Most types of entertainment have a top tier and a lower level. Acts that have made it, that everybody knows and wants to see, are you’re a-list. Acts that are working their way to the top might be thought of as B-list or lower. Concerts have their headliners and their opening acts. Baseball has the major and the minor leagues. Wrestling has the guys that get the top billing and the guys on the undercard.
Similarly, there are some verses in the Bible that are not so famous and some that rise to superstar level. This is not because of any lack of value in the text, but simply because we have learned some while not pondering others as much. For example, everybody knows John 3:16, the verse about God so loving the world, but very few could give you the 2 verses leading up to it, about Jesus being like the snake on the pole. Lots of people know Philippians 4:6-7, about not being anxious but praying, but cannot tell you anything about the following verse, the one that calls us to think on good things and not evil ones.
This odd type of thinking came to mind today as I finished reading through the Book of Joshua. Many well-studied Christians have spent time thinking about Joshua 24:14-15, “14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” So many of us, even if we could not cite the reference, know that powerful call to choose this day whom we will serve.
Contextually, Joshua is wrapping up his ministry of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. He is reminding the people to turn from idols, to refuse to be led astray by the people of the land, and to make the Lord their one and only God. And the people respond positively. They want to serve the Lord.
What caught my attention, however, is the fact that Joshua responded negatively to the people’s proclamation. Eagerly they said they would serve the Lord. But Joshua’s response to them was pretty negative. Joshua pointed out that, if they were not serious, if they were unfaithful, they would only bring God’s judgment on themselves. He warned them that they could not fool the Lord here and they would not be let out of their commitment to their God.
Joshua 24:21-24 – 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.”
It is the above set of verses that struck me as I read through this chapter, because this is the follow up to the “choose this day” passage. The people say they want to serve God. Joshua says they will fail to meet God’s holy standard and get into deep trouble. But they still agree to serve the Lord. And then we get the words above.
Joshua said to the people, and the people agreed, that they were witnesses against themselves that they had committed to serve the Lord. Their words, their pledges, would be binding. In the future, when the people sinned, they would be confronted with the commitment they made this day before Joshua.
And this all brings me to why I thought of this verse, the often ignored follow up to the “choose this day” passage. The claim to be willing to follow the Lord is a claim that is an actual, standing witness against us in our lives. I know, that sounds rough, but think about it. When we say, “I am a Christian,” or “I serve Jesus,” or “Jesus is Lord,” we are declaring a willingness to follow the Lord. We are speaking words of commitment. We are participating in the formation of a covenant, a super-strong contract, with the Lord in which he is our God and we are his people. And, once that covenant is made, our words become a witness for or against us.
I have to say that, when I look over my life, there have been so very many failures. I have messed things up both accidentally and purposefully more times than I can count. And some of my worst failures and greatest foolishness came after I had committed my life to Jesus. I was saved, and still acting like an idiot.
In such a time, this passage from Joshua applies. My words bear witness against me. You see, when I am rebelling, when I am failing, when I am acting selfishly, the words of my commitment to Christ are there. Those words command me to change my actions and attitude or deny my commitment to the Savior. And, since I cannot leave the Lord, since I am in his hand and nobody can snatch me away—not even me-I must change. I must repent. I must prove to be his for his glory.
What about you? What do your words say about you? What is your commitment to the Savior? Is your life matching the claim that you have to be a follower of Jesus? If not, how can you bow before him, turn from sin, and live to match your claim that Jesus is Lord?
Let’s not only see the A-list to make a choice at one point in our lives to follow Jesus. Instead, let’s let those verses we do not remember as often remind us that our words of commitment witness against us when we are tempted to ignore the commands of the Lord. If you are a Christian, you have to have made a personal commitment to follow Jesus. But Christianity is far more than a single, momentary decision. That decision rules our lives from now through eternity.