When Good Intentions Are Not Enough
“So honor the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone.” – Joshua 24:14 NLT
I think they meant well. The Israelites that is. They had been challenged by Joshua to serve God and serve Him alone, and their response was a strong affirmative. They all gave Joshua a thumbs up and said, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” (Joshua 24:16 NASB). Twice in chapter 24 they swear to worship God alone – even after Joshua somewhat pessimistically warns them, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins” (Joshua 24:19 NLT). But they assure him that they will. And I think they meant it. They sincerely wanted to serve God alone. But the problem was that they still had idols they were worshiping in place of or in addition to God. I think it is interesting that they never seem to come right out and say that they are willing to worship GOD alone. While a few of the translations add this word, it does not seem to appear in the original manuscripts. So the people seem to conveniently leave out the word “only” or “alone” when assuring Joshua that they will serve God. They seem to be leaving themselves an out – a way to keep their existing gods while assuring Joshua that they will serve Yahweh as well.
Joshua seems to sense this when he tells them to, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23 NLT). He knew that they were going to have a hard time giving up their idols, their substitutes for the one true God. They wanted both. They wanted the freedom to worship God, but also keep their alternative gods carefully tucked away in their tents – just in case. It’s kind of like us saying that we will trust God to provide for us, but all the while we keep checking on the status of our 401k or mutual fund, just to make sure that we have something else to fall back on in case God doesn’t come through for us. Sure, we’ll worship God, but we want to make sure we have other options when it comes to meeting our daily needs.
Joshua warned the people that God is a holy God and a jealous God. He doesn’t like to play seconds. He doesn’t like being an option. He wants His people to serve Him wholeheartedly, in sincerity and truth, totally committed, showing loyalty and not allowing anyone or anything else to compete for our love or attention. But we allow so many things to stand as replacements for God. We put all kinds of things in His place, turning to them for comfort, assurance, hope, help, power, rescue, joy, contentment, and a sense of peace. God made it clear in the opening verses of this chapter all that He had done for the people of Israel. Over and over again He said, “I gave,” “I sent,” “I brought,” “I delivered,” and “I destroyed.” From the day He had called Abraham out of Ur, He had been leading, guiding, protecting and providing for them in incredible ways. He deserved their sold-out allegiance, their non-distracted commitment to Him and Him alone. But they would struggle with faithfulness for generations to come. Just as we do. James gives us a powerful warning in his letter about allowing anything to come between our love for God. He is as jealous for us as He was for the people of Israel. “You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?” (James 4:4-5 NLT).
So are you friendly with the world? Is your aim to enjoy this world and all it has to offer? If so, then James says you can’t be a friend of God. Sound a bit harsh, doesn’t it? But God jealously longs for us to be faithful and He knows how easily it is for us to become distracted by the things of this world. Maybe its time for a reality check. What ARE we worshiping other than God? What are the idols in our life? Are we willing to remove them?
Father, I say I worship You and You alone, but the truth is, I have so many things that compete for my love and attention. They show up as the things I worry about, think about, stress over, and spend my time with. In giving them my valuable time and attention, I am in essence worshiping them. I am giving them something of value that I should be reserving for You. Give me the ability to recognize the idols in my life and the strength to remove them. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men