One of the most tragic realities of contemporary Western Christianity is the fact that so many Christians simply do not read their Bibles. Certainly many – if not most – do not read the Bible regularly, daily, and determinedly. This has to be one of the great scandals of today’s church.
How can we claim to be lovers of God and disciples of Christ if we neglect perhaps his greatest gift to us: his written Word? Scripture is not just our guidebook, our rock, and our sustenance, but it contains God’s love letters to his own people.
How can we claim to love God yet ignore and treat with disdain his love letters to us? Just remember when you were first in love, and perhaps separated from your beloved. You looked forward every day to a letter in the mailbox, or today, an email in your inbox. You could not wait to hear from the one you loved.
Should this not be our attitude to the one who loves us so deeply, and who we claim to love? This hit home to me again today in my daily reading of the Word. I am now in Joshua again, and a few verses in chapter one jumped out at me. In Josh. 1:7-8 we read these words:
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
Yahweh’s words to Joshua are not just fully relevant for him, but fully relevant for us as well. And at the risk of being presumptuous here, one might have reversed the order here. One cannot obey God’s Word until one first reads and studies God’s Word. But we get the message here.
And as James Montgomery Boice has said in his expository sermons on the book of Joshua, “In some ways these verses are the most important in the entire book, and it is because Joshua obeyed them that he is a great biblical figure.”
Boice says the commission to Joshua from Yahweh entails four aspects:
“1. Joshua was to know God’s Word.
2. Joshua was to talk about God’s Word.
3. Joshua was to meditate on God’s Word.
4. Joshua was to obey God’s Word.”
Let me share part of what he says about point three: “Meditation is a step beyond mere knowledge of the Scripture or mere talking about it. Meditation implies reasoning about the Word and deducing things from it. Meditation has application as a goal. Unfortunately, this is a discipline far too few Christians today know anything about. We live in an age of superficiality and spoon-feeding. Consequently, many of today’s Christians think that all a person has to do to be successful in the Christian life is go to church, pay passing attention to the sermon, have a few Christian friends, and go on about their business as one would without these other elements.
“That is why Christians make so little difference in our society. They think like the world, and as a result, they act like the world. Their conduct and the conduct of pagans, apart from the grosser sins, is indistinguishable. What is missing? The missing element is deep, genuine, and persistent meditation on the Word of God. It is only as the Word of God gets into our minds and begins to become part of our normal, day-to-day reasoning and thinking that we begin to act differently and thereby make a difference.”
He concludes his commentary on this section of Joshua with these words: “According to the Bible, the secret of success is to know God’s Word, speak about it, meditate on it, and then, above all, do it. In God’s world there is no substitute for full obedience.
“That was why Joshua was so successful. Joshua was a good soldier, but he was no more brilliant as a commander than countless others who have swept across the battle plains of world history. Joshua was a leader of men, but he was no more gifted at that than many others. Joshua’s great secret was that he made it his job to know the law of God and do it.
“In Deuteronomy 27 there are instructions for how the law was to be read from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim after the people had entered and begun to possess the land. When Joshua got to that point in the unfolding of God’s plan, he did exactly that – to the tiniest detail. Joshua did not try to second-guess or improve on God’s instructions.
“Moreover, when he reached the end of his life, this was still his overriding concern, for he instructed the people with very nearly the identical words God had originally given him: ‘Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left’ (Josh. 23:6). That is what we need today: not increasingly clever methods, still less increasingly clever people, but obedience informed and motivated by the living and abiding Word of God.”
Let me add a few more wise words on this passage from another favourite author of mine. Back in 1975 Francis Schaeffer published a collection of sermons on this book entitled Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. He reminds us of the supreme importance of the Word of God in our life.
In a day when all kinds of spurious and counterfeit sources of authority are being appealed to and heeded by gullible and undiscerning Christians, he reminds us that the Word and the Word alone must be our foundation here. On this passage he says in part:
“As the Israelites stood ready to enter the land, God’s main emphasis was upon the book.” He reminds us that Joshua would receive some special revelation through the priest, the Urim, and so on, but “this was not to detract from the central reference point and chief control: the written book. The Word of God written in the book set the limitations. Thus, Joshua was already functioning in the way Bible-believing Christians function.
“Sometimes God does lead in other ways, but such leading must always be within the circle of his external, propositional commands in Scripture. Even if a person had a Urim and a Thummim as well as a priest to guide him, this would not change his basic authority. The primary leading would come from the written, propositional revelation of God, from the Bible.
“So we see that the written book was the first of the three changeless factors that stood with Joshua as he assumed leadership. . . . Throughout his life, Joshua was obedient. Of all the factors that gave him such success, the most important was that he heeded God’s admonition about the book.”
Reading the Word, studying the Word, applying the Word and obeying the Word: these are utterly non-negotiable basics of the Christian life. If you find yourself floundering, spinning your wheels, and getting nowhere fast in your Christian journey, then ask yourself this:
‘Am I reading the Word daily, applying it, and obeying it fully?’ If not, then of course your Christian life will be a disaster. If you won’t do these most basic of Christian requirements to be a disciple of Christ, then don’t expect God to just zap you with spirituality and godliness. It just ain’t gonna happen. God does not work that way.
He has already shown us what we must do if we want to prosper and know success as his people. So are we doing it or not?