This week we will be celebrating the 242nd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of our nation. Most of us are very proud to be Americans, and are grateful to God for the blessings that He has given us through our country. And yet, the greatest privilege we have, is NOT being the people called “Americans.” Our greatest standing is found in being The People of GOD.
Usually on Sunday mornings we focus on ONE particular scripture which we read the previous week in our Bible readings. This morning we are going to deviate from that just a little bit, by looking at several passages across the great Book of Joshua which we have been reading, which together give us a picture of what we are supposed to be as the people of God.
I. The People of God are on GOD’S Side.
Joshua 5:13-15 “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us or for our adversaries?’ He said, ‘No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and bowed down, and said to him, ‘What has my Lord to say to his servant?’ The captain of the LORD’s host said to Joshua, ‘Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
This is such a telling episode. Joshua sees this man (possibly an angel, and many believe a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ) and he asks him, basically, “Are you on our side?” “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” But this mysterious One says: “NO. Rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD (YHWH).”
That “NO” was important. He was saying, “No, Joshua; you’re asking the wrong question.” The question is not whether I am on YOUR side. He’s saying, I am the captain of GOD’s side. The question is not: Am I on YOUR side; the question is, are YOU on GOD’s side?
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was asked if God was on the side of the Union. Lincoln said: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
Lincoln had it right. This is just what the Lord’s Captain told Joshua. It’s jus what God is saying to us: it’s not whose side I’M on; it’s who’s side are YOU on? Are YOU on MY side?
And of course, if you remember, Joshua WAS on the Lord’s side. He would later challenge the people of Israel with those memorable words: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
Joshua said he was making a commitment to be on God’s side. And that is the most important commitment there is. God made us in His likeness, in His image; with the ability to choose. And the single most important decision you have to make, is who or what you will serve in life.
But a lot of people get religion wrong. “Pop religion” will tell you that “God is on your side”, and He is there to make you successful, fulfill your dreams, etc. And for a lot of people, that is what religion IS: you asking God to help you do what you want to do: win the game, or to make the sale, or to achieve whatever dream you may want to accomplish. Some of you even this morning may be thinking: “But I thought that’s what religion IS: God helping me achieve my goals?!” But it isn’t.
Some people wonder: why are so many Christian pastors and theologians so hard on Joel Osteen? He teaches from the Bible, and hhe talks about God and Jesus, and he has 50,000 a week in his church — that’s good isn’t it? But the problem is that Osteen and others like him have basically REVERSED the gospel. He says God wants your business to excel; God wants to prosper your life; God wants you to live your best life now — as if God is there to serve US, instead of the other way around.
We’ve got to understand that this is FALSE religion. This is just what Joshua started with here: “God, are you on MY side?” But the question was not whether God was on HIS side, but whether HE was on GOD’s side. And the same is true for us today. The big question for us today is NOT: “Is God on your side helping you build your ‘kingdom.’” The big question is: are YOU following GOD; are you a part of His building HIS kingdom. Are you building your life around HIM?
See, this is the very heart of what the gospel is all about. God created mankind in the very beginning to revolve around Him, and be blessed and warmed by Him, like the planets revolve around the sun, and receive all their nourishment from the sun. But mankind chose to SIN against God, by taking Him OUT of the center of their universe, and putting THEMSELVES in the center instead. “You will be like gods” was the temptation: to make it all about US; all revolving around US, not God. But that is sin: that is what sin is: putting ourselves in God’s place — and it brought death to us, and separated us from God. Amazingly, God still loved us, and wanted to make a way for us to come back to Him, so He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross to forgive our sins, and calls us to turn BACK to Him (which is what repentance is) and to put Him BACK in the center of our lives, where He was always designed to be.
Real Christianity means you have put GOD back at the center of your life. That your whole life revolves around HIM, not yourself. If you have never turned back from your self-centered life of doing whatever YOU wanted to do, and put God back in the center of your life through Jesus Christ, then you are not a Christian at all. Just because you say “God helps me sell this, or win that” doesn’t make you a Christian. Christianity is not about God helping you achieve your agenda. Christianity is where YOU join GOD’S agenda.
— When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, He didn’t say, “I am going to make y’all fishermen of the year!” No. He said, I’m sending you in a different direction. Now you are going to be catching men. You’re going to leave what you were doing and start following MY agenda.
— Jesus didn’t make Matthew a more successful tax-collector, bringing in more than ever before. He said, no you leave that and follow Me. You’re not working for Rome any more; you’re working for a new kingdom now.
And even when He leaves us in our current profession (which He often does, for His purposes), the question is NOT “IS God going to be on my side” in this job; but “Am I going to be on GOD’s side?” The question is NOT: is He going to help build your business; the question is, are YOU going to help build HIS Kingdom, through your business? Do you see the difference? When Jesus is our Lord, whatever we do is supposed to be all about HIM, not us.
It’s the same way with our country too. People ask: is God “on our side” as the United States of America? But the real question is, is America on GOD’S side? I DO NOT believe America is “just another nation.” I do believe God raised this nation up, with a Biblical foundation, to protect freedom in our world, and through our churches and missionaries and funds, to facilitate spreading the gospel all over the world. And we have done that. Southern Baptists have the largest missionary program in the history of the world, and we have been able to send those 4000 missionaries out because of the blessings God has given our country. But we have to realize that God hasn’t blessed us just to bless US. It is like Psalm 67 says: “God be gracious to us and bless us and cause His face t shine upon us — THAT Thy way may be known on the earth; Thy salvation among all nations.” God blesses us for HIS purposes. He blesses us not to make America great, but to make His name great. And if we turn away from His purposes, you can be sure that He will remove His blessing from us. MAY God indeed “shed His grace on America”, and help us as a nation of people to realize it is not HE who is on OUR side, but WE must be on HIS side!
THE single most important question for our country, for our church, and for each of our lives personally, is NOT “Is God on MY side?”; but “Am I on GOD’S side?”
II. The People of God Seek God’s Direction
There is a very interesting little story found in Joshua 9 – those of you doing our daily Bible readings read it this week. Israel had crossed the Jordan and God was giving them great victories over their enemies. God had told them NOT to make a peace treaty with any of the nations of the land of Canaan. But the Gibeonites were crafty. They knew Joshua and Israel would not make peace with them if they found out they lived in the land of Canaan, so they dressed up as if they were from a far-off land, and took dry crumbs of bread, so it would look like they had been traveling for a long time, and told Joshua they were not from Canaan, but another country far off. And they tricked them into signing a covenant of peace.
And Joshua 9:14 is the key. It says: “So the men of Israel took some of their provisions (the crumbs of bread that looked so old) AND DID NOT ASK FOR THE COUNSEL OF THE LORD.”
THAT was their big mistake. They just took the word that these people gave them, but they did not seek God before they made the decision. The Hebrew was literally, “they did not seek the mouth of YHWH.” They didn’t ask God’s direction, before they made their decision. And they were tricked into agreeing to the covenant.
The lesson here is that the people of God must seek the counsel of the Lord. We can’t just do “whatever” seems right to us, or according too whatever convincing arguments someone gives us. We have to seek God, or like Israel we can make a big mistake. Isaiah says God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts; His ways are higher than our ways; We have to seek HIM; HIS thoughts, HIS ways.
We’re gonna see in the Book of Judges in a few weeks how Israel falls into dismal period of national decline, and one phrase it repeats there is that “There was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” When we just do “whatever is right in our eyes,” that is a recipe for disaster.
A lot of times when people ask someone for advice, you’ll hear that someone will say to them, “Just follow your heart.” NO! Don’t follow your heart! The Bible says the heart is deceitfully wicked. Your heart will lead you astray. You don’t need to “follow your heart;” you need to seek the mouth of the LORD!
And of course we find “the mouth of the Lord” right here in His word. Again, this is why we are emphasizing the importance of reading the Bible every day. We need to “ask the counsel of the Lord” every day; “ask the mouth of the Lord”. He will give you that counsel — but you’ve got to put in the effort and seek His leadership every day in His word.
Too many times we as the people of God are just like Joshua and Israel in Joshua 9. We don’t even stop to think and pray before we make a decision, or put something on our schedule, or make a purchase — or whatever. And how many times do we “pay for it” — just like Joshua & Israel — because we didn’t really “seek the mouth of the Lord”? As the people of God, we must be committed to seek God’s direction.
And this really leads to our next point. One of the important reasons we need to seek God’s direction is because God often has a unique plan that we need to follow:
III. The People of God Follow God’s Ways
One thing we have seen repeatedly as we read in Joshua, is that when God DOES give His people His leadership, He often sends them in a different direction, or does things in a different way, than people would expect:
— How would they get from Egypt to Canaan? They didn’t go the direct route; they went through the wilderness.
— How would God feed them? It was in a way no one would have expected, with manna from heaven.
— How would they cross the Jordan River when they came into the Promised Land? It was at flood stage. NO ONE expected the river to PART and the people walk across on dry ground!
— How were they going to take the city of Jericho? It was a city with walls so thick it was said you could drive a chariot on top of it! How would you breach those walls? Who would think God would have them walk around the city for 6 days, then walk around it 7 times on the 7th day, then blow the trumpet and the walls would fall down flat?!
Over and over, it was not what you would expect. It is not the “typical” way that WE would have done it. And this is often how God works. He often does things in a way that we would not anticipate or expect, to show that His people are different, and that HE is the One blessing His people.
It was the same way when Jesus came. Mark 1 says that when He was healing people in Simon’s mother-in-law’s city, that “the whole city was gathered at the door”. What an amazing ministry; surely it was God’s will for the to continue there! But early the next morning Jesus got up before dark and sought the Father in prayer, Mark 1:35 says — and the next thing you know, the Father led Him AWAY from that city and all the people — because He had plans for Him to go elsewhere. That might not have made sense humanly speaking; but God works differently than we do.
So we need to understand that when we give our allegiance to the Lord, and seek His counsel in His word, He is going to lead you to do some things differently than they do it in the world around us.
— For example, the world these days has little respect for marriage. They say “Let’s live together first, try it out. How can you know if you’re compatible if you don’t? And if it doesn’t work out that’s ok; just leave and try it again.” (I saw a survey of young adults some time ago, in which most of them said they didn’t even EXPECT their marriage to last! They figured they’d have 2 or 3 or so marriages. No big deal. And many people don’t plan on getting married at all now. Why do it? Just live together as long as you want to, and then split up when you’re ready.
But God says NO, My people are to have a different attitude. He says in His word: You leave father and mother, and cleave to your spouse in a once-in-a-lifetime commitment to another person, and yes you will have some troubles working it out. And you’ll rub each other the wrong way some — but in that process you sharpen each other like iron sharpens iron, and through it all I will shape you to become the person I designed you to be. That’s not “the way of the world”; not any more. But God’s people are to do things differently; we are to do it God’s way.
— This world has little respect for children: if it’s not when you want, or as healthy as you want, or even the sex you want, just abort it; it’s “your body your choice” is the slogan. But God’s people do things differently. God’s people believe that GOD made every human life, that Psalm 139 says the HE knit us together in our mother’s womb, and that every human life is precious in His sight.
We don’t just abort a life because it doesn’t meet someone else’s standard of a “perfect” child. God’s people love children, respect children, provide for children, protect children, HAVE children when they can, MULTIPLY children. Bring the children to Me Jesus said — He loves the little children — that’s why we put so much into VBS this week. God’s people are different than the world; we treasure children.
If we are the people of God, we will do a lot of things differently than the world would do it:
— the world says “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die;” God’s people say: you’d better repent today, for tomorrow you may die.”
— the world says success is getting other people to serve you. Jesus said the greatest in the Kingdom of God will be the one who serves others.
— the world says you’ve got to have a certain house, a certain car, certain clothes; a certain standard. God says this world is not your home. Don’t get too comfortable here.
— The world says if you’ve got a lot to do, get out early and WORK.
God says if you’ve got a lot to do, get up early and PRAY — and THEN work, and God will bless you even more. (George Muller said he got more done when he prayed for an hour and worked for 5, than when he just worked for 6 hours.) God’s people do things differently.
— the world says get back at your enemies; God says LOVE your enemies
— the world says advertise; God says PRAY
— the world says get all you can; God says give away all you can
— the world says: promote yourself; God says HUMBLE yourself
The people of God are to be distinct from the world; we are to do things differently than the world. ONE OF THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS MANY CHRISTIANS HAVE TODAY IS THAT THEY’RE TRYING TOO HARD TO IMITATE THE WORLD, INSTEAD OF BEING CONTENT TO BE THE UNIQUE PEOPLE OF GOD.
— When are we going to realize that we are not supposed to imitate every fad this world sends our way?
— When are we going to realize that we don’t have to buy everything they advertise on television?
— When we are we going to realize that just because the world does it doesn’t mean that we are also supposed to be doing it in the church? We are not the world; we are the people of GOD, and the people of God are supposed to be different. And when the people of God are at their best, they ARE different.
About 200 years after the time of Christ, a vicious plague hit Alexandria, Egypt. Bishop Dionysius described how most people responded: “At the first onset of the disease, they (pagans) pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest (relatives), throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease …”.
That’s how the world responded. But the Christians acted another way:
Bishop Cyprian told his people that the plague had come to test their love: whether we’ll care for the sick; whether we’ll have compassion on the dying; whether we fear death as much as the pagans do, or whether we really believe we have eternal life. And the Christians responded. Unlike the world, they stayed. They cared for people and ministered to people and led people to Jesus. In fact Bishop Dionysius said that many of the best people they had in the church, died serving the sick in this way. While most of the world, threw their dying loved ones into the streets and ran out of town.
When the people of God are at our best, we are not like the world; we are distinct, and much different than the world. For the last couple of generations, too many churches in America have been trying to draw in the world by being like the world — and they’re ended up getting the world all right, and becoming just like the world. And many in the church have forgotten that God has not called us to be like the world, He’s called us to be HIS special people.
We are the people of GOD, whose allegiance is to God; whose direction is from God, and whose ways are from God.
Chorus: “We’re the people of God; called by His name, called from the dark, and delivered from shame. One holy race; saints every one, because of the blood of Christ, Jesus the Son.”