Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 13 July 2022:
Joshua 5:13-15 – “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant?’ And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.
Preparing to attack the mighty city of Jericho, Joshua encounters a man standing with his sword drawn (noticeably not sheathed). I don’t think this was an angel but rather Jesus Himself, a theophany. Why? This is one of two times in the Bible when a servant of God is commanded to take off His shoes while on holy ground — Moses at the Burning Bush, and now Joshua before the Man. Throughout the remainder of the Bible, angels tell people not to worship them.
The Man identifies Himself as “The Commander of the Lord’s Army” – the outcome of the impending battle does not rest in the hands of men. (see also 2 Chronicles 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15:57; Psalm 146:3; Proverbs 21:31; and Revelation 19) Joshua asks, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” The Commander of the Lord’s Army simply replies, “No.” Joshua was missing the point. The battle ahead was not intended to fulfill the desires of people but rather God’s will and ultimate plan of redemption.
Joshua’s encounter with the Man gives us an important lesson about our conflicts with others – It is never about us or them, rather always about Him. We have been appointed as ambassadors for Christ, entrusted with His message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5) We are never to be ambassadors for self or anything else. We are not called to win arguments, but rather to win souls – “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30) When we prioritize the “issue” over the Gospel, we take the focus off of Jesus, and we scatter rather than gather – “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)
Also, we are not called to win the day on our own power, it is God’s power that prevails. “For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.” (Deuteronomy 20:4) “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Through the power and authority of Jesus Christ, we have been appointed to proclaim the Gospel boldly, but it is the power of the Holy Spirit which convicts souls and saves. God uses the faithful, not necessarily the talented. You need simply to be faithful, and trust God with the results.
Note: Here is a short video overview of 1 Thessalonians: https://youtu.be/No7Nq6IX23c
1 Thessalonians 1:4 — For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
Paul shared the Gospel with as many people as he could, and he continuously discipled other Christians to greater maturity in Christ. Often Paul’s words and testimony were not well received; he was mocked, rejected, threatened, beaten, cast out, and imprisoned, but that didn’t stop him. In fact, on more than one occasion, when he was persecuted by a group of people, rather the shutting up as most would do, he only preached more emphatically. Paul understood that his mission was to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15), “in season and out of season,” (2 Timothy 4:2) and the Holy Spirit would convict hearts in ways beyond his understanding – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8)
Paul understood that he could not know where the Holy Spirit was moving among those to whom he preached and proclaimed the Gospel, but he did rejoice over the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of many. Today’s readings point out some of the attributes which should be naturally visible among true followers of Christ –
- Receiving the word with joy (v. 6)
- Full conviction (v. 5)
- Imitators of the Lord (v. 6)
- Supernatural joy through affliction (v, 6)
- Living exemplary lives before others (v. 7)
- Caring for others and hospitality (v. 9)
- Turning from idols, things that previously detracted from wholehearted fidelity to God (v. 9)
- Waiting upon the Lord with steadfastness, perseverance and hope (joyful confidence) (v. 10)
Paul makes the point, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:8) These Christians proclaimed the Gospel through their changed lives, and the news concerning the impact of the Gospel on their character spread throughout the land. We have all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” and certainly the behavior of these Christians was a powerful testimony; but actions are not a substitute for words. When Paul said, “we need not say anything,” he didn’t mean we don’t say anything. The truth of the Gospel must be proclaimed verbally – “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)
Too many Christians hope to influence others through their behavior alone without ever sharing the Gospel message. You may have heard some Christians misquote Francis of Assisi, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” What he really said is a person’s words should match his or her deeds – practice what you preach. Good deeds apart from the Gospel certainly have a positive impact on others but also potentially give glory to the Christian rather than to Christ — ‘Julie is a great person. I want to be like Julie.’ Also, our salvation is not based on our behavior, but rather in the grace of God bestowed on us through Jesus despite our behavior. In our performance-based, contractual culture, we must be clear about God’s grace and covenantal love by which He saves even sinners like us – “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Without the Gospel message, we are merely ambassadors for moralism rather than ambassadors for Christ. It feels good to live a moral life, but sharing the Gospel with others can be very uncomfortable. Get out of your comfort zone, and do what God called you to do, authorized you to do, and empowered you to do in the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 13 Jul 22: Today, don’t lose perspective of your position as an ambassador to Christ. In every encounter with others, focus on representing Christ, not yourself, and relying on His power and authority, not yours. Trust Him with the results of every situation. (Joshua 5) Proclaim the Gospel through your actions while sharing the Gospel through your words. True love speaks the truth in love. (1 Thessalonians 1)