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Right Words, Wrong Heart

You’re probably familiar with the ringing declaration Joshua made at the end of his life: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). But do you remember the rest of that conversation?

Joshua was soon going to die. He called all the elders, judges, and officers of Israel to him. He gave them a short recap of their history, right up through their present conquest of Canaan. Then he delivered his challenge: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve!” (Joshua 24:15). And Israel responded as one, “We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:18).

At this point, I would have thought that Joshua would have leaned back with a glad sigh and died in peace. But no: instead, he challenges the people with these words:

“You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you” (Joshua 24:19-20).

Ouch! Again, the people proclaim their loyalty to God. Is Joshua satisfied now? Evidently not, because he replies, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him” (Joshua 24:22).

Now, at this point, I’m wondering, “Joshua, are you trying to encourage these people, or actually trying to turn them toward other gods? This isn’t exactly a half-time pep talk! What’s going on here?”

Then the reason for Joshua’s harsh words becomes clear. For after Israel affirms for the third time that they will serve God, Joshua confronts them with the following:

“Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23).

Do you see it? Here are all the people of Israel, including the elders, judges, and officers, all declaring their undying, unswerving allegiance to the Lord. But they were already falling into idolatry! They had foreign gods in their midst!

Joshua wasn’t concerned because someday they might turn aside to idols … he was concerned because they were already waltzing merrily down that path!

They were saying the right words. But they were demonstrating the wrong heart.

We know the end of that story.

What about us? Think of the words of commitment we sing on Sunday morning. The prayers we pray as we stand in church. Our good intentions as we respond to the sermon.

What would Joshua say? Would he nod in approval, lift his hand in benediction, and smile? Or would he fix his eye on us and start enumerating the sins, the gods, the idols that we thought to hide in our midst?

Remember, it isn’t enough to have the right words but the wrong heart.

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