Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Gracious Call to Commitment, Joshua 1

In our last couple of posts, we considered the burden of leadership and how we carry that burden over the long haul by looking to the adequacy of God and the adequacy of His word.  In this post, I'd like to think with you about how our obedience to the Lord translates into graciously calling others to make a commitment to small group life.  As I have talked with may of you, there seems to be a lack of commitment to small group.  People have busy lives and small group just isn't always a priority?  Finding ourselves in a culture where personal autonomy is a deeply held value, we defer to other people's lack of commitment to small group.  But are we really serving them by doing so?  Consider with me a different path, that is, a gracious call to commitment.  I pick up the account in Joshua, Chapter 1.  

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

Jacob had 12 sons.  His one son, Joseph, was sold as a slave and carried off to Egypt.  But God was with Joseph and Joseph had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.  And when Jacob was reunited with Joseph and met his sons, Jacob reckoned Manasseh and Ephraim as his own sons.  So when Moses is allocating the land to the tribes, Joseph doesn't get an inheritance but Ephraim and Manasseh do.  And this tribe of Manasseh is split in two.  Half of Manasseh will receive and inheritance west of the Jordan and the other half tribe of Manasseh, along with Reuben and Gad will receive an inheritance east of the Jordan.  

Joshua and the people are camping east of the Jordan.  And in that sense, the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of  Manasseh have already reached the promised land.  But Joshua reminds them that Moses commanded them to go with their brothers to conquer the land west of the Jordan.  And so he asks them not only to consider their own tribes but their commitment to the larger community, that is the nation of Israel.  

One observation about this call to commitment to community is that it is a call to a high level of commitment.  Leave your wives, children and livestock behind.  Trust that the LORD will care for them in your absence.  Put your life on the line and go over to the west side of the Jordan, fully armed, ready for battle and fight for your brothers. It took 7 years to complete the conquest of Canaan.  

Secondly, this call to commitment is not just a human activity, that is, it's not just one person making a claim on another.  Notice that Moses carries this title, servant of the LORD.  It seems to be part of his name.  It's not just Moses, but Moses the servant of the LORD.  And so when Moses commands Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh to cross over the Jordan, he does so as God's representative.  

Finally, this is a gracious call to commitment.  By that, I don't mean that Joshua's manner of speech is gracious.  Joshua is a soldier and a pretty straightforward guy on a mission.  He does not use the interrogative voice, “Could you please cross over the Jordan?” but the imperative voice, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you...all your fighting men, fully armed, MUST cross over ahead of your brothers.”

How then is this a gracious call to commitment to the community?  Joshua is actually being kind to them in calling them to commitment.  In the absence of the call, the default is selfishness.  By calling them to commitment, Joshua gives them the opportunity to look not only to their own interests, but also to the interest of others (Philippians 2:4).  Or in other words, Joshua is giving them the opportunity to be like Jesus, to lay down their lives and to love their people.

And then, wonderfully, Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh answer the call.  

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 

Notice the parallelism and the repetition for emphasis indicating a glad and wholehearted commitment.  Not only will we do whatever you command but we'll go wherever you send us.    

17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. 

They acknowledge the succession from Moses to Joshua.  

17bOnly may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 

Do you hear the echo there?  The LORD says, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you;”  The people say, “Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses!”  

Here is another echo.  Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh say to Joshua, 

18bOnly be strong and courageous!”  

Isn't that heartening when your brothers tell you the same thing that the LORD has just told you?

How then are we going to apply what we have learned about the gracious call to commitment to our own situation here at Knox?  How do God's people express their commitment to on another in community? We all belong to the family of God.  And we express that belonging through our membership vows.

Do you promise to serve Christ in His Church by supporting and participating with 
this congregation in its service of God and its ministry to others to the best of your 

Do you submit yourself to the government and discipline of the Evangelical 
Presbyterian Church and to the spiritual oversight of this Church Session, and do 
you promise to promote the unity, purity and peace of the Church? 

These vows are only the beginning, right?  The vows give us the framework that we need to order our common lives.  

Some aspects of commitment are the frequency of contact with others and the content of the relationship.  So, if you come to worship and then quickly duck out after the benediction, it's certainly better than not coming at all.  But I would challenge this person by saying it's difficult to love 600 people in any meaningful way for an hour and a half on Sunday morning.  By committing to a small group, people are interacting with smaller numbers of saints in a meaningful way.    

The voice of God that spoke to Joshua all those centuries ago is the same voice that speaks to us.  In his day, Joshua's call was to conquer the land of Canaan.  And just as there was a battle in Joshua's day, so there is a battle in our own day.  But it's not a battle for land, but a battle for the hearts and minds of the men and women around us.  And we need to ask ourselves the question, “What are we inviting them to?”  The answer is, “A committed loving relationship with the living God and a committed loving relationship with His people.”  May it be so.

Discussion Questions
  • What is your typical week like?  M-F? Sat? Sun?
  • What people do you interact with during the week?
  • If there is one thing you would like to change, what would it be?