June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Joshua 22: Keeping God’s people together

Have you heard the saying “Church is a bed of roses, and I’ve got the scars to prove it!”?

Church can be the most wonderful place on earth. Somewhere we feel loved, accepted, encouraged, challenged.

It’s great to be so comfortable with people that we can be vulnerable. People we can start to open ourselves up to, and show them what we’re really like. What our weaknesses and struggles are.

That’s the THEORY, anyway!

Unfortunately, my guess is that for most of us, that’s not the reality. For most of us, church is where everyone keeps their distance. We don’t give too much away. Don’t let on too much about what’s going on.

And often that’s because we’ve been hurt in the past. Misunderstandings. Miscommunication. One person getting the wrong end of the stick, and things just get worse. And in the end, you avoid certain people. Sit on the other side of the building, or cross the road when you see them coming. Or, at its worst, you even leave the church.

Disunity is a huge problem in many churches.

And Jesus recognised it, too. Jn 17 records the prayer he prayed during the Last Supper. And among other things/ he prays for the church of the future. And his number one prayer point/ is that THE CHURCH MAY BE ONE. “May they be brought to complete unity”.

How do we make sure WE’RE a church that’s united? How can we KEEP GOD’S PEOPLE TOGETHER?

That’s the question we’ll look at today in Joshua 22.

We’re nearly at the end of the book. And the war’s over. The land’s been divided up. And all the way through, Israel’s been UNITED. To one man/ standing behind Joshua. Following through on God’s plan to give them the land.

But now, with the end in sight. There’s a problem. A misunderstanding. And unless it’s dealt with properly, it could plunge Israel into full-scale civil war.

And as we look at how Israel behaves/ we can learn some lessons for US. About how to keep God’s people together.

Let me suggest that there are four lessons we can learn. We keep God’s people together by being WATCHFUL. Watchful against PERSONAL DISOBEDIENCE. Watchful against OTHER’S DISOBEDIENCE. Watchful against MISUNDERSTANDING. And watchful against FORGETTING.

1. Watchful against PERSONAL DISOBEDIENCE.

But our first lesson/ is that we keep God’s people together by being watchful against PERSONAL DISOBEDIENCE. That’s Joshua’s call at the start of Ch 22.

Everyone’s about to return to their home countries. And Joshua calls for the 2 ½ tribes. You might remember/ they’re the ones whose land was on the OTHER side of the Jordan. Back where Israel started from.

And right back in Ch 1, they’d promised to come and help their brothers. They were going to join in fighting on the EASTERN side. Even though it wasn’t their land.

And that’s what they’d been doing for years and years.

But now the fight’s over. And Joshua commends them for their OBEDIENCE, and for their COMMITMENT TO THEIR BROTHERS. Look at v3.

(Josh 22:3-4 NIV)  For a long time now–to this very day–you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the LORD your God gave you. {4} Now that the LORD your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.

“Go home!” Joshua says. “You’ve done a great job, You’ve been obedient. And you’ve been there for the long haul.”

He’s given them the COMPLIMENT. But now it’s time for THE HARD WORD. The warning. The big “BUT”. Look at v5.

(Josh 22:5 NIV)  BUT – be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

“Watch out!” He says. Keep obeying God.

And look how many different ways he says it. Keep. Love. Walk. Obey. Hold fast. Serve. With all your HEART. With all your SOUL.

Joshua’s not talking about performing some Sabbath day ritual. He’s not calling for a bunch of one-day wonders.

This is total, absolute, 24-7 dedication. Complete submission. In thought, word, and action. In motivations, desires, emotions. Everything is to be devoted to obeying God. That’s to be the general pattern of your life.

Stick by him. Don’t let go. Don’t look away.

Does that describe YOUR life? Or are you a compartmentalised Christian? (Being a Christian is just ONE PART of who you are)

Perhaps our problem is/ we’re not sure we actually WANT to be that committed. We’ve got the sneaking suspicion that by being a Christian/ we’re missing out on something. We’re not convinced that God’s way is ENOUGH to make us happy. And so we try to have the best of both worlds.

We follow Jesus because he’s our ticket to heaven. But we’re not convinced his way is REALLY all there is to life. And so we work at being successful, and rich, and popular, and important and valued, and respected, AS WELL. Just so we can be REALLY happy.

But the problem is/ by trying to have the best of both/ we miss out. We miss out on the RICHNESS that God’s offering.

It’s like not being able to decide whether to go snow-boarding or skiing this year. So you try to do both, at the same time. Ski on one leg and snowbaord on the other. But the problem with that/ is you have LESS fun, not twice the fun.

Complete devotion to Jesus/ is the way to be happy. To be rich.

I’m UTTERLY CONVINCED that the more serious we get with God. The more we hand over EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES. The more we give him EVERYTHING. And GIVE UP everything. The more joy we’ll find in God.

He’s the well. The deeper we dive, the more we want to go deeper. The more we KNOW about God, the more we realise how LITTLE we know. But the more we want to know MORE. The more we love him, the greater our hunger to love him more.

The Psalmist puts it like this. Psalm 37.

(Psa 37:3-4 NIV)  Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. {4} DELIGHT YOURSELF IN THE LORD AND HE WILL GIVE YOU THE DESIRES OF YOUR HEART.

If we delight ourselves in God, he’ll give us what we want. And what is it that you want when you delight in God? God! He’ll give you more of himself. A greater understanding of who he is. And how much he loves. A greater awareness of his Spirit living with you. And even greater delight.

Some people think that God is a killjoy. He gives us rules to stop us having fun. But it’s the exact opposite. God loves us to have fun. And the best fun is when we dive into the deep end of God.

CS Lewis says that “it’s not that God finds our desires too strong. But too weak”. We settle for the second-best the world offers as fun, when TRUE joy and fun are found in God.

Lewis says we’re “half-hearted creatures/ like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he can’t imagine what a holiday at the sea is like. We’re far TOO easily pleased”

Steven Curtis Chapman compares this settling for second best/ to “playing gameboy in the middle of the grand Canyon. Or eating candy at a gourmet feast. Or wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean”

Go on! I DARE you! Dive into the deep end with God. No half-measures! See if God’s promises doesn’t come true –

{4} DELIGHT YOURSELF IN THE LORD AND HE WILL GIVE YOU THE DESIRES OF YOUR HEART.

When we’re totally besotted with God. When our lives are completely controlled by pleasing Him. Then it will be so much harder for disunity and miscommunication and misunderstandings to throw us off balance. Our eyes are on the target, and nothing will knock us off course.

That’s Joshua’s first warning. Be watchful against personal disobedience. Be careful to follow him closely.

2. Watchful against OTHER’S DISOBEDIENCE. (9-12)

Next, Joshua sends them on their way. But here’s where the misunderstanding starts.

Because the 2 ½ tribes get to the edge of the Jordan, and they build an altar. It must have been a pretty serious pile of rocks. Verse 10 says it’s an IMPOSING altar. It’s literally “an altar great to look at”. They were pretty serious. This thing was going to be around for a while.

Notice we don’t yet know WHY they built it? And the rest of Israel aren’t too sure either. But, in v 11, they assume the worst.

(Josh 22:11-12 NIV)  And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, {12} the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

The land’s just got peace. And now Israel going to start fighting itself! How tragic! Why is one little altar such a big deal?

Down in v16 we find out what they were thinking.

(Josh 22:16 NIV)  “The whole assembly of the LORD says: ‘How could you BREAK FAITH WITH THE GOD OF ISRAEL like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now?

They assume the altar’s a sign of REBELLION. Of DISOBEDIENCE. In fact, they’re worried it’s going to be another sin of PEOR, or a sin of ACHAN.

In both of those examples, the sin of ONE PERSON, or A GROUP OF PEOPLE, resulted in God punishing LOTS of PEOPLE.

In the case of Peor, God killed 24,000 by plague because SOME people worshipped Baal. And for Achan, even though it was only Achan who sinned, Israel lost lives in battle because of him.

And they’re worried the same thing’s going to happen again. They’re watchful of OTHER’S disobedience because they realise God will punish EVERYONE. That’s what they say in v18.

(Josh 22:18 NIV)  And are you now turning away from the LORD? “‘If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with THE WHOLE COMMUNITY OF ISRAEL.

It’s in EVERYONE’S interest that we don’t sin. That we stay obedient.

And the same’s true today. Churches are torn apart by the sinfulness of one or two people. Many suffer because of the sin of a few. And so we need to be watchful of other’s disobedience. And we need to be prepared to do something about it. Perhaps to show TOUGH LOVE.

For the sake of keeping God’s people together.

3. Watchful against MISUNDERSTANDING.

Thirdly, we need to be watchful against misunderstandings. I’m sure most of us have experienced it at one time or another. We SAY something, or DO something that was perfectly innocent, or from good motives.

And someone takes it the wrong way. Assumes we’re trying to UNDERMINE them, or we’re OUT TO GET THEM. Or we them.

We need to be careful about misunderstandings. And we can learn this lesson from Israel. They could very easily have gone to war. Shot first, and asked questions later. But they didn’t. Look at v13.

(Josh 22:13-16 NIV)  So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead–to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. {14} With him they sent ten of the chief men, one for each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans. {15} When they went to Gilead–to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh–they said to them: {16} “The whole assembly of the LORD says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? Etc.

They wanted to check the facts. To here the other side of the story. And that’s a great thing to do. To be watchful against misunderstandings.

And often when you do check the facts, you find that there was nothing to worry about. Often the other person is actually GRATEFUL you pointed it out because they weren’t aware of the problem.

That’s happened to me. I was in a meeting with Dave Thurston, and some other student ministers. And I had a splitting headache. And I guess I must have been sharing my bad temper around. Making comments that made it obvious to everyone how I was feeling.

Noone said anything at the time, but that night Dave phoned me up. “I felt like there was a problem between us today. Have I done something wrong? Are you unhappy about something I’m doing”

Rather than letting things continue, Dave confronted the problem. And made sure there was no misunderstanding. And I’m glad he did. I was able to apologise. And reassure him that it was just my bad temper.

And I believe we’re closer as a result.

And there was a good ending in the case of Israel, too. Once the 2 ½ tribes get the chance to explain themselves, everyone realises that everything’s fine. Look down at v33.

(Josh 22:33 NIV)  They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.

That’s the third lesson. Be watchful against misunderstanding.

4. Watchful against FORGETTING

And the fourth lesson is to be watchful against FORGETTING. This is the very thing the 2 ½ tribes were worried about. And why they built the altar in the first place.

Look at what they say as they explain themselves. First, they say what they WEREN’T doing. It had nothing to do with disobedience. Verse 22.

(Josh 22:22-23 NIV)  “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. {23} If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account.

That’s pretty emotional language! And then they explain why they DID build the altar. It’s all about making sure that everyone REMEMBERS GOD.

It’s all very well for everyone to be united NOW. For everyone to be joined together in their obedience to God.

But they’re afraid that it won’t ALWAYS BE LIKE THAT. They’re afraid that generations to come will treat the Jordan River like a dividing wall. The Iron Curtain, or the Berlin Wall. Separating one half of God’s people from the other. Verse 24.

(Josh 22:24-25 NIV)  “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? {25} The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you–you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD.

Their fear was that this disunity would stop their children from fearing God. That was why it was so important to remember where they’d come from. So that their children would continue to follow God.

So rather than the altar being a symbol of REBELLION and DISunity, it was actually the very oppposite. A symbol of their commitment to KEEP worshipping God, and to KEEP united. Verse 27.

(Josh 22:27 NIV)  On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we WILL worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings.

These people were seriously committed to making sure that they didn’t forget where they’d come from. Making sure they didn’t forget WHO they worshipped. And WHY.

Are WE that serious about making sure OUR children continue following God?

Richard Coekin was the speaker at Men’s Convention this year, And while his TALKS were good, it was a comment he made during an INTERVIEW that really struck me. He was talking about his Christian parents having family devotions. And he said that, for the most part, they were TERRIBLE times. He and his brothers just DIDN’T want to be there. They sulked and sloached and moaned.

But EVERY NIGHT, after dinner, his parents persisted. They’d talk, read the bible, they’d pray. And he said it was that PERSISTENCE that spoke more to him than any words they might have spoken.

They showed by their ACTIONS how important their faith was. And how much they wanted to make sure their children remembered the Lord. They were watchful against their children FORGETTING.

How serious are you about making sure your children remember?

(slowly) And that’s the fourth lesson. Remembering God, and what he’s done for us in Jesus, is crucial for keeping God’s people together.

Because we’re only united as one body because we’re joined to the one head – that’s Jesus

Ultimately it’s our relationship with Jesus that is the source of any relationship with each other. And if we lose that/ then God’s people just disintegrate.

Jesus knew the importance of remembering. And that’s why he left us a memory aid. A symbol, just like the Israel’s imposing altar, to help God’s people to remember.

Bread and grape juice that remind us of his body and . The reason we can be called God’s children in the first place.

And what better time to celebrate communion/ than the week before Easter. (Lord’s Supper)

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