Sunday, December 25, 2011

Obeying God's Commands Keeps Us in His Love (Joshua 22)

Josh 22:1-8 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, "You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. 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. 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. 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." Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan with their brothers.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, saying, "Return to your homes with your great wealth — with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing — and divide with your brothers the plunder from your enemies." 

Here we read about the faithfulness of the two and a half tribes of Israel (Reuben, Gad and half-tribe of Manasseh) who settled on the land east of the Jordan: they had accomplished their mission by helping their brothers from the other nine and a half tribe conquer the Canaan land and settle there. Now they were finally returning home - and with the exhortation from Joshua to remain faithful to the Lord and his commands: "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." Here we have an echo of Jesus' summary of the law as "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and with all your strength" (Mt 22:37; Mk 12:30). What does it mean to "love the Lord your God"? Well, Joshua elaborated it as "to walk in all his ways, to  obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him".

As I have intimated elsewhere that charisma (grace-gift) is often exalted above character. Here Joshua is in effect saying that the doing (accomplishing a mission) is over, but the being (growing in character) must continue. To obey God's commands (whether under the Old or New Covenant) is foundational to growth in character. Even Jesus emphasized that in His Great Commission to His disciples: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Mt 28:19). There is no lawless covenants in the Bible. All covenants have obligations, though they may differ from one another.

There are 600+ commands under the Old Covenant, and there are also 600+ commands under the New Covenant. Jesus' own commands include the following: love your enemies, pray for those who curse you, do to others what you would want others to do to you, give to anyone who asks of you, forgive those who sinned against you, do not look at a woman to lust after her, do not be angry with your brothers, give to the poor, show mercy, walk the second mile, pray and fast in secret,  do not worry about life, seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, do not be judgemental, have faith in God, follow me and I will make you fishers of men, abide in me, love one another, etc. The list just goes on and on...if we include the commands in Acts, the epistles and the Book of Revelation. If we are truly under grace and walking by the Spirit, we will demonstrate these attitudes and actions. But this is not a one-way street: keeping the commands enables us to walk by the Spirit, just as walking by the Spirit empowers us to keep the commands.

Israel did not earn the right to become God's chosen people; neither does the Church. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8-9). But we must not forget Ephesians 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." While we are not saved BY good works, we are saved FOR good works. And good works is a fruit of obedience to the Lord and his teaching. Jesus affirms that our relationship with the Father is kept through obedience: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:9-10).

Whoever teaches or undermines the importance of obedience to Christ's commands undermines Christ's integrity and character and is preaching heresy.

Father, what a joy and privilege it is for us Your children to keep Your commands, because Your burden is light and Your yoke is easy. For it is in obeying Your commands that we have remained in Your love! Amen.

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