep, and to make our decision against the looming spectre of time.  We’re to choose—and we’re to choose decisively, intentionally, and certainly because eternity hangs in the balance, and we ought not stand on the fence for a moment longer.  So, let’s turn now to our first point: choose whom you will serve . . .

1) Against the Absurdity of Worldly Wisdom

Read along with me from Joshua 24:14-15.  TWoL: 14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Allow me to point out for us quickly that our text begins as an inference—it starts with the word, “therefore.”  And as we’ve learned in previous passages, “therefore’s” point us to the foundation that’s been laid for us in previous verses.  In our case, this “therefore” is pointing us back to the previous portion of Joshua 24:1-13 where we’re shown in brief, yet substantial, detail the great grace and faithfulness of God—his election and calling of Abraham, and his subsequent leading of Abraham and his descendants into cycles of transformative trial and deliverance—all of which was done to get Israel here—into the Promised Land, standing as one congregation—one people—before their one leader as he points them, this last time, to their one God. 

And I believe the author of Joshua meant for us to feel the significance of the occasion, knowing that Joshua is aged—probably over the hundred-year mark, and these are the last words that he gives us before he dies.  We’re to take note that they are not those of a novice or someone who has not been tested in his own life.  It is as Spurgeon once said, “Gaze upon the stern warrior’s face, scarred [and] wrinkled with more than a century of experience!  He looks not like a trifler, he speaks not as one who sings a love song and trills it from his lips, but his utterances rise from that broad breast of his with the rugged honesty and brave sincerity of a soldier prince.” 

You see, this “therefore” isn’t just based upon empty or vain words or mere theological understanding.  No, this “therefore” is the culmination of this man seeing within his own life the extraordinary grace and faithfulness of God, just like how he’s described it for his people in verses 1-13.  This isn’t just another speech, or an off-handed remark meant to be thought of as an addendum in this great man’s life.  This is his manifesto.  It is the fullness of his learned wisdom summarized in eleven English words—based upon everything that he knows and everything he’s seen, he has one thing more to say, “fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” 

And what is meant by these words?  Well, to fear and serve the Lord in the context of a covenant renewal and gathering like this means to give God the worship that he is due—to conform your life to the will of the one who is worthy of it.  This is, ultimately, what worship is—it’s an unhindered response and call of service to the God who could have done anything to you that he wanted.  And of all that he could have done, he chose freely to elect and deliver you to himself.  This kind of God deserves the totality of your life. 

Yet, how is it that Joshua calls Israel to fear and serve their Lord—what is the manner in which they are to respond to his extraordinary salvation?  He says, “in sincerity and in faithfulness.”  Let’s take a moment to dissect these words because they are weighty both in context and meaning.  This first word, sincerity, might also be translated as perfectly or completely, entirely, or wholly. 

In other words, to fear and serve the Lord in sincerity means not only worshipping him and obeying him according to the letter of the law—as the Jews tended to do, but also to worship him according to the spirit of the law.  It is not only doing what is appropriate externally but having the desire and will to follow after it internally and subjectively.  It is not only conforming the flesh to the image of God but disciplining the heart to his character. 

But not only are we to worship the Lord in the spirit of his character, we’re also to worship him in faithfulness.  The word used here, in the Hebrew, is אמת (emit).  Now, faithfulness is not the wrong translation, but here it’s a synonym for a more direct interpretation, which normally understood means “truth.”  Worship the Lord in truth.  What truth?  The objective, irrefutable truth that God has been extraordinarily faithful to his people—a faithfulness that propels you into adoration for him.  To fear and serve the Lord in truth, then, is to worship him in the right knowledge and appreciation for who he is and what he’s done.  To be faithful is to be transformatively affected by his faithfulness. 

So, in sum, here, Joshua—the man, warrior, and friend of God—is standing before Israel—an historically sinful, rebellious, idol-loving nation—and he’s telling this prostituting people to respond worshipfully to the Lord’s undeserved grace in the subjective fullness of their spirit and in the objective, revealing light of the truth.  Worship the Lord by desire and by design.  Worship the Lord in sincerity and in faithfulness—in spirit and in truth. 

This is the theological lesson of Joshua’s life—in fact, it’s the theological lesson of the Bible—one we see again and again, and most notably, one we see in the life of the greater Joshua—our Lord and Messiah, Jesus Christ, as he sat at a well across from a Samaritan whore in John 4.  And yet, as both Joshua and Jesus knew about their respective audience, the statement—the theological lesson—itself is not enough because where there is sin, there cannot also be sincerity and faithfulness in one’s worship. 

This is why Joshua continues in verse 14b, after the most important statement of his life, by saying, “put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord.”  He says these exact words because he knows how sin works and its mastery over the unrepentant, human heart.  No person can serve two masters.  And more importantly, he knows these people, and the things that are hidden in their hearts. 

In this instance, he knows their sinfulness and jealousy of other nations, which inclines them to be quick to listen to everyone other than God and his chosen leaders.  So well does he know this about Israel that despite their collective experiences, after detailing for them in verses 1-13 the depth of God’s electing work in their lives, he still has to tell them, “put away the idols!  Stop trying to have it both ways.  God is an all or nothing God.  He will have either all of you or none of you.  You will either pursue all of him or none of him.”

The reason why Joshua has to say this—why the theological lesson itself is insufficient—is because of what he says in verse 15, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.”  Notice the words he uses here—it is not “if it is evil objectively.”  It’s not even, “if it is evil according to some written law.”  It’s, “if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord then you are to choose which gods you’ll serve.”  In other words, Joshua knows that their great sin isn’t idolatry of other things, it’s their idolatry of themselves (reflex to usurp God and supplant his glory with their own). 

Hopefully, you also know that the choices that Joshua gives in verse 15 to the Israelites are inherently absurd.  In Latin, it’s called an argument reductio ad absurdum, and what he’s doing is forcing Israel into a corner where they will see that the choice between the pagan gods of their fathers or the Amorites is no decision at all.  The former prevented them from getting what the true God had promised them, and the latter were crushed by the true God decisively as Israel swept through Canaan.  Both choices are stupid.  And to this, Joshua would wholeheartedly agree.  To choose anything or anyone other than God would be utterly stupid—the absolute definition of absurdity. 

But the greater point in Joshua’s making an argument from absurdity is this, when you choose not to serve God—when you give your life to the whims and wisdom of the world—don’t pretend it’s because you believe those things can save you.  No one believes that.  Joshua gets it exactly right when he says that it is you in your own heart—your own desires—that makes service to the Lord evil.  No true service to the Lord is ever evil.  It is you that makes it evil because you are prone to call yourself “lord”—to center everything upon yourself, when all of this—all of what you have experienced—all of this grace—all of this extraordinary faithfulness—all of it is fundamentally about God. 

To read yourself into the narrative as the one worthy of being served is the evil, and whether you choose your father’s idols or the world’s—it doesn’t matter because your choice reflects that you are all you care about.  And such an attitude is a slap in the face of a God who has given all he cares about to you. 

The funny thing is, church, that when we determine what is good for us—when we look at ourselves to answer the question, “how should I live my life?”—we strip ourselves of the opportunity to know the continued, sovereign goodness of God’s plans for us.  We strip ourselves from the opportunity of experiencing his kindness and faithfulness, and in exchange we’re guaranteed that he is working all things for our sorrow and for our evil.

Right here, TCCBC, we need to be sure that we are not divided in our choices.  We need to be sure that our sin has no mastery over us—that God is the one whom we fear and serve in sincerity and faithfulness because he will not be mocked.  He has shown us his extraordinary faithfulness and has called us, in response, to be ordinarily faithful—to choose him over the wisdom of this world—over our inclinations to be masters of ourselves.  So, might you, this morning—this year—this life, choose him over everything, brothers and sisters—that you might fear and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness—in spirit and in truth. 

2) Against the Irreverence of Empty Promises

Read along with me in Joshua 24:16-28.  TWoL: 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore, we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore, it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.

In these verses, Joshua outlines that worldly wisdom isn’t the only obstacle preventing us from making the right choice, but also our unwillingness to acknowledge and understand our own inabilities and weaknesses.  After recounting for Joshua that they, Israel, have witnessed and experienced this extraordinary grace and faithfulness of God in verses 16-18 and affirming that they will serve the Lord, what is it that the leader of Israel says to them in response?  He says, “you can’t serve the Lord because you’re sinful.”

I have a confession to make, I love romantic movies—romantic comedies, romantic novels turned into cinema, you name it.  And the reason I love them is because, despite their often-shallow nature, they end happily, and the strife that the two protagonists face is always in the pursuit of love—or at least Hollywood’s depiction of it.  Perhaps, one of the reasons why I like these movies so much is because of how unrealistic they are—and how easy it is for the characters to feel things that seem to happen upon them by chance.  They don’t have to work for their feelings or affection.  It’s this sudden spark that cannot be explained, and it’s meant to make us think that’s what it takes to have lasting happiness.  That true joy is rainbow and butterflies with no real problems to solve. 

But here, Joshua is trying to rend away those rose-coloured glasses from the eyes of God’s people who are filled with zeal at the height of their victory, wealth, and power.  See, it’s easy to say, “I love you” and to make grand promises when two people are attracted to each other and things are going well.  But it’s another thing altogether to say, “I love you” and keep your promises when the zeal is gone—when the spark doesn’t automatically ignite when you simply look at each other—when you have to work to grow in your love and joy with this other person who might, all of a sudden, have none of the same interests as you, or who seems to be against your every desire. 

In other words, what this old, aged warrior is trying to counsel Israel in is that they must count the cost—that they understand their own weakness, sinfulness, callousness, and willingness to walk away from trusting in God when things seem to be most difficult or when temptation seems to be most enticing.  They have a strong tendency to forget his extraordinary faithfulness when their own requirement for ordinary faithfulness starts to become heavy. 

So, when Joshua says to them, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God.”  He is telling them that they will fail, but he is telling them for the purpose of reminding them that keeping this covenant does not begin with them and that their effort is not meant to be the foundation of their confidence. 

He wants them to understand with absolute clarity that only their dependence and submission to a holy God will keep them.  And more than anything, he wants to implant a fear within them of what happens to those who go back on their word, who make empty promises, who stop relying on God’s extraordinary faithfulness, and make this life about themselves—for it is God who is holy and jealous for his name.  As the one who has given generously, if you should reject that generosity, he shall have no restraint in removing it from you mercilessly.

It’s these words, TCCBC, “you are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God,” that we need to hear most as we finish this book because so often we are like Peter who says without thinking prior to Christ’s crucifixion, “I will lay down my life for you,”  when the truth could not be farther from our words.  It’s in Joshua’s warning that we ought to slow our mouths and consider our hearts as God comes to us, bears our burden upon himself by sending his own Son to die upon that cross for our sins and our punishment, looks at us in our humiliation, condemnation, and despair, and asks us searchingly, “Do you love me?”

Dear Christian, the point of this book—the overwhelming message of its contents—is that a life lived in service to God is not easy, but it is made possible because he—not us—he is extraordinarily faithful to his covenant people.  Being bound to the Lord in covenant requires the whole man—the dedicated man—the sacrificial man—the burdened man, but brothers and sisters, although we must strive for this in every sense, we must daily acknowledge that we are not that man.  No, such a one has been gifted to us to live the life we, as we’re told here in this very passage, could not and cannot live, and in our stead, he was harmed and consumed with the harm and destruction that was ours to bear. 

What extravagant love is this?  What astonishing faithfulness have we been shown?  And I am pleading with you church, don’t let it go to waste.  Don’t let the lessons we’ve learned from this book be for naught.  Count the cost of your oath—of living an ordinary, faithful life not because it is or will be such a burden to you but because God through Jesus has borne it, ultimately, for you and made it possible for you to follow suit.  Choose, this day, whom you will serve. 

3) Against the Inevitability of Time

Finally, read with me these concluding verses of Joshua 24 (vv. 29-33).  TWoL: 29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 31 Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel. 32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.

What we receive in these final verses are not as somber as they seem.  Yes, they are about death, but the reference to death tends to give us a flavor more of hope than of finality.  Why?  Well not only does Joshua end his life well, but for the first time in this book, he is called the servant of the Lord—a title that has only been given to one other before him—Moses. 

That Joshua is described with that same title not only points us to God’s favour over this man but also provides us with an example of what it looks like for us to give up the world for the sake of knowing and following God.  It is in Joshua’s faithfulness, founded upon his trust in God’s own faithfulness, that God gives him not only rest but reward—laying him in his own land—something his predecessor never received. 

And this same hope in death is conveyed to us in the burying of Joseph’s bones—for in completing this task, the author of Joshua closes the book both literally and figuratively on this chapter in God’s redemptive plan in history.  The promises of Genesis to the line of Abraham have been satisfied in the land that they were promised.  God has brought all of his people home, and all of the sons and daughters of promise have now been given rest.  Creation is at its fullest.  God dwells with his people.  This is heaven on earth. 

In a similar way, while our death is a form of judgment upon us for our sin, we find hope in it—for those who believe upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ because he was not buried in a place that could hold his bones.  No, after his crucifixion, our Messiah, our greater Joseph and our greater Joshua was raised from the grave, victor over death, conqueror over sin, heir to the throne of heaven and earth.  And in him, we not only inherit the land promised to Abraham, but all that is Christ’s shall also be ours. 

Brothers and sisters, time is not our friend, but we have one who calls us friend and has come into time to live among us, to die for us, and to rise to raise us.  Christ is our hope in life and death.  Christ is the treasure of heaven and the prize of our hearts.  Worthy is the Lamb who was slain of our fear and our service in sincerity and in faithfulness forever.  So, let us be resolved today, as long as it is called today, TCCBC, regardless of what the world throws at us—regardless of who or what others choose to follow—may it be our choice to say, now and forevermore “as for us and this house, we will serve the Lord.”

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